Seychelles

From the 5th until the 26th of August 2016

Think Seychelles, think beaches. Only few people know the Seychelles for their unique wildlife, which could evolve due to long isolation and a number of other factors. Curiously, on the Seychelles typical Asian fauna and flora elements such as pitcher plants and leaf insects occur alongside typical African fauna such as chameleons. Some pantropical species such as mudskippers and long armed crayfish can be found here as well. Throw the true endemics in the mix - huge palms carrying the heaviest seeds in the world, some of the tiniest frogs and the biggest geckoes and tortoises in the world - and what you get is the unique wildlife mix of the Seychelles.

The Seychelles' inner islands are made up of granite and are the only oceanic granitic islands in the world. They are tiny remnant pieces of land stemming from a time when the super-continent Gondwana split up some 65 million years ago. This is also reflected by the occurence of animals such as caecilians and the endemic family of Sooglossid frogs, that would never be able to make any oceanic journeys to colonize an island far away from any mainland. 

The fact that many endemic species are still occuring here is because of two things. First of all, the islands were colonised relatively late in comparison to other Indian Ocean islands. In other words, that means less time for humankind to mess things up. Lots of the lowland forests have been cleared for plantages, but there are still remnant patches intact. The higher altitude forests largely escaped this fate and are still relatively intact. Second, the government of the Seychelles recognises the importance of its natural resources, and close to half of the country is protected as national park or reserve. 

Overview of the Seychelles' inner islands. We visited Mahé, Praslin, Curieuse, Cousin and La Digue.
Overview of the Seychelles' inner islands. We visited Mahé, Praslin, Curieuse, Cousin and La Digue.

For our trip to the Seychelles we focused on three main islands (Mahé, Praslin, La Digue) and spent a week on each. From Praslin we made day trips to the smaller islands Curieuse and Cousin.

It would have been very interesting to visit Silhouette, which is the third largest island and only has a small settlement. Many endemic species still occur here plus another endemic Sooglossid frog, the Palm Frog, which is restricted to this island. However, visiting for a daytrip is not possible and staying for a longer time requires a big budget. The same applies to Fregate which is the only island where the endemic Seychelles House Snake is still relatively common. The island is privately owned by a luxurious resort, and the owners try to deter day visitors by setting a price as high as 2000(!) euros. Well, it worked. The last island we would have liked to visit was Aride, but due to a rough sea caused by the SE monsoon we weren't able to go there. 

Mahé - cloud forests, endemic frogs, caecilians, chameleons

Mahé is the biggest island of the Seychelles and also the most populous with roughly 72.000 inhabitants. It is also home to the highest peak on the Seychelles, the Morne Seychellois towers with 905m high above the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean and is in the heart of the Morne Seychellois National Park. This National Park is home to many rare endemic plants and animals. The peaks are almost permanently hidden behind thick clouds and the slopes are covered with lush jungle and crisscrossed with small streams. Exploring this unique ecosystem is relatively easy as there are many well maintained hiking trails.

We stayed at a very nice AirBnB in Barbarons which is positioned very centrally on the island.

 

5th of August 2016

We arrived in the early morning from Abu Dhabi on Mahé and already after stepping out of the airport we were struck in awe by the high granite slopes, partially covered with a veil of mist and huge Seychelles Fruitbats (Pteropus seychellensis) and two Seychelles Kestrels (Falco araea) flying around. The former is one of only two native mammal species (the other being the highly endangered Seychelles Sheath-tailed Bat). Due to this lack of native mammals, the Seychelles Kestrel (and the only other native bird of prey species, the Seychelles Scops Owl) have specialised in hunting reptiles instead of small mammals.

We had a lot of rental car nonsense but finally we arrived in Barbarons. In the afternoon we hiked the Casse Dent Trail and the first herp was found by Laura who flipped a Big-headed Caecilian (Grandisonia alternans) from under a log. Later on I found a second one between leaf litter in a shallow stream. Here we also found our first Gardiner's Pygmy Frog (Seychellophryne gardineri). At the ruins of the Mission Lodge we enjoyed a view over the rainforest with White-tailed Tropic Birds (Phaeton lepturus) flying over. We settled for an easy dinner in the shape of instant noodles, with onwatching Pacific Geckoes (Gehyra mutilata) above our heads and went for an early night.

