Thursday, 22 December 2016


Jenny Spry, the first woman to achieve an Australian birdlist of 800 birds, told me that the secret of reaching 800 birds was to do lots of pelagics.  This may be true for Jenny, but I've done an awful lot of pelagics without adding anything to my life total.  I think the secret to reaching 800 Australian birds is to go on Richard Baxter's bird tours.  I was with him in the Torres Strait last March when I added 7 to my life total. And in December 2016, I visited Cocos and Christmas Islands with him.  This was my third visit to the Cocos Islands with him.  I added eleven birds to my lifelist:  8 on West Island and 3 on Home Island.  Not bad by anyone's standards.

Richard took ten birders on this trip.  We arrived on Cocos at about 10.30 on Saturday and saw Pin-tailed Snipe almost immediately.  I saw my first lifer before lunch on the first day.  It was Yellow Bittern (782).  There were three birds, uncharacteristically standing out in the open, giving us all excellent views.  I had a feeling then that this was going to be an exceptionally good tour.

After lunch, we drove to the airport. A Rosy Starling (783) flew overhead and we saw Oriental Pratincole at the end of the runway.  The starling sat up in a dead tree, allowing great views through the scope.  I remember when I saw my first Roseate Tern, I was disappointed at the lack of pink.  There was just a very subtle hint of colour.  The Rosy Starling was the same.  It is barely pink at all.
Rosy Starling, photo by James Mustafa

The next day, Sunday, I had two ticks before breakfast!  The first was von Schrenk's Bittern (784), which we flushed from the undergrowth near the airport, and the second was an Asian Brown Flycatcher (785) that appeared right in the tree Richard said it would, after about half an hour of hot waiting.  After breakfast, Richard took us to the farm, where we looked unsuccessfully for Brown Shrike and attempted unsuccessfully to flush Watercock.  During the lunch break, James Mustafa and I decided to go looking ourselves and returned to the farm.  Of course, we could not see anything new, but we wandered happily around, just pleased to be on Cocos.  We decided to do one lap around the fence before returning to the others.  Almost immediately a black bird flew overhead and landed high in a large tree.  It had an undulating flight, like a Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike, and, when it landed, I could see it had a fish tail.  It was a Drongo Cuckoo (786)!  We rushed back to tell the others, and were severely reprimanded for not leaving one person with the bird.  I was pleased that I had not waited in the hot sun, as it took half an hour for everyone to gather together and return to the farm.  The Drongo Cuckoo had quite disappeared.  By way of compensation, the Brown Shrike (787) put in an appearance, sitting high on a branch, giving great views.
Drongo Cuckoo, photo by James Mustafa

On Monday we all took the early morning ferry to Home Island.  A few of us spent a couple of nights in Oceania House on Home Island.  This had the advantage of having eyes and ears on both islands, which paid off because we managed to find a night-heron the next day.  Oceania House was built in 1887 by George Clunies-Ross, grandson of John Clunies-Ross who moved his family to live on the previously uninhabited islands in 1827.  He planted coconuts and established a copra business, importing Malay labourers to do all the work. The Malay population on Home Island today is descended from Clunies-Ross's workers. Oceania House is a two storey mansion built of glazed white bricks imported from Scotland, and furnished with impressive antiques.  
Blue and White Flycatcher, photo by James Mustafa

On Monday, we searched unsuccessfully for Watercock, saw Chinese Sparrowhawk being mobbed by White Terns, got good views of Barn Swallows, and admired a Chinese Pond-Heron.  In the gardens of Oceania House, we saw a Blue and White Flycatcher (788) as well as another unidentified flycatcher showing some yellow.  James and I staked out the tree the unidentified bird was in, and decided to forego dinner in an effort to try to get a good look at it.  We did not.  Despite several hot hours of dedicated watching, we could not see any bird.
Oceania House, where I spent a couple of nights

Early on Tuesday morning, we found the Black-crowned Night-Heron (789) and alerted the others.  Then we saw the Eye-browed Thrush (790) in the gardens.  I glimpsed this bird several times before I eventually had excellent views.  
Black-crowned Night-Heron, photo by James Mustafa

On these trips there are always disappointments.  Watercock was one for me on this trip.  And we all tried hard on several occasions to see a couple of cuckoos, apparently a Plaintive Cuckoo and an Indian Cuckoo.  But perhaps the biggest disappointment was a bird that three of us saw and heard, and James saw quite well.  I suspect it was an Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, but we will never know.  It was perched in a tree above James' head, it flew, calling, over my head, and passed Mike Carter, who saw it too, before it disappeared over the fence.  James ran around the fence and saw it again, so you'd think it would be possible to identify it.  Mike said it could have been a paradise-flycatcher.  All I saw was a small bird with white underneath, but later, when Richard played a recording of an Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, I thought that was the call I'd heard.  It is human nature to regret the one that got away, when, on any measure, we all enjoyed many wonderful new birds.

Wednesday was my first day of the trip without a tick.  Very bravely, I waded through water above my waist, to an island looking for Common Kingfisher, and sat in the hot sun for over an hour.  The kingfisher did not keep his appointment.  Thursday was my second day without a tick and I began to wonder if I'd see any more new birds at all.  We were back on West Island again, and everyone else departed to see Saunders's Tern and Eurasian Curlew.  I'd seen both these species, so I stayed at home, to watch at the swamp for a Northern Pintail that I'd been told sometimes put in an appearance.  The Eurasian Teal that has lived at the swamp for some years now, was present among the Pacific Black Duck, but, despite many visits, I had so far missed out on the pintail.
Tree Pipit, photo by James Mustafa

On Friday, at the airport, we saw a pipit, in exactly the same spot as I'd seen my first Red-throated Pipit on my previous trip.  Mike Carter thought it was an Olive-backed Pipit, which I thought would be very exciting, giving me a second OBP on my birdlist.  The bird was extremely cooperative, giving us all wonderful views, and thanks to the photographers present, we had excellent proof of what we saw.  In the end, everyone agreed it was a Tree Pipit (791)!  
The swamp where I saw Northern Pintail - eventually

James and I visited the swamp again (my ninth visit) and this time we're rewarded with the Northern Pintail (792), making a fabulous eleven ticks on the Cocos Islands.
Northern Pintail, photo by James Mustafa

On Saturday, we flew to Christmas Island.

No comments:

Post a Comment