Christmas Island Trip Report (Long)

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Christmas Island Trip Report (Long)
From: David Adams <>
Date: Mon, 2 May 2005 10:46:17 +1000
My  wife and I were on Christmas Island April 14-20th and I thought
I'd send a trip report as this destination doesn't get a lot of
independent birders. With that in mind, I'll offer some background and
logistical details as well as birding information. Feel free to write
me privately with questions if you're thinking about planning a trip.

First off, many thanks to everyone who answered my emails, sent me
information, or has posted information about Christmas Island to the
Web or the mailing list archives.

I'd encourage anyone who has the Qantas points to book tickets. The
regular price for the flights from Perth to Christmas Island are very
expensive, making the deal on Qantas points quite attractive. The
seats are scarce, so it's best to book as far in advance as you can.
We got an award from Canberra with a stopover in Perth (heaven for
ducks!) about six months in advance. Qantas is changing their point
redemption scheme relatively soon, so it's worth looking into, if
you're interested.

I think that Christmas Island is about to be discovered, again. The
Great Outdoors has two segments that are supposed to air in the next
few months, one on birding the other on diving. Flights are already
often full because, apart from their not being many of them, a lot of
people are coming out to work on the new detention center. (The road
to the construction site is behind a fence and you can't see anything
of the works, at least I couldn't.) With that said, after the first
day my wife and I were the only tourists on island, as far as we could
tell. The first day we ran into a british couple who turned out to be
John and Sarah from Wildwings tours. This UK-based company is
organizing their first Christmas Island tour, as described here:

Back to the birding. My wife and I seem to spend our air points
getting to oceanic islands and I can say that Christmas Island was the
easiest and most satisfying oceanic island birding I can remember. I'm
not one of those birders who gets to a small island and sees all of
the endemics before breakfast. I usually find island birding hot,
sticky, and hard. Christmas Island was easy. The following birds were
abundant and easily seen, in appropriate habitat:

White-tailed Tropicbird  (Phaethon lepturus)
Red-tailed Tropicbird  (Phaethon rubricauda-)
Abbott's Booby  (Papasula abbotti-)
Brown Booby  (Sula leucogaster-)
Red-footed Booby  (Sula sula)
Christmas Frigatebird  (Fregata andrewsi-)
Lesser Frigatebird  (Fregata ariel-)
Great Frigatebird  (Fregata minor-)
Emerald Dove  (Chalcophaps indica)
Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon  (Ducula whartoni)
Glossy Swiftlet  (Collocalia esculenta-)
Christmas Island White-eye  (Zosterops natalis-)
Island Thrush  (Turdus poliocephalus-)

That's not a long list, and the full trip report isn't much longer
(below). All the same, the birding was some of the most satisfying I
can remember on an island. I don't know the latest thinking on the
status of various species/subspecies/races. I heard, for example, that
the Goshawk has been split, but don't really know. I based my list on
Allan Burbidge's list from this page:

Being that these birds were isolated for so long, that very strongly
have that 'naive' quality island birds can get. You can get absolutely
perfect views of these animals and, if you time the light correctly,
great photos. Displaying Great Frigatebirds and calling Abbott's
Boobies in the rainforest were highlights for us..

Speaking of the rainforest, it's unique. I'd heard about the local
crabs, but didn't have any idea how important they are. Christmas
Island has something like 20 species of land crab, several endemic.
The most numerous are the famous red crabs, some 120,000,000 strong.
When you go to the rainforest, the floor looks like it's been swept
clean in many places. (Something like leaf-cutter ants do, but on a
much vaster scale.) There is a constant sound of scuttling and
crunching. These crabs mulch the forest beautifully, keeping the floor
clear or nearly clear of litter and covered in really nice looking
dirt. I've never been anywhere where you had to think of crabs as a
major shaping force in the life history of anisland. Evidently,
Christmas Island didn't lose any ground-nesting birds (unlike very
other island you can name in the Pacific and Indian oceans) because
there wouldn't have been any there in the first place. For
crab-fanciers, you'll be very happy to have many opportunities to see
Coconut/Robber Crabs, pretty well extirpated from their range anywhere
else easy to visit..

A few notes on various species

Red Junglefowl  (Gallus gallus-)
There are a lot of feral chook running around, so I'm not 100% my
sighting is correct. (Dipped on the Green Junglefowl during the
stop-over on Cocos-Keeling, by the way. Did see what looked every bit
like a pair of immature Striated Herons, however.)

White-tailed Tropicbird  (Phaethon lepturus)
There were white and golden White-Tailed Tropicbirds both in
Settlement. The golden form was, by far, the most common.

Red-tailed Tropicbird  (Phaethon rubricauda)
Easiest to see and hear in Settlement.

Nankeen Night Heron  (Nycticorax caledonicus)
One has taken up residence at the Dale Waterfall for the past year.

Heron/Egret Species
Never numerous but I didn't go to the tip. The White-faced Herons were
the only skittish birds on island as they're being shot at the
airport. It's feared they're a hazard to planes.