6th of August 2016

In the morning we visited the lovely Baie Ternay in the NW corner of the island. White sand, palm fronted beaches and extensive seagrass beds in a shallow warm sea. Behind the coastal strip there are extensive mangroves in which we saw many different crab species and our first Barred Mudskippers (Periophthalmus argentilineatus). We spend some time at the beach observing several Rockskippers (Alticus anjouanae) feeding on algal turf, a grazing Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari) grazing the seagrass and many Seychelles Skinks (Trachylepis seychellensis) foraging behind the beach. Between some overgrown ruins we saw many Mascarene Frogs (Ptychadena mascareniensis) hopping between the moist grass.

Driving back to the civilized world a truck parked backwards on the already narrow road and drove into our car. A time consuming process of police stations and filling in forms followed and we still don't know who is going to pay for this. Let sleeping dogs lie...

In the late afternoon we hiked up the Trois Frères Trail and photographed the fruitsbats which were soaring over our heads. Afer darkness it took us quite some time to find something of interest but in the end I could find two Seychelles Tiger Chameleons (Archaius tigris) sleeping. One perched 30cm above the ground and another one 3m high in a tree. Strangely these chameleons are not easy to detect at night, unlike many of their congeners. They turn into a velvetty black instead of the usual pale colouration (Gerlach 2008). Only hiking a few meters higher we found the endemic Seychelles Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes pervelli). Africa meets Asia! We also saw several endemic freshwater crustaceans, a Common Tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus) and Laura found one of the unique endemic geckoes, a Seychelles Sucker-tailed Gecko (Urocotyledon inexpectata) perched low on a tree trunk. Little is known about these geckoes but they do exhibit a unique adaptation at the tailtip, few extra suction pads which have the same kind of grip as the toes.

A last stop along the Casse Dent Trail gave us our first Seychelles Tree Frogs (Tachycnemis seychellensis) and several males were calling next to the stream.

7th of August 2016

We hiked to Anse Major which offered splendid views over the "Glacis", a fairly dry habitat of open exposed granite slopes. After reaching the well known beach we tried to reach two smaller ones a bit further. The hike described in one of our travel guides is clearly outdated. Not for long the trail turned from bad to worse to impassable. We were in this beautiful open exposed glacis habitat with the sun beating down on us, struggling though the dense vegetation we managed to reach a steep granite cliff which we followed to the coast. Sliding down into a narrow strip of rainforest we fought our way through cobwebs and jungle vegetation and made it to the beach. Next question, how to get back... We tried our luck at the coastal granite boulders which resulted in me slipping down into the sea fully equiped and loosing a toenail. Luckily a merry band of fisherman answered our waving from the beach and took us back to the civilized world in exchange for water, of which we luckily had enough.

After a meal at the takeaway we hiked the Morne Blanc Trail. The trail leads though beautiful cloud forests, which are home to some very special amphibians. The family of Sooglossid frogs currently contains four species which are all endemic to Seychelles. Three out of four can be found on Mahé. They are ancient endemics and probably were on the island since its isolation from India. The breeding strategies of these frogs are also remarkable. The Seychelles Pygmy Frog (Sooglossus sechellensis) deposits the eggs on land, the female then carries the tadpoles until they metamorphose into even tinier frogs. The Gardiner's Pygmy Frog (Seychellophryne gardineri) is amongst the smallest amphibians in the world, this species also deposits its eggs on land, typically under leaf litter on moist soil. The male guards the eggs until the tadpoles complete their metamorphosis into minute frogs, inside the eggs. The third species is remarkably larger than these other two, but the Thomasset's Frog (Sooglossus thomasseti) has similar breeding strategies.

All three are bound to wet cloud forests of mid- and high altitude, rich in leaf litter. By day they can be found by searching carefully between leaflitter close to granite boulders, by night they are active and can be found hopping around. They frantically hop in all directions when light from a torch hits them, until they freeze between the leaf litter and trust in their camouflage. Such joy to see a frog the size of a pea hopping in front of your feet!

