Cocos (K) & Christmas Is Trip Report Dec 2010 (longish)

Subject: Cocos (K) & Christmas Is Trip Report Dec 2010 (longish)
From: David James <>
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2010 16:00:52 -0800 (PST)
Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island Trip Report
Follow That Bird
Dates: 3 to 10 December 2010, 8 days/nights
Ornithologist: David James
We spent 3 to 7 December on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and 7 to 10 December on 
Christmas Island, amidst genuine monsoonal rains, record-breaking rainfalls and 
a flood of exceptionally rare birds. In the Cocos Group we stayed on West I and 
visited, South, Horsburgh, Direction, Home and Moon Islands in the Southern 
Atoll and cruised around North Keeling Island without landing. We recorded a 
total of 57 bird species for the trip, with a balanced 36 species on both the 
Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. We saw all the endemics on 
Christmas Island and most of the breeding birds of the Indian Ocean Territories 
bar a few confined to North Keeling Island (Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Sooty 
Tern, Lesser Noddy and Buff-banded Rail). We found one new bird for Australia 
(Eurasian Hobby) and saw three other major rarities (Watercock, Yellow Bittern 
and Red Collared Dove), some mega specialties of the Territories (Western Reef 
Egret, White-breasted Waterhen,
 Pin-tailed Snipe, Asian Koel, Asian House Martin and Grey Wagtail) and a host 
of other rare birds for the islands. Land crabs, marine turtles, dolphins, 
flying foxes, colourful reef fishes, massive coral bommies, fine Asian food and 
plenty of jocularity rounded off a trip that none of us will forget.
Friday 3 December: Our party of five assembled from all corners at Perth 
International Airport before jetting to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. We landed 
at West Island just after lunch with Nankeen Night-Herons and various egrets 
flushing from the runway as we taxied in. Stepping off the plane the tropical 
humidity hit us like a wet brick wall. Cocos was on the verge of smashing the 
110 year old annual rainfall record of 3.3 metres, so it was a little soggy to 
say the least. Storms a brewing. Puddles under foot. Binoculars fogging up. Too 
sticky to move. This would usher well for the birds!
After freshening up at the Cocos Beach Motel we fired up the bins, jumped in 
the bus to head out and got besieged by Green Junglefowl (Green Chooks) and 
White-breasted Waterhen only 100 m down the road. We weren’t even out of town! 
They lured us onto the edge of the airstrip were there were more Nankeen 
Night-Herons, and a crowd of Eastern Reef Egrets. Heading north up West Island 
we stopped at a quarry just south of the Quarantine Station and added 4 Pacific 
Black Ducks and a couple of Little Egrets. Purple Land Crabs scurried from 
under our feet, disturbed from dining on the odorous Rotten Cheese Fruits. 
Driving on we saw some Feral Chickens (Red Chooks) and some stray goats and the 
odd lamb chop along the roadside near the Quarantine Station. At the jetty a 
lone White-winged Black Tern loped by lazily. At Trannies Beach a pair of 
distant frigatebirds was heading towards the rookery at North Keeling Island, 
while we inspected a huddle of Red Hermit
 Crabs and a scuttle of Horn-eyed Ghost Crabs; a refreshing dip was had by one 
eager punter. Retracing our steps, we investigated a track into the coconut 
groves and came to a scrape where there were three Eastern Reef Egrets and our 
first Western Reef Egret, a grey bird with a whitish chin and vent. Driving 
back to town at dusk we counted roughly 40 White-breasted Waterhens and many 
times more Green Chooks diligently tending the 7 km of road verge.
Saturday 4 December: Early in the morning eagle-eyed Rae found a lone Oriental 
Pratincole on the airstrip that we all got to see. Over breakfast we lazily 
watched troops of Red-footed Boobies and a smattering of Brown Boobies 
commuting southwards off the coast of West Island. With full bellies we headed 
to the north end of the airstrip and the shore of North Lagoon. Egrets, Nankeen 
Night-Herons and Green Chooks conspired to block our passage, but we pushed on. 
