Bird Photography / Reunion Island / Travel / Wildlife

Birds of Reunion Island

10 Mar ’15

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Reunion is a French island (one of the overseas departments of France) with a population of around 800,000 inhabitants. Located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, it is about 200 kilometers southwest of Mauritius, the nearest island.
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Reunion does not always jump to one’s mind when thinking of birds since it does not have a large number of species. However, it hosts some very interesting endemics that are definitively worth a look. If you have a stopover in Reunion or are passing near by, I recommend you stay a few days on the island and discover what it has to offer. The island is beautiful, the food is amazing and the people are very friendly :)
Reunion is part of the Mascarene Archipelago consisting of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues. Historically, rates of avian decline have been high for theses islands and Reunion now lacks certain endemics that survived before human colonization (humans brought habitat destruction and introduction of pests such as cats and rats). There are current conservation efforts being undertaken on Reunion to protect and boost the population of some of the remaining endemic species as several are listed on the IUCN redlist. I have photographed birds in Reunion on previous trips but this time I was more focused on getting a range of photos illustrating all the species rather than photos from random encounters. The images below are the results of several weeks on the island and trips alone, with my family or the SEOR (Ornithological Research Organization of Reunion) to document these amazing birds.
Gearnote: All images were taken with the new Canon EOS 7d mkII and the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS (alone or with the 1.4 and 2x extender).

Reunion Marsh-harrier (Circus maillardi) – Endangered IUCN

Male Reunion Marsh Harrier in Flight
Female Reunion Marsh Harrier in Flight
The Reunion Marsh-harrier (Circus maillardi) is thought to have a population of about 500 individuals and is the only breeding raptor on the island. The first pictures illustrate an adult female and the second image illustrates an adult male. It was great to finally observe them at such close quarters after waiting for a few hours in the mist. The male actually flew in so close that I could not focus on him anymore.
I filmed the release of a different male after he was cared for at the SEOR (He arrived weighing 200g less than an average male weight, poisoned and injured).

Reunion Grey White-eye (Zosterops borbonicus)

Reunion Grey White-eye (Zosterops borbonicus)

Reunion Grey White-eye (Zosterops borbonicus) feeding

Probably one of the most numerous birds on the island, the Reunion Grey White-eye is found in woodlands, forests, and gardens. It is a very small bird and these are the only close up images I managed to get. This species had seen it’s fair share of scientific research including research into potential speciation due to the four color morphs occurring in distinct areas of the island. Another piece of research showed that the Reunion Grey White-eye is a pollinator for Angraecum orchid species which are a group of plants usually pollinated by moths.

Barau’s Petrel (Pterodroma baraui) – Endangered IUCN

Barau's Petrel (Pterodroma baraui) in flight Barau's Petrel (Pterodroma baraui) in flight Barau's Petrel (Pterodroma baraui) in flight  Barau's Petrel (Pterodroma baraui) in flight

This is the highest-nesting petrel in the world. During breeding season they congregate at sealevel in certain spots on the west coast, then as the day turns to night they fly up to their colonies situated between 2500-3000m altitude. This is an incredible but surprising behaviour as the topography of Reunion is very rugged and steep and quite often very foggy. But, however dangerous this may seem they manage to overcome all these natural obstacles to reach their burrows. The local name for the Barau’s Petrel is ‘taillevent’ which literally translates to ‘wind-cutter’ and expresses very nicely their ability to fly and take sharp turns even in the strongest winds.
I was ecstatic when I saw this species down at the beach as I was there to shoot landscapes and long exposures and not expecting to see this endangered species. I love photographing pelagic birds but previously only ever photographed them from boats (see my pelagic birds article for the pictures).

Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes)

Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes) Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes)

Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes)Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes) Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes) Reunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes)

One of the most curious birds on the island, they are not shy and will readily investigate you when you come across them. Males of this species exhibit polymorphism (They have different colors). There are three colour morphs in the male birds but no one knows why this is. So far there is no evidence of sexual selection of plumage color by females which is one reason why colour morphs may occur. I selected a wide range of shots to show the different males, females and young individuals.