8th of August 2016

Along our way to Mahé's capitol Victoria we had a small search along the La Reserve Trail but found only some Seychelles Skinks and a few interesting arthropods such as a Seychelles Small Whip Spider (Charinus seychellarum). Afterwards we hiked up to the waterfall at Cascade which was strenuous under the hot tropic sun. We found a beautiful deep stream with some huge long armed shrimps residing inside. Still, the temptation to go in was to big and we had a beautiful dip in the rainforest. Afterwards we did some sightseeing in Victoria, visiting the famous Clock Tower, the tiny but cute Museum of Natural History, the Hindu Temple, the Selwyn Market with its resident Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis seychellarum) and finally the Bel Air Cemetary. After a takeaway meal we drove to La Misere to a garden centre. Despite it being closed the friendly owners still let us in and we were allowed to search the grounds for amphibians and reptiles. We quickly found a sleeping Seychelles Small Day Gecko (Phelsuma astriata), another two Seychelles Tiger Chameleons and plenty of Seychelles Tree Frogs including some huge individuals. Also Seychelles Stick Insects (Carausius sechellensis) were seen in fair amounts.

9th of August 2016

We visited the La Sauzier Waterfall in the early morning when the rains came pouring down. A fierce wind blew and the weather deteriorated. Then there is only one sane thing to do, going into the cloud forest at the Morne Blanc of course! Very interesting to see this habitat in day light and to hear the peeping calls from Gardiner's Pygmy Frog seemingly coming from everywhere. We even saw a few hopping around and also a Thomasset's Frog. While hiking down, the rains stopped and seemingly following the activity of its prey, a Seychelles Wolf Snake (Lycognatophis seychellensis) was out and about hunting for amphibians. Also another Tenrec was foraging on the forest floor.

Afterwards we had a romantic lunch at a roadside takeaway and went up into the mountains again for another hike along the Copolia Trail. The trail offers splendid views on relatively intact mid altitude forest and at the end you are rewarded with a view to die for. Towering granite slopes, packed with endemic Seychelles Pitcher Plants and surrounded by the luminescent blue of the Indian Ocean on the one side, and the vibrant green of the jungles on the other side. The dense stands of Pitcher Plants were pulsating with life, and Gardiner's Pygmy Frogs were calling vividly. Another Seychelles Wolf Snake was found hunting for amphibians. This snake species comes in two colour morphs, while I found the black one, Laura could catch this vibrantly coloured yellow morph. In this outerworldly scenery, we truly felt like exploring the Tepuy Roraima. Hiking down in darkness a frog bonanza was going on and all three species of Sooglossid frog were encountered.

10th of August 2016

We went back to the garden centre at La Misere and were greeted by a fair amount of Seychelles Sunbirds (Cinnyris dussumieri) flittering around a flowering shrub. While watching through the telelens I could even identify a Seychelles Tiger Chameleon among them, seemingly annoyed by all this commotion around him. We also saw a few Seychelles Giant Day Geckoes (Phelsuma sundbergi longinsulae) and the owners told us about small black snakes they find amongst the compost/manure. We immediately thought of Flowerpot Snakes so started digging. Instead we found two Swimming Caecilians (Hypogeophis rostratus). Afterwards we relaxed at Anse Intendance and at sunset we encountered a few Gardiner's Burrowing Skink (Pamelaescincus gardineri) between leaf litter of Indian Almond trees. These skinks are often encountered at twilight and at night which might be an adaptation to co-occuring with several other species of diurnal skink. We also found many Stag Beetles (Aegus chelifer) under rotting logs. These beetles were first recorded on the Seychelles in 2005, after the tsunami of the year before washed large amounts of dead wood ashore on the Seychelles. At Kitty's Lunch Box we had dinner and did a small round at the La Reserve Trail where we saw some more Seychelles Tree Frogs, fruitbats and tenrecs.

