The magic of flight

[words and photograph © Narina Exelby]

There is an island in the far north of Seychelles that twitters with magic.

It’s a place where the sky is big and where silence is rare: out here, the calls of more than 20 species of sea birds flitter in the Indian Ocean breeze. But it wasn’t always like this.

When Bird Island was sighted by a passing ship in 1776, the captain of The Eagle wrote that there were “birds innumerable” on the coral island – but more than a century later, when guano mining was established, the avian population began to dwindle to a mere fraction of what it once was. By 1955 the island’s population of more than a million sooty terns had plummeted to less than 40,000.

In the late Sixties the island was sold to its current owner and intensive efforts were made to return the island to its natural state. These days, when you land on Bird, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the calls of birds that constantly fill the air around the 700-square-metre island. Some visitors even say that they battle to sleep the first night, the noise of the birds and frogs is so loud.

Early mornings are a fascinating time to be on this island, which has become a sanctuary for sea birds. The feathered creatures – more than 20 species on the island – are so unfazed by humans that you can get up to an arm’s length from them, and many are inquisitive and seem as fascinated with people as we are with them.

That was how it was when I shot this pair of white terns, which flittered around my head and between the branches of a driftwood tree. We watched each other for about an hour just after the sun rose, before I walked to the north of the island and lay some time on the beach – beneath a sky of more than half a million sooty terns.

[One Good Tern is a six-page gallery of some of Narina‘s images from Bird Island; it was published in the June 2013 issue of Sawubona, SAA’s inflight magazine]

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