To: birding-aus <>
From: Richard Baxter <>
Date: Thu, 22 Dec 2011 04:09:28 -0800 (PST)
       Christmas Island and Cocos-keeling Islands Birding Trip Report
                                        Nov-Dec 2011.
The next morning we visited the rubbish tip and located a very elusive GREY 
WAGTAIL and later found six Java Sparrow near Poon San and two Red Junglefowl 
on the Greta Beach track, finishing the day once again on swift watch at North 
West Point, seeing 30+ Asian House Martins and three to four Edible-nest 
Swiftlets.  Our evening spotlighting trip produced great close views of 
Christmas Island Hawk Owl, on the golf course, which was our last Christmas 
Island endemic.  

After heavy overnight rain on our fifth and sixth days we went out early in 
search of more rarities. We soon found and photographed a RED-COLLARED DOVE not 
far from our accommodation.  Two needletail swifts circling the hill above our 
accommodation had us occupied for over an hour as we endeavored to clinch their 
ID, eventually seeing the white lores of White-throated Needletail.
Several Barn Swallows were seen each day at Flying Fish Cove and another 
afternoon visit to NW Point continued to provide good views of the swiftlets, 
swifts and martins.  This time we found an all dark swiftlet, which we 
identified as MOSSY-NEST SWIFTLET. After an hour or so we were able to obtain a 
few photos. 
After an early start on our last day we were rewarded with views of a female 
ASIAN KOEL on the hillside under Silver City before breakfast.  The remainder 
of the day was spent visiting the island's main birding sites and walking down 
to the blowholes.  Many of the island's roads were closed due to the Red Crab 
migration, restricting the number of sites we were able to access during the 
week.  Our final afternoon was spent once again at NW Point.  In contrast to 
the four previous afternoons, the sky was virtually empty with just a lone 
House Swift cruising overhead.  Some members of our group had missed House 
Swift four days ago and it was great to see the bird return in full view of the 
group on our final Christmas Island afternoon.  

Despite the slow first day and dry conditions that greeted us on arrival, the 
week turned out to be one of the best I had ever experienced on Christmas 
Island, with the near daily rain and storms that traveled down from South East 
Asia obviously greatly contributing to large numbers of swifts, martins and 
swiftlets on the island.

With a week on Cocos still to come our trip list was already looking 
spectacular.  On this same trip last year we recorded an incredible twenty four 
vagrants and I was absolutely sure that I would NEVER again see that many 
vagrants on a single trip to these islands......How wrong I was!
We arrived on Cocos with a nice northerly wind blowing, originating from a 
tropical low hovering about 350 nautical miles to the west of the islands.  
This low produced perfect birding conditions and a tail wind for arriving 
vagrants from South East Asia.  Our first day on Cocos was spent entirely on 
West Island and by the end of the day we had an impressive one day list which 
included, Green Junglefowl, White-breasted Waterhen, Lesser Frigatebird and 
Great Frigatebird, GADWALL, YELLOW BITTERN, Oriental Pratincole, PIN-TAILED 
SNIPE, Dollarbird (SE Asian Race), SILVER-BACKED NEEDLETAIL, Barn Swallow, 
Asian House Martin and an unidentified, elusive Pond Heron, which was probably 
Chinese Pond Heron.  An awesome day of birding.

The day commenced with a drive along the island's main road where Green 
Junglefowl and White-breasted Waterhen are now abundant and very easily seen.  
In recent years the numbers of waterhen has exploded and they are now regularly 
seen in the yards of local residents and on most of the atoll's islands.  We 
also flushed a pond heron that, despite several searches, we were unable to 
locate again during our stay.

After breakfast we drove to the end of the runway in search of Pin-tailed Snipe 
and soon flushed two birds from the edge of the lagoon on an incoming tide.  We 
continued our walk and minutes later flushed a small pale bittern from the long 
grass on the edge of the runway.  After seeing the diagnostic black trailing 
margins to the wings and black wing tips, Damian quickly yelled, “Yellow 
Bittern” as it flew across in front of our group giving everyone great flight 
views of this species’ diagnostic features. 
While everyone had lunch, Mick, Damian and I decided to do a reconnaissance 
mission to the local wetlands were it began to rain as we walked in.  Whilst 
sitting under a palm frond and with our cameras in our dry bags, Damian spotted 
a mottled brown duck at the far end of the swamp which eventually swam into 
full view next to a Pacific Black Duck which gave us a direct size comparison.  
Ten to twenty percent smaller than the PBD, with a white speculum and obvious 
orange bill with dark bill edges, it soon flew towards us then directly over 
our heads, and out of the wetlands, flashing a whitish underwing.  Mick said, " 
It looks like a Gadwall, do they migrate?".  

After lunch at our accommodation we spent an hour or so trying to photograph a 
Hirundapus swift flying near the old quarantine station.  This bird proved 
exceptionally difficult to photograph and ID but we eventually had views of the 
dark lores and forehead as well as the indistinct throat patch which merged 
with the dark brown upper breast, clinching the identification as Silver-backed 

On Monday the 5th Dec we headed for the ferry to spend the day on Home Island.  
While waiting on the jetty Penny spottedtwo CHINESE SPARROWHAWK soaring over 
the palms near the jetty.    The following day we saw one of the birds again in 
the same area and I rushed back to our accommodation to tell everyone, but 
despite several searches we were unable to locate them again over the next few 
If you would like the full report with photos, please let me know.
Richard Baxter

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