11th of August 2016

At the wetlands of Anse Intendance we had an enjoyable morning looking for terrapins. Many dragonflies such as the Phantom Flutterer (Rhyothemis semihyalina) were hoovering in the sky while Striated Heron (Butorides striata), Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) were skulking in the reeds. At the nearby Terrapin and Turtle Rehabilitation Centre we had an enjoyable chat with the volunteers and we spoke about their research and the status of the native terrapins.

At Grand Police Bay we enjoyed swimming with Portuguese Man o' war (Physalia physalis) which is much cooler than swimming with dolphins. Also the massive waves were fun to play with although I didn't see Laura for a few seconds. A group of twelve Great Frigatebirds (Fregata minor) soared overhead when we received a call from the rental company. We were expected at the Police station to show the rental car. Such joy! Luckily they were on our side and saw it wasn't our mistake that the accident happened. At Anse Forbanse we spend the remaining afternoon and on the hike back in darkness we saw a very big Purple Hermit Crab (Coenobita brevimanus), Seychelles Small Day Gecko and the introduced House Gecko (Hemidactylus mercatorius). This small gecko is a relative late introduction which is localised on the main islands (Rocha et al. 2009).

Anse Forbanse mangroves
Anse Forbanse mangroves

12th of August 2016

Our last day on Mahé was spend stocking up on books about local wildlife in Victoria and relaxing in the Botanical Gardens. Massive tourist trap by the way, the La Misere garden or the National Biodiversity Centre are much nicer (and cheaper!). Laying in the grass we saw White-tailed Tropic Birds, Madagascar Fodies (Foudia madagascariensis), Seychelles Blue Pigeons (Alectroenas pulcherrima) and fruitbats flying overhead.

The Cat Cocos ferry brought us in an hour from Mahé to our next island Praslin. A rough sea, caused by the SE Monsoon season, didn't make everybody feel happy on board. I felt quite allright and was getting wet on the sundeck, while scanning the sea for seabirds such as Audubon's Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri) and Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus).

Praslin - palmforests, giant geckoes, giant tortoises, parrots

The second biggest island of the Seychelles is Praslin. Roughly 6500 people inhabit the island. Already when you arrive by boat you can see Praslin is generally much drier than Mahé and Silhouette. This is mainly due to the presence of gentle hills instead of steep peaks. The soil is much more eroded here as well and the vegetation less lush. The main attraction for the keen herpers is the Praslin National Park with the Vallée de Mai and the much bigger but less crowded Fond Ferdinand Nature Reserve. Here the palm forests are largely intact or regenerating and most of the wildlife can be found in or around the reserves. Praslin is also the perfect starting point to visit some smaller islands.One of these is Curieuse with its freeroaming population of reintroduced Giant Tortoises. Another easily arranged islandtrip is to the ratfree island of Cousin which offers lots of birding opportunities, as well as a chance to see the huge Wright's Skink.

On Praslin we stayed at the Berjaya Hotel in one of the two more touristy areas of the island.

 

13th of August 2016

Our first full day was spend at the famous Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve in the heart of the Praslin National Park. Although it is one of the smallest Unesco World Heritage sites, it is easy to spend a full morning here as there are several trails leading through the reserve and there are a lot of interesting endemic species to be found here. We got up early to beat the tourist hordes that visit the reserve for a selfie with a Coco de Mer. And indeed, for several hours we had the entire park all to ourselves and only when the forest turned from palmleave to selfiestick we left.

The vast stands of endemic palms are impressive and all endemic species can be found here. The main eye catcher is the huge Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica), a massive palm which has the reputation of being the only true case of island gigantism among the Seychelles' plants. The palms towers 30m high, with leaves of 10m in diameter. The seeds are the heaviest in the world and can weigh as much as 42kg. The palms themselves are home to a species of gecko only found here and on Silhouette. The Giant Bronze Gecko (Ailuronyx trachygaster) is amongst the biggest geckoes in the world and is only found on Coco de Mer palms. Finding them is hard, as they dwell in the canopy and untill recently very little was known about their habits and population size. During the day they rest under old Coco de Mer leaves or sit atop the meterlong male flowers, sipping nectar. To observe these gentle giants, to see them slowly walking over the flowers, delicately placing their huge feet and sipping nectar from the flowers while they are surrounded by endemic Seychelles Slugs (Filicaulus seychellensis), was a true highlight of the trip! In total we found four of them and even a big adult who was watching two day geckoes having a quarrel on the opposite leave.

