The most charming thieves are the flightless land rails, the white-throated rails, which were to be such an endearing adjunct to my spells in camp, were the only flightless birds left in the Indian Ocean and were much too confidingly friendly for their own good. Among the others hounded to extinction was the dodo. One of its relatives, a form of Comoro blue pigeon survives on Aldabra and Aldabra alone.
There are about 100 flightless rails on Aldbara and one family; father, mother and adolescent Rowland, took me into their circle. Rowland, being the cheekiest of all, was into everything, my bed, my boots, rucksack and books. A slim, brown, needle-beaked youngster, with a pugnacious nature and an insatiable curiosity. He was partial to soap; he pinched a bar the first day and has been pecking at its replacement since...He whipped up a lather in the washing-up bowl with his beak and hopped into the frying pan to inspect the baked beans.
Rowland in as usual at first light, leaned out of bed and offered him my mug of water. He drank deeply for a while, then got hold of the side of the cup and tipped the rest on the tent floor. I rose to wash. He got in the bowl with both my hands, so he only had room to drink. As soon as I finished he had a full sized bath, ducking his shoulders under the surface and fluttering water over his wings back and tail, same as any starling. His feathers are matt not glossy but water drops rolled off silver, leaving him bone dry and nothing to shake off when he shook before the usual avian post-bathe preening. He must have been in the bowl drinking deeply a dozen times in an hour. The land surface has an 8 month dry season. Do they drink sea water or is dew enough (they feed at sea edge)?
In the tent Rowland hopped in the shoe I was putting on and climbed up my leg but just won’t let you grab him. Wanted to last night as he had a long tangled strand of thread round his legs, but he got one leg free as I tried and the other was free in the morning. Cheekier than before, if anything. Familiarity breeds contempt.
A scrabbling behind my rucksack and Rowland emerged with a brown cockroach as big as his head. It put up a good fight but didn’t have a chance. Cat and mouse play. Pulled off all its legs and feelers then drew what looked like the string of entrails, then swallowed body and head whole, gulped twice. Went back to look for more. None. Straight into bowl for drink
Rowland scuffled in my tent and emerged with a 4" long centipede. Long play. Picking it up, wriggling violently, shaking it as though to break its backbone if it had one. Fast enough to dislocate joints of nervous system, though no banging on ground. It’s resistence lessened and he finally swallowed it whole, as with cockroach. Racing straight to my large mug of orangeade, which he had only drunk from once before, to wash it down and he came straight back, pecking at my fingers hard when I put my hand over it. Comes when I call ‘Twee’ and put my hand down but not when I call and don’t. Very intelligent.