Reggie is convinced that we’re inside of the movie Jurrasic Park. He keeps peering behind trees convinced those cute little green guys that chirp before attacking-to-kill are lurking just around the corner. I agree, a dinosaur (fingers crossed, velosiraptor) around the corner would be cool but I feel like we’re in the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids. The trees in Vallee de Mai, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are the same species as the ones found on Curieuse only we’re currently one island over and the trees are much, much bigger.
Meanwhile, our two bird geeks, ahem guru’s are ahead of us talking about black parrot breeding calls. Each female has a unique song and our friends are currently mimicking Awesome and Thelma’s mother who constantly repeats woo-woo-woo Whoop.
‘Now that’s a groovy call,’ says our hostess Anna.
‘Oh yeah’ says Patrick. ‘If I were a black parrot, that would be the female I’d go for.’
Going into any forest with a seasoned bird watcher transforms the experience from a no-nonsense walk to a trek that is alive with activity. Pat and Anna seem to have a heightened sense of awareness and can easily pick out birds from both sight and sound.
Anna is conducting a few surveys on the black parrot population in Valley de Mai. Outside of nesting season, her team spends time banding adult black parrots in order to get a population count. During nesting season her team scouts for dead palm trunks and then continues checking those ‘perfect’ nest sites for any activity. This year her and her team found 16 nesting sites – a record number in their three years of research.
In setting up our own bird-monitoring project on Curieuse, we got in contact with Anna who immediately invited staff over to join her for a morning of fieldwork to see her research in action.
So today, we’re here for a bit of parroting. Anna has stopped next to Awesome and Thelma’s nest and has her head tilted to the side listening for that ‘groovy’ bird call… Woo-woo-woo Whoop. It takes a few minutes, but we hear our female somewhere off to our left which means she’s not in the nest and more importantly, not likely to attack us as we extract her two chicks.
We set up a ladder that looks like it’s going nowhere. The ladder must not lean against the dead tree trunk that the nest is in because well, it’s dead and very unstable. Instead, Anna attaches four ropes to the top of the ladder and then ties those ropes to four sturdy trees in four different directions. It’s genius really. But that ladder, sturdy as it may be, looks ridiculous.
Next Anna let’s Patrick climb up, and he carefully extracts Thelma and brings her back down to the ground where we can weigh and measure her safely. We take a ridiculous amount of photos. This is one photogenic bird. Next we take a quick blood sample to determine if Thelma is a boy or girl and then we place her back in the nest. Awesome, is a little bit bigger than Thelma and has climbed up the inside of the tree and we can’t get to him. Anna will return later to see if he’s being less elusive.
Anna’s team also sends blood samples of the black parrots off to a lab for DNA sampling. They believe the black parrots on Praslin are a different species than they are currently classified. Such a distinction could mean access to more funds and grants, which would allow the current research to continue. As of now this season will be the last for her full monitoring project. Although, some local staff have been trained up and will most likely continue some of her work.
We have tentative plans for Anna and her team to come to Curieuse to play some black parrot calls and see if we can locate any on our island, where many locals believe they stop by to eat. Until then staff will be keeping their eyes and ears peeled for any black parrots during our surveys.