Northern Territory Trip Report - August 3-12, 2005
e-mail to Greg
Peter Ericsson, my birding friend from Bangkok, had been deciding where to go on an overseas birding trip and he expressed a desire to travel to Darwin. Although I had been to the Top End (as this part of Australia is called) in 2004, a number of my target species had eluded me and this seemed to be a very good opportunity to try to do some cleanup work on my tropical northern Australia list. So with approval from Karen, Peter and I arranged a trip of approximately ten days duration in early August.
I drew up a list of my possible targets for the trip. It came to 23 species, although some of those were highly unlikely and a realistic list numbered somewhere between 10 and 15 species. My particular interest was in birds of the Arnhem Land sandstone escarpment that I had not seen previously viz. White-throated Grasswren, Banded Fruit Dove, Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon and Sandstone Shrike-thrush. By the end of the trip only the first of these had eluded me, as it has many other birders this year.
In recent years Peter had been to Australia twice so he already had seen quite a few species. His previous trips had been to Brisbane and Perth, but this was to be his first trip to the Australian tropics so his hit list was quite long.
Our main birding contacts in the Top End were Sheryl and Arthur Keates. They hail from Brisbane, so I knew them well, and Arthur was two and a half years into a four year contact with the Northern Territory government. Arthur was out of town when we arrived, but Sheryl agreed to help us out. Peterís flight arrived very early in the morning but mine was not until early in the afternoon, so Sheryl kindly picked Peter up from the airport and spent the day birding with him. There is no substitute for local knowledge and she was instrumental in enabling us to track down many species.
August is mid Winter Down Under but in the tropical north conditions are hardly wintery. Daytime temperatures were around 31-32oC and even on the coldest nights (when we were furthest from the coast) the temperature cannot have dropped below the low teens. Bird activity was greatest in the first few hours after sunrise as expected, but despite the high daytime temperatures, we almost always found good numbers of birds wherever we stopped. Winter is also the dry season in the north and we encountered no rain at all, although it was a little overcast on some days. Since we were visiting in the second half of the dry season most birdlife was concentrated in areas where there was standing water, so any river, creek, waterhole or billabong was worth a stop.
As in most parts of Australia, distances between various habitats can be great and a car is essential for any serious birding. Overall we travelled just under 3000km over a period of 9 full days. We rented from one of the local Darwin car hire companies and paid an intermediate rate of about $75 per day. In Darwin there is a hefty $65 airport surcharge on car rentals so it is much cheaper to take a taxi into town and pick your car up at a city location. Our accommodation was a mixture of camping and hotels/cabins. We camped on three nights and used hotels or cabins for the other 6. The campgrounds in Kakadu National Park were well appointed and both the ones we stayed in had hot water showers. We also camped at Timber Creek in a private campground. The costs of hotels varied from medium to high. The most expensive was $120 for a night at Mary River Park and this was the most disappointing place we stayed (in terms of value for money). All others were under $100 dollars and were not too bad, although our room in Darwin was tiny. In most places we did not have any trouble finding a place to stay. The campgrounds in Kakadu were quite sparsely populated which made for a peaceful visit.
August 3 Arrive in Darwin. Bird Botanic Gardens and Leanyer sewerage ponds
August 4 Bird around Darwin. Nighcliff foreshore; Leanyer sewage ponds; Palmerston sewage ponds; Marlow Lagoon; Charles Darwin National Park; East Point
August 5 Darwin to Kakadu. Fogg Dam; Adelaide River; Marrakai Track; Ubirr.
August 6 Kakadu to Pine Creek. Nourlangie; Gubara; Yellow Waters; Mardugal; Pine Creek.
August 7 Pine Creek to Timber Creek. Pine Creek; Fergusson River; Edith Falls road; Victoria River; Timber Creek airstrip; Policemanís Point.
August 8 Timber Creek to Mataranka. Timber Creek airstrip; Policemanís Point; Bullita Track; Victoria River; Mataranka.
August 9 Mataranka to Gunlom. Central Arnhem Road; Edith Falls road; Fergusson River; Pine Creek; Gunlom.
August 10 Gunlom to Mary River. Gunlom; Plum Tree Creek; Gun-gardun walk; Nourlangie; Bowali Visitor Centre.
August 11 Mary River to Humpty Doo. Bird Billabong; Mary River cruise; Leaning Tree Lagoon; Fogg Dam.
August 12 Humpty Doo to Darwin. Mary River; Leanyer sewage ponds.
The first time a bird is recorded its name is given in upper case.
Wednesday, August 3
I arrived in Darwin at around 1.00pm after an uneventful flight from Brisbane. Peter had arrived very early in the morning and we had arranged to meet at our hotel at 3.00pm, so that would give me time to get into the city and pick up our rental car. There was a long line of people waiting for taxis but taxis themselves were few and far between, so I shared one with two businessmen who also needed to get into the town centre. One of them (or at least his company) kindly paid the bill so it was an unexpectedly inexpensive start to the trip for me.
En route I was able to start my birdlist for the trip with MAGPIE-LARK, BRAHMINY KITE, BLACK KITE and SILVER GULL.
My rental car was not yet ready so I walked a few hundred metres down the road and checked into our hotel. Although the price was reasonable, the room was tiny, but it would do for a couple of nights. I made a quick stop at a nearby newsagent to pick up a notebook (spotting the first of many WHITE IBISs on the way) and then returned to the car rental agency and was able to pick up our car.
Soon after 3.00pm Peter and Sheryl turned up. They had spent the morning visiting a number of sites around Darwin - Buffalo Creek, Leanyer sewage works, Darwin Hospital, Palmerston sewage ponds and had already seen quite a few birds. Species they saw that we did not see later in the trip included CHESTNUT RAIL and BRUSH CUCKOO.
We set about seeing what we could find for the remainder of the day and started at the Botanic Gardens where our target was RUFOUS OWL. A pair has nested here for a number of years and this makes a bird that is normally tricky to find quite easy. Sheryl first found one adult, then the second, and, after some searching, located one well advanced chick. Last year there were two hyperactive chicks at the same site, but this one was keeping pretty well hidden. We searched around for Barking Owls which also roost in the gardens sometimes, but could not find any. Other birds in the gardens included STRAW-NECKED IBIS, BAR-SHOULDERED DOVE, SULPHUR-CRESTED COCKATOO, RAINBOW BEE-EATER, Magpie-lark, BLACK-FACED CUCKOO-SHRIKE, YELLOW ORIOLE, FIGBIRD, WHITE-BREASTED WOODSWALLOW. Sheryl then took us to Nakara Primary School in suburban Darwin where a pair of Barking Owls was known to be roosting, and possibly nesting, in the playground. There were plenty of kids still at the school so we decided we shouldnít go snooping around and left them alone.
One of my target birds for this trip, although one I was not really expecting, was Black-eared Cuckoo. I had heard the species before but not seen it. It is not a common species around Darwin but one bird had been frequenting Leanyer sewage ponds and Peter and Sheryl had seen it there in the morning. So thatís where we went next (passing a couple of BUSH STONE-CURLEWs along the way). We had no luck with the cuckoo, but I added quite a few birds to my trip list - PLUMED WHISTLING-DUCK, WANDERING WHISTLING-DUCK, GREEN PYGMY-GOOSE, GREY TEAL, PINK-EARED DUCK, HARDHEAD, AUSTRALASIAN GREBE, AUSTRALIAN PELICAN, LITTLE EGRET, PIED HERON, BLACK-NECKED STORK, WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE, WHISTLING KITE, EURASIAN COOT, COMMON SANDPIPER, BLACK-WINGED STILT, MASKED LAPWING, AUSTRALIAN PRATINCOLE, WHISKERED TERN, RED-WINGED PARROT, LITTLE BRONZE-CUCKOO, FOREST KINGFISHER, BROWN HONEYEATER, RUFOUS-BANDED HONEYEATER, LEADEN FLYCATCHER, RESTLESS FLYCATCHER, NORTHERN FANTAIL, DOUBLE-BARRED FINCH, TREE MARTIN and FAIRY MARTIN. A number of MANGROVE GERYGONEs were also heard but did not show themselves. Of particular interest was one of the Little Egrets which had the yellow feet typical of Eurasian birds of this species.
We finished the day at the wharf area of Darwin with a very pleasant meal of barramundi (a very popular eating fish of northern Australia) and chips. The cafť where we bought our meal was actually run by a woman Peter had sat next to on his flight from Singapore to Darwin. She gave him his meal for free and gave Sheryl and I a discount!
We returned to the hotel, then went to a nearby supermarket to pick up a few supplies for the next day. Peter was quite tired and needed rest, but I went for a walk along the Esplanade looking for Barking Owls that are reputedly regularly seen there. No success with the owls, but it was a very pleasant evening walk nonetheless.
Thursday, August 4
Our first chore for the morning was to find a Grey-tailed Tattler for Peter - one of his key target species. Sheryl suggested the rocky shoreline at Nightcliff as a place where shorebirds regularly roosted at high tide, and this morning the tide was just right. So we duly drove out to Nightcliff (passing a PIED IMPERIAL PIGEON sitting on a lamp post and a BLACK BUTCHERBIRD on a power line along the way) and soon found ourselves looking at a small number of GREY-TAILED TATTLERs and a variety of other shorebirds. These included Masked Lapwing, several RED-NECKED STINTs, a COMMON GREENSHANK, a few RUDDY TURNSTONES and PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERs, a mixed flock of LESSER and GREATER SANDPLOVERs, a single TEREK SANDPIPER, a WHIMBREL and a few EASTERN CURLEWs. A pair of BEACH STONE-CURLEWs provided a nice contrast to the migratory waders. Silver Gulls were plentiful and there were a few SACRED and COLLARED KINGFISHERs sitting on the rocks. RED-TAILED BLACK COCKATOOs are abundant in the Top End and the first of many we would see on the trip flew overhead as we watched the waders.
