Bird Ringing in Paradise

Nature Seychelles' Science Coordinator Cheryl Sanchez releasing a white / fairy tern photo by Mark Brown

“In the span of only a day, I went from never touching a bird, to knowing how to catch, hold, ring and measure them. It was a wonderful feeling, really, the first few birds that I got to ring - my hands shaking and I was nervously laughing the whole time.”

Those were the words of Nikita Engineer, a participant in Nature Seychelles’ Conservation Boot Camp program, after a bird ringing training which recently took place on Cousin Island Special Reserve.

Mark Brown an ornithologist based in South Africa was in the country for several days to train Cousin and Cousine Island staff. Some were being trained for the first time while others used the training opportunity to “share ideas, learn new techniques and discuss findings of the ringing program.”

 The Cousine Island team working with the Cousin Island team photo by Mark Brown

After the Cousine team completed their training, they accompanied Brown to Cousin to take part in the training and demonstrate what they had just learned.

“I run intensive courses that enable conservation staff and researchers to competently and responsibly carry out work that is required of them,” Brown explains. “When I train conservation staff in the Seychelles, it is important for me to focus on the skills needed for the specific projects that are most relevant to each island.”

Mark Brown is the director of Nature’s Valley Trust, a conservation NGO which integrates research with education and awareness programs. He also works as a Research Associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has 17 years’ experience in training bird ringers, for an organisation known as Safring. This was his fourth trip to the Seychelles in seven years.

 Hands-on-training with a nature reserve as the outdoors classroom photo by Mark Brown

“My trainings involve being able to competently use mist nets and other traps to work on the Seychelles Magpie-Robins, and to safely work with other small birds caught as by-catch,” Brown explains of his training sessions in the Seychelles. “When needed, I provide training on blood sampling for SMART (Seychelles Magpie Robin Recovery Team). In addition, the islands have long term monitoring projects on several seabird species, and I train staff to catch, handle and ring these species.”

Birds caught during the training include Seychelles Sunbirds, Seychelles Warbler, Seychelles Fody, to medium size birds like Seychelles Magpie-Robins, Zebra Doves, and the Madagascar X Seychelles Tyrtle Dove hybrids, to bigger seabirds like Lesser and Brown Noddies, White Terns and White-tailed Tropicbirds. Wedgetailed and Tropical Shearwaters are trapped and ringed at night.

“The tropical bird paradise of Cousin Island is the perfect setting to learn in, because of the plethora of beautiful land and sea birds to practice with while being able to understand the various birds’ behaviour.” Nikita says.

 Ethan and Boniface very keen to learn as much as possible about bird ringing photo by Mark Brown

“What was really special, I think, was being thrown straight into the deep end. I observed the people around me treating the birds, handling them with care and brilliance and I was intrigued. When I asked take part I was expecting a NO but instead, I was told to sit down and was patiently explained to exactly what to do. The next minute I released a Lesser Noddy which had just been ringed back into the skies. The one after that, I ringed myself, and then I was taking measurements.”

In addition, five Nature Seychelles staff participated in the training on Cousin Island including Cheryl Sanchez, the Science Coordinator, Jovani Raffin the Chief Warden, Yan Coquet the coordinator for the Conservation Boot Camp program, as well as two wardens, Ethan Boniface and Ricky Adeline.

“I value long term data that is collected by well trained staff as a conservation research tool,” Brown says. “I think what stood out for me on this last trip to Cousin was the passion and dedication of the staff, and the enthusiasm of the Conservation Boot Camp participant.

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