Christmas Cocos Trip Report Nov-Dec 2013

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Christmas Cocos Trip Report Nov-Dec 2013
From: Richard Baxter <>
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2013 01:19:22 -0800 (PST)
Hello all,
              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 
fourth trip!

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 

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.

Richard Baxter
Birding Tours Australia

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