Our other sighting was Sheryl. She know exactly where we were (in fact she lived nearby) and had come down to see how we were going. She decided to accompany us, at least for the morning, so we headed off to Buffalo Creek to see if we could find a Chestnut Rail. The only time I had seen this species previously was with Sheryl and Arthur in 2004. The tide was a little too high at Buffalo Creek for rails, although we heard one calling from the mangroves on the other side of the creek. We also heard SHINING FLYCATCHER here, and added LEMON-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, LONG-TAILED FINCH, EASTERN REEF EGRET (a grey phase bird) and AUSTRALIAN HOBBY to our list. A few Tree Martins and Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrikes completed the list for this site.
Since Leanyer sewage works were nearby we decided to return there to have another look for the Black-eared Cuckoo. All the species we had seen there the previous day were still present, and we added PACIFIC BLACK DUCK, RADJAH SHELDUCK, STRIATED PARDALOTE, LARGE-BILLED GERYGONE, Sacred Kingfisher and YELLOW WHITE-EYE to the list. We also heard BLUE-WINGED KOOKABURRA and Mangrove Gerygone, both species Peter had yet to see, but neither showed themselves. An Estuarine Crocodile was present in one of the ponds reminding us that you always need to take care when you are near water in northern Australia. Despite scanning the fences diligently there was no sign of the cuckoo. Peter wanted to digiscope the Radjah Shelducks so we drove around the embankments to get into a better position. While he was taking photographs I saw a small bird pop up onto the fence in front of the car, and there it was, my first BLACK-EARED CUCKOO. It didnít linger long but I was able to enjoy an excellent view in Peterís scope before the bird flew off.
With that success under our belt we made a quick stop at Buffalo Creek, but once again there was no sign of a Chestnut Rail so we moved on. The stop did add a few birds to our tally with PEACEFUL DOVE, VARIED TRILLER, RED-HEADED HONEYEATER and ORANGE-FOOTED SCRUBFOWL all making their first appearance. Along Lee Point road we stopped to look at a pair of BROWN GOSHAWKs flying overhead, and the couple of PIED BUTCHERBIRDs that were present were the first of the trip.
Our next destination was Palmerston Sewage Works. The facility is next to an extensive area of mangroves and at one corner there is a small clearing where you can sit and watch the bird activity. Sheryl and Arthur took me to this site in 2004 and it proved to be very productive. This visit was no exception. For the first time on the trip we actually saw a few Mangrove Gerygones enabling Peter to add the species to his life list. New species added to our tally included BROAD-BILLED FLYCATCHER, MANGROVE GREY FANTAIL, RUFOUS FANTAIL, MANGROVE ROBIN, GREY WHISTLER and LITTLE-SHRIKE THRUSH. It was interesting to see the dryas subspecies of the Rufous Fantail for the first time. This is a strong candidate for a future split and it is likely to become known as the Arafura Fantail. In 2004 I did not come across this species at all, but on this trip it turned up in a number of locations. Other species recorded in the mangroves were Yellow White-eye, Leaden Flycatcher, Shining Flycatcher, Northern Fantail, Radjah Shelduck, Large-billed Gerygone, Red-headed Honeyeater, Bar-shouldered Dove and Peaceful Dove.
There were few waterbirds around the ponds themselves, other than several Pied Herons and Whiskered Terns. Plenty of Rainbow Bee-eaters were hawking for insects and a few CHESTNUT-BREASTED MANNIKINs and CRIMSON FINCHes were in the vegetation next to the ponds. A raptor with a strongly marked underwing appeared different from the numerous Black and Whistling Kites and was suspected to be a SQUARE-TAILED KITE.
On our return to Darwin we stopped at Marlow Lagoon for lunch and, of course, to look for a few birds. The main target here was the silver-backed race of the GREY BUTCHERBIRD, and one was soon located by Sheryl. The other notable species here was a pair of NORTHERN ROSELLAs. These were the only NRs we saw during the entire trip. Other species recorded here were Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, WHITE-THROATED HONEYEATER, WHITE-GAPED HONEYEATER, LITTLE FRIARBIRD, SILVER-CROWNED FRIARBIRD, YELLOW-THROATED MINER, WHITE-THROATED GERYGONE, WEEBILL, RUFOUS WHISTLER, DARTER, Long-tailed Finch, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Bar-shouldered Dove and Red-winged Parrot.
One final stop before we dropped Sheryl off was at Knuckeyís Lagoon. New species here for the list were MAGPIE GOOSE, ROYAL SPOONBILL, GREAT EGRET, INTERMEDIATE EGRET, CATTLE EGRET, WHITE-NECKED HERON, BLACK-FRONTED DOTTEREL, LITTLE PIED CORMORANT, LITTLE BLACK CORMORANT, TORRESIAN CROW and WILLIE WAGTAIL, and others recorded were Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, Green Pygmy-Goose, Whistling Kite, Little Egret, Pied Heron, Straw-necked Ibis, White Ibis, Masked Lapwing, Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Australian Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Rainbow Bee-eater and Magpie-lark.
We returned to Sherylís place where we had left our car then headed back into town to a supermarket where we stocked up on supplies in readiness for the beginning of our excursion into the countryside in the morning. We also dropped in to the rental car office and signed Peter up as an extra driver. After that was accomplished, we visited Charles Darwin National Park which is on the waterfront not far from Darwin city. I had seen Northern Rosella here last year and Peter wanted a better look at one. Unfortunately we didnít see any rosellas and most of the species we came across were common species that we had seen previously. However, we did add a few more birds to the trip list - VARIED LORIKEET (flying over as is usually the case with this species), RAINBOW LORIKEET (the red-collared form), DUSKY HONEYEATER, WHITE-BELLIED CUCKOO SHRIKE and BROWN QUAIL.
We finished the day at East Point. While we had some daylight left we walked through the monsoon forest trying to track down a RAINBOW PITTA. Eventually we were rewarded with brief views of one bird and prolonged views of a second. A selection of other common birds was also recorded, including our first WHITE-WINGED TRILLERs of the trip.
I wanted to hang around until it was almost dark to get a sighting of Large-tailed Nightjar as they are quite common at East Point. However, it was still a little too early so we headed out to the Point itself to enjoy the peaceful evening. Here we added CRESTED TERN to our trip list, and Peter was able to view a few more Grey-tailed Tattlers and some other shorebirds. After that we returned to the nightjar site. Peter first elected to stay in the car to escape the emerging mosquitos, so I headed off along the trail alone, but he appeared a few minutes later. An insomniac SPANGLED DRONGO on a power line was the first for the trip, and it was not long before several LARGE-TAILED NIGHTJARs began calling and then flying around the clearing next to the forest.
Having completed my first full day of birding on this trip, and for Peter his second, we retired to our hotel to consume pizza and do our list for the day. What more could you want!
Friday, August 5
Today was our first day out of the Darwin area and our first day of serious driving. There was nothing specific to keep us in Darwin so we made an early pre-dawn start and made our first destination Fogg Dam about 50km away. This dam was originally built to supply water for an ill-fated rice growing project, but it has become a haven for waterbirds and other wildlife. Since it is also fringed by monsoon forest, a large variety of other species can also be expected nearby. It was a spectacular morning and the birdlife certainly didnít disappoint. On our drive to the dam we began to record raptors as soon at there was enough light to see them. The ubiquitous Black and Whistling Kites were the first to appear, but before long we came across the first NANKEEN KESTREL. At the dam itself we found a BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE and a pair of SWAMP HARRIERs.
Over the next couple of hours we drove and walked along the causeway and through the monsoon forest. Our major target here was WHITE-BROWED CRAKE and it did not take long to find several birds. They were not particularly secretive and allowed us to study them at leisure. We also found Sacred and Forest Kingfishers, GOLDEN-HEADED CISTICOLA, CLAMOROUS (AUSTRALASIAN) REED-WARBLER, Bar-shouldered and Peaceful Doves, BROLGA, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, COLLARED SPARROWHAWK, Rainbow Lorikeet, GALAH, LITTLE CORELLA, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, ROSE-CROWNED FRUIT-DOVE (heard only), Pheasant Coucal (heard only), Green Pygmy-Goose, Radjah Shelduck, COMB-CRESTED JACANA, Australian White Ibis, Restless and Broad-billed Flycatchers, Willie Wagtail, Rufous Fantail, Magpie-lark, Torresian Crow, Rainbow Bee-eater, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, White-breasted Woodswallow, Fairy and Tree Martins, Crinson Finch, Striated Pardalote, Little Shrike-Thrush, GREY SHRIKE-THRUSH, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, White-winged Triller, MISTLETOEBIRD and White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike. Peter was able to take some excellent photos.
Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head further east, recording the first of many RED-BACKED KINGFISHERs, BROWN FALCONs and BLACK-FACED WOODSWALLOWs en route. Our next stop was at the Adelaide River bridge on the Arnhem Highway - a well known site for Mangrove Golden-whistler. We had stopped here last year but there was no sign of any MGWs then, and we had the same result on this visit despite some diligent searching. All we found were Collared Kingfisher, BLUE-FACED HONEYEATER, Grey Whistler, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher and Large-billed Gerygone.
One of my targets for this trip was Black-breasted Buzzard and not far beyond Adelaide River lies the Marrakai Track which is regarded as an excellent site for this species. We drove the first 20km of this road out onto the Marrakai floodplain but it proved to be virtually a raptor free zone. Our only amusement was taking photographs of some very large termite mounds.
Soon after we returned to the highway I noticed a little extra movement of the car but put it down to the significant crosswind that was blowing. However, after another 5km or so this became a shudder and it was clear we had a flat tyre. The wheel was easily replaced with the spare, but the tyre was severely damaged and we would need a new one before we went much further. I was reluctant to return to Darwin and decided we should continue on to Jabiru, the largest settlement in Kakadu National Park where I thought we should be able to pick up a new tyre. Since it was now afternoon we decided to go straight to Jabiru without any significant stops so that we could get the tyre fixed that day. We did make one stop at Mary River Park and made some enquiries about cruises on the river. These cruises are considered a good place to see Grey Goshawk, Great-billed Heron and Black Bittern. The first two were targets for Peter and the latter one of mine.
The trip into Jabiru was uneventful. We stopped once to check out a raptor that looked like a Black-breasted Buzzard from the brief glimpse I had of it, but it disappeared quickly and could not be relocated.
It was in Jabiru that we hit a snag - there was no tyre available for our type of car. We were only driving a standard small Toyota, and I did not expect we would have any problem finding a tyre. To get hold of one we would either have to return to Darwin or travel on to Katherine. The distance was about the same in each case, so we decided that we might as well press on. We had planned on travelling on one unsealed road for a short distance, but decided that was unwise without a spare and rearranged the rest of out trip. But Katherine was not on our schedule for today and we needed to make camp in Kakadu.
After a quick stop at the Bowali Visitor Centre, we drove about 40km to the northeast corner of the park and set up shop at Merl Campground. The campground was certainly not full, but there were still quite a few people present.
A major reason for visiting this area was to check out some of the sandstone outcrops associated with the Arnhem Land escarpment as they are home to a number of special birds. A drive of about 10 minutes from the campground took us to Ubirr, well known as a site of extensive Aboriginal rock art. We walked around the circuit trail and climbed a large rocky outcrop, along with many other people. It was a beautiful afternoon and we enjoyed a spectacular view over the Nardab floodplain. Due to the number of people there were not too many birds around, but Peter did spot a SANDSTONE SHRIKE THRUSH. Unfortunately by the time he attracted my attention it could not be relocated. A WHITE-FACED HERON on the floodplain was another new bird for the trip list, and we also recorded the first of many GREAT BOWERBIRDs.
Saturday, August 6
We had decided not to linger too long in Kakadu but to press on reasonably quickly to Pine Creek and beyond, then return to Kakadu later on. However, the first order of business for the day was to get to Nourlangie to search for Banded Fuit-Doves. These shy birds frequent the trees around the base of the sandstone escarpment and the rock art sites of Nourlangie are one of the places where they are regularly seen. Because this is a very popular tourist site the idea is to get into the area as soon as possible after the gates open at 8.00am. So we broke camp early and made our way the 70km to Nourlangie, arriving just about on schedule. We were first on the trails and soon picked up a few new birds, including EMERALD DOVE, HELMETED FRIARBIRD, WHITE-LINED HONEYEATER and LITTLE WOODSWALLOW. The honeyeater is one of the specialty birds of the sandstone escarpments that was on our hit list. I had seen the species in 2004, but it was new for Peter.
Although conditions seemed perfect and there were very few other people around, there was no sign of any fruit-doves. After walking along the rock art trails without success we made our way to the lookout and spent quite a while there scanning the trees along the base of the escarpment and its slopes. In addition to fruit-doves we were looking for other specialties of this habitat such as Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon and Sandstone Shrike-thrush. None were to be seen, but eventually I caught some movement and saw a bird land near the top of a fig. And there was my first BANDED FRUIT-DOVE. I only watched it for a few seconds before calling to Peter who was about 20m away. Unfortunately all he saw of the bird was a shape dropping down into the foliage. Despite spending quite some time searching all the trees in the region, then again walking all the trails, we did not find any more of these elusive birds. It was time to move on.
We next stopped briefly at Cooinda to cancel our Yellow Waters boat trip that was booked for the following morning. Then it was down to the mooring area on Yellow Waters itself where we had lunch and had a quick look around. The highlight here was another White-browed Crake, but we were also able to study a few of the flycatchers at close range. Our final stop in Kakadu was not far away at the Mardugal campground. We didnít linger here very long and did not add anything to our trip list.
Our destination for the afternoon was Pine Creek, located about 150km away on the Stuart Highway. It was an easy drive with one stop at the Mary River Roadhouse to have something to drink. Several Great Bowerbirds were boldly hopping around the verandahs of the roadhouse.
We had originally planned to stay in Pine Creek but not on this night. So first we went to the hotel and made sure we were able to change our booking. After checking in Peter went to try to photograph some COCKATIELs we had seen nearby, while I visited the local service station to see whether they had a tyre that would fit our car. They didnít.
A walk around the water gardens area in the centre of the town proved particularly rewarding. A group of GREY-CROWNED BABBLERs was working the lawns and they were the first of the trip. There were quite a few Peaceful Doves feeding there as well, and with them were a few DIAMOND DOVEs - another trip bird. Also, now that we were away from the coast, the first of many CRESTED PIGEONs were seen. We also recorded several species of finches - Double-barred, Long-tailed and MASKED FINCHes. Around the water itself Rainbow Bee-eaters, RUFOUS-THROATED HONEYEATERs and several Restless Flycatchers were hawking for insects. A couple of immature BAR-BREASTED HONEYEATERs were the first we had come across.
Next we moved a short distance from the town and drove along the Umbawarra Gorge road to Copperfield Dam. In 2004 I saw several Gouldian Finches here, but today there were far more campers and people swimming in the dam and we did not see many birds. So we returned to the gorge road and travelled about one kilometre further west to a creek crossing. Here I saw Banded Honeyeater in 2004 so I thought it would be worth another try. There were extensive roadworks at the creek crossing, but since it was Saturday there was no work going on and we could take a look around. There were a number of Melaleucas in flower and it did not take long to locate one, and then many, BANDED HONEYEATERs. In 2004 I had only seen one immature bird, but this year they were everywhere.
We returned to Pine Creek and made a quick stop at the sewage ponds and cemetery. The ponds held a nice selection of waterbirds including Grey Teal, Hardhead, Radjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy-Goose, Pink-eared Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Australasian Grebe, Eurasian Coot, Black-fronted Dotterel and a dapper RED-KNEED DOTTEREL. There were a few Double-barred Finches in the grass nearby, but no other finches. Next to the cemetery we wandered through the long grass, hoping to put up a Chestnut-backed Button-quail, but we had to be satisfied with several Brown Quail and a party of RED-BACKED FAIRY-WRENs. After that we returned to town and enjoyed a meal in the pub.
In the evening I decided to wander around town looking for Barking Owls hunting for insects around the streetlights. After covering most of the well lit area in the centre of town and a few of the back streets I had found no Barking Owls, but I did come across two Blue-winged Kookaburras after a late night snack. There was also a single Bush Stone-curlew, a few flying foxes and some quite large insectivorous bats.
Sunday, August 7
The major reason for staying in Pine Creek was to look for Hooded Parrots first thing in the morning. Last year I learned that at dawn they come in to drink condensation on the roof of the townís water storage tank, and I was able to watch 16 or 17 birds do just that. So before dawn we were stationed at the water tank. Eventually the birds started to wake up. There were plenty of Rainbow Lorikeets, a few Pied Butcherbirds and cockatoos, and the everpresent Black Kites. It took a while before the HOODED PARROTs appeared, but appear they did. Last year the first birds came in five minutes before the sun appear, this time it was about 15 minutes after sunrise. The parrots came in several waves and eventually about 50 birds appeared - quite a healthy population. They first perched in nearby treees, then fluttered down onto the roof of the tank, and after that retired to the trees again. We watched them for a while, but eventually we wandered off since we had a long drive ahead of us.
However, we didnít leave straight away but lingered to take a quick look around a couple of the other Pine Creek sites. At the Water Gardens we found much the same range of species as the previous afternoon, but there was a surprise in store when we found a SOUTHERN BOOBOOK being mobbed by a very noisy flock of Blue-faced Honeyeaters. Eventually the harassing flock moved on and left the owl in peace. A visit to the sewerage ponds also turned up the same birds as the previous afternoon, but the cemetery was quite unproductive.
So we headed south towards Katherine. Our first stop was just beyond the Fergusson River where Gouldian Finches are often recorded, but the only small birds we found were Red-backed Fairy-wrens. A little further south we drove along the road towards Edith Falls and stopped by a creek which is also a known watering point for Gouldians, but again we were out of luck.
As soon as we arrived in Katherine I stopped at a service station and asked about tyres. The guy said that since it was Sunday none of the tyre services were open, but said that the one just around the corner had a 7 day call out number on the door. It didnít, so we headed on to the visitors centre and asked there. I was given the after hours numbers for the two tyre retailers in town. One didnít answer, and the other said that it would cost $75 to call him out on a Sunday (in addition to the costs of the tyre and the labour). I decided against it, since we would be passing through Katherine again the next day and we would be basically travelling on sealed road for the next 24 hours. (As a precaution, I picked up a can of pressurized tyre sealant in case of an emergency.)
