Sunday, March 3, 2013

All my Christmas's had come at once!

A trip to Christmas Island is a must do for any serious birder so after months of anticipation we finally descended onto the tarmac . Travelling with Richard I knew this was going to be a great trip.  He has remarkable local knowledge having been to CI over 30 times.

Once we collected the 4WD’s and dropped our bags into our accommodation we were immediatly out birding.

I had a wish list a mile long mainly consisting of the endemics but also hoped for a couple of vagrants. One thing about CI is that you simply never know what you are going to get. Also the vagrants behave differently here so you need to look everywhere and never presume it's a common bird because it might not be.

Over the following week we explored the island from top to bottom. We noticed straight away that it was very dry and there were no permanant waterholes. This was a concern. Ironically while we were there monsoonal rains hit and with a cyclone below Java strong winds and rain ensued. Shame this had not occured a month or 2 ago to blow in some birds. The weather slowed down our efforts on a couple of days, however being hot at tropical our clothes dried out quickly after a rain fall so carrying a dry bag for the camera was really all we needed to do.

After the first week we were due to fly to Cocos Keeling but the cyclones resulted in the flight being cancelled as the airstrip on Cocos was floating on the water. So, it was a mad scramble to find accomodation again which was tricky as the island was booked solid. We then did what any  birder would do, we continued birding while waiting to find out when or if we would eventually get to Cocos.

We waited for 3 days, each morning having to pack and see if we could get another room. Cocos managed to get 850mm of rain between saturday and monday resulting in tuesdays flight to also getting cancelled. Meanwhile we kept birding on Christmas and the bird list continued to grow!

Due to Tuesdays flight being cancelled we were stuck on Christmas, this time until friday, so we ended up on Christmas Island for 2 weeks instead of one. Another scramble to find accomodation and more birding.

Temples are all over the island

On friday we got the airport, checked in, went through Customs and watched our luggage get loaded onto the plane.  Could we really actually be going to Cocos??? Sadly no, we then watched it all get taken back off the plane only to find that there was a technical failure and after sitting in the airport for 4 hrs the flight was again cancelled. So, ANOTHER scramble to find accomodation and more local birding.

Coco's was not going to happen so we booked to fly back to Perth on Saturday after 2 event filled weeks here. For what it is worth, Christmas Island is a lovely place to get stranded! Especially with some brillient birding friends! 

Flights and the associated accomodation issues aside, the birding was great and extreme weather is to be expected at this time of year. Sadly the weather had not hit a couple of months ago. The island is very dry with no permanent water holes to bring in the vagrants. We had a couple of unconfirmed sightings but would have liked a few more.

One thing we did notice is that the rainforest is remarkably healthy and pristine but there is a significant lack of wildlife in it. I suspect this is due to the lack of understorey. The crabs eat leaves resulting in no micro-envionment. There are very few endemic birds and even fewer mammals and reptiles on the island. Amazing!


We had all the local endemics but one of the highlights for me was a Pin-tailed Snipe, we had excellent views. They are unusual here so that was great.

Christmas Island White-eyes were calling and flitting through the lush vegetation .

Eastern Reef Egrets were seen on the coast in both grey and white morphs and came up onto the grass to avoid the rough seas.

Tree Sparrows were abundant in the settlement.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Nankeen Kestrels are very common and were observed hawking for grasshoppers and lizards.

Nankeen Kestrel

An evening of spotlighting resulted in excellent views of 3 Christmas Island Boobooks

Christmas Island Hawk Owl (Boobook)

Java Sparrow are more evasive but we found a flock of 25 birds onne morning and 40 on another day

Abbott's Booby are endangered and only breed on Christmas Island. They breed in tall trees as their long wings make it difficult to fly if down low.

Abbott's Booby

Abbott's Booby

Christmas Island Goshawk, was originally considered to be a race of Variable Goshawk and I can see why. It has recently been lumped with Brown Goshawk but certainly looks like a Variable to me.

Island Thrush were common and enjoyed in both rainforest and settled areas.

Common Emerald Dove frequent the forest floor.

Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon

 High seas pounded the coast as the weather deteriorated during our stay.


Glossy (Linchi) Swiftlets soared low just below the tree lines but were impossible to photograph well.

Barn Swallows came in on a weather front and enjoyed the rain to have a bath.

Great Frigatebirds were common and enjoyed daily. They came in to drink from whatever water source they could find, be it a puddle in a mine site or even a hotel swimming pool.

Christmas Island Frigatebirds are the world's rarest frigatebird and are listed as vulnerable. They nest only on Christmas Island. I noticed one was dropping and catching a cigarette lighter!

White-tailed Tropicbirds were enjoyed both in white and golden morphs. The Golden morph is an endemic subspecies. They nest in cliffs and holes in trees.

Red Junglefowl are all over the island but most are hybrids.

We found a few pairs of true fowls in the rainforest .



One of  the highlights was spending an afternoon with Del watching a family of elusive White-breasted Waterhens. These are amazing skulkers especially consideriing they have white on them. So difficult to see as if your car even slows down they disappear so photographing them is very difficult. It was interesting to observe they would wander out into fresh rain puddles yet there was nothing in the puddles for them to feed on. Even the mozzies breed in leaves up in the trees, there are no wrigglers or tadpoles, no micro-environment or ground cover on the island due to the huge vegetation eating crab population.

We watched an adult bird come out and look to see if the coast was clear then go back in to tell the rest to cross the street. He then came back out and crossed before looking back and calling to the others to come over. The kids then ran across with the other parent!!

Waterhen tracks in a rain puddle

The island is also famous for the crabs, especially the Red Crab migration.  Red crabs are about 120mm and live all over the island. They eat leaves, fruits and other vegetation and it is very noticable with the rainforest floor almost completely clear of vegetation! There are 45 million of them and they only occur on Christmas Island.

                                 Robber crabs eat coconuts so it's only fitting that Red Crabs eat bananas!

The Robber crabs are large and eat vegetation and carrion. Christmas Island has the largest population of these amazing crustaceans. They are so large that they  can drag away items if you leave things laying around!
Richard and Robber Crab

Purple Crab are about 115mm and are rare.
African Land Snail

Yellow-naped Grasshopper

Christmas Island Fruit Bat

This immature booby was found on the road after being blown out of its nest. We placed it on the cliff so it could get enough clearance to take off.

The petrol tanker could not come in to port due to the rough seas. Petrol was rationed for most of our stay.

View from the pool!


Blue crab

Christmas Island is a magic place. Two weeks is long enough to explore it in depth and try out the various restaurants. Seasons Palace Chinese Restaurant was nice and so was the Barracks Cafe. The Golden Bosun Tavern is also good and in a great location. 

If you plan to travel here I strongly recommend that you make allowances for flight delays and take out travel insurance but dont let this put you off, this place is definately worth a visit!