04 Oct Conservation activities for the Seychelles Magpie Robin on Denis Island
In the Central Seychelles group, various endemic birds are still classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN redlist. This includes the Seychelles Magpie Robin (SMR; Copsychus Sechellarum) which can be found on Denis Island. Over the last few months, the Denis Island environment team with the help of GIF staff have implemented extensive conservation activities to safeguard the population of SMR on the island.
The SMR was once found on most of the islands in Seychelles. Unfortunately, human activity such as habitat destruction has dramatically affected the population of this species. By 1965, there were only 12-15 individuals on Frégate Island. In 1990, Birdlife International took an interest and began to apply conservation management actions to save the SMR. Birds were transferred to Cousin in 1994, to Cousine in 1995 and Aride in 2002. In 2008 a group of 20 individuals were translocated to Denis Island. Now, there are in total 300-350 individuals restricted to five islands in the Seychelles (Aride, Cousin, Cousine, Fregate and Denis Island), which is a major improvement from that of 1990’s numbers. Each island management is responsible for their SMR population and implements a standardized SMR monitoring program. The objectives of this program are to keep the whole population ringed at any time; to keep track of all family groups in each territory; and to provide a population size estimate.
Over the last three months, the Denis Island team implemented an intensive ringing exercise of all unrung SMR individuals found on the Island. This involved catching the birds with mist nests and placing plastic rings around their legs with different colour combinations for identification. This exercise in combination with other observations such as bird behaviour and nesting records, allowed the team to produce an updated territory occupation chart and map. In total the population estimate on Denis Island is currently 75-80 birds.
The team also built a large new set of nest boxes and repaired/repainted some of the old ones. These nest boxes were hung up in various places in the conservation forest to provide more breeding opportunities for the endemic SMR. There are currently a total of 24 nest boxes. With the help of the GIF volunteers, dense undergrowth of ferns has been continuously removed in several locations in the conservation forest to make it easier for this ground-feeding bird to forage for insects.
In collaboration with GIF, the team has also set up a long-term invertebrate study to examine food availability for the SMR and quantify the quality of different territories. For the SMR, the abundance of invertebrates, especially cockroaches in the upper soil surface and litter, is the most important indicator of territory quality. It involves measuring invertebrate abundance in soil samples from known SMR territories in different habitats. A total of forty 25x25m randomly chosen sampling plots are used. In each plot a modified insect pitfall is placed, which is collected once per month and re-placed at a new location in the sampling plot. Afterwards the collected sampled is sorted and the found invertebrates identified.
The results from this year’s population count, along with an update of the conservation management activities on Denis Island were presented at the Seychelles MAgpie Robin action Team (SMART) meeting in August. SMART members applauded the great work being done by the team and the initiatives were positively encouraged by the group.