Brown Goshawk  (Accipiter fasciatus)
Not a numerous bird but, once seen, curious. David Jones at Parks says
they'll follow you around for fifteen minutes at a time. They've
banded 55 or an estimated 100+ pairs. Given the island is roughly 136K
square, this may be as many Goswaks as should be expected. One found
us on the Dale's Waterfall Trail at dusk and kept calling at us.

Eurasian Coot  (Fulica atra)
There was a temporary waterhole on the East-West Baseline right at the
turnoff for the Blowhole Road. All three frigatebird species were
flying down to scoop up water. A Black-winged Stilt and a Eurasian
Coot where there, as well. I checked with Parks, and they were already
aware of the Coot. They said it was the first one recorded on the

Moluccan Hawk-Owl  (Ninox squamipila)
This very tiny owl is, I am told, widespread on the island. We went
out to the golf course a few nights running and got a couple of looks
at it. Not the easiest bird to find, but not bad at all for an owl. If
you do go out spotlighting, watch your feet for Coconut Crabs! They're
absolutely enormous (as big as your hat) and have huge, powerful
pincers. They're out and about on lawns at night. There's also an
endemic fruit-bat that may give you some eye-shine. Of course, they
don't sound or smell like owls <g>.

Java Sparrow  (Lonchura oryzivora) and Eurasian Tree Sparrow  (Passer montanus)
I only noticed these in Settlement, but I wasn't looking for them too hard.

A few logistical notes:
* You need a car. You can get a 2WD/4WD from $30/50 a day. 2WD is
absolutely fine for most areas but won't get you to the end of every

* We stayed at the VQ3 and thought it was a great value at $85/night.

* There are a variety of restaurants of different sorts and prices
(mostly inexpensive) and a full-size supermarket in Settlement.

* Take a day to figure out the roads. There are maps and there are
road signs...but the maps don't use the same names as the roads. It
isn't that hard, but it's easiest to drive around a bit with a map in
hand to sort it out.

* Note that the 'Pink House Research Station' is listed as 'Camp 4
Education and Research Station' on the maps. There's a nice, short
boardwalk through the forest here as well as kilometers of roads you
can walk along. Very nice.

* There's good, low rainforest in a lot of places. Our favorite larger
rainforest was along the Hugh's Dale Waterfall track. This also has an
excellent range of crabs, including the Blue Crab and some of the

* Check at the Visitor's Center (between the CLA and the supermarket
in Settlement) for maps, directions, etc. They have copies of the
local natural history books you can buyor have a look at. The crab
book is quite interesting. Check at the Parks Australia Office in
Drumsite for tips on where to see birds.(Recovering seabirds are fed
at the house next door at 4:30, if you want to get very up close.)

I'd like to add a few words about the water, but I'll keep this short
as this is a birding list. We planned to dive but didn't because my
wife got a head-cold. All the same, we went snorkelling several times
in Flying Fish Cove, right at the end of Setttlement. This is their
port and still it had some of the best-looking coral we've seen in the
Pacific or Indian oceans. Remarkable. There is so little fishing
pressure, that we kept being surprised at the size of some of the
fish. We saw several species we're familiar with that were much, much
larger here than elsewhere in their range. It was really a pleasure.
We didn't work too hard at the fish identification (skipped working on
gobbies, blennies, and most of the wrasses), and still managed to ID
80+ species in a handful of snorkels. It's really first rate. If you
possibly can, get in the water. Anyone that wants more info on species
(Fishbase lists 600), fish books, or dive shops, let me know.

Complete trip list:
Red Junglefowl  (Gallus gallus)
White-tailed Tropicbird  (Phaethon lepturus)
Red-tailed Tropicbird  (Phaethon rubricauda)
Abbott's Booby  (Papasula abbotti-)
Brown Booby  (Sula leucogaster)
Red-footed Booby  (Sula sula)
Christmas Frigatebird  (Fregata andrewsi)
Lesser Frigatebird  (Fregata ariel)
Great Frigatebird  (Fregata minor)
Great Egret  (Ardea alba)
White-faced Heron  (Egretta novaehollandiae)
Nankeen Night Heron  (Nycticorax caledonicus)
Brown Goshawk  (Accipiter fasciatus-)
Nankeen Kestrel  (Falco cenchroides)
Eurasian Coot  (Fulica atra)
Black-winged Stilt  (Himantopus himantopus)
Common Noddy  (Anous stolidus)
Emerald Dove  (Chalcophaps indica)
Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon  (Ducula whartoni)
Moluccan Hawk-Owl  (Ninox squamipila)
Glossy Swiftlet  (Collocalia esculenta)
Java Sparrow  (Lonchura oryzivora)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow  (Passer montanus)
Christmas Island White-eye  (Zosterops natalis)
Island Thrush  (Turdus poliocephalus)

 David Adams
 Bermagui 2546 NSW
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