Western Australia Trip Report Part 3 – Christmas Island

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 crown. 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 http://naturalnorfolk.com/wp/?p=428 if you want to check it out.

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