I'm not long back home from another exciting and successful
birding tour to both Christmas Island and the Cocos-keeling Islands. This was
my 25th tour to the islands and my 30th visit and in that time I've taken over
200 Australian birders to the islands. This trip was similar to many others in
that several of the group were returning for their 2nd, 3rd or 4th visit. One
member of the group got six new birds for her Australian list and it was her
Our trip started with five days on Christmas Island, followed by six days on
Cocos and finished with our final nights dinner at a private home on West
Island. Our group was enthusiastic, great to be with and everyone
enjoyed seeing new birds.
We arrived on CI at the end of the dry season. The island had received very
little rain since April and there were no water holes anywhere on the island to
attract birds. We started the first afternoon with a walk through Settlement,
where we saw Island Thrush, Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, Glossy
Swiftlet and Red-tailed Tropicbird. Continuing north along the coast we found
both Christmas Island and Great Frigatebird soaring above the golf course as
well as hundreds of Red-footed Booby in the surrounding trees. Our first
vagrant/rarity came in the form of a nicely coloured EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL on
the 7th fairway. As we continued along the coast we located roosting Brown
Booby, White-tailed Tropicbird and Christmas Island White-eye but there was no
doubt the most spectacular birds of the afternoon were the Golden Morph
White-tailed Tropicbirds which soared above our heads and periodically cruised
into their cliff side nests. We
finished the day with a BBQ at Flying Fish Cove.
Our second day started with five Java Sparrow before breakfast and four
Christmas Island (Brown) Goshawks before lunch. After touring much of the
island we finished the day at a lookout to watch numerous Abbott's Booby
arriving and departing their nests. In all we saw 25 of these beautiful birds
during the afternoon. Our vagrant for the day was a GREY WAGTAIL at Drumsite.
Our morning target on day three was ASIAN KOEL and after an hour of searching
we all had good views of a male in Silver City. Numerous Common Emerald Dove
were seen during our forest drives and the occasional Red Junglefowl was seen
along the forest tracks. We decided to drive all the way to the far end of
the island to have dinner at the Chinese Firewalking Festival. After parking
and walking in, I received a text from Lisa Preston, " Yellow Bittern
in Settlement". Of course Settlement is on the other side of the island and
the furthest point of the island from where we were. We jumped back in our
cars but as we drove north the sun set and it was soon dark. Lisa saw the
bittern go into a nearby rose garden, so we got our torches out and had a
quick but unsuccessful scan. We finished the night with nice views of
Christmas Island Hawk Owl.
We were up at the crack of dawn on a bittern hunt and soon had the rose garden
surrounded. After an hour of patient waiting a young YELLOW BITTERN flew
across the road and landed on the footpath next to Colin Rogers. A short walk
and it flew back into the garden, with us flying back to the motel for
breakfast shortly afterwards. During the day we continued to visit the
island's main birding sites and located an Oriental Pratincole, two
Lesser-crested Tern, Barn Swallows and another Grey Wag. Our next vagrant came
at dusk when we all drove down to the golf course to search for nightjars.
After playing the call we had a SAVANNA NIGHJAR fly into where we were
standing, have a brief look at us and fly off up the road. High-fives
followed, an awesome way to end the day.
After five days on CI it was time to fly 900km SW to Cocos. Cocos was even
drier than CI, perhaps the driest I've ever seen it. Our first afternoon
produced White-Tern, Green Junglefowl and numerous White-breasted Waterhen. We
located two Oriental Pratincoles on the runway and walked out to flush them,
making sure they weren't Collared Pratincole. The following morning we found
both EURASIAN TEAL and WESTERN REEF EGRET feeding in the lagoon at low tide.
During the day we found a Baillon's Crake in the front garden of one the local
houses, which I'm pretty sure is a first record for Cocos. On the other side
of the lagoon we walked out across the sand flats to get good views of
two COMMON REDSHANK before travelling over to South Island in search of
Saunder's Tern. On the incoming tide we searched the remaining sandbars,
eventually locating five SAUNDER'S TERN on a quickly disappearing patch of
sand. With the terns seen, we adjourned for a celebratory drink, swim and
snacks on a nearby beach, where we spent the remainder of the afternoon
The following day we spent at sea on the first Cocos pelagic trip. We sat
5-8miles off the corner of Horsburgh Island in the path of birds passing the
islands. A couple of feeding flocks were visited and these contained
Red-footed Booby, White Tern, Common Noddy and Brown Booby. Over the course of
the day over twenty Wedge-tailed Shearwaters glided past and just before we
headed in to shore a lone Masked Booby flew alongside for a brief visit. An
early morning ferry ride on day 4 had us all scouring Home Island and after
a few minuted we flushed a CHINESE SPARROWHAWK from trees near the doctors
house. Over the following two days we would see this bird on several
occasions, eventually finding it perched in a tree with the mansion grounds.
On two occasions it was seen soaring over the island being harassed by up to
fifty White Terns.
While searching the island over the next two days our group photographed a non
breeding POND HERON and had views of Barn Swallow and Asian Koel. A lone
PIN-TAILED SNIPE was also seen in the banana plantation. Flycatchers are
always exciting to find on the islands as there are several long distant Asian
migratory flycatchers still yet to be seen in Australia. While a few of us
searched the island a lone flycatcher landed in a tree directly in front of the
mansion. It departed before we could identify it. Time for another
stake-out. We waited a couple of hours and then surrounded the tree at a
distance, hoping it would return. As the tree was full of caterpillars, we
were certain it would. After 20min it came back to feed, eventually sitting on
a branch enabling good views and several photographs of the island's second
BLUE AND WHITE FLYCATCHER in two years.
In all we found thirteen vagrants/rarities on the islands, which considering
how dry it had been, was an excellent result.
My next trip to the islands is from the 4th-15th March, which is 5 days CI,
followed by 7 days on Cocos. There are plenty of vacancies at this stage.
Birding Tours Australia