We flushed a few Pin-tailed Snipes from the samphire. Two Bar-tailed Godwits 
and a Whimbrel fed on the sandbanks in the lagoon, while a couple of Black 
Ducks swam around. Then we flushed a female Watercock from under a Pemphis bush 
and watched her fly off, arcing around us and affording extended views. This is 
the second record of the species for the Cocos (K) Islands. Before lunch we 
ventured down to the southern end of West Island and found three Barn Swallows 
south of the runway. After lunch we
 joined Kylie of Cocos Islands Adventure Tours for a canoe trip to South 
Island. This, I thought, might be a challenge since the canoes were fitted with 
outboard motors, scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and a bottle or two of bubbly on 
ice. An inquisitive Black-tipped Reef Shark inspected our legs as we boarded. 
Our main quarry was Saunders Tern but we were out of luck because exceptional 
king tides had swallowed every bank in Telok Semberang (Worship Bay). In the 
Calophyllum forests we could find no White Terns, apparently temporary victims 
of the cyclonic winds a month earlier. On the seaward side of the island we 
found the displaced warders huddled on a tiny scrap of beach: 80 Lesser Sand 
Plovers, some Red-necked Stints, a Ruddy Turnstone and another sandpiper (a 
Curlew or a Broad-billed Sandpiper, perhaps), while a winsome of 30 Whimbrels 
wheeled by. The refreshments went down a treat as we watched the sunset over 
West Island from a salubrious Pondok on
 Moon Island.
Sunday 5 December: At sparrow’s raspberry a couple of us made a quick visit to 
the ‘Scrape’ south of the airstrip where we found a Pin-tailed Snipe, our 3 
Barn Swallows again and some mischievous egrets. After breakfast we took a 
charter boat on a tour of the Southern Atoll with Jeff. At Horsburgh Island we 
were greeted immediately by Eastern Reef Egrets, some hungry Red Chooks and 
flocks of Christmas Island White-eyes. White Terns were sailing overhead. Rae 
picked up a falcon flying high and way-off in the distance. As we watched, a 
Eurasian Hobby gradually approached and landed in a dead tree 100 m away. After 
watching it for a while we edged closer before it eventually flushed and flew 
over our heads, showing the diagnostic streaked breast and rufous trousers. 
With the aid of some distant photos we will confirm this as a new species for 
Australia. On the seaward beach a lone Masked Booby flew by close to shore. At 
the internal lagoon we found 2
 Common Sandpipers and a lone Black Duck. White-breasted Waterhen was calling. 
Chris and Janene enjoyed a refreshing snorkel at the Catalina wreck, with an 
awesome variety of fish, including one they said was dressed like a bird tour 
guide. Leisurely visits to Direction and Home Island produced Red Chooks, 
Eastern Reef Egrets and a lone Whimbrel. On the run home we paused to enjoy 
fantastic views of a tumble of Green Turtles through the glass-bottom of the 
boat. Late in the afternoon we snuck into Bechet Besar (literally ‘big muddy’) 
the legendary swamp nestled in the coconut groves on West Island. It was full, 
it was muddy, it held 8 Black Ducks. The dredge ponds at Rumah Baru produced 2 
more Black Ducks and a Striated Heron.
Monday 6 December: Sunrise saw us back at the ‘Scrape’ excitedly viewing a very 
cute juvenile Yellow Bittern found the day before by Richard Baxter’s group. 
