[Birding-Aus] Western Australia Trip Report Part 3 – Christmas Island

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Subject: [Birding-Aus] Western Australia Trip Report Part 3 – Christmas Island
From: Craig Doolan <>
Date: Wed, 2 Dec 2015 09:55:58 +0000
After a few free days in the south-west I jumped on a plane and headed off
the Christmas Island. I should put in a couple of excuses here to explain
my poor results in this iconic birding location. I had four days on the
island but was there for work so had limited dedicated birding time. That
said, my work took me all over the island and regularly into the national
park, so I don’t have too many excuses. I considered not bothering with a
trip report, but not everyone who gets to Christmas has a week of dedicated
birding, so it may prove useful to some.

The second was that Christmas Island was bone dry, brown, parched. All the
locals are waiting with baited breath for the wet season to start, flying
in you couldn’t spot a blade of green grass on the airport or anywhere near
it. I had hoped that my visit would coincide with the crab migration but
given the lack of rain, it was yet to start. That said, there were still
plenty of crabs, and my first sight of a robber crab was simply amazing,
far exceeding any of the birding highlights I’m afraid. What can you say
about a crab that is as big as a football. The red crabs were around,
seemingly desperate to migrate but I saw quite a few dead ones in some
areas, possibly leaving their burrows too early only to desiccate in the
dry heat.

The island has hot and sticky, but nothing some snorkelling at Flying Fish
Cove couldn’t fix. Coming from Norfolk Island where the bush birds can be
difficult to catch, the first thing that struck me on Christmas was how
abundant all the bush birds were. There are fewer than on Norfolk, strange
given that Christmas is much closer to a large land mass and much larger,
and all can be easily found all over the island, despite the presence of
the same mammalian predators (cats and rats) and we have on Norfolk. CI
White-eye, Island Thrush, CI Imperial-Pigeon, Common Emerald Dove and
Glossy Swiftlet are common to abundant across pretty much the whole island.
It would be quite possible to get all 5 before leaving the carpark at the
airport, over a couple of visits to this location I saw them all there.

The white-eye is a gorgeous little bird, the imperial pigeon obvious on
roadsides and perching in trees across the island, the thrush is a noisy
inhabitant of undergrowth everywhere and the swiftlet can be seen flying in
most areas. I got out in a boat on one day there and watched swiftlets
flying into one of the many coastal caves, presumably they breed in there.
The doves were slower and more confiding than others I’d seen, and way too
slow to get off the road for passing vehicles. They really are
distinctively different to the Pacific Emerald Dove with their blue-grey

Had the island not been discovered on Christmas Day, perhaps it would have
been named Frigatebird Island. They are everywhere across the island, with
the Great and CI Frigatebirds being abundant. I tended to notice more CI
Frigatebirds around Settlement and more Great Frigatebirds on the southern
beaches beyond the golf course. I only saw a couple of Lesser Frigatebirds
but there could have been more. One morning near the golf course, there
were several hundred mixed frigatebirds cruising overhead, all three
species represented. The Cove is probably the best spot to see them swoop
down and drink while on the wing. This is something I’ve seen regularly in
swallows and swifts, but quite something to see a frigatebird do it. We
have lunch one day at the Recreation centre, and watched a CI Frigatebird
swoop down and drink from the swimming pool.

Boobies could be found all over the island, generally the Red-footed being
the most numerous and obvious. Browns were a bit hit and miss, but when out
in the boat, we had about 100 following us at one stage. We also rescued
one that had been tangled up in a trolling lure. The Abbott’s Booby is not
generally seen around Settlement but if you know where to go they are not
hard to find. I had late afternoon drinks at Margaret Knoll on my first
evening there and as well as being a great location for the flying-foxes,
we had great views of Abbott’s Boobies from here. Golden Bosuns (the golden
form of the White-tailed Tropicbird) were easily seen around Flying Fish
Cove as well as the occasional white morph, and some Red-tailed
Tropicbirds. Also in the cove were Common Noddies, the only tern seen on
the trip, another big difference from Norfolk Island.

 I managed to get out one evening and have a quick look for the CI Hawk-Owl
and while I heard two calling at the airport and outside the tip, both were
too far away, so it was a dip for me there. I stumbled across Goshawks
three times while driving around, without actively looking for them, and
was surprised how abundant kestrels were. On my last afternoon I was
driving near the Chinese Cemetery when a White-breasted Waterhen darted
across the road and stopped close enough to enable good views. Without any
water in any of its regular haunts I had almost resigned myself to missing
out. I did dip on the Java Sparrow, checking most locations from previous
reports. Of course, I ran into someone I’d met earlier in the airport
waiting to leave and we got to talking about birds, and he told me he knew
of a couple of reliable spots – too little too late for me now!

Sadly given the dry and my lack of time (and possibly my lack of skill), I
turned up no vagrants at all. Despite closely scouring powerlines the whole
trip, there wasn’t a Barn Swallow to be found, let alone an Asian House
Martin, no Grey Wagtails located, and no koels calling at Silver City. All
providing me with an excuse to revisit this magnificent island again. I’ve
added some photos and a bit more background on my regular Norfolk Island
blog at if you want to check it out.
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