We also saw both day gecko species, Bronze Gecko (Ailuronyx seychellensis), Dwarf Bronze Gecko (Ailuronyx tachyscopaeus), Common Tenrecs, many curious Seychelles Bulbuls (Hypsipetes crassirostris) and heared the calls of Praslin Parrot (Coracopsis barklyi).

At Anse Gouvernement we relaxed a little, ate a pizza at the coast and hiked a short bit of the Salazie Track. It starts steep but when it reaches the less disturbed parts of the forests its easy to hike and we immediately found several endemics such as Seychelles Tree Frogs, nocturnal Gardiner's Burrowing Skinks and we were surprised to find several small Seychelles Pygmy Frogs hopping around. This species was only discovered as recently as 2009 from Praslin and was thought to be confined to the Vallee de Mai. Another highlight was a male Seychelles Winged Stick Insect (Graffaea seychellensis) found feeding on Nephrosperma vanhouetteana.

Screwpines (Pandanus sp.) in the Vallée de Mai
Screwpines (Pandanus sp.) in the Vallée de Mai

14th of August 2016

In the morning we went with a little boat to the island of Curieuse. Although the Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) sadly went extinct on the granitic islands of the Seychelles, they do survive in big numbers on the inhospitable Aldabra Atoll. Nowadays these gentle giants are being reintroduced on a number of islands including Curieuse. They roam all over the island but seem to prefer the more open spaces at the coast, where their "tortoise turf" feeding grounds are and enough tourists willing to share an apple or piece of mango with them. After admiring these amazing animals we hike through the mangroves full of Fiddler Crabs (Uca sp.) and Mudskippers, and found the secret trail leading to Anse Badamier. A hike of less than an hour brought us over the dry hillside where small and scrawny Coco de Mer Palms are exposed to the elements and battered by the wind. Anse Badamier we had all to ourselves as expected and life was as good as can be.

Afterwards we hiked to Anse Jose, found Gardiner's Burrowing Skinks in good amounts (besides the omnipresent Seychelles Skink) and a few more Aldabra Giant Tortoises.

In the evening we hiked the Pasquière Track leading through vast tracts of disturbed forest with very little native vegetation. We did see a massive Shortfin Eel (Anguilla bicolor), sleeping Seychelles Sunbirds, Dwarf Bronze Gecko and Seychelles Pygmy Frogs. Again a possible new location for this species!

15th of August 2016

In the morning we visited the Fond Ferdinand Nature Reserve. This reserve is much bigger than Vallée de Mai and also has more Coco de Mer palms than its much more famous counterpart. However, very few tourists know about it and it is thus much calmer here. Sadly it is not allowed to wander around without a guide but Walter knew a lot about local flora and we learned quite some neat things from him. However, herping was slow here and we only found a few Bronze Geckoes, Dwarf Bronze Geckoes and both day gecko species. Under a flowerpot I did finally find a Flowerpot Snake (Indotyphlops braminus). Awesome! After saying goodbye to Walter and his pet, a huge Shortfin Eel called Goulo, we went to Anse Matelot by kayak. Not the best kayak experience we had but we managed to survive... In the mangroves we saw lots of huge Mangrove Crabs (Cardiosoma carnifex), Mudskippers and Fiddler Crabs. Being tired as hell we actually didn't want to go out, but agreed on doing a small round at the Zimbabwe Track. Not for nothing and Laura found our first Seychelles Tiger Chameleon on Praslin. The chameleons from Praslin are sometimes regarded as distinct from those on Mahé and Silhouette, and might represent a new species (Archaius scychellensis). However this is not published yet (see here for more information). Some differences can be noted though, such as colouration. While the individuals we saw on Mahé turned black at night and yellow with black spots after waking up, the individuals on Praslin are yellowish at night and turn uniform green after waking up.

