The Comoros Part 2 – Anjo-what?! That’s a Sparrowhawk!

After a few hours rest from the worst boat ride of our lives, Josh and I met up with Patrice who we planned to rent a car from. Once Patrice arrived it became apparent that we were not just renting the car, we were renting Patrice along with it. The price was still reasonable to have a driver so we jumped in the car and headed off to Lac Dzialandée for an evening of looking for Anjouan Scops-Owl. When we arrived to the lake it was extremely windy and threatening rain. Not the best conditions to look for a scops-owl, especially one that is supposed to be notoriously hard. The birding near the lake is extremely difficult as little habitat is left and the remaining forest is on very steep hillsides. Just as it was getting dark, Josh and I climbed up an extremely steep hill, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth it as it seemed it would be a bit dangerous getting down. The weather didn’t help and of course we didn’t hear a thing. We spent a few hours trying to find some decent habitat, but our efforts didn’t go so well and we eventually called it quits due to the rain and wind.

During the ride back, we discussed with Patrice our plans to drive across island the following day to Moya. Originally Patrice was going to give us a different driver, but he realized he could make a few extra dollars by offering to drive for us and guide as well. After all, he said he had just seen the scops-owl the week before with an Australian birder! Normally I’m not a fan of using guides, but since we had no information about where the trail was in Moya, we decided to hire Patrice for the day (plus it worked out to only being an additional 10 euros per person in the end). We arrived back at the hotel around 2200 and agreed to leave the next morning at 0330 to start the long drive to Moya.

0330 came quickly and as we departed the hotel, the disco that had been raging all night was still going strong. We arrived in Moya about 30 minutes before first light and quickly made our way up the trail in the dark in hopes of trying for the scops-owl before dawn. We got to the spot where Patrice had seen it the week prior and after a little bit of playback, an Anjouan Scops-Owl called back loudly and landed on a nearby branch. We were able to get great looks, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a picture. As dawn approached, the owl moved off to roost and we walked another 25 meters up the trail to an overlook to spend the morning scanning for Anjouan Sparrowhawk and Anjouan Cuckoo-Rolloer, arguably the two rarest birds on the island. As we sat around playing tape and scanning, we started to find a few of the more common endemics such as Anjouan Thrush, Anjouan Sunbird, and Anjouan White-eye. We were pretty surprised when we heard a sparrowhawk start to call (after all this bird was considered extinct just a few years prior) and soon we had tracked down a pair of Anjouan Sparrowhawks in the valley below us. We were quite excited by the find and luckily this pair ended up hanging out in the area all day long providing amazing views at times only 10 meters away. Below are arguably the best photographs of this species.

It had been raining off and on since daybreak so by late morning we decided to head back down to the road in order to take a midday break and then return for the afternoon and evening (hopefully with improved weather). On the walk down, we finally heard the distinctive call of the Anjouan Cuckoo-Roller resonating from the valley below us. We hiked down a side trail and soon had point-blank views of a male Cuckoo-Roller calling loudly. Having now seen all of the island’s endemics except the rather lackluster fody (who would have thought this would be our hardest bird?!) we decided to head down to our hotel for lunch and nap. We took about a three hour break and then headed back up to the trail to look for the fody.

The walk back in along the trail didn’t provide any sightings, but when we arrived at the same clearing we had spent all morning at, we heard the distinctive song of an Anjouan Fody calling nearby. We had actually heard them in the morning as well, but didn’t spend much time tracking one down since we figured they’d be fairly common. This time it was a priority and we quickly found a male singing from the top of a nearby tree. Although we had now seen all of the island’s endemics, I still wanted to get pictures and recordings of the scops-owl so we waited around for dusk.

Just as it was getting dark, an Anjouan Scops-Owl started calling nearby and it didn’t take long before we were able to call it in for a closer look. After getting some nice pictures and recordings, we headed back down to the hotel to spend the night. Patrice needed to get back to the main town early the next day so we left at 0500 and headed directly to the airport. We arrived around 0700, but our flight wasn’t until the middle of the afternoon so we just hung around the terminal and watched the Madagascar Fodies that are found in the area.

We finally boarded our flight in the early part of the afternoon and made our way to the final island of our Comoros trip, Mayotte. The island of Mayotte is remarkably different from the other islands in the Comoros from a socioeconomic stand point because it is owned by France. We were quite pleased to arrive in an airport that wasn’t completely dilapidated, and after seeing a vagrant Northern Wheatear outside of the airport, made our way to a hotel in the main town of Mamoudzou. The next day we started the morning in a small coastal park that is a very reliable spot for three of the island’s endemics, Mayotte White-eye, Mayotte Sunbird, and Mayotte Fody. It didn’t take long before Josh and I were able to track down our three main targets and along with these birds, managed to see a few other goodies such as Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher and Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher.

Mid-morning we made our way back to our hotel and then quickly found a taxi to take us up to Pic Combani, a section of forest located about 20 minutes from town. We decided to say at Le Relais Forestier, a very nice B&B style lodge located in the middle of the forest. Our three remaining targets to find here were Mayotte Drongo, Mayotte Scops-owl, and the local subspecies (brutus) of France’s Sparrowhawk. None of these birds are difficult to find and with 1 ½ days in the area, neither of us were worried about finding them. We had only just arrived when I came across our first target, a Mayotte Drongo, perched directly over the access road while Josh was off sorting out our rooms. After putting our bags in our room, we went out for a walk along the main road and although it was very windy, we still managed a few more Mayotte Drongos as well as a our first Mayotte Scops-owl, with is famously known to be very easy, even in the middle of the day!

After dark, Josh and I headed back out along the dirt access road as we wanted to see the scops-owls at night and I wanted to get some pictures and recordings. The owls once again lived up to their reputation and we spent about an hour completing one of our easiest owling sessions ever! In total we saw about seven Mayotte Scops-Owls and were able to get fantastic views and many would come in and land very close to us.

Later that night I checked my e-mail and had a message regarding the plague that was currently wreaking havoc on Madagascar. This was the first time either of us had heard about the outbreak and after a few minutes of research, the situation didn’t appear good. The issue was that Melissa was sleeping back home in Pittsburgh and would be waking up in just three hours to head directly to the airport to fly to Madagascar! It was a pretty stressful night as we tried to gather information on what was going on, but we decided that Melissa should go ahead and fly to Madagascar and then continue on with her next flight to Reunion to meet us. I stayed back the following morning to make sure I could check my messages to see if Melissa had safely made the transition from Madagascar to Reunion while Josh took a walk and successfully located our last target, the local race brutus of France’s Goshawk. After he returned with the good news, I quickly headed off down the road and luckily refound the France’s Goshawk a few minutes later. This was our last target of the trip and we had finished by seeing single endemic species and every subspecies in the Comoros except one, the moheli ssp of Madagascar Brush Warbler. It was a successful trip for sure and with all of our targets successfully accounted for, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing. Now it was off to Reunion to meet back up with Melissa and continue on our tour of the Indian Ocean’s islands! Stay tuned!