Mascarene Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis bourbonnensis)

Mascarene Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis bourbonnensis) Mascarene Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis bourbonnensis) Mascarene Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis bourbonnensis)

That rufous colour along with the iridescent head and blue eye ring (for the males) is unmistakable. The birds are quite inquisitive and I managed to get a good series of shots of this pair feeding their young. The third shot was taken at 10.000 isos!

Reunion Bulbul (Hypsipetes borbonicus)

Reunion Bulbul (Hypsipetes borbonicus) feeding Reunion Bulbul (Hypsipetes borbonicus)

Here you can see this endemic bird with a Phasmid in his mouth. This species does suffer from competition with the introduced Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) but is still considered a species of least concern by the IUCN.

 

Réunion Olive White-eye (Zosterops olivaceus)

Réunion Olive White-eye (Zosterops olivaceus)

I never got in close range of these birds and as a result I wasn’t able to get a good close up shot. They sometimes fly in mixed flocks with the Reunion Grey White-eye but are very easy to tell apart.

Reunion Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina newtoni) – Critically Endangered IUCN

male Reunion Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina newtoni)
That images need to be dedicated to the SEOR. Their team does an amazing job with protection and working on the conservation of the islands birds. When they started the Reunion Cuckoo-shrike conservation program there was less than 10 pairs left and now, 10 years later and  with relentless monitoring and protection, there is an estimated 50-70 breeding individuals. Without their efforts the birds would certainly be extinct today. I photographed this individual while on a walk with one of their field officers. It is great to see that he has nest building material in his mouth, seeing a endangered species breeding is always a positive sign.

Non-endemic species:

Mascarene Swiftlet (Aerodramus franciscus) – Near Threatened IUCN

Mascarene Swiftlet (Aerodramus franciscus) in flight

The only half decent image I got of these fast flyers! They are tiny and fly erratically, I was glad to use the improved autofocus from my 7d mkII to track it. 

White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus)

 White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus) in flight White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus) in flight White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus) in flight
This bird is the ‘bird emblem’ of Reunion island. You can see them all along the coast and in the canyons where they nest on the steep cliffs. Their streamers (the long tail feathers trailing behind them) give them a majestic look and are used in the courtship displays. On the third photo above the background is the volcanic cliffs where a few individuals were attempting to land, however, most of the time the birds turned away at the last minute and zoomed past the cliff to try again.

Brown Noddi (Anous stolidus)

Brown Noddi (Anous stolidus) in flight in Reunion Island Brown Noddi (Anous stolidus) in flight in Reunion Island Brown Noddi (Anous stolidus) in flight in Reunion Island Brown Noddi (Anous stolidus) in flight in Reunion Island Brown Noddi (Anous stolidus) in flight in Reunion Island
There is a single colony in the south of the island at a location called Petite Ile. They can be observed from two viewpoints, the top of the cliff and the bottom of the cliff. If you choose the later make sure you are very steady, fit and not scared of heights as the walk down is VERY dangerous. The temperature and humidity was insanely high on that day and spending hours on the black (and thus very hot) volcanic rocks to photograph them was a challenge.

Red Fody (Foudia madagascariensis)

Red Fody (Foudia madagascariensis) in breeding plumage
Although a very common sight around the island I always like to be there during their breeding season to witness the bright red males chasing the females around.
I did not get to see or photograph the Mascarene petrel (Pseudobulweria aterrima), one of the rarest petrels in the world. It is yet unknown where this bird breeds on the island and active work is being done to gather as much scientific data as possible in order to better understand the biology of this bird and therefore protect it in an efficient way. Hopefully this bird will not be added to the -too long – list of extinct birds of Reunion. Hopefully during my next trip there I will get to photograph the rest of the birds that call Reunion home.
Reunion definitively has something to offer in regards to interesting birds, along with many other great aspects that combine to make it an awesome holiday destination.
Reunion Island lagoon at dusk Cirque de Mafate
List of links
Here is a selection of links that might help you start to plan a trip or a long stopover in Reunion. Feel free to contact me if you want to know something specific.
For all the information and facts in this article I used the following resources:

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I am a nature photographer specialising in wildlife photography. I have a special passion for this type of photography which comes from my background as an ecologist & conservation biologist.

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