Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cocos (Keeling) Islands; November

Cocos Islands thanks to Google Earth. The name tags are a bit off. Home Island is where Bantam Village is and Direction Island is where Home Island is marked.

The flight from Christmas Island to Cocos takes about 2 hours and there is never a problem landing, unless there is a cyclone happening as was the case in 2013 when the airport was closed for a week. The runway is about 3 km long and 1 metre above sea level. It is so low that in a cyclone and heavy rain water from the lagoon can bubble up through the surface.
Red-throated Pippit

Oriental Plover to right and Oriental Pratincole.

Oriental Plover and Grey Plover

The other thing that makes the runway interesting is that it bisects the local golf course. When planes aren't scheduled players tee up on one side and play to the hole on the opposite side. The grass around the edge of the runway is also perfect habitat for the Pin-tailed Snipe that are found on the island.
Pin-tailed Snipe

White-winged tern, perhaps the first record for the island

Western Reef Egret

Richard, the trip organiser, has an excellent network of birders on Cocos so when we landed we already knew of a "small brown bird in the grass beside the runway" as well as four other vagrants on Home Island. The walk from the airport to the motel is about 100 metres so we signed in and immediately jumped in the rental van and headed for the "small brown bird". Within 5 minutes I was looking at what turned out to be a Red-throated Pipit and a new bird for me.
Green Junglefowl, male

Green Junglefowl, female and young

White-breasted Waterhen juvenile

White-breasted Waterhen

For the rest of the afternoon we cruised West Island in the van and found an Oriental Plover, 2 Grey Plover and 5 Oriental Pratincole, all on the runway. New comers to the island also ticked of the dozens of White-breast Waterhen and Green Junglefowl that run all over the island.
Ocean coast of South Island

West Island is where the airport, weather station, High School, tourist accommodation and other facilities are and Home Island is where the Malay population lives and have a junior school. To get to Home Island there is a ferry that runs on a regular basis moving the kids to and from school and birders to a huge number of places where vagrant birds like to hang out. The smaller islands, including Horsburgh, Direction and South are uninhabited.
In past years we had to walk all over West Island but this year we had the luxury of using the electric island Tourist Bus

White Tern with fish for young at "nest". They actually don't build a nest, they lay their single egg on a flat pice of branch

Javan Pond Heron as it flew off into the distance

The "lucky" shot of the trip as it flushed so fast I couldn't lift the camera to aim so just pressed the button and hoped.

The first places we search each visit are the grounds of "The Big House" (there are some wonderful pictures if you Google Oceania House Cocos Island) and then the large area on the island set aside for vegetable gardens and poultry. This time the Big House had a Chinese Sparrowhawk and a Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo. The veg gardens gave us a Javan Pond Heron and a pair of Asian Koel. The pond heron was special for me because it was there on my last visit and I missed it. I had been sitting with friends and walked off to look for a reported raptor when calls came; my friends had a pond heron in the gardens, at the extreme east of the island, then a second call came "Blue & White Flycatcher" at the Big House, at the extreme west of the island – and I was caught half way between. I moved east for the pond heron, stopped, turned and ran for the flycatcher. I saw the flycatcher and then we saw it every day. I was never in the right place for the pond heron and dipped. This time I saw it twice, in breeding plumage.
Direction Island from Home Island

Another day was set aside for the canoe trip to find the Saunder's Terns that live on a sand bank off Telok Sebrang. Normally we walk for a kilometre or so through knee-deep water to get to the terns but this time we saw they were closer. We stopped and I set my scope up so everyone got to see them and then we started walking. About two minutes later the birds flushed and the last time we saw them was as they slowly turned into black spots on the horizon, never to be seen again. Consolation of the walk was to watch hundreds of waders on the sandbanks.
Nankeen Night Heron, having a bad feather day

A very distant photo of the Chinese Goshawk

Cuckoo, probably Himalayan based on bill colour but could be an Oriental

A side trip on West Island was to see the Common Redshank. It can be seen by walking for about 100 metres across the lagoon at low tide. This should be easy but there are hidden pockets of really soft mud. One minute you are on firm but soft muddy sand and the next, up to the knee in mud that clings so tight that it can suck the shoe right off your foot as you try and get out. But the Redshank is worth seeing so we put up with it.
Eastern Reef Egret fishing in the lagoon .......

but the Black-tipped Reef Shark was also interested in getting a feed of egret

The rest of the week was spent looking for more vagrants. A couple of small birds were seen but not identified on Home Island and one was flushed on West Island. The Eurasian Teal was still on the West Island swamp and we also found an Oriental (or Himalayan) Cuckoo and a Dollarbird.
Common Sandpiper and juvenile Nankeen Night Heron

The asian race of Drongo

Sunset over the Indian Ocean from my room at the motel

Birding during the week was made hard because there was a strong easterly wind blowing. This wind is normal, it's the trade wind, but by December it is usually dying down but not this year. Birds don't like windy days because it is hard for them to see or hear predators approaching through the swaying branches. For this reason our "little brown birds" stayed hidden. I have heard since that one of them was a Dark-sided Flycatcher and another a Blue & White Flycatcher. Sigh, I will just have to go back again (smile).

Cocos Island Crabs

These guys live in burrows and seem to like fresh vegetation

These guys seem to like the inter-tidal areas

Crab on the foreshore

Fiddler Crabs sparring

Hermit Crab

There are millions of Fiddler Crabs in the lagoons

Ghost Crab

All text & images © Jenny Spry 

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful place to visit- loved the wide variety of birds