Australia’s Cocos-keeling Islands and Christmas Island Nov/Dec 2009
Birding Tours Australia – 30 Nov to 11 Dec 2009 (5 days Cocos & 7 days
Leaders- Richard Baxter & Mick Roderick
We’re not long back from another successful birding and natural history trip to
both islands. I’m amazed when birders still ask me, ”Why do you bother going
to Cocos?” This trip yet again answered that question with Cocos again winning
the species count for the two islands. At the end of our 12 days we had 35
species for Cocos compared to 29 species recorded for Christmas Island. Cocos
also, yet again produced the greatest number of rarities on tour with six
verses four for Christmas Island.
With each visit we're finding new birding locations on the atoll. Cocos is no
longer the birding backwater that it used to be.
After arriving on West Island, Cocos late Monday afternoon, we quickly dropped
our bags in our rooms and headed for the local wetlands. On the way, Green
Junglefowl and WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN were numerous on the roadsides and in
failing light 3 BARN SWALLOWS and 20 Pacific Black Ducks were all that were
visible. We returned to our ocean front accommodation where we dined outside
within a few meters of the Indian Ocean and surrounding coral reef.
Our first morning on the islands was spent at Bechet Besar wetlands in search
of Australia’s newest species and within minutes of arriving we had 2 COMMON
MOORHEN in the scope. Birdlife on the wetlands was prolific and some of us
were able to get close views of PIN-TAILED SNIPE feeding in the open and
oblivious to our presence.
A sensational mornings birding continued to improve when a GREY WAGTAIL flew
into view and landed on a fallen coconut for all to see. This bird stayed at
the back of the wetlands and often fed with White-breasted waterhen. During
our four days on Cocos we counted three Grey Wagtails, all in the vicinity of
Bechet Besar and Rumah Baru.
After lunch we all headed over to South Island in search of Saunder’s Tern and
after a 20min wait and a short walk across the sandflats we located 13
SAUNDER’S TERN roosting on one of the last remaining sandbars yet to be covered
by the rising tide.
Wednesday morning was spent travelling across the lagoon to Horsburgh Island,
where we walked a short distance to the island’s brackish wetlands. Birds were
thin on the ground, with highlights being 40 White Tern and 3 Lesser
Frigatebirds. After leaving the island we stopped for a snorkel on the Phaeton
wreck, followed by lunch on the idyllic Direction Island. Direction Island is
your typical postcard tropical island, fringed with palm trees, white sand and
surrounded by turquoise tropical water. After lunch Geoff and Mick spent 45min
drifting through the popular local snorkelling site known as The Rip, while the
rest of us swam or rested in a hammock strung over the beach between two palm
On the return trip back to West Island a small pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins
began to bow ride our rib and I quickly put my mask and flippers on and jumped
over board in about 20m of clear water. As I descended down to about 4-5
meters and began swimming towards them, two of them swam straight over towards
me and cruised along beside me at arms lengths. As I dolphin kicked along,
three of us descended down to 8-10m and continued to swim side by side,
occasionally looking each other in the eye but staying just out arms reach.
The three of us eventually resurfaced again as a few more of us got into the
water. The dolphins stayed with us for about 10 minutes before departing.
We arrived home in time to change and catch the 4pm ferry to Home Island. We
walked the grounds of the Clunies Ross mansion and as the sun set, dined at the
local Malay restaurant.
On Thursday the wind and swell continued to increase and our trip to North
Keeling was cancelled. We spent the day visiting other good birding sites on
West Island, locating WESTERN REEF EGRET, Little Egret, Grey Plover, Oriental
Pratincole and Dollarbird as well as an amazing count of 45 Barn Swallows. In
the late afternoon some of our group decided to stake out Bechet Besar wetlands
and on dusk saw a JAVAN POND HERON fly in and perch on a palm frond, possibly
one of the two birds that were on the wetlands in March and April earlier this
year. The following morning those that missed the pond heron the previous
afternoon focused on the same site and were rewarded with sustained views of it
again sitting on a palm frond beside the lake.
During our stay on Cocos we often took the opportunity to sea watch where we
recorded Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Red-footed Booby, White Tern, Brown Booby and
Common Noddy daily.
Our total bird list for 4 days on Cocos was 35 species including an amazing SIX
(Common Moorhen, Javan Pond Heron, Saunder’s Tern, Grey Wagtail, Pin-tailed
Snipe and Western Reef Egret)
I’m assuming that the Javan Pond Heron is one of the two birds that were there
in March/April earlier this year and will hopefully be sticking around till I
visit the islands again in early March 2010. The two Common Moorhen also look
like good candidates to spend all summer on the wetlands.
Part 2 to follow....
I’ll be running the same ‘Red Crab Migration Birding Trip’ in 2010 from the 29
Nov to 10 Dec 2010. The cost will be the same, as will be the itinerary.
My next birding trip to both islands is my ‘End of Wet Season Trip’, from the
1-8 March 2010 and I still have a few spots available.
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