Just the ticket for twitch­ers

An abun­dance of bird and an­i­mal life makes rich pick­ings for nat­u­ral­ists, re­ports Paige Tay­lor

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

IN the po­litely com­pet­i­tive world of twitch­ing, Christ­mas Is­land is a place to get the edge on your mates. Aus­tralia’s small­est ter­ri­tory is the only place on earth where the en­dan­gered Ab­bott’s booby nests; the is­land’s steep cliffs are just 360km south of Java, at­tract­ing va­grant birdlife that ex­cites se­ri­ous twitch­ers. Tick­ing off new species is the name of the game.

Lead­ing the main­land’s grow­ing in­ter­est in the wildlife of the re­mote is­land is Mike Carter. He is atop the twitch­ing tree in Aus­tralia with a per­sonal tally of 719 bird species seen. Carter first vis­ited the is­land, about 2600km north­west of Perth, in 1992 and was charmed by what he de­scribes as ‘‘ the pre­his­toric-look­ing’’ Ab­bott’s booby and the Christ­mas Is­land frigate­birds, which look as seag­ulls may have in the Juras­sic era.

‘‘ It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary place with lovely rain­for­est and dif­fer­ent to any­where else be­cause of the red crabs ev­ery­where,’’ he said dur­ing his latest trip, his fifth.

Un­til the ar­rival of the Tampa asy­lum­seek­ers in 2001, and the con­struc­tion of the yet-to-be-com­pleted $396 mil­lion Im­mi­gra­tion Re­cep­tion and Pro­cess­ing Cen­tre, the is­land was known mostly for its phos­phate min­ing.

But un­cer­tainty sur­rounds the fu­ture of the min­ing leases, and the lo­cal tourist as­so­ci­a­tion has big hopes the is­land can rein­vent it­self as a tourist des­ti­na­tion.

This week­end, or­nithol­o­gists and bird en­thu­si­asts from across Aus­tralia are ar­riv­ing on the is­land for Bird Week, an an­nual event that of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties to see four lo­cal birds listed as vul­ner­a­ble and two listed as en­dan­gered.

Tourism must play a large part in the fu­ture of the is­land’s small econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to Amzi Yon, a parks ranger and pres­i­dent of the Malaysian As­so­ci­a­tion on Christ­mas Is­land. Born and reared on the is­land, which is 63 per cent na­tional park, Yon says he feels proud and pro­tec­tive of it.

‘‘ What we have here is spe­cial and we need to man­age it for younger gen­er­a­tions, but I also think the right kind of tourism will be very good for our peo­ple,’’ he says.

Perched on the edge of the 5km-deep Java Trench, the is­land is sur­rounded by spec­tac­u­lar reef that at­tracts mi­grat­ing whale sharks each year. News of the va­grant birds that Carter and his party spied on Christ­mas Is­land ear­lier this year has whipped around the in­ter­na­tional twitch­ing com­mu­nity.

Th­ese in­clude an Asian house martin and a sa­vanna night­jar, thou­sands of kilo­me­tres from their usual homes. The high­light of Carter’s more than 10,000km re­turn trip from Mt El­iza was see­ing nine Saun­ders’s terns on South Is­land in the Co­cos Atoll. The Saun­ders’s tern is a small, brown bird that or­di­nar­ily breeds on the shores around the Ara­bian Sea.

‘‘ It was tremen­dous,’’ Carter says.


Christ­mas Is­land Bird Week starts this week­end, un­til Septem­ber 6. More: www.christ­mas.net.au.

Pic­ture: Andy Tyn­dall

Sweet tweet: Mike Carter, front, and Colin Judkins on the look-out

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