So we went to the supermarket and picked up some more food, added ROCK DOVE to the trip list, then hit the road (the Victoria Highway to be precise), with Timber Creek as our destination. Timber Creek is about 300km west of Katherine but with a high quality road and relatively light traffic we did not expect it to take more than about three hours of driving time. Although we made a brief detour onto a side road in the Chinaman Creek area, it was the middle of the day and quite warm and birding did not look promising. After a quick stop for lunch we moved on to the Victoria River. The dense grass where the bridge crosses the river is considered a reliable site for Purple-crowned Fairy-wren, but it did not prove so for us and nary a wren opened its beak. We only had a couple of Striated Pardalotes to show for our trouble.
The countryside had changed as we moved to the southwest, with the woodland thinning out and the whole area taking on a more arid appearance. There were still sandstone mesas and escarpments in this district, but we were now well away from the Arnhem Land escarpment and had reached the eastern margins of the Kimberly region. With the change in habitat comes a change in some of the avifauna. For example, the Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon of the Arnhem Land area is replaced here by the White-quilled Rock Pigeon. A short distance west of Victoria River crossing there is a trail leading up the escarpment and, despite the warm temperatures, we gave it a go as it was one of our few opportunities to see this new rock pigeon. Our prospects did not look promising as much of the area had been recently burnt and that turned out to be the case. Few birds of any kind were seen. The most interesting thing we saw was a Short-eared Rock Wallaby that peered down on us as we clambered up the slope.
The remaining 90km to Timber Creek were uneventful. When we arrived we booked into one of the campgrounds and set up our tents about 30m from a billabong. Then we went a little to the west of town and stopped at the airstrip. Sheryl had told us that a well out of range Inland Dotterel had been hanging around the airstrip for a few weeks and that we should look out for it. So our first job was to look for this bird. It was not our day and despite scanning the entire area we could not see the bird - if it was still around. There were some parts of the airstrip we couldnít see (due to its curvature) and the bird could have been hunkered down somewhere, but we could not easily check the far side. However, things started to look up when a couple of STAR FINCHes flew up from some grass and on to the perimeter fence. We also added WHITE-BROWED and MASKED WOODSWALLOWs, which were associating with their numerous Black-faced cousins. Other birds of interest were SINGING BUSHLARK, Brown Quail, Black-shouldered Kite, SPOTTED HARRIER (sitting on the ground), JACKY WINTER, YELLOW-TINTED HONEYEATER and SINGING HONEYEATER.
Peter was very content photographing birds at the airstrip, but there were other sites to check out so I dragged him away. Only a short distance back towards town on the side of the highway we put up a flock of finches and they turned out to be more Star Finches. This time about 100 birds were present. They soon returned to their feeding in the short grass alongside the road and we enjoyed excellent views. Although some enterprising birder has described the Star Finch as having a colour scheme that looks like someone has vomited on it, I find it a very attractive little bird.
The final stop for the day was Policemanís Point, where Timber Creek joins the Victoria River. This is a well known site for finches but it was not finches that first attracted our attention but pigeons. A small flock of plump SPINIFEX PIGEONs was crossing the road and they were the only ones seen on the trip. Peter was quite taken with this colourful and strange-looking bird and considered it one of the highlights of his visit.
At the point itself there were a few finches around, but no new species for us. Double-barred Finches were most common, but a few Crimson finches and Long-tailed Finches were also about. A couple of CASPIAN TERNs were spotted cruising along the river.
We were running out of light so we returned to the campground in Timber Creek to eat our dinner. A large rock that was lit by an overhead light proved a handy table for us. It seemed a little strange that someone would choose to illuminate a rock, but a wire and perspex structure next to the rock told us why. It was a Cane Toad trap. The introduced Cane Toad has moved into the Northern Territory in recent years and is steadily making its way west. The traps are an attempt to slow the spread of the beast, but they are unlikely to have much effect.
We finished the day with some spotlighting along the highway and a search of the trees around the lights in town for nocturnal birds. Apart from one largish bird that flashed across in front of our headlights (and remained unidentified) there was nothing to attract our interest. We did not even hear any nocturnal bird sounds.
Monday, August 8
Even though our tents were placed not far from the creek, we awoke intact this morning without having become crocodile fodder.
The plan for the day was to spend the first couple of hours around Timber Creek, head back to Katherine and get a new tyre, then finish up at Mataranka. Before we went anywhere Peter wandered down to the creek and located a pair of WHITE-BROWED ROBINs. This is a striking bird at the best of times but here we were looking at the beautiful buff-sided race which may be split as a separate species.
The first stop was the airstrip where Peter quickly scoped his first INLAND DOTTEREL. Unfortunately it was a little far away for photography. This bird was well out of its regular range and a real rarity for the Top End. Most of the birds we had seen the previous afternoon were still present, and Long-tailed Finch and Banded Honeyeater were new additions. A soaring WEDGE-TAILED EAGLE was the first of the trip. We had seen Varied Lorikeets flying overhead on most days, but this time a small flock landed not far from us and spent some time feeding. These were the first perched Varied Lorikeets I had ever seen. Peter was able to take a few photographs.
We also made a return visit to Policemanís Point. This time there were no Spinifex Pigeons but a real highlight was provided by four YELLOW-RUMPED MANNIKINs feeding in long grass right near the end of the point. Double-barred, Crimson, Masked and Long-tailed Finches were also present, but our other targets - Gouldian Finch and Pictorella Mannikin - could not be found.
We returned to town, broke camp and refueled. We could have easily spent far more time exploring the Timber Creek area, but we had quite a few kilometres to travel and still had a tyre to replace, so we moved on.
Our next stop was the Bullita Access Road a short distance to the east. We drove along the road for a few kilometres and stopped in a couple of places. One of those stops was induced by a small flock of BUDGERIGARs flying across the road. Fortunately they landed and Peter was able to study them closely as it was a new species for him. These were the only Budgies we saw during out trip. Other birds of interest were a Wedge-tailed Eagle and a few Singing Honeyeaters.
Our next stop was about 8km west of the Victoria River where the sandstone escarpment comes close to the highway. We had considered doing the escarpment walk again to have another attempt at White-quilled Rock Pigeon, but since it was largely burnt out we were put off that option. Instead, we drove a short distance off the highway to Joe Creek picnic area as the pigeons are sometimes seen here too. Time was short but we clambered up the track over the scree to the base of the escarpment. There were no rock pigeons and few other birds but it looked like a very nice place to spend a few a few hours walking around.
For lunch we drove down to the Victoria River a few hundred metres south of the bridge. Before eating, however, we checked out some of the tall grass for Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens, again without success. Since this was to be our last chance for this species, before we left the area we again checked the grass at either end of the bridge, but yet again all we found were Striated Pardalotes. It was the middle of the day and getting quite warm, so the best option seemed to be to sit in the air conditioned car for a couple of hours and head straight back to Katherine.
After we arrived back in Katherine it took less than half an hour to get a new tyre fitted. We also took the opportunity to do a little shopping. Peter took care of that while I sorted out some accommodation for Mataranka. The reason for travelling there was to look for a nesting pair of Red Goshawks, Australiaís rarest bird of prey. Sheryl had told us that the birds were nesting at Mataranka Cabins, and we were given the same information at Mary River Park. So I went to the tourist office, found a brochure for the cabins, and gave them a call. Fortunately there was a cabin free and the owner confirmed that the Red Goshawks were still there, so we were set for the evening.
The drive down to Mataranka took only about one hour and we easily located the cabins. We spoke to the owner and paid for our cabin and were told exactly where to look for the goshawks. Before even unpacking the car we went to look at the nest, which turned out to be only about 25m from the cabin, and, exactly as predicted, there was a female RED GOSHAWK present, a lifer for both of us. The bird was sitting on the nest, so it couldnít be seen very well, but when we checked a short time later, she was standing on the edge of the nest and we had a much better view. Peter duly took some photos but it proved difficult to get an ideal line of sight with the sun in the best direction.
We still had some daylight left and spent a little while walking along the road and a short distance into the adjacent Elsey National Park. There was a nice selection of honeyeaters and flycatchers, but nothing out of the ordinary. After just watching a Red Goshawk most other Australian birds would seem commonplace.
Peter had been studying the birding literature we had available and it told us that Mataranka Hot Springs was a place where we might come across the Apostlebird. Peter had seen this species before but was keen to see it again. This was also a recommended area for spotlighting. So we drove to the southern side of Mataranka and parked at the hot springs. As soon as we stepped out of the car I heard some animated calling from a nearby tree and told Peter to check it out. Sure enough, there were several APOSTLEBIRDs in the tree squabbling over who should roost where.
Light was fading fast but we walked down to the river past the thermal pools. It was a pleasant little walk but most birds had gone off to roost for the evening so we saw very little. There was very large campground here and it was packed. There was also a food concession and since we wanted to wait around until it was fully dark, we decided to eat here. It was very good value and we enjoyed an enormous amount of food.
We finished the day by spotlighting along John Hauser Drive. Although we went along the road for about 10km, then retraced our route, the only nightbird we saw was something nightjar sized that flashed across in front of the headlights. There was no chance of a positive identification.