There were also two Striated Herons, about 10 Western Reef Egret things 
(‘piebald’, ‘bleached grey’ and ‘white with dark flecks’ varieties), some 
Little Egrets, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a Common Sandpiper and 2 Barn 
Swallows. A platoon of 20 Pacific Golden Plovers was on the southern end of the 
airstrip. After breakfast we took a charter boat out to Pulu Keeling (North 
Keeling Island), the mega seabird rookery. Travelling out over unusually calm 
seas we saw Red-footed Boobies and Common Noddies. As we approached North 
Keeling we were greeted by thousands of Red-footed Boobies and a fury of Great 
Frigatebirds. Hundreds of Lesser Frigatebirds soon appeared. About 15 Brown 
Boobies and 10 Masked Boobies were seen. Three White-tailed Tropicbirds 
cavorted overhead, while a lone
 Red-tailed Tropicbird barrelled past on a more serious mission. Common Noddies 
bustled about continuously. A pair of Bottlenose Dolphins road the bow and 
mating Green Turtles showed no interest in us. Sooty Terns and Lesser Noddies 
were not on show. Upon return a visit to the ponds at Rumah Baru produced the 
usual suspect herons and 4 Black Ducks. Another 24 Black Ducks were at Bechet 
Besar late in the afternoon. We couldn’t resist another peak at the Yellow 
Bittern on the way home. This time Christine found and identified it from about 
100 m away, which would surely be a long-distance record for the identification 
of this crippler in Australia!
Tuesday 7 December: For our final morning on Cocos we went back to North 
Lagoon. The tide was full, the water was like a mirror and the early morning 
clam was majestic. Over 60 impatient herons cluttered the meagrely exposed 
perches, eager for the water to recede. An Intermediate Egret stood out like a 
giant amongst its resident cousins. An Oriental Pratincole perched alone in the 
lagoon on a piece of scrap metal from WWII. Two White-throated Needletails 
buzzed us at the turn-off to Rumah Baru. The Golden Plovers were back at the 
south end of the airstrip. Driving along the edge of the runway we watched a 
hobby (or the Hobby?) dash at full tilt across the runway and dive into a grove 
of Calophyllum trees. By the time we drove the long way round to the other side 
it was nowhere to be found. At 3 pm we departed for Christmas Island, and more 
monsoon birding.
Christmas Island was shrouded in storm clouds as our plane approached in fading 
light. In the airport carpark a lone Abbott’s Booby and a few Red-footed 
Boobies flew overhead. A Nankeen Kestrel perched on the roof of a hangar. 
Driving down the hill we had glimpses of Christmas Island Frigatebird and Great 
Frigatebird. Eurasian Tree Sparrow and more Kestrels entertained as we did some 
quick food shopping in Poon San. There were glimpses of Christmas Island 
White-eye, Christmas Island Swiftlet and Island Thrush in the shadows of 
evening. During dinner the heavens opened with a tropical deluge. As the rain 
eased we snuck out to the Golf Course and were soon viewing a Christmas Island 
Hawk-Owl calling from a frangipani. After ogling over a couple of Robber Crabs 
we retired for a well-earned sleep.
Wednesday 8 December: On Wednesday morning a single Asian House Martin flew 
past the Rumah Tinggi. As the sun came out in the Settlement, so did Christmas 
Island’s extra special Golden Bosunbirds (White-tailed Tropicbirds). Great and 
Christmas Island Frigatebirds and Red-footed Boobies flew about. Two 
Fork-tailed Swifts sallied in front of the accommodation. Six Java Sparrows 
waited for us at the Cocos Padang in Settlement. We saw them here again 2 days 
latter but couldn’t find them anywhere else. This beautiful little introduced 
finch may be facing its last days on the Island, thanks to the ravages of cats. 
By contrast, Eurasian Tree Sparrows have boomed in recent years. Brown Boobies 
and Common Noddies showed at Flying Fish Cove. In Poon San an adult female 
Christmas Island Goshawk was perched on a lamp post affording excellent views. 
At Territory Day Park lookout we enjoyed a birds’ eye-view of the seabirds as 
they cruised along the cliff face
 below us. Another Goshawk appeared at the Plantation. Near North West Point we 
found a fluffy juvenile Abbott’s Booby high in the trees waiting for its 
parents to bring some fish. At Field 25 we were besieged by a pontification of 
Christmas Island Imperial Pigeons feeding on the Japanese Cherries. Swiftlets 
and White-eyes were everywhere. Red Chooks were scattered around the township. 