16th of August 2016

As we still lacked sightings of Praslin Parrots we ventured to the parking lot of the Vallée de Mai. Only one individual flying over the forest so not the best of luck there. It started to rain so we drove around a bit and found a nice juicebar at the coast. We asked the friendly owner of the bar if he maybe knew a good spot for this enigmatic bird. He called his sister if the "Kato Nwar" are still feeding on the Bilimbi Tree in their garden. Not for long he closed down his bar and took us to his house. In his garden no less than four of these whistling and acrobatic little parrots were foraging above our heads. Great! On the road we saw a DOR Seychelles Tiger Chameleon at sealevel.

After refreshing at the hotel we hiked the entire Salazie Track in daytime. The beautiful Plaine Hollandaise offered stunning views on the only highland swamp present in the Seychelles. At daytime we suffered a little shower and again, big palmleaves offered a welcome retreat. At daytime we didn't see much but when we hiked the entire track back again in darkness we soon found four Seychelles Tiger Chameleons including a couple exhibiting paired sleeping. A few more Seychelles Pygmy Frogs and Seychelles Tree Frogs were found as well. 

17th of August 2016

A lazy day of snorkeling at Anse Lazio. For Laura it was the first time snorkeling ever and we got lucky with seeing a Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)! I got a bit carried away (literally!) and didn't pay attention to the waves and rocks so much anymore, resulting in a few minor injuries at my legs but they will match well with the scares I got from GJ. Below sealevel the coralreefs were pulsating with life and besides some iconic coralreef dwelling fish we saw another Spotted Eagle Ray, a big Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis) and a big shoal of squid. In the evening we called the Fond Ferdinand who had good news for us, a few days ago we asked permission to search the reserve for the presence of Giant Bronze Geckoes and tonight we would be allowed to go in the park at night. The first time any foreign biologist had done so. Very interesting but we had dry conditions, high winds and a full moon. All not the best conditions and we didn't see any geckoes at all. Afterwards we visited a very nice trail at the Vallée de Mai and after only a few meters we saw several Seychelles Tree Frogs and Dwarf Bronze Geckoes.

18th of August 2016

First some logistic stuff like visiting the bank, buying ferry tickets, grocery shopping, buying a Coco de Mer. Afterwards we tried to reach Anse Georgette but soon decided it is not worth the effort and ended on Anse Lazio again. Amazing snorkerling again with much of the same fish we saw the day before. In the evening we searched for coastal chameleons at the spot where we found the DOR. No such luck and only some House Geckoes and Mascarene Frogs. We also did the secret track again at the Vallée de Mai and found several Dwarf Bronze Geckoes, two Giant Bronze Geckoes very high up in the canopy and several Tenrecs.

19th of August 2016

Like every morning we tried to get a boat to Aride island, but again the sea was too rough. We could get a boat to the island of Cousin for a good price. Cousin offers largely the same species as Aride but is smaller, you are not allowed to venture out without a guide and has a few species of seabird less. Cousin is run privately by Nature Seychelles, and until 1986 the native vegetation was largely replaced by coconut palms. Birdlife International bought the island and started removing the coconut palms to allow the native vegetation to regenerate. With succes, today it is home to many nesting seabirds, one of the highest densities of lizards in the world and a safe haven for several endemic landsbirds. When we arrived we were shocked by the huge amount of tourists awaiting at the beach and waiting for the guides to take them around on the island. Not really our kind of thing but luckily with so many people it was easy to sneak of, and we could wander a bit around ourselves. Amazing to walk between the trees packed with Lesser Noddies (Anous tenuirostris) and Fairy Terns (Gygis alba), while Giant Tortoises rest in the shade, Seychelles Bronze Geckoes (Ailuronyx seychellensis) are lurking wherever there are hideouts and wherever you look there are both Seychelles Skinks and the huge Wright's Skinks (Trachylepis wrightii) foraging between the leaf litter. Whatever falls on the forest floor draws their attention because it might mean someting edible. White-tailed Tropic Birds nest on the forest floor or in hollow trees and several endemic landbirds which have gone extinct on the bigger islands, are easily approached as well. Seychelles Warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis), Seychelles Fody (Foudia sechellarum) and Seychelles Magpie Robin (Copsychus sechellarum) are easily encountered and the latter is especially inquisitive. When you disturb the leaflitter they come in to see what is going on and if there is something to eat. 