Tuesday, August 9
We had planned to make an early start today and head north to Gunlom in Kakadu National Park to do the things that our damaged tyre had caused us to postpone. However, we were low on fuel and needed more before we hit the road, and we could not get it until the service station opened at 7.00am. That gave us some more time to take another good look at the Red Goshawk. Again there was only one bird at the nest but she was very co-operative.
We can certainly recommend the cabins and the one we occupied was the best value for money of any place we stayed at in the Top End (other than when we were camping). While we were there we picked up a small brochure called ďBirding Hot Spots in the Katherine RegionĒ produced by Katherine birder Mike Reed. It was very up to date and was produced only 6 days before our visit. It gave some suggested sites for Gouldian Finch and Pictorella Mannikin along the Central Arnhem Road. This road is about 50km north of Mataranka and, after refueling, thatís where we went. We hoped to get there as early as possible so that we might catch the finches coming in to drink in the morning. En route we saw an AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE, a very common bird throughout most of Australia but only venturing into the Top End along its drier southern edge.
After we reached Central Arnhem Road we travelled along it 19 km to Maranboy Creek. As soon as we left the car we noted quite a few finches about. I followed one flock as it flew past and landed on a nearby tree. It contained a single black-faced adult GOULDIAN FINCH. The birds did not linger, but they stayed long enough for Peter to get the bird in the scope. It seemed like we had hit the mother lode but that became the only adult Gouldian we saw here. There were many other finches around, including the usual suspects - Double-barred, Masked, Long-tailed and Crimson - and before too long we located a flock of about 20 immature Gouldians. Other interesting birds in the area were a couple of COMMON BRONZEWINGs, a lone Australian Pelican flying overhead, a Pheasant Coucal, a single AZURE KINGFISHER, and a selection of honeyeaters including Banded, Yellow-tinted and Bar-breasted.
It was a very pleasant spot to spend a little time, but after a while we decided to move on to a site about 30km further east where the brochure said we might find Pictorella Mannikins. We drove to the general area then used our GPS to find the precise location. This was a much drier area and the small watercourse was completely dry. There were patches of dry grass with interspersed open stony areas, and a few sparse small trees. We wandered around for a little while but found no finches at all. However, we did put up a few Singing Bushlarks from the grass. There were perhaps a dozen in a relatively small area so their density was very high.
Since this site was not proving productive we made our way back towards the Stuart Highway. We made one stop to check out some roadside woodland and a second at Maranboy Creek. Although there were still birds around, there was far less activity than their had been earlier in the morning. Once we reached the highway we went directly to Katherine, seeing another Australian Magpie while we were driving. In Katherine we stocked up on supplies and I called Mary River Park to make an accommodation booking for a couple of nights time.
North of Katherine we stopped for lunch at the Gouldian Finch site on the Edith Falls road. There were no Gouldians and few other birds. A Brown Goshawk was working its way through the trees lining the creek so that may have kept things a little quiet. We also briefly investigated at the truck stop south of the Fergusson River but again no finches were to be found.
The next stop was in Pine Creek and a quick scout around the water gardens and sewage works. We found a similar range of species to what we had seen a few days previously. Then it was off to Kakadu again.
We drove straight to the campground at Gunlom and set ourselves up for the evening. We still had a few hours of daylight so I was keen to climb the steep track to the top of the falls and start searching for grasswrens. The White-throated Grasswren was my number one target bird for this trip, and this was our only real chance to see the species.
The climb to the top of the falls is steep but not particularly long and we were soon up there catching our breath as we gazed over the floodplain of the South Alligator River. (The next morning I timed the climb and, at a steady pace, it only took 7 minutes.) We moved along the creek for a few hundred metres to the point where the valley widens, then struck out to the right up towards the layered rock shelves. I was at this site a year previously and thought I identified the large rocky outcrop Niven McCrie described in his birdfinding guide. He suggested was a good place to start looking for grasswrens. This year I was carrying a GPS and was able to check the location precisely. However, the co-ordinates in Nivenís book led us some way from here, not to a large outcrop but to the area between two smaller outcrops. (We suspect the co-ordinates in the book may not be accurate as our GPS seemed to locate Mike Reedís Pictorella Mannikin site accurately.) Although we climbed one of the outcrops and sat quietly for a while listening and looking for birds, none of our targets were found. In addition to grasswrens we were looking for Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeons and Sandstone Shrike-thrushes as I had yet to see the latter species. What we did enjoy were nice views of the sandstone race of the Helmeted Friarbird and a few White-lined Honeyeaters.
After a while we decided to make our way slowly back towards camp. We soon came across a very co-operative Banded Honeyeater sitting in a tree and Peter was able to get some nice photos. This species always seems to be hyperactive so it was surprising finding one willing to stay still for a few minutes. Peter made his way back towards the creek, while I skirted the base of the cliffs looking for our targets. Before too long I heard some wrens calling and had my fingers crossed that they were grasswrens. I couldnít see any birds but they kept calling as I moved closer. They were not grasswrens but a small party of VARIEGATED FAIRY-WRENs of the subspecies dulcis. While the male looked like a standard VFW, the female looked quite different with white eye-ring and lores.
I was heading back towards the creek when I saw a brown pigeon flying across the base of one of the rocky slopes. I thought it might be a rock-pigeon, but by the time I reached the slope I could not relocate it. We would have to return in the morning.
It was reasonably dark by the time we returned to camp for dinner. We soon had two visitors. One was a ranger who told us that there would be a slide show on bush tucker in the campground in about half an hourís time. I asked her about grasswrens but she did not know much about birds and could not give us any useful information. Our other visitor appeared on a bicycle. He was the campground caretaker and he was there to collect our fee. We asked him about grasswrens and he said that in the entire year to date he had only had 3 reports from people who had seen them. In other words they were proving very elusive. He told us roughly where they had been seen last. It was not at the main location suggested in Nivenís book, but higher up on the slopes. Last year I had run across a birder who had seen the species in this area, and I had written the GPS co-ordinates in my book. Now that we were carrying a GPS we would be able to go to the precise spot.
The slide show was introduced by the ranger but most of the talking was done by an old Aboriginal woman. It was interesting, but she spoke very softly and it was often difficult to hear what she said. One piece of information that was of particular significance is that the number of goannas in Kakadu had declined drastically since Cane Toads have arrived. Hopefully the population will recover in time.
Wednesday, August 10
Another early start, but then they are never any different on a birding trip. We had a quick breakfast as I was keen to get up onto the escarpment. Peter had been reading various guides that indicated that a few species he wanted to see, such as Partridge Pigeon and Black-tailed Treecreeper, could be found around the campground and along the entrance road. So he started the day below the escarpment and I started on top. I told him the route I would be taking so that we could meet up when he came up later on.
It did not take long to get onto the escarpment and my plan was to check out the area where grasswrens had been last seen. However, I wanted to check out the site in the valley first. As I was making my way over to the large rock outcrop I looked over to the ridge and saw a black and white bird land in a skeletal tree. It was a Banded Fruit Dove. I moved a little closer and noticed that there were two fruit-doves in the tree and they were sitting right in the open. Unfortunately that was the last time I saw them because when I next looked they had gone.
There were no grasswrens or rock-pigeons on the outcrop. I didnít see any shrike-thrushes either, but I could hear several calling from higher up on the slopes, so thatís where I headed. I soon came across another party (or perhaps the same party) of Variegated Fairy-wrens. My intention was to climb up the rocks at the head of the valley but it became quite steep so I skirted along the rockfall looking for a way up. While doing so I saw two shapes on a sunny shelf about halfway up the slope. I thought they might be rock-pigeons, but I was a fair distance away and they might just have been rocks. I moved closer and convinced myself they were indeed pigeons, and this was confirmed when one of them stuck its head up. So I finally had my first CHESTNUT-QUILLED ROCK-PIGEONs. I was close enough to get a reasonable look at them, but I decided to move further up the slope to a better vantage point. This allowed me to get excellent views. Before too long they flew off showing their chestnut wing panels very nicely. While I was looking at the pigeons I heard a shrike-thrush calling not far away and soon I was looking at my life SANDSTONE SHRIKE-THRUSH. So now I only had one target left. I was not too far from the recommended grasswren site and the spinifex looked very healthy in this area so I was optimistic.
I was about to move on when I heard Peter calling. He was down in the valley and had spotted me up on the ridge. I directed him to my position. While I was waiting for him I scouted around a bit and found two more shrike-thrushes. One landed only about 10m from me so I was able to study it closely. As is always the way, by the time Peter arrived there were no rock-pigeons or shrike-thrushes to be found.
We moved on up the ridge to the grasswren site, but only a pair of Variegated Fairy-wrens were to be found. Peter had not yet seen this species so at least he was able to add something new to his list. We moved on a little further and I flushed a couple of rock-pigeons. Peter was not near me so I called out. There was no response even though he had been close behind me only a short time previously. I yelled out and could hear my voice echoing off the walls of the valley but still no reply. I went back and found him only 30m away on the other side of a large rock. He said he had not heard me at all. It just goes to show how difficult it could be to track down someone who was lost in this country. Fortunately we were able to track down the pigeons again and Peter was able to add another life bird to his tally.
We took the direct route back to the top of the waterfall, and this meant picking our was down a steep boulder-strewn slope. We had to push our way through some burnt vegetation as well, so this meant that our clothes ended up covered with sooty stripes. Then it was back down to the campground to break camp and head off.
