Cocos Keeling Island/Christmas Island trip report from the Richard Baxte

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Cocos Keeling Island/Christmas Island trip report from the Richard Baxter tour
From: Bernard O'Keefe <>
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:59:32 +0000

December 2015
I have just returned from a 14 day birding trip organised by Richard Baxter as 
part of his birding trips which included 7 days on Cocos Keeling Islands and 7 
days on Christmas Island. I was excited about the trip for some time before 
leaving but it certainly exceeded all of my expectations! I finished the trip 
with 31 new birds (including 18 vagrants) and managed to photograph 29 of these.
There were also an incredible amount of crab species on this trip and to see 
the Red Crab migration on Christmas Island is an experience I will never forget!
Below is a brief summary of the trip. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I 
enjoyed participating in it.
Day 1 (Saturday Dec 5)
We all met at Perth Airport at around 4 am to check our luggage in for Cocos 
Keeling Islands. The tour part included 11 people as well as our group leader, 
Richard Baxter, who has organised these tours for many years now. Darryl 
‘Biggles’ Binns and Tania Ireton were also on the trip so it was like having 3 
guides at our disposal! We travelled for around 4 hours and landed on West 
Island around lunchtime where we checked into our accommodation right next to 
the airport and on a beautiful coastline. That afternoon, my first lifer were 
the White Terns, which were very common along the coastline. Probably the most 
common birds on West Island were Green Junglefowl and White-breasted 
Waterhen’s, and both gave me two more lifers in basically the first ten minutes 
we were there! We were also thrilled to have excellent views of a Chinese Pond 
Heron by the side of the tarmac at the airport and we saw this same bird every 
day while staying on West Island. An afternoon drive around the island in 
different groups also netted Western Reef Egret and the highly prized Common 
Kingfisher at ‘The Swamp’. One group managed great views of a Common Redshank 
but this was my only dip during my time on Cocos despite looking for it.
Day 2 (Sunday Dec 6)
The morning was spent travelling around various spots on West Island. During 
this time, we managed to see and photograph a Eurasian Teal, a Common Moorhen, 
the Common Kingfisher again and Grey Wagtail at the swamp. Later that morning 
we travelled to South Island on motorised canoe’s to search for Saunders Tern. 
After an hour of checking out sand banks, we came across about 14 birds in a 
flock, which gave us sensational views!
Day 3 (Monday Dec 7)
The day was spent on Home Island which is a short ferry ride away. We were very 
excited about this day as the day before, Bill and Jack Moorhead had discovered 
the first ever record for Australia for the Crow-billed Drongo! We hurried to 
the site where we finally tracked down the bird after searching for a while. 
What an exciting moment! After this excitement, we headed to the ‘Big House’ 
where we searched the gardens for vagrants. The Moorheads and Richard located 
us an Artic Warbler and then later in the day, a Narcissus Flycatcher – 3 
MEGA’s in one day!
Day 4 (Tuesday Dec 8)
The morning was spent on Home Island which provided good views of Oriental 
Cuckoo. That afternoon was spent at the swamp enjoying the many great birds 
there and the beautiful scenery before enjoying a beautiful meal on the beach!
Day 5 (Wednesday Dec 9)
Again, sharing time between Home Island and West Island searching for more 
vagrants. The highlight of the day was the Pin-tailed Snipe that flew in close 
to where we were seated at the swamp for terrific views!
Day 6 (Thursday Dec 10)
The group split up this morning. One group went to Direction Island for some 
leisure time like swimming and snorkelling while the other group decided to 
search Horsburgh Island. I was part of the latter group and we were very 
excited to have sensational views of the Horsburgh Island Buff-banded Rail 
greet us on the shore before we left our small boat. A walk around the island 
gave us our first views of the Christmas Island White-eye, which is only found 
on this island in the Cocos Keeling Island group. The highlight of the day 
though was the feeding of sharks from the small boat of Geoff Christie, who had 
taken us out to the island. It was such a magnificent sight with great video 
footage shot! Later that day, the whole joined back together for a wonderful 
snorkelling outing on the reefs of Direction Island.
Day 7 (Friday Dec 11)
An early morning ferry ride to Home Island to search for the Asian Koel was 
very successful with great views of the female around the ‘Big House’. They 
were also a number of White-tailed tropicbirds flying about this location.
An emergency call from Geoff Christie was relayed to us so we rushed back to 
West Island where Geoff Christie had spotted two separate Mugimaki Flycatchers 
in the one spot. We failed to relocate the birds but after lunch we returned 
and did manage to locate one of the birds for a great view of the bird.
Day 8 (Saturday Dec 12)
Sadly, our last day on Cocos. I went out early by myself for a quick look 
around the nearby rubbish tip where I had sensational views of a fully colored 
adult Common Kingfisher. This proved that there were two birds on the island as 
the one we photographed at the swamp was a juvenile. Pack up and then a late 
morning flight to Christmas Island.
We arrived in Christmas Island and moved into our accommodation.  A walk around 
the township gave us some new birds immediately. This included the very common 
Island Thrush as well as Common Emerald Dove and Christmas Island Imperial 
Day 9 (Sunday Dec 13)
The day was spent looking around the island at various locations. The days 
consisted of three sessions of Birding. A typical day was leave at 6am for 
session one. Return for breakfast at 7.30am. Off again at 8.30am until midday. 
Lunch and afternoon rest. Birding from 3pm until 6pm. Throughout the day, we 
added Glossy Swiftlet, Red Junglefowl, the spectacular Golden Bosunbird (golden 
form of the White-tailed tropicbird), Great Frigatebirds, Abbott’s Booby and a 
great look at a House Swift which was just too quick to photograph.
Day 10 (Monday Dec 14)
Again, the day was spent looking around the island at various locations. But we 
were a little restricted in where we could go because the Red Crab migration 
was in almost full swing and many of the roads are shut during this time. But 
we did spend some time at the golf course where Christmas Island Frigatebirds 
were plentiful as was Red-footed Booby. A look around the old casino gave us 
one of the highlights of the trip – a great view of a Schrenk’s Bittern! This 
bird stayed at the same location for the rest of the week where everybody on 
the trip had extended views of it! This was bird number 820 for Biggles and 
while mentioning him, I would like to thank him for finding so many birds on 
the trip – he is such an outstanding birder! Later that night, we went 
spotlighting for the Christmas Island Hawk-owl (known now as the Christmas 
Boobook). It did not take long to have a bird fly in. Soon after a second bird 
flew in next o the first one which gave us great views. This was a bird many of 
us had been hoping to see on the trip!
Day 11 (Tuesday Dec 15)
Again, the day was spent looking around the island at various locations. We 
dipped on The Java Sparrow for the second day in a row and we were starting to 
think that we may not see it. We basically split into 3 groups and kept contact 
with each other if a vagrant was spotted. We were able to improve our photos on 
many birds but the highlight of the day was the Christmas Island Goshawk. 
Although a sub species of the Brown Goshawk, it is a very different looking 
bird and allowed close approach.
Day 12 (Wednesday Dec 16)
Finally success with the Java Sparrows! Ironically we split into 3 groups for 3 
different locations. It was Biggles who got onto these and we ended up finding 
the Java Sparrows at all 3 locations that morning! More time visiting spots 
around the island and filming the crab migration as well as some of the other 
great crabs on the island such as the world’s largest land crab – the Robber 
Crab! Richard’s group found two Yellow Wagtails which we all managed to see.
Day 13 (Thursday Dec 17)
Today was a boat cruise we took along the coastline. This was a sensational 
morning where we were able to see many birds up close roosting on the cliffs 
such as Brown Booby and Common Noddy. It also included a number of snorkelling 
sessions which included a cave, a wreck, a reef and a deep sea dive with Silky 
Sharks! That was very thrilling! We stumbled across a pod of dolphins and a 
number of people snorkelled with them too.
Day 14 (Friday Dec 18)
Basically this was a day where people could choose what birds they wanted to 
improve photos of. One group did manage to flush a Swinhoe’s Snipe late in the 
afternoon but there was no sign of it next day despite us trying hard.
Day 15 (Tuesday Dec 19)
A quick look for the snipe, pack up, check in at the airport and flying back to 