During our lunch break the monsoon regrouped with a vengeance and lashed us 
unrelentingly. A couple of Eastern Reef Egrets were looking very soggy at 
Isabel Cove. We retreated to Mar Choi Nui Nui Temple and sat under cover 
relaxing in the ironic serenity of the pelting rain, still air, eerie light and 
the wafting of exotic incense. As we watched the seascape between the 
cellophane-like palm leaves a sodden White-faced Heron glared back at us from 
the jagged cliff edge. As the rain eased we headed to the CI Resort and found 
some Blue Crabs wandering on the road. A
 juvenile Brown Booby sat patiently on the cliff above Waterfall Cove, posing 
coyly for the cameras. A Christmas Island Flying-fox landed in the trees behind 
the Resort. Returning to Settlement we found a third Goshawk perched on a lamp 
post in the main street of town.
Thursday 9 December: Dawn was accompanied by continuing torrents and a bleak 
outlook for birding. At 6:30 the skies abruptly cleared and we were back in the 
hunt. Seabirds were out and about. A Striated Heron was on the roadside near 
the Grotto. However, it was time that we headed directly to a place that is 
arguably the best spot for vagrant birds in all of Australia: the dazzling and 
illustrious Christmas Island Rubbish Tip. Kestrels, Swiftlets, White-eyes and 
Imperial Pigeons greeted us. We soon found two White-faced Herons, a Wood 
Sandpiper and a Common Greenshank. Janene spotted a Red Collared Dove, the 4th 
Australian record. This shiny male was perched in the sun calmly eyeing his 
impeccable domain with obvious pride. Six flighty Grey Wagtails added some 
extra excitement. At the airport a platoon of 30 Pacific Golden Plovers 
contained a Lesser Sand Plover, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Sharp-tailed 
Sandpiper. At Low Point we watched a Peregrine Falcon
 hunting a Common Noddy without success, and found two Golden Plovers too 
petrified by the falcon to fly off. On the road to South Point we finally had 
decent views of Emerald Dove and flushed a Goshawk on the roadside. Before 
lunch we visited the Sitting Room in Settlement to view courting Red-tailed 
Tropicbirds at close quarters. After lunch we returned to North West Point for 
more views of Abbott’s Booby and finished the day in fading light at Margarets 
Knoll watching a couple of Flying–foxes rising out of the forest, some Brown 
Boobies crashing around on the cliff-tops, and some hefty Robber Crabs feasting 
on a cold Red Crab salad.
Friday 10 December: When our final day arrived we tracked down the Java 
Sparrows again at the Cocos Padang. A Peregrine Falcon was perched on the 
Telecom Tower above Settlement, apparently nailed there for the pleasure of 
birders by Lisa from Island Explorer Holidays. At Silver City we called in a 
pair of Asian Koels and had extended views of a regal, but possibly slightly 
peeved, female. The male, however, was rather shyer. On cue, Max from Parks 
called me to say he was watching a pair of Koels in Settlement, so we retraced 
our steps and soon had sensational views of an immature male down there. At 
Flying Fish Cove a Common Sandpiper teetered on the sea wall as an Eastern Reef 
Egret fished on the reef for once. But the rains were not giving up without a 
fight and the rest of the morning promised to be a washout. Stopping at the 
Golf Course we found 40 Christmas Island Flying Foxes camped in a She-oak. We 
returned to town, but later a quick drive out
 past the Golf Course produced an Eastern Great Egret and a Whimbrel virtually 
drowning on the road side. On the way to the airport to check-in we took the 
scenic route through Quarry Road past some of the scars of Christmas Island’s 
mining history. Two groups of Asian House Martins totalling about 10 birds were 
darting recklessly about in the rain as a parting reminder that it is the 
birds, not the weather, that rule on this truly great Island.