Before we left the area entirely we made a stop at Plum Tree Creek, about 15km from Gunlom. This is listed in Niven McRieís book as another potential area for grasswrens. We pulled over on the side of the road, negotiated the creek and headed off amongst the rocky outcrops. On the first significant outcrop Peter found some more rock-pigeons and then more and more. We must have put up a dozen from a small area. Although we checked out a few more outcrops we were still perhaps 500 metres from the recommended grasswren site and decided it would take too much time to check them out thoroughly so we returned to the car.
After reaching the Kakadu Highway we headed north, stopping first at the Gungurul picnic area to have lunch, then at the Gun-gardun walk. Surprisingly we had not yet seen Black-tailed Treecreeper but I had seen the species on this walk last year so we decided to give it a go. First we walked around the nearby campground, without success, before taking the loop walk. It was a pleasant walk despite the heat in the middle of the day but it did not yield any treecreepers or Partridge Pigeons. So despite some early morning success our other targets were proving difficult to find.
Next stop was Nourlangie where we wanted to have another go at finding Banded Fruit-Dove as Peter had only see the species very fleetingly during our first visit. This time we headed straight for the lookout area. Peterís mobility was deteriorating as the day progressed. Before he came to Australia he was suffering from plantar fascitis, but during the trip his feet had been holding up very well. However, the rough walking at Gunlom hadnít done them any favours and now they were starting to give trouble. So we walked slowly up to the lookout and spent some time scanning the trees and slopes, but no fruit-doves were to be found.
Eventually we started to make our way back to the carpark. Along the way we came across an Aboriginal ranger. He was a very cheery chap who was chattering to himself when our paths crossed. He said he was looking forward to having a beer with his mates after a hard dayís work. We asked him if he had seen any Partridge Pigeons. He said that ĎRed-eyesí, as he called them, could often be found around the lawns of the Bowali Visitor Centre, so we made that our next stop.
The visitor centre itself had closed for the day so there no other cars in the carpark and only a few staff around. We wandered around the grounds for a while without seeing anything, then our ranger friend drove past and told us to keep looking and weíd find them eventually. So we continued looking. Five minutes later the same ranger called to us to tell us he had located a couple of Ďred-eyesí. There were in fact three PARTRIDGE PIGEONs sitting near the work depot. After getting a good look at them, Peter went back to the car to get his scope and camera. By the time he got back the birds had started to walk off into the woodland. They were reluctant to fly, although one eventually did. We slowly followed the remaining two birds for a while, but they never sat still for long and it was difficult for Peter to get a shot. It was time to move on.
We had booked in for the evening at Mary River Park, approximately 140km away, so we would not get there until well after dark. The drive itself was uneventful but on our first pass we missed the entrance to the Park in the dark. We soon realised that, turned around and found the driveway. It did not take long for us to be ensconsed in our cabin, although it left something to be desired. The cabins were supposed to be Ďfully self containedí. All ours had was two beds and a small table. There was an adjoining bathroom, but you had to go out onto the verandah and in through a separate door to get to it. But it would do. We only really needed somewhere to sleep for the night.
We retired to the very casual bar for a beer and told our bartender we were birdwatchers. She said we should talk to Mike, although he was eating his dinner at the time. Before too long he came over and we asked him about a few of our targets and let him know about a few of the things we had seen. One of these was Barking Owl and he said there was often one catching insects around the lights just outside. But there wasnít one there tonight. He did suggest a nearby site for Black-tailed Treecreeper, a species we were still after. We were booked in for a river cruise in the morning, hopeful of seeing Great-billed Heron, Black Bittern and Grey Goshawk. He told us they were all quite possible. The morning would tell.
Thursday, August 11
The river cruise was not until 9.00am so we had several hours of daylight to deal with first. We arose before dawn and helped ourselves to breakfast in the bar. Then it was a short drive down the road to the turnoff to Bird Billabong. Mike at Mary River had suggested we check out the access road, and it only took a few minutes to find a BLACK-TAILED TREECREEPER, the first of the trip. We continued on to bird billabong itself to look for Black Bittern as Sheryl had said it was a reasonable place to try for the species. Peterís feet were not in good shape so he sat near the car while I took a look around. I did not find any bitterns, although a NANKEEN NIGHT HERON flushed from the waterside vegetation. I also noticed a crocodile lurking in the water, providing yet another gentle reminder that it is unwise to stand too close to the waterís edge near these tropical waterholes.
A nice selection of birds were to be found around the billabong and it was a very pleasant place to spend some time in the morning. However, on this morning our time was not unlimited and soon we had to make our way back to Mary River Park. When we arrived back there we found a couple in the carpark toting binonculars. They were also lining up for the morning cruise. While we were waiting, a man came up to us and started talking about birds. It turned out he was Mike Reed from Katherine - the birder who produced the useful birdfinding brochure and newsletter for the region. He told us he had just been watching Gouldian Finches come in to drink at a small waterhole 8km along the road towards Darwin. We resolved to check it out later.
Six people were on the boat in addition to our guide. The couple we met in the carpark were semi-retired farmers from the wheatbelt of Western Australia. Their son was running their property while they were taking an extended vacation and working on their birding skills. Then their were two women, an older one and a younger one. I donít recall them saying anything during the entire cruise. Peter and I made up the group.
The cruise lasted about two hours. The main objective of the guide was to show us crocodiles and he certainly did that. Most of those we saw were Freshwater Crocodiles, but there were a few Estuarines as well. The majority of the passengers were more interested in birds than crocodiles, and although our boatmen made some efforts in this regard, he was keener on the crocodiles. Nevertheless, we did see some very nice birds. Soon after we started I spotted a heron skulking in the vegetation near the bank and it soon revealed itself as one of our main targets, the GREAT-BILLED HERON. There were in fact two birds present. Soon after that we found a Brown Goshawk on an overhanging branch. A few times we stopped to study kingfishers at close range, but none of the highly desired Little Kingfishers was seen. A GLOSSY IBIS flying down the river was the only one we saw on the entire trip. I particularly wanted to find a Black Bittern, but despite extensive scanning of the riverside vegetation we did not come across any. Apparently they are seen on many of the trips, but we were out of luck.
As we moved down river we passed the colonies of two species of flying fox - Black and Little Red. There were quite a few White-bellied Sea-Eagles hanging around the these colonies, both adults and juveniles. It seems that the flying foxes are very easy to catch and are ideal for the young birds to hone their hunting skills. The sea-eagles were not the only raptors taking advantage of this fast food. We had been told that there was a pair of Grey Goshawks hanging around one of the colonies. It did not take long to find one of the birds, a lovely white-phase GREY GOSHAWK perched peacefully beneath a few hundred noisy bats. This was Peterís second lifer of the cruise. We stayed around this area for a little while, but soon it was time to return to our starting point. We had secured two of our three main targets on the cruise so it was certainly worthwhile.
After we left Mary River Park we made a stop at the waterhole Mike Reed had mentioned with respect to the Gouldians. There were actually two bodies of water. There was a smaller waterhole that looked a little deeper. It had quite a few trees nearby - excellent staging sites for finches and other birds. The other waterhole was more expansive with plenty of floating vegetation. It was hosting a variety of waterbirds, including Radjah Shelducks, egrets and Royal Spoonbills. There were not many smaller birds around, and certainly no finches, so we moved on. However, we entertained the possibility of returning here in the morning, our last morning, in the hope that we would get a better look at Gouldians.
Lunch was spent a little further along the road at Leaning Tree Lagoon. The lagoon was full of waterbirds. Most of the species we had come to expect in these tropical waterholes were present. Highlights included a pair of Black-necked Storks and several Australian Pratincoles.
Fires are an integral part of the tropical north and we came across them regularly during our days on the road. Fires displace insects, reptiles and small mammals and this means food for raptors. A number of species can be found around these fires, including Black and Brown Falcons, but the dominant species by far is the Black Kite. Wherever there are fires Black Kites are found in numbers. Soon after we had lunch we passed a fairly extensive fire that came right up to the road and there were hundreds of kites milling around. Some were low to the ground, but the majority were soaring in the heated air. We stopped to take a look, but we werenít the only ones. A carload of people heading in the opposite direction had also stopped to take in the scene. They were not toting binoculars, so I assume they were not birders, but the spectacle was significant enough to entice them to pull over.
Closer to Darwin we stopped at the bridge over the Adelaide River to take another look for Mangrove Golden Whistler. This was our second attempt at the species on this trip and my third overall. After we parked Peter checked out the area towards the cafť while I went under the bridge to look at the enclosure area. In the first few minutes I saw very little but then a few birds started to move around. My attention was attracted by a Northern Fantail and as I was focussing on it I also focussed on a male MANGROVE GOLDEN WHISTLER sitting quietly on a branch. It flew off into cover so I went and got Peter. We spent an anxious 10 minutes or so looking for the bird before I located it again. I called Peter over and got him onto what I thought was the same bird. However, he said the one he was looking at did not have a black hood and breast band, like mine did. He was looking at a female and I was looking at the male, so we had a pair. This species (and here we were looking at the subspecies robusta) is a distinctly brighter yellow than the Golden Whistler, but otherwise looks very similar. However, the female is quite different and has extensive yellow underparts. A little further along towards the cafť we located another male, but whether it was the same bird who had followed us or a different one we couldnít tell. Other birds of interest here included Leaden Flycatcher, GREEN-BACKED GERYGONE and Red-headed Honeyeater.