In summary, the 29 new birds I photographed were:
White Tern, Green Junglefowl, White-breasted waterhen, Western Reef Egret, 
Chinese Pond Heron, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Teal, Common Moorhen, Grey 
Wagtail, Saunders Tern, Artic Warbler, Crow-billed Drongo, Narcissus 
Flycatcher, Pin-Tailed Snipe, Christmas Island White-eye, Asian Koel, 
White-tailed Tropicbird, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Island Thrush, Common Emerald 
Dove, Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon, Glossy Swiftlet, Abbott’s Booby, 
Red-footed Booby, Red Junglefowl, Christmas Island Frigatebird, Schrenk’s 
Bittern, Christmas Island Hawk-owl & Java Sparrow.
The two birds I failed to photograph but saw clearly were the Oriental Cuckoo 
and the House Swift.
My only two dips for the two weeks were the Common Redshank on Cocos and the 
Red-tailed Tropicbird on Christmas Island (which other people in the group did 
So overall, I would have to say that this has been an outstanding experience 
and a ‘MUST DO’ for any birder or lovers of wildlife. Not just for the birds 
and the crabs but the scenery and the way people live on the islands. Most 
importantly, the friendships within the group!
I highly recommend a tour which Richard Baxter. He is an outstanding guide, 
host, birder and person. Thank you Richard for this unique opportunity. Also 
special thanks to Tania and Biggles for their advice, leadership and help 
during the two weeks.
Bernie OKeefe(19-12-15)

Bernard O'Keefe

Applied Learning Coordinator
Caroline Chisholm Catholic College
204 Churchill Avenue, Braybrook. 3019

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