The old adage goes ‘don’t count your chicks before they hatch’ but Nature Seychelles is counting its proverbial chicks in terms of the success of the The Sanctuary as a safe haven for birds to raise their young. For the past several weeks we have been keenly monitoring the activity of a pair of breeding Grey Herons (Ardae cinerea) at Nature Seychelles’ wetland sanctuary in Roche Caiman.
The Grey Heron, which has a black cap and grey plumage is the largest heron in the Seychelles. Grey herons, although occurring throughout the Seychelles are known to breed on the granitic islands, Amirantes and Aldabra. Mahe is part of the granitics so it is no surprise that a breeding pair be spotted on the island.
Both parents building their nest
However, in the history of the existence of The Sanctuary since it was first created in 1986, this is the first time a pair of Grey Herons has successfully built a nest and laid eggs seen on the site. Indeed, it is not uncommon for visitors to spot individuals basking under the early morning sunlight, perched high on a tree or gracefully walking through the wetland as they fish or forage.
The breeding pair indicates that The Sanctuary serves as a safe and suitable habitat for Grey Herons and other wildlife. What’s more, the grey heron was hunted to extinction in the 1970s in the granitic islands. In the past three decades, the grey heron has recolonised the granitics unaided and can be spotted in fresh water wetlands, beaches, mudflats and mangroves. Grey herons usually nest colonially and there are a few breeding sites in the granitic group.
The pair have built their nest out of reach of any possible predators
For grey herons, both parents take on the task of incubation. They change ‘shifts’ in as quickly as 20 seconds. While one will be out for several hours, the other will be in the nest with the eggs. On one occasion while trying to spot the birds, one of the herons had just left the nest and as the other was returning, it quickly made a detour on seeing us in the area where their nest is.
Although their nest is built high up on a tree which is out of reach and separated from the walkway by water, the pair is as cautious as any breeding birds to keep their nest safe from any possible predators. As we occasionally watched the pair begin building their nest stick by stick, to when they started incubating their eggs, it became clear there would be a delicate balance between The Sanctuary serving as a tourist site as well as a safe haven for the birds to raise their young.
My turn to sit on the nest
“There is a high chance that the birds could get stressed and abandon their nest, especially if they are inexperienced parents, if they feel their nest is threatened,” says Robin Hanson, Nature Seychelles eco-health manager. For the four weeks of incubation to the eight weeks of fledging (bringing up the chick until it leaves the nest), visitors to The Sanctuary will be made aware of the grey herons nesting and how to conduct themselves.
The Sanctuary is regularly host to international and local toursits, including school groups often with very excitable children. “If we have visitors, more so school children in the next few weeks, I would ask them to be quiet, make small movements and watch the birds from a respectful distance. We also have to limit the time they are around the area to the minimum,” says Robin. “This will ensure they get the best chance of avoiding nesting failure.”
Taking a break from nest duty