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Posts Tagged ‘Bird Island’

House, n.  A hollow edifice erected for the habitation of human, rat, mouse, beetle, cockroach, fly, mosquito, flea, bacillus, and microbe.  ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Life is all around!

Life is all around!

Ah … tropical island life! So green and lush and moist and warm, so full of life.

Unlike other parts of Africa we have no giraffes loping gracefully over open plains, nor do we have open plains. You won’t find lions lounging in prides in the shade under acacias, even though we do have acacias. The huge saltwater crocodiles that once inhabited this island have been extinct for two centuries, so the only predator species filling the top spot is Homo sapiens and we’re far from indigenous.

Still, everywhere your eye might rest there are critters, some of which are autochthonous like our fruit bats that have become their own unique version of chiroptera. The list of endemic reptiles includes thirteen types of lizard, two snake species, and of course the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, which visitors are far more likely to see than either our wolf snake or house snake. (In my twenty-plus years here I have seen ONE live snake. A few dead ones, unfortunately, since although the animals are completely harmless and could, if allowed, take a toll on the rat population, Seychellois are terribly ophiophobic.)

Every house has geckos; entertaining little critters that chirp like birds and scamper over seemingly impossible surfaces as they

Sweet little baby gecko!

Sweet little baby gecko!

munch on bugs. Tourists not accustomed to sharing space with lizards sometimes freak out and no few have alerted hotel staff to the “baby crocodiles on the ceiling” … really.

Birds are everywhere: mynas, fodies, doves, blue pigeons, bulbuls and such are common and spend time on verandas. Beautiful kestrels are rarer, but can be seen if you’re lucky.

A myna likes to bathe in the dogs' water bowl.

A myna likes to bathe in the dogs’ water bowl.

Sea birds are less common on Mahé, but legion on some of the islands. A trip to Bird Island delivers just what the name promises with over 700,000 pairs of sooty terns nesting. (For diehard birders … “another phenomena especially in October to December, arises from the geographical location of Bird Island on the northern edge of the Seychelles Bank. This means it is the first landfall for migratory Euarasian birds …” )

And like everywhere else in the world, we have a lot of bugs.

It is estimated that at any given moment, Earth is home to a billion billion insects. Spread out evenly over the land surface, this would be nearly 8,000 insects per square meter!

Yep. Creepy crawlies abound, although if you try to learn what’s here through Wikipedia you’ll come up short. Some, like bees, are helpful. Some (centipedes come to mind) are horrible. Spiders the size of a kid’s hand aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. We have ants that are yellow and crazy, mean sand flies and … sigh … mosquitos. Not the type that vector malaria, thankfully, but bite and itch and can transmit dengue fever, a miserable illness I can personally attest to the misery of … twice. I’m so not a fan of these asshole insects that global eradication would be just fine with me. And I’m not alone in this …

“it’s difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage”, says insect ecologist Steven Juliano, of Illinois State University.

Fun with a Rhinoceros Beetle.

Fun with a Rhinoceros Beetle.

On the bug front, however, we also have a very cool Rhinoceros Beetle, and since coconut plantations no longer support the country I’m okay with them. They’re big enough to be considered more like a dog than a bug, as is evidenced by their presence in the pet trade. Thankfully I get to play with them for free.

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Baby octopus on Bird Island. Photo credit: Greg Berke

Since my twice-daily drive to town taking the kids back and forth to school gets grindingly dull as I pass the same stunningly beautiful scenery time and time again .. azure seas, white sand beaches, verdant forest, ho hum … I frequently offer lifts to neighbors waiting for busses, and although ensuing conversations too often consist of tedious discussions of the three most popular topics here — a limited range of weather (all tropical), fish (also tropical), or sex (not as steamy as you’d think) — occasionally something gets me thinking.

My passenger this afternoon was an octopus diver, which is to say he puts food on the table by hunting, then selling, octopi for the tables of others. Since Sam has recently started snorkeling, we’ve been on the hunt ourselves for a sight of an eight-armed wonder, but they’re bloody hard to find.

Having access to an expert, I sought some advice, but ended up getting more questions than I asked. Knowing that I spend much of my time online, he asked if I could do a bit of research on the tasty cephalopods, then report back.

Asking about the lifespan of an octopus started the wondering, since Stephen has no idea if the creature he finds, stabs in the eye, then pots has been around for five months of fifty years.

Turns out, the fifty year thing isn’t possible. According to the octowiki, these amazingly intelligent, bilaterally symmetric dudes aren’t around for long at all … and they can blame that on sex (which we knew we’d get around to eventually).

