Skiffs from the the Cousin Island reserve come to the boat to collect us, as we are not allowed to go to the island on our own due to it being a protected area. The skiff drivers manage to drive them right up the beach, where the guides are waiting for us.
A fairy tern is sitting in the branches above us and a small lizard scuttles past our feet. We pass a young fairy tern that is sitting by the trunk of a tree and we learn that fairy terns do not build nests – the egg would have been laid and the chick would have hatched on the ground.
A Seychelles magpie hops past us and decides that he will follow our group. Soon we pass a giant tortoise who seems to start following us too. “He always follows me everywhere, I don’t know why.” says our guide, Marcus.
We pass the island’s only source of water that looks like nothing more than a large puddle. It contains a mix of salt and freshwater and this is where the birds drink. A member of the group asks why the birds drink it if it contains salt water. “They have no choice” replies Marcus. The puddle is also a breeding ground for the hundreds of mosquitoes.
We stop by an interesting tree and Marcus shows us a seed that has fallen on the ground. He explains that this tree is called the fruit bat tree and that fruit bats from a neighbouring island fly over here and eat the outside of the fruit, allowing the seed to develop. The bark of this tree used to be made into tea, however this is now illegal as it was found that pregnant women who drank the tea would lose their babies. As abortion is illegal in the Seychelles it is therefore also illegal to drink the tea made from the bark.
Two fairy terns sit side-by-side in the branches above us. These birds mate for life and, if one should die, the other will spend the rest of its life alone. Young terns will stay with their parents until they mate.
Nearby there is a ‘rasta’ or ‘tarzan’ tree and at the base of it are three lizards. The smaller of the lizards is the Seychelle’s lizard; we are told that they are very curious creatures and will come right up to you, even climbing onto you, to see if you have anything for them.
Marcus stops and points out a brown and a green gecko. It always amazes me how guides are able to spot these things so easily!
A few crabs scuttle by and we begin to see more hermit crabs as we get closer to the beach. Unlike other crabs, hermit crabs have soft, vulnerable abdomens. For protection from predators they seek out abandoned shells, usually snail shells. Once they have found one of the appropriate size they pull themselves inside it and carry it around with them. When they outgrow the shell they simply find a bigger one.
We arrive at the beach on the other side of the island. A white-tailed tropicbird sits on the ground by the trunk of a tree while another flies above it. When in flight their tails look spectacular. The white-tailed tropicbird is considered to be the national bird of Bermuda and it appears on postage stamps and the 25 cent coin. It was first described in 1802 by François Marie Daudin, a French zoologist. This bird is known in Bermuda as the longtail and in the Maldives as dhadifulhudhooni.
A young fairy tern sits in the branches of a tree. It is probably less than a week old and will have been born there, in the tree. As they build no nest I ask the guide how the egg manages to stay in the tree. “I don’t know” he replies, “they just do – even with the strongest winds the egg never falls out”. The fairy tern lays only one egg and usually finds a branch where there is a knot or a fork to support the egg. She will then sit on the egg to prevent it from falling. When it hatches 21 days later the chick will cling onto the branch with its large, clawed feet.
- Information sign at Cousin island