Bird List
*Feral Chicken (Red Junglefowl) Gallus gallus: a few on West, South, Horsburgh, 
Deception and Home Is on CK; plenty seen daily on CI.
*Green Junglefowl Gallus varius: seen daily (up to 100) on West I, CK.
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa: 1 on Horsburgh I on 5 Dec; on West I at 
North Lagoon, Rumah Baru, Quarantine Station Quarry and a high count of 24 at 
Bechet Besar on 6 Dec.
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda: 1 adult at North Keeling Island on 6 
Dec. On CI, 3 at Sitting Room on 9 Dec and brief or distant views at Steep 
Point on 9 Dec and Rumah Tinggi on 8 Dec.
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus: 3 adults of subspecies lepturus at 
North Keeling I on 6 Dec; daily views of up to 30 of subspecies fulvus on CI.
Red Collared Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica: 1 adult male at the CI rubbish 
tip on 9 Dec is the 4th record for Australia but all may represent a single, 
resident individual.
Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica natalis: 3 to 4 daily on CI but mostly only 
heard, and seen well only on 9 Dec along the road to South Point.
Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon Ducula whartoni: seen daily on CI where often 
common in forest, in weed fields and around town.
Christmas Island Swiftlet Collocalia natalis: Seen daily on CI in moderate 
numbers; this taxon has been treated as a subspecies of Glossy Swiftlet C. 
esculenta and was recently moved to Cave Swiftlet Collocalia linchi but is 
better considered a unique species.
White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus: 2 on West I at the turn-off to 
Rumah Baru on 7 Dec.
Fork-tailed Swift Apus pacificus: 2 on CI in Settlement outside VQ3 Lodge on 8 
Great Frigatebird Fregata minor: around 1,000 at North Keeling I on 6 Dec; 50 
or so daily on CI.
Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel: several hundred at North Keeling I on 6 Dec.
Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi: 50 or so daily on CI
Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti: single flying over the CI Airport on 7 Dec; 1 
juvenile seen and several heard along NW Point Rd on 8 and 9 Dec; 2 adults 
flying over NW Point Rd on 9 Dec.
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra: 1 close of the seaward side of Horsburgh I on 5 
Dec; about 6 off North Keeling I, including 1 juvenile on 6 Dec.
Red-footed Booby Sula sula: low hundreds daily off the west coast of West I; 
tens of thousands at North Keeling on 6 Dec; hundreds daily at CI, all white 
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster: several daily off the west coast of West I; about 
15 at North Keeling I on 6 Dec; up to 10 daily on CI.
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis: 1 juvenile on West I at the Scrape south of 
the airstrip on 6 Dec; found on 5 Dec by Richard Baxter.
Eastern Great Egret Ardea modesta: 1 on CI on the roadside opposite the Golf 
Course on 9 Dec.
Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia: 1 on West Island at North Lagoon on 7 Dec.
Striated Heron Butoroides striatus: 1 on West I at Rumah Baru ponds on 5 Dec; 2 
at the Scrape on 6 Dec and 7 Dec; on CI beside the Golfcourse Road near the 
Grotto on 9 Dec.
White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae: on CI, 1 at MCNN Temple on 8 Dec and 
2 at rubbish tip on 9 Dec.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta: 10-20 on West Island at airstrip, North Lagoon 
and the Scrape.
Western Reef Egret Egretta gularis: several on West I: 1 at a quarry north of 
the Quarantine Station, up to 6 at the scrape, 3-4 at North Lagoon and 1-2 at 
Rumah Baru ponds.
Eastern Reef Egret Egretta sacra: Recorded daily on West Island, 20-50 birds of 
both white and dark morphs; also Horsburgh, Home, South and North Keeling 
Islands; on CI, 2 at Isabella Cove on 8 Dec and 1 at Flying Fish Cove on 10 Dec.
Nankeen Night-Heron Nycticorax caledonicus: recorded daily on West Island, 
20-50 birds.