Back on Praslin we said goodbye to our friend Elvis from the juicebar and drove a bit around along the southcoast. At the remote Anse Citron I had a curious Praslin Parrot sitting above my head which was a nice goodbye to the island. We took the ferry to La Digue and in 15min. we arrived at its jetty. Our new friend Ron was waiting with two bikes and brought us to our home for a week.

The coastline of cousin. The bushes and trees are packed with nests from Lesser Noddy.
The coastline of cousin. The bushes and trees are packed with nests from Lesser Noddy.

La Digue - beaches, giant millipedes, flycatchers

At La Digue we took things back a notch, mostly because there are not so many species to be found here, and also because there are many beautiful beaches to be enjoyed. This is our honeymoon after all! La Digue is a small island and there is only one settlement on the westcoast of the island. The rest of the island is covered with dense jungle but only parts of it are of native vegetation. All along the coast there are beautiful beaches to be found and shallow waters full of seagrass beds and reefs. Snorkeling however is hard here as most coasts are very shallow and it is tricky to reach the outerside of the reefs. The main way of transport is bicycle and only a hanful of cars are present on the island. As the island is so small and the report getting long I won't do a day per day report from La Digue. We stayed at a very nice, and highly recommendable AirBnB from Mera.

 

20th until the 26th of August 2016

On our first day on the island we visited the La Vev Reserve which is erected for the conservation of the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone corvina). This rare bird is restricted to woodland with tall Takamaka trees where it forages on all sorts of arthropods. In the reserve the chances are high to see them, taking a picture requires some more patience as these birds rarely sit still. We did find a good spot where we could observe a female feeding a chick, a nesting female which was relieved of nesting duties by the male for only a few minutes (typical for the species) and two males having a quarrel over territory. The reserve is also home to many skinks which forage in the thick layer of leaf litter of Indian Almond trees. We easily saw lots of Seychelles Skinks, Gardiner's Burrowing Skinks and even a few of the tiny Brauer's Leaf Litter Skink (Janetaescincus braueri). 

On of our favorite beaches on the island is Anse Coco. While hiking to this beach you have to go through some pretty nice habitats such as open marshland full of Waxbills (Estrilda astrild), coastal forests where every bit of sunlight reaching the forestfloor is occupied by basking skinks, and Giant Millipedes (Sechelleptus seychellarum) scramble along your feet with Paradise Flycatchers and Fairy Tern resting in the canopy above your head. The beach itself is mostly nice in the early morning when there are no other people around because in the late afternoon it soon gets crowded.

All along the coast of La Digue there are many small inlets, some with brackish water and mangrove stands, others with more fresh water. At one evening we came late from Anse Coco and visited a small wetland. We were delighted to see several Yellow-bellied Mud Terrapin (Pelusios castanoides intergularis), all clustered below a bridge where the water is slightly deeper. These terrapins are rarely observed in the SE monsoon season as this is the driest time of the year and many marshes have little water in them. People we spoke from the terrapin conservation told us they have only seen 1 individual the last two months and the rest is aestivating in the mud. Apparantly they are not really aestivating but just nocturnal!

Because snorkeling directly from the main island is very hard, we took a small boat to bring us to the islands of Felicité, Grande Soeur and Coco. However the sky was grey and a strong wind brought the sea into a boiling turmoil. Laura, me and Maggie from Singapore were all clustered in the back of the boat while our captain navigated the boat over the high waves. A daunting experience to sit soaking wet in small vessel with no horizon in sight but just waves! Luckily we arrived safe and sound at the islands and we could go into the water to snorkel. Beautiful reefs and many coral fish but the highlight was swimming with two Hawksbill Sea Turtles.

The Nid d'Aigle is the highest point on La Digue with 333m absl. For a short time the highest point on the island was me!
The Nid d'Aigle is the highest point on La Digue with 333m absl. For a short time the highest point on the island was me!
Laura and I with our friendly hosts Vincent, Mera and their son Saeed.  Vincent is goalkeeper for the Seychelles' national football team.
Laura and I with our friendly hosts Vincent, Mera and their son Saeed. Vincent is goalkeeper for the Seychelles' national football team.