Peter was still keen to see Nankeen Night-heron and in his book Niven McCrie said that the causeway at Fogg Dam was an excellent place to find them hunting at night. There seemed to be only one place to stay near Fogg Dam, a bed and breakfast called Eden. I had called them and left a message, but when I called again I was still unable to get hold of anyone. So we decided to go there in person to see if they had anything available. It was not a long drive to Fogg Dam and we easily located Eden, but a sign on their gate said that they had no vacancies. So we returned to the Arnhem Highway and pointed ourselves towards Darwin. Ten or fifteen minutes down the road we came to the Humpty Doo Hotel. They had a room available for the night so we checked in. We only stayed a short time before retracing our route to Fogg Dam. By now it was about 4.00pm. Peter dropped me at the first carpark so I could do one of the monsoon forest walks, while he headed out along the causeway to do some photography.
The monsoon forest itself did not hold too many birds, although I did come across one Rainbow Pitta. However, on the edge of the forest things were really hopping. There were many honeyeaters about and I recorded several Pheasant Coucals and a Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove. A flock of Torresian Imperial Pigeons also flew over. After returning to the carpark I walked out along the causeway to meet Peter. It was a great afternoon and he occupied himself viewing species such as White-browed Crake and Tawny Grassbird. We spent another half an hour or so here until light was getting dim. There were quite a few Brolgas well out in the marsh and their far-carrying bugling filled the evening.
We then returned to the main carpark to wait until it was dark. The transition between day and night at such a low latitude is not a long one and we did not have to wait long before it became quite dim. We decided to venture out and as soon as we stepped out of the car we heard a BARKING OWL call twice, but it was neither seen nor heard again. Next on the list were Large-tailed Nightjars. Several were calling and we briefly had one in the spotlight as it flew overhead. A rustling in the dry leaves caught our attention and it proved to be a nice big Blue-tongue Lizard, one of the worldís largest skinks. I tried to catch it but it retreated under cover before I could get to it. We were not the only ones out this evening and the insects were thick in the air, so we soon retreated to the car once more.
After another 10-15 minutes it was pretty much completely dark and we decided it was time to venture along the causeway. If we thought the insects were thick around the carpark, along the causeway they were incredibly dense. Our headlight beams picked out thousands of them. Insects means insect eaters, and the first of many frogs bounded across in front of us in high arcs. Small vertebrates are in turn food for larger vertebrates and our headlights picked out the first of many Bush Stone-curlews and then Nankeen Night-Herons. The herons were reluctant to linger, but we were able to approach some of them slowly and ended up getting quite close. The other highlight of the causeway was the snakes. We came across at least half a dozen large Water Pythons stretched out across the road. Once I got out of the car and poked one, but it seemed reluctant to move any faster and we just had to wait until it crossed before we could move on. They are clearly present at a very high density here.
After a while we were not seeing anything different and decided to leave. We spent a while driving and spotlighting along the entrance road to the dam and along the access road from the highway, but found no nocturnal birds.
We arrived back in Humpty Doo in time for dinner. Before that we dropped our gear in our room and noticed that, despite turning the air conditioning on several hour previously, it was perhaps warmer inside the room than outside. We went to the hotel dining room and ordered some food and asked the waitress about the air conditioning. She soon located someone to sort it out and they moved us to another room. They said that our air conditioner had broken the previous week and was supposed to have been repaired, but the repair had clearly not been effective. They were very friendly over the whole thing and even gave us a free beer. We asked them if the free beers would keep coming if we kept complaining about things! This enjoyable meal was the last evening meal we would have on the trip.
Before too long it was time to get some sleep since we decided we would make the hour-long drive back to the Gouldian Finch site near the Mary River in the morning. We wanted to be there before dawn.
Friday, August 12
The last day of the trip, and we still had some birding highlights awaiting us. It was an early start so we could make it back out to the Mary River area by dawn, so we left Humpty Doo before 6.00am when it was still dark. Not far down the road a nightjar flew across in front of the car and, given the open habitat, it was most likely a SPOTTED NIGHTJAR.
We made it to the Gouldian site in only about 45 minutes and settled ourselves down to wait near the smaller waterhole. Initially there was little activity, but eventually birds started to come in. Doves were prominent, and Peaceful, Bar-shouldered and Diamond were recorded. There were not too many finches around other than some Double-bars. I walked over to check out the other waterhole just in case there was something there, but before long I heard Peter calling so I returned to him. He had seen a couple of Gouldians. Over the next 45 minutes Gouldian Finches arrived and departed in small groups. Overall we decided that there must have been about 100 of them. About half were juveniles and the adults were split about evenly between black faced and red faced forms. We saw none of the rare yellow faced colour form. It was truly a spectacular site to be able to watch these beautiful birds at leisure, and our decision to return here was certainly vindicated. There were other finches too, including Long-tailed and Masked, as well as the common honeyeaters - Brown, White-gaped, White-throated and Rufous-throated. At one stage a covey of four Brown Quail cautiously came down to drink before disappearing back into the grass. Eventually the Gouldians disappeared off to feed and we moved over to Bird Billabong for a quick look. There was not much of note there so we headed back to Darwin.
We needed to go back to Sherylís place and return the water bottle we had borrowed from her, but first we took care of a few housekeeping jobs such as refueling the car and giving it a wash to remove some of the dust we had accumulated over 5 days. When we met up with Sheryl she told us that the first Little Ringed Plover of the season had turned up at Leanyer sewerage works, and she offered to take us there to see if we could locate it. It did not take long to get to the site, but despite a thorough search of the levees and a drainage line outside the fence we failed to find the bird. Itís only a small species so we may have overlooked it, or it could have been off feeding elsewhere.
Our final birding stop was at the Nakara Primary School where Barking Owls were known to be roosting. We had visited the school when we were in Darwin the previous week but were reluctant to go into the playground while there were children about. This time the students were in classes so we quickly walked in on the entrance road and Sheryl led us straight to a BARKING OWL sitting quietly in a tree. So I finally was able to add the species to my list after only hearing it throughout northern Australia for quite a few years.
Back at Sherylís house we completed the cleaning of the car and that is where we parted. My flight was a couple of hours before Peterís and he wanted to visit some shops before we left, so he stayed with Sheryl who offered to take him to the airport later. I drove into the city to return the rental car, an exercise that took longer than expected while they sorted out the paperwork for the replacement tyre we had bought, and decided to charge me for a tiny chip on the rear bumper. It may have even been there when we picked up the car. Time was getting fairly tight for my flight and I asked them to call me a taxi, but I waited and waited without any turning up. Finally they called another taxi company and they appeared within a few minutes. I was fully expecting to miss my flight because by the time we reached the airport it was only 10 mintes before it was due to leave. In fact, it took me so long to get there that Sheryl and Peter had arrived first. I thought I might just have a chance of making the flight if the check-in queue was short, but when I entered the terminal I saw about 150 people lined up and there went my chances. However, luck was with me. At that very moment I was paged and told to go directly to a specific check-in counter. The flight had been delayed for 20 minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft and as it turned out I ended up with five minutes to spare. By the early evening I was back in Brisbane.
Although not all our targets had been seen it was still a highly successful trip. It was Peterís third trip to Australia and he was very pleased with the 82 species he added to his Australian list. I was disappointed that we missed White-throated Grasswren (the only endemic of the region I have yet to see), but still very pleased with my eight lifers - Black-eared Cuckoo, Banded Fruit-Dove, Yellow-rumped Mannikin, Red Goshawk, Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon, Sandstone Shrie-thrush, Mangrove Golden Whistler and Barking Owl. Some distinctive subspecies were also seen such as the Arafura (Rufous) Fantail and Buff-sided (White-browed) Robin. A surprising miss was Black-breasted Buzzard as we covered a fair amount of territory where it is considered reasonably common. Iíll definitely be back.
For those interested in how many species we saw of the main bird groups here are some samples: waterfowl - 9 species; herons - 10 species; raptors - 16 species; pigeons - 13 species; parrots - 11 species; kingfishers - 6 species; honeyeaters - 17 species; flycatchers - 9 species; woodswallows - 5 species; finches - 8 species.
Goodfellow DL. 2001. Birds of Australiaís Top End. Scrubfowl Press. Darwin.
McRie N and Watson J. 2003. Finding Birds in Darwin, Kakadu and the Top End. NT Birding. Darwin.
Reed M. 2003? (Not dated). Birdwatching Kakadu, Katherine, Kununurra. NT Birds. Katherine.
Annotated Bird List
1. Orange-footed Scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt)
Recorded at a number of sites in the northern section of the Top End - East Point, Buffalo Creek, Fogg Dam.
2. Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)
Seen on several occasions. A few were flushed from grass near Pine Creek Cemetery. While watching finches drink at a waterhole near the Mary River a covey of 4 birds came in to drink.
3. Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata)
Recorded at a few sites - Fogg Dam, Yellow Waters
4. Plumed Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna eytoni)
Numerous at Leanyer sewage ponds.
5. Wandering Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata)
Numerous at Leanyer sewage ponds.
6. Radjah Shelduck (Tadorna radjah)
Recorded in small groups on most days and throughout the Top End except in the southwest (Victoria River and Timber Creek areas).
7. Green Pygmy-goose (Nettapus pulchellus)
Recorded on most days and throughout the Top End except in the southwest (Victoria River and Timber Creek areas).
8. Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa)
Recorded in small numbers on wetlands on the northern part of the Top End.
9. Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)
Found in reasonable numbers at sewage ponds and in most wetlands.
10. Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus)
Reasonable numbers at Leanyer sewage ponds and a few at Pine Creek sewage ponds.
11. Hardhead (Aythya australis)
Reasonable numbers at Leanyer sewage ponds and a few at Pine Creek sewage ponds.
12. Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)
Small numbers at Leanyer sewage ponds and a few at Pine Creek sewage ponds.
13. Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)
Recorded in wetlands on most days.
14. Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos)
Recorded in wetlands, on the coast and along streams on most days.
15. Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris)
Recorded once in the Darwin area and again at Pine Creek sewage works.
16. Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Recorded at several sites around Darwin (e.g. Leanyer sewerage ponds). A single bird flew by while we were watching finches at Maranboy Creek.
17. White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae)
Seen at scattered sites throughout the region.
18. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Recorded regularly on wetlands around Darwin. Plentiful at Leaner sewage ponds. At least one bird of the yellow-footed Asian race was present here.
19. Eastern Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
One grey phase bird at Buffalo Creek.
20. White-necked Heron (Ardea pacifica)
Seen on 5 days at scattered locations throughout the region.
21. Great-billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana)
Two birds seen together (a pair?) On the Mary River cruise.
22. Pied Heron (Ardea picata)
Recorded regularly on wetlands around Darwin. Plentiful at Leaner sewage ponds. A few seen at Fogg Dam.
23. Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Seen on 6 days at scattered locations throughout the region.
24. Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia)
Seen on 6 days at scattered locations throughout the region.
25. Cattle Egret (Ardea ibis)
Only recorded on one day; in the Darwin area.
26. Nankeen Night Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus)
Numerous on the Fogg Dam causway at night.
27. Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
One bird flying down th Mary River.
28. Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca)
Seen on most days at sites throughout the region.
29. Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)
Seen on most days at sites throughout the region.
30. Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia)
Surprisingly recorded on only two days. Once at Knuckey Lagoon and once near the Mary River.
31. Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus)
Observed on several days - Leanyer sewage ponds, Fogg Dam, Yellow Waters.
32. Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris)
Recorded on a couple of days - at Fogg Dam and in Kakadu National Park.
33. Square-tailed Kite (Lophoictinia isura)
One bird that was likely to be this species flew over Leanyer sewage ponds.
34. Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
Abundant throughout. Recorded all days.
35. Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus)
Abundant throughout. Recorded all days.
36. Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)
Recorded a couple of times in the Darwin area.
37. White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
Several seen around Darwin. Quite a few along the Mary River.
38. Spotted Harrier (Circus assimilis)
Seen on both days we visited the airstrip at Timber Creek. On one occasion the there was a bird on the ground. Also seen once along the Arnhem Highway.
39. Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)
Observed at Fogg Dam and at Yellow Waters in Kakadu National Park.
40. Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus)
Seen on four days at locations throughout the Top End.
41. Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae)
A white phase birds seen at a flying fox colony on the Mary River.
42. Collared Sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrhocephalus)
Recorded a few times in Kakadu and in the Pine Creek area.
43. Red Goshawk (Erythrotriorchis radiatus)
We saw one bird of a pair that was nesting on private property at Mataranka.
44. Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax)
Recorded at two locations in the southwest of the region but on one day only.
45. Brown Falcon (Falco berigora)
Very common. Seen every day.
46. Australian Hobby (Falco longipennis)
Seen on two days in the Darwin area.
47. Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)
Observed on most days, but not in the southwest of the region.
48. Brolga (Grus rubicunda)
Reasonable numbers at Fogg Dam.
49. Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis)
Seen by Sheryl and Peter at XXX on the first day.
50. White-browed Crake (Porzana cinerea)
Several birds seen at Fogg dam and a single birds at Yellow Waters in Kakadu National Park.
51. Chestnut Rail (Eulabeornis castaneoventris)
A couple of birds seen by Peter and Sheryl at Buffalo Creek.
52. Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
Recorded on five days at localities throughout the Top End.
53. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
54. Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
55. Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
One bird roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
56. Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
A single bird roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
57. Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Quite a few at Leanyer sewage ponds and a few birds at a couple of other sites.
58. Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
59. Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
60. Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
61. Comb-crested Jacana (Irediparra gallinacea)
Common on vegetated wetlands like Fogg Dam and Leaning Tree Lagoon. Also seen at Leanyer sewage works.
62. Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius)
Seen at a couple of sites in suburban Darwin. Common along the causeway at Fogg Dam at night. Seen at Pine Creek and heard at a few other sites further south.
63. Beach Stone-curlew (Esacus neglectus)
A pair on the rocks at Nightcliff.
64. Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Seen on most days in small numbers in wetland areas.
65. Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
66. Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus)
Quite a few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
67. Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
A few birds roosting on rocks at Nightcliff.
68. Inland Dotterel (Charadrius australis)
One bird on the Timber Creek airstrip. Well out of range.
69. Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops)
A few seen at both Leanyer and Pine Creek sewage works.
70. Red-kneed Dotterel (Erythrogonys cinctus)
One at Pine Creek sewage ponds.
71. Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles)
Very common. Seen on all but one day.
72. Australian Pratincole (Stiltia isabella)
Seen on several days - Leanyer sewage ponds, Leaning tree Lagoon.
73. Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae)
Common around Darwin.
74. Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)
A couple seen cruising the Victoria River near Timber Creek.
75. Crested Tern (Sterna bergii)
Seen only along the waterfront in Darwin.
76. Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus)
Many at Leanyer sewage ponds.
77. Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Only seen on one occasion - several birds in Katherine.
78. Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
One bird observed at Nourlangie in Kakadu National Park.
79. Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera)
A couple observed near Maranboy Creek on the Central Arnhem Road.
80. Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes)
Seen in Pine Creek and regularly at sites south and west of here. None observed further north.
81. Spinifex Pigeon (Geophaps plumifera)
A flock of perhaps 20 birds was observed on the track to Policemanís Point at Timber Creek.
82. Partridge Pigeon (Geophaps smithii)
Recorded on only one occasion. Three birds near the main visitor centre in Kakadu National Park.
83. Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon (Petrophassa rufipennis)
Several found along the ridge tops above the waterfall at Gunlom. About a dozen flushed from rocks in the Plum Tree Creek area.
84. Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata)
Seen on 5 days. A number of birds were mixed in with Peaceful Doves at Pine Creek. Seen at a number of locations to the south and west of Pine Creek One bird was observed near the Mary River.
85. Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata)
Abundant. Recorded on every day.
86. Bar-shouldered Dove (Geopelia humeralis)
Abundant. Recorded on every day.
87. Banded Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus cinctus)
A single bird observed briefly at Nourlangie. Two birds seen on the side of the Ďgrasswrení valley at the top of Gunlom falls.
88. Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus regina)
Observed by Peter and Sheryl Darwin Hospital. Heard at East Point and Fogg Dam.
89. Pied Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula bicolor)
A few noted around Darwin and at Fogg Dam.
90. Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii)
Abundant. Observed every day.
91. Galah (Cacatua roseicapilla)
Observed in small numbers on most days.
92. Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea)
Observed in reasonable numbers on most days.
93. Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)
Recorded in small numbers on all but one day.
94. Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)
Observed first at Pine Creek and regularly further south and west.
95. Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)
Abundant. Observed on all days.
96. Varied Lorikeet (Psitteuteles versicolor)
Recorded on 6 days throughout the region. Most birds were flying overhead, but we enjoyed a few birds feeding near the airstrip at Timber Creek.
97. Red-winged Parrot (Aprosmictus erythropterus)
Seen throughout the region is small numbers on all but two days.
98. Northern Rosella (Platycercus venustus)
Only seen once. A single bird at Marlow Lagoon in Palmerston.
99. Hooded Parrot (Psephotus dissimilis)
Only observed on one occasion - at the Pine Creek water tank. Approximately 50 birds came in to drink off the roof of the tank just after dawn.
100. Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)
A small flock was observed, first in flight and then perched, along the Bullita Track.
101. Brush Cuckoo (Cacomantis variolosus)
Seen by Peter and Sheryl - Details??
102. Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans)
One bird at Leanyer sewage ponds on two days.
103. Little Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx minutillus)
Regularly observed around Darwin and at Fogg Dam.
104. Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus)
Recorded several times at Fogg Dam and at Maranboy Creek on the Central Arnhem Road.
105. Rufous Owl (Ninox rufa)
The usual pair was seen in Darwin Botanic Gardens with one white fluffy chick.
106. Barking Owl (Ninox connivens)
Despite searching for this species throughout the trip it was not located until our last 24 hours. At dusk at Fogg Dam two birds called, but only for about 30 seconds and they could not be located. The next day Sheryl Keates showed us a roosting bird at Nakara Primary School in Darwin.
107. Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae)
One bird was being mobbed (mainly by Blue-faced Honeyeaters) at the water gardens in Pine Creek.
108. Spotted Nightjar (Eurostopodus argus)
A nightjar flew in front of our car on a predawn drive to Mary River. It was over open country and likely to be of this species.
109. Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus)
Heard and seen at dusk at both East Point in Darwin and Fogg Dam.
110. Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea)
A single bird seen at Maranboy Creek on the Central Arnhem Road.
111. Blue-winged Kookaburra (Dacelo leachii)
Seen regularly throughout the region on all days.