Christmas Island Goshawk Accipiter natalis: 1 adult female at Poon San on 8 
Dec; 1 at Plantation on 8 Dec; 1 2nd year female at Temple Court on 8 Dec; 1 or 
2 on N-S Baseline near Grant’s Well turnoff on 9 Dec. This taxon has been 
treated as subspecies of Brown Goshawk A. fasciatus and was recently moved to 
Variable Goshawk A. hiogaster but is better considered a unique species.
Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides: 5-20 seen daily on CI in open environments.
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo: 1 adult flying and perched on Horsburgh I on 5 
Dec will be a new bird for the Australian list; another hobby flying across the 
airstrip on West I on 7 Dec may have been a different individual.
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus: 1 on CI at Steep Point on 9 Dec and 1 at the 
Telecom Tower on Murray Road above Settlement on 10 Dec may have been different 
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus: recorded daily on West I with a 
high count of about 40 along the road north of town; 1 calling on Horsburgh I 
at the lagoon; none seen or heard on Christmas Island where cats are apparently 
having a huge impact.
Watercock Gallicrex cinerea: 1 on West I, a female-plumaged bird flushed at the 
shore of North Lagoon on 4 Dec is the 2nd record for Cocos and the 4th to 6th 
for Australia.
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva: 20 on West Island at the airstrip on 6 
Dec; 2 on CI at Low Point on 9 Dec; 30 on CI at the  Airport on 9 and 10 Dec.
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus: 3-4 on South I on 4 Dec; 1 on CI at 
Airport on 9 Dec.
Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura: about 4 on West I at the north end of the 
airstrip on 4 Dec; 1 on West I at the Scrape on 5 Dec.
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica: 2 on West I at North Lagoon on 4 Dec; 1 on 
CI at the Airport on 9 Dec.
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus: 1 on West I at North Lagoon on 4 Dec; 20 on South I 
on 4 Dec; 1 (probable) on Home Island on 5 Dec; 1 on CI on the roadside 
opposite the Golf Course on 10 Dec.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos: 2 on Horsburgh I at the internal lagoon on 
5 Dec; 1 on West I at the Scrape on 6 Dec; 1 on CI at Flying Fish Cove on 10 
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia: 1 on CI at the rubbish tip on 9 Dec.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola: 1 on CI at the rubbish tip on 9 Dec.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres: 1 on South I on 4 Dec.
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis: about 15 on South I on 4 Dec.
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata: 1 on West I at the Scrape on 6 Dec; 
1 on CI at the Airport on 9 Dec.
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum: 1 on West I at the airstrip on 4 Dec 
and 1 at North Lagoon on 7 Dec.
Common Noddy Anous stolidus: several hundred around North Keeling I on 6 Dec.
White Tern Gygis alba: up to 10 on Horsburgh I on 5 Dec; up to 40 on North 
Keeling I on 6 Dec.
White-winged Black Tern Chilodonius leucopterus: 1 on West I off the Old Jetty 
on 3 Dec.
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea: a pair on CI at Silver City on 10 Dec and a 
different pair at Rocky Point on 10 Dec.
Christmas Island Hawk-Owl Ninox natalis: 1 viewed closely on CI at the Golf 
Course on 7 Dec.
Christmas Island White-eye Zosterops natalis: common on Horsburgh I on 5 Dec; 
common on CI daily.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica: 3 on West I at the south end of the airstrip at 
and near the Scrape on 4, 5 and 6 Dec.
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus: 1 on CI at The Rumah Tinggi on 8 Dec; 10 
on CI at Quarry Road (Phosphate Hill) on 10 Dec.
Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus erythropleurus: seen daily on CI in forest, 
roadside and township habitats.
Java Sparrow Lonchura oryzivora: 4 to 6 at the Cocos Padang on 8 and 10 Dec.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus: on CI, abundant in Settlement and common 
in Poon San, daily
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea: 6 on CI at the rubbish tip on 9 Dec.
Prepared by David James for FTB, 19 December 2010.
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