After 4 months of preparations it was great to see the sooty terns arriving on Denis Island. And with the birds, come the birding tourists. Birdwatching tourism, also known as avitourism, has become a very large industry and is the biggest niche within eco-tourism.
The end of May marked the arrival of the sooty terns in the Seychelles. Hundreds of thousands are currently breeding on nearby Bird Island and there are many sooties flying around Denis. Preparing the field around South Point for the arrival of the sooty terns began as early as February: sooty terns require an open field to breed, and, therefore, rocks were cleared, weeds were pulled, and cows were allowed to graze before putting plastic model birds and speakers in place. These are placed in the field to attract sooty terns that are flying over, possibly in search of a breeding spot.
Over a couple days in early June, close to 100 birds landed among the plastic models on the field. One individual even attempted to mate with a model bird, and one of hotel guest managed to take a photo! Sadly, this is the closest Denis Island came this season to having a breeding population, as no birds actually laid eggs. It is very possible the timing to start a colony has passed, and the laying season will not happen again until next year, given eggs are already being laid on Bird Island. Observations will continue to be carried out at the sooty tern site, as many are still flying over or circling the cleared area.
June marked the start of the southeast winds breeding season for the Brown noddies (anous stolidus). In early May, these seabirds could be seen in much higher abundance than usual, all flying around the beach, looking for seaweed to use for building their nests. Brown noddies tend to nest in coconut palm trees and very occasionally in coastal casuarina trees. These birds were seen in high abundance around the hotel where palm trees lined the entrance to the hotel reception area. In mid-June, Nick and Tommy carried out the brown noddy census together with Jennifer Appoo from the Green Islands Foundation. The previous census conducted in February/March during the northwest monsoon season counted close to 350 nesting pairs. This time, roughly 361 breeding pairs on the island were calculated, but with many individuals roosting as well, the overall population on the island is much larger. The number of breeding pairs was similar to the northwest monsoon season despite these being most probably a separate breeding population. It is encouraging to see that Denis Island is gradually becoming a seabird breeding hotspot after the eradication of invasive predators like cats (eradicated in 2000) and rats (2002) and myna birds (2015).