Trip report Cocos-keeling Islands and Christmas Island March 2011.
With Birding Tours Australia. Guide- Richard Baxter
In Nov/Dec 2010 we last visited Australia's two remote Indian Ocean territories
and located an unprecedented array of South East Asian vagrants, which
included four species never previously recorded in Australia. Incredibly, most
of these species stayed throughout our summer and subsequently twelve very keen
birders gathered at Perth Airport on Sat 5 March 2011 for our second trip of
Soon after arriving on Christmas Island we headed down to the casino and
quickly saw both Striated Heron and YELLOW BITTERN, flushing both from the long
grass near the entrance gates.
Oriental Honey Buzzard had been photographed near our accommodation only two
days previously and as we cruised between morning birding locations we were all
on constant ‘Buzzard Watch’. After lunch we headed up to the pink house track
in search of Malayan Night Heron, soon flushing one from the track. Biggles
and I crept along the track relocating the bird and within a few minutes we all
had good views of a sub-adult MALAYAN NIGHT HERON.
The next day whilst driving home along the Casino Road we saw both male and
female WATERCOCK in an open area on north east point. The following hour and an
half was spent on an unsuccessful 'buzzard watch', finishing the day with a
male ASIAN KOEL in a Paw Paw tree near the cemetery.
The following day was spent searching for the buzzard and seeing most of the
islands endemics. These included Island Thrush, Linchi Swiftlet, CI White-eye,
Variable Goshawk and Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon. During the day we
located a total of three Watercock and had better views of Yellow Bittern with
some nice photos taken.
In addition to the island's endemics our group had close views of all three
frigatebirds, both Red and White-tailed Tropicbirds as well as Red-footed
Booby. We located two Abbott's Booby high in the rainforest canopy and Brown
Booby were abundant on the island's coastal terraces. We spent each morning
scanning the skies above Settlement for the elusive raptor and were finally
rewarded on Tuesday morning when Biggles spotted a soaring ORIENTAL HONEY
BUZZARD being harassed by frigatebirds above Silver City.
A 6am search of the area near our accommodation resulted in eleven Java Sparrow
and over twenty Tree Sparrows. Later in the day we were rewarded with great
views of the Oriental Honey Buzzard when it landed in a tree at the back of
VQ3. The following day whilst driving through the national park we briefly
stopped to photograph the long staying Malayan Night Heron and an ORIENTAL
CUCKOO flew over our heads in pursuit of an Emerald Dove.
Our next vagrant was a new bird for Christmas Island. Searching the mine sites
near LB4, Sheryl Keates spotted a small raptor sitting in a dead tree. It
flushed and we identified it as JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK. Over the next two days
we had progressively better views of what turned out to be a rufous breasted
A brief visit to the casino early on the second last morning in search of
ORIENTAL REED WARBLER was successful with a brief sighting of the long staying
bird at the same site we had seen Yellow Bittern during the week.
Our rarity list at the end of week one was: Yellow Bittern (1), Malayan Night
Heron (2), Watercock (4), Oriental Cuckoo (1), Oriental Honey Buzzard (1),
Asian Koel (3), Oriental Reed Warbler (1), Japanese Sparrowhawk (1).
Our first morning on Cocos was spent on South Island where we had exceptional
views of 16 SAUNDERS TERN feeding and resting on the last few remaining
sandbars ahead of the incoming tide. After looking at 200+ nearby waders we
lunched on a deserted island and swam in the clear lagoon waters prior to
returning to West Island for a full afternoon of birding.
Dollarbird was seen near the island's main wetlands where we all saw the long
staying EURASIAN TEAL, which we first located in December. Over the following
six days the teal was seen at several locations on West Island. Also in the
wetlands was Yellow Bittern and Striated Heron.
Green Junglefowl and WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN were abundant on West Island and
WESTERN REEF EGRET was easily seen in the inner lagoon.
An ORIENTAL CUCKOO was photographed in the trees near the airport runway and
Watercock was seen several times on the runway verge. A late afternoon search
of the northern end of the runway produced 20+ PIN-TAILED SNIPE and numerous
Eastern Reef Egrets.
Our first day on Home Island revealed Asian Koel in the banana plantation and
several White Terns overhead. In the grounds of the Clunies-Ross mansion we
had frustrating glimpses of a possible cuckoo which eluded us all day. The
highlight of the day was a Japanese Sparrowhawk which cruised overhead just
after lunch ahead of a cooling tropical downpour.
There has been some debate in recent months over the identification of two
Cattle Egrets on the West Island runway. They've been there all summer and in
late March were beginning to show signs of breeding plumage with traces of buff
indicating Eastern Cattle Egret.
On our next visit to Home Island we had flight views of LARGE HAWK CUCKOO,
which we flushed several times. Back on West Island we walked out on the sand
flats at the southern end of the island and located the CHINESE POND HERON,
which has been there for several weeks.
Our last full day was the most spectacular of the trip. We caught the morning
ferry to Home Island with the intention of photographing the Large Hawk Cuckoo
and were immediately rewarded with the bird sitting quietly in a tree within
the mansion grounds. We enjoyed great views through the scope and those of us
with cameras approached to within 30m obtaining some nice pics.
With 20min remaining till the 11.30am ferry departed we decided to do a last
sweep through the mansion grounds. Stopping in front of the cuckoo's favourite
tree I pished for a few seconds and incredibly an adult male BLUE AND WHITE
FLYCATCHER flew out. After a quick jog to the ferry terminal to alert the
others that had already left for the ferry we all spent the remainder of the
afternoon photographing and filming this amazing little passerine.
Another excellent trip with a total of sixteen vagrants seen on both islands
This trip report with photos will appear on the Birding Tours Australia website
in coming days.
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