Epilogue

The Seychelles are either little known, or known for being not exactly a low budget destination. While we can confirm that things are not cheap here, it is possible to visit with a smaller budget. Food in the supermarket and rental cars are generally the same price as in Europe. Going out for dinner is usually also expensive but at the omnipresent takeaways you will find a tasty meal (but full of bones) for cheap. Accommodation is expensive but we got a good deal on our hotel on Praslin and on the other two main islands we visited we found some very nice AirBnB's which are very affordable. So all in all it was not so bad! Day excursions on the other hand are ridiculously expensive and it always pays off to bargain for a better price. Furthermore, the roads on the Seychelles are not in the best state. They are narrow and lined with deep gulleys making driving here an absolute nightmare. Combined with winding roads through the jungle and people generally driving in the middle of the road (preferably with high beam headlamps on at night) and it soon spoils the fun. Also the hiking trails offer some problems. Many hiking trails (apart from those in the national parks) are kept in a poor state. Several times we had to cease our efforts or got lost entirely because of overgrown paths. Bringing a machete could bring relief when hiking on the Seychelles!

Herping was relatively easy though and when you make miles and explore every hiking trail, most species will turn up. Spending three weeks here allowed us to see almost every species of reptile and amphibian and we only missed 4 caecilian species (all very rare), 1 snake species (only common on Frégate island) and 2 chelonians (the near extinct Black-bellied Mud Terrapin and Green Sea Turtle). Naturewise the Seychelles has much to offer and we were even more smitten by it than we initially thought we would. The solemn palmforest in early morning, brightened by the whistling of Praslin Parrots with Giant Geckoes hiding in the canopy above. Steep granite peaks, covered with Pitcher Plants while Pygmy Frogs call between them. The mysterious cloud forests, always covered by a veil of mist, gnarled twisted branches packed with mosses and ferns with Tiger Chameleons and Wolf Snakes lurking for prey. The islands are famous for their beaches but those are overrated. It should be more famous by its unique islandflora and fauna which (in their own way) could rival those of the Galapagos Islands.

Sunset over Praslin as seen from la Digue.
Sunset over Praslin as seen from la Digue.

Species

Big-headed Caecilian (Grandisonia alternans)

Swimming Caecilian (Hypogeophis rostratus)

Mascarene Frog (Ptychadena mascareniensis)

Gardiner's Pygmy Frog (Seychellophryne gardineri)

Seychelles Pygmy Frog (Sooglossus sechellensis)

Thomasset's Frog (Sooglossus thomasseti)

Seychelles Tree Frog (Tachycnemis seychellensis)

Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea)

Hakwksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Yellow-bellied Mud Terrapin (Pelusios castanoides ssp. intergularis)

Seychelles Tiger Chameleon (Archaius tigris)

Bronze Gecko (Ailuronyx seychellensis)           

Dwarf Bronze Gecko (Ailuronyx tachyscopaeus)        

Giant Bronze Gecko (Ailuronyx trachygaster)

Pacific Gecko (Gehyra mutilata)

House Gecko (Hemidactylus mercatorius)

Seychelles Small Day Gecko (Phelsuma astriata ssp. astriata & semicarinata)

Seychelles Giant Day Gecko (Phelsuma sundbergi ssp. sundbergi, longinsulae & ladiguensis

Seychelles Sucker-tailed Gecko (Urocotyledon inexpectata)

Brauer's Leaf Litter Skink (Janetaescincus braueri)

Gardiner's Burrowing Skink (Pamelaescincus gardineri)

Seychelles Skink (Trachylepis seychellensis)

Wright's Giant Skink (Trachylepis wrightii)

Flowerpot Snake (Indotyphlops braminus)

Seychelles Wolf Snake (Lycognatophis seychellensis)

 

 Many thanks to Henrik Bringsoe, Sara Rocha, Ollie Thomas and Mark Wilkinson.