Octopuses have a relatively short life expectancy, and some species live for as little as six months. Larger species, such as the North Pacific Giant Octopus, may live for up to five years under suitable circumstances. However, reproduction is a cause of death: males can only live for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch. They neglect to eat during the (roughly) one month period spent taking care of their unhatched eggs, but they don’t die of starvation. Endocrine secretions from the two optic glands are the cause of genetically-programmed death.

According to the octopus hunter in my car, there are plenty of octopuses that are hard as hell to find, and since they breed by the zillions and don’t last long, I’m not too fussed about the occasional curry I enjoy.

I am, however, a bit bothered about dining on someone so much smarter than a cow.

Octopuses are highly intelligent, likely more so than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory.

In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs.

Thanks to my car companion du jour, I now have a bit of an idea where to start looking for an octopus to share with Sam in the sea instead of over dinner, and I can’t wait until he catches sight of his first as it suddenly appears, moves, settles, then disappears in the flash of color morph that perfectly mimics its new spot.

Side note: a sack of dead octopuses is a pulsating bag of color … fascinating and sad, but when I come across the option I usually buy one for dinner.

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In an effort to keep the beauty of my island home and all that is wonderful in my world in mind as the ugliness of life and death intrudes, I’m posting more photos today and saying little.
Bird/Sam rope ©2007SHBenoiton
My amazing son, Sam

Bird/Tortoise
A big, bird-poop spattered tortoise enjoying the attention (?) of my family.

BirdSootyTern©2007SHBenoiton
A sooty tern, up close and personal with a potential for poop spattering

My lovely family on a lovely beach ©2007SHBenoiton
My lovely family on a lovely beach on Bird Island

The Ent in my garden ©2007SHBenoiton

From my veranda at home, the Ent that lives at the bottom of my garden pointing at the hidded treasure on the hill opposite. (One day I’ll follow his finger and dig it up.)

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Life has once more come between me and my personal blog. Not only have I been dealing with some unpleasant work issues and sick kids, I’m putting the finishing touches … I hope … on a collection of short stories and other bits that have been begging to be included between the front cover and back page.

Of course, I’ll be flogging the book here when its available … no worries about that.

Since I’m using up all my meaningful words in other places at the moment, I thought I would post some pictures (worth thousands of them, I hear) of our Bird Island trip for general consumption.

birdda-plane.jpg
De plane … de plane …

The runway … avec Giant Aldabra Tortoise
That’s no rock on the runway! (Yes, that is the runway.) It’s a Giant Aldabra Tortoise.

Runway tortoise, up close and personal
Up close and personal with the runway tortoise.

Bird/Sam&bush ©SHBenoiton
No footprints, please. (Sam with a bush on the beach.)

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A weekend on Bird Island with friends from Kenya provided one opportunity after another to get all of us, kids included, thinking in terms of wildlife large and small.

Our visit to their neck of the woods last year took us to Tsavo National Park where we watched herds of elephants pick gigantic bouquets (trunkgays?) from vast fields of end-of-rainy-season blooms as baby giraffes clumsily cavorted under the far-distant noses of attentive mothers.

The whole of Bird Island being about the same size as the grounds of the Kilaguni Lodge, our Tsavo home-from-home, had to bring a completely different experience.

The ten-year-old in our midst was instantly taken with the tag-team of common noddies that found his family’s chalet the perfect perching point, so didn’t seem to miss at all the much larger mammalian fauna of home.

My kids are well acquainted with the local varieties of feathered friends, but with more than a million sooty terns calling Bird home for the breeding season, even two-year-old Cj was impressed, spending a good portion the first day on the island astonished by almost every single one of those more-than-a-million.

“Mommy! Mommy!” she’d shout, “Birdy … LOOK!”

Darned cute for the first, what? … eighty-five times? Just a tad tedious from then on. Thankfully, she developed an immunity by Day Two and spent more time trying to avoid stepping in bird poop.

“Yucky, Mommy!”

Sam, at almost five, was in his element with the freedom a small island gives a small boy, warm and calm seas, birds and lizards and giant tortoises everywhere, and full use of Mom’s digital camera to record all the wonders. His shot of a baby fairy tern earned him our combined families’ unofficial, but so prestigious “David Attenborough Award” that came in the shape of a bowl of coconut ice cream. Baby Fairy Tern

By mutual agreement it was decided that Bird Island’s “Big Five” must-see counterpart to Kenya’s list — lion, leopard, buffalo, giraffe and elephant — would boil down to: dolphin, whale, whale shark, ray and sea turtle. (Land creatures on Bird being habituated to humans and far too easy to ‘spot’, the challenge had to come from the sea.)

One morning out on a boat produced fine viewing of three out of the five … the whales and whale sharks not cooperating, apparently … so everyone was happy as a clam (also not seen).

We’ll be doing this again.

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