I visited Christmas Island in mid January on my way back home to Australia
after 12 months backpacking RTW. Although it is a relatively expensive
destination for Australian travellers/birders, there are reasonably cheap
flights for people who are already in SE Asia, as there are carriers who
operate out of Singapore (as CI used to be part of the Crown Colony of
This trip report is a little unusual in that it is from a single, independent
birder - CI is most often visited by groups. I didn't find this any handicap,
except for the fact that a group is able to split apart across the island and
increase chances of finding vagrant birds. I was however, to find some
part-time birding buddies along the way. The first were found in the check-in
queue at Singapore airport, when Dan and Beth Mantle arrived at the queue where
I was standing! I have birded in Tassie with Dan before and it was a complete
surprise to see him (they were on their honeymoon...where better to go than
CI!?). Singaporean wildlife photographer, Eric Sohn Tan, was also an occasional
birding partner...particularly for dawn and dusk sessions and vain searches for
The weather was generally good but puncuated by numerous heavy rain events.
Apparently the island had been battered by heavy rain and wind for week prior
to my arrival.
The birding was fantastic, at least in the context of being able to see some
amazing species with very little effort. This is particularly true for the
oceanic / coastal birds. But it's not a place to go if you're after bird
diversity...the rainforests look great as habitat, but it takes a while to get
used to the fact that there's only two species of Passerines inhabiting them.
Quintessential island ecology I guess.
A total of 30 species were seen over the course of the week (not including the
chooks), with the most difficult resident bird to find being the Java Sparrow.
Apart from the Hawk Owl, I'd found every endemic species by mid-morning on the
first day, so it was basically a case of staking out areas for 'different
And this creates all types of adventure, from gazing for hours on end at piles
of refuse at the tip site, waiting for a Wagtail or a Hobby to appear....to
sitting at dusk into complete darkness at the top of a waterfall with massive
Robber Crabs (which look like giant Hermit Crabs that evolution couldn't
provide a house big enough for), crawling up the log you are sitting on! That
was during one of the many fruitless stake-outs for the Malayan Night Heron,
which appears from recent reports to be easier seen by the roadside. Of note,
there wasn't a single Wagtail found (perhaps too late in the season), but most
surprising was the lack of Barn Swallows.
The Red Crab migration had previously occurred, but they were still omnipresent
Feral Chicken (not Red Junglefowl) - commonly seen in groups of 4-5 birds.
Red-tailed Tropicbird - 5 to 10 seen daily. Biggest concentrations around
Flying Fish Cove and near Rumah Tinggi.
White-tailed Tropicbird - average 30 birds each day, including over inland
areas such as the tip.
RED COLLARED DOVE - single male bird found and photographed at South Point on
the 17th Jan. Observed by the Mantles soon after and photographed by Sohn Tan.
This is the second record of this species for CI. Not found the following day
but seen a week later (per Lisa Preston). Apparently was first seen by local
workers a fornight before I saw it (same location).
Emerald Dove - up to 20 seen daily, nearly always along forest trails.
Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon - widespread and common - up to 50 seen each
day (in a flock of 60 birds one morning at the tip)
Linchi ( Christmas Island ) Swiftlet - abundant and widespread - constant
companion to birders within vegetated / semi vegetated areas throughout the
island - probably hundreds seen daily.
Lesser Frigatebird - one only - a male at Margaret Knoll 14th Jan.
Great Frigatebird - common, over 100 seen each day - particularly easy to see
at close range at the puddle at LB3.
Christmas Island Frigatebird - common and widespread, up to 200 birds seen
daily - easily seen close-up at LB3 and the puddle on Quarry Road .
Abbott's Booby - only seen on 4 occasions - 3 times over Plantation and once
over Poon Saan.
Red-footed Booby - common, over 200 seen each day, including several injured
birds on roadsides (lack of food apparently the main cause).
Brown Booby - reasonably common, perhaps 10-20 seen daily - best seen at
Striated Heron - only one seen, Waterfall Cove 16th Jan.
White-faced Heron - average 10 per day - always 2 birds on Golf Course and 5-8
birds at tip in early morning.
Eastern Reef Egret - a total of 5 birds seen - 2 white phase and 3 dark phase
(possible overlap in count).
Nankeen Night Heron - One imm. at Waterfall Cove (seen 3 days consecutive) and
one adult in breeding plumage along creek on way to Dales Waterfall.
Variable ( Christmas Island ) Goshawk - total of 7 sightings - 5 of these
allowed very close approach (including one in the Poon Saan settlement). I was
'bombed' by one bird as it whooshed into the forest at Margaret Knoll lookout
at great speed.
Nankeen Kestrel - abundant and widespread - ubiquitous in cleared / disturbed
areas - 60-100 per day. I cannot think of anywhere else where this species has
flourished as they have here.
Peregrine Falcon (seen by Dan and Beth Mantle) - single bird at Margaret Knoll
13th Jan. This could be only the second record of this species on CI.
Apparently it was chasing a White-tailed Tropicbird - what a sight!
White-breasted Waterhen - not seen until 3rd day, but seen several times
thereafter - most commonly at southern entry to the tip and on the cricket
pitch near the new fitness centre. This species appears to have declined in
recent times (per Max Orchard)
Black-winged Stilt - single bird at Waterfall Cove, appeared to be an immature
H. h. leucocephalus but thought by Sohn Tan to be an adult H. h. himantopus -
this needs to be clarified.
Common Sandpiper - total of 3 birds, including a one-legged individual around
the cove that I found hopping around within the forest near Smith Point on one
Wood Sandpiper - single bird at VQ3 13-14th Jan (not at all perturbed by the
swooping Frigatebirds only metres away).
Common Noddy - common around Flying Fish Cove. A group of 10 birds seen off the
Oriental Cuckoo - single bird in forest near turn off to tip 12th Jan.
Christmas Island Hawk Owl - up to 4 birds heard calling at the Golf Course with
2 birds seen clearly on consecutive nights (including aggressive-type displays).
Christmas Island White-eye - certainly the 'king of the island' - abundant and
widespread in all terrestrial habitats with any form of vegetation - probably
200+ per day.
ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN - 3 individuals observed off Margaret Knoll at 1100 on 13th
Jan, with another 5 seen at the same location at 1530 later that day. On both
occasions the birds were heading north above the coastal terraces.
Island Thrush - commonly encountered in forested areas and along roadsides - up
to 30 seen per day.
Java Sparrow - seen once, 4 birds at house opposite VQ3 (but seen by the
Mantles and Sohn Tan on other days).
Eurasian Tree Sparrow - very common around Settlement, up to 100 per day.
+ a mysterious raptor whose ID I am still in the process of trying to solve.
For the sake of avoiding an exceptionally long message, I will put the details
of this sighting in a separate message.
Many thanks to Lisa Preston and Richard Baxter for their practical assistance
and to Mike Carter for supporting info on significant sightings.
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