Reunion – The Indian Ocean Islands – A Reunion on Reunion

So before I jump right into our “Reunion on Reunion” let it be known that I left Ross and went home for three weeks in the middle of our 6-month trip. It took nearly 2 days of travel on either end to get from one side of the world to the other, and I realize that it might sound crazy that I would do all of that extra travelling for less than 3 weeks in the US, but a mini break in the middle of some intense birding was more than alright by me. While I was away, Ross birded up and down the Snow Mountains of West Papua with Stephan Lorenz and Claudia Cavazos, had a day in Malaysia where he ticked Mountain Peacock-Pheasant sitting next to a BirdTourAsia group, and then proceeded to make his way to the Comoros meeting up and birding with Josh Beck. Unfortunately for Ross, his checked luggage never made it to his final destination. He managed to see a lot of birds in that time while I managed to see a lot of family and friends, attend a wedding and a bat mitzvah, visit Philadelphia, and eat to my heart’s content all of my favorite Pittsburgh foods. The day before I left the US I had a Primanti’s sandwich and it was everything I would need to hold me off until I get home again. (If you’ve never had one, come to the ‘Burgh and order a cap ‘n cheese. You won’t regret it!)

Ross and I had very minimal communication during this three week stint but every so often we could reconnect thanks to Facebook messenger. The morning that I was planning to leave, I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3:30AM to be sure I could finalize everything and make it to the airport for my 6AM flight. It was then that I received a bunch of messages from Ross telling me to google Madagascar plague. Sure enough I did and I learned that there had been an outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague in the capital city of Madagascar, Antananarivo. The plague in Madagascar sounds pretty terrifying, and rightfully so, it being a deadly disease and all, but it is a pretty common occurrence – happening every year. Apparently however, this year it had been more contagious and deadly, due to it being an outbreak of pneumonic plague, spread by face-to-face contact with in infected individual. Great, Antananarivo, the capital was infected and was my final destination.

Things were a whirlwind and suddenly the plans we had made were up in the air. We didn’t want to risk coming to Madagascar and catching the plague. Per the CDC, 15% of those infected died. Eeks! However, the World Health Organization (WHO) was recommending against travel bans at this time. News sources were making it out to be a big deal, but one must understand that if the CDC and WHO aren’t making it out as such, it wasn’t worth cancelling plans over. Knowing the risks I boarded my plane and 25 hours later arrived in what is quite possibly the most unique island in all of the world, Madagascar. I donned a face mask after landing despite being the only person I saw doing so and made my way to a small hotel just outside of the airport and a full 45 minutes outside of the main city. Hopefully far enough away that I wouldn’t become contaminated! I had one night by myself in Antananarivo, as had to be the case since we couldn’t get flights to align any better, and the following morning left for the airport and headed to the island of Reunion for, you know, mine and Ross’ reunion.

Ross and Josh Beck had been birding together for the last 3 weeks in Comoros.  I met up with the two of them after their flight arrived and we quickly picked up our rental car and made our way up to La Roche Ecrite. We were hoping to find a campground, but instead we found a nice parking lot that didn’t say camping was illegal. Perfect. We set up tents and went straight to bed. The following morning we walked up a hillside for a few targets. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the white-eyes were numerous. It took us until 830am before we had what we knew would be the trickiest target, Reunion Cuckooshrike. Other highlights for the morning included great looks at Reunion Grey White-eye, Reunion Olive White-eye, Reunion Bulbul, Mascarne Paradise-Flycatcher.

We drove down the windy mountain road and made our way to the sea. Next on the agenda: find the super rare and range-restricted Mascarene Petrel. In order to do that, Josh had been coordinating with Reunion Fishing Club and had organized a boat and chum for two days of pelagic birding. We had to laugh though because some groups (including a few bird tours) report seeing this rare seabird from shore!!! Let me tell you, this is nearly IMPOSSIBLE and anyone who claims to have seen this bird from shore is full of it. (Looking directly at you, Birdquest… “distant looks” yeah right!) Distinguishing it from the very similar dark morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Great-winged Petrels or Jouanin Petrels that can occur in these waters simply cannot be done from shore. Without a photo, I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they’ve seen this bird. Just saying…

We boarded our boat and set out on what was my very first pelagic trip! Thankfully we had this boat for two days because our first day we did not have our main target. Instead we picked up a slew of other decent seabirds, and among the more common Tropical Shearwaters, Barau’s Petrels, and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, we managed to find Subantarctic Skua, Masked Booby and Flesh-footed Shearwater  (after review, it is just another wedgie).

Our second pelagic trip started at the same time as the one from the day before, 1pm, but we knew we wanted to do things a bit differently. First of all we requested more chum and also made it a point to grab more oil so we could lure in more birds with the fish scent. We made a beeline for distant waters and started to chum about 25km off the western shore. The seabirding was very good on day two, definitely better than the day before. It is hard to complain when you are seeing Barau’s Petrel and Tropical Shearwaters up close and in large numbers. We also managed to find a single Bulwer’s Petrel and Black-bellied Storm-petrel, but unfortunately no Mascarene Petrels were seen.

Heading back into shore, we made a last minute booking through Airbnb and we had a whole house rental to go home to. Showers all around! We didn’t spend a lot of time in Reunion, but from what we saw we concluded it was beautiful and would love to go back! (And being owned by the French, the bread was heavenly!)

Now it was on to the Seychelles! Au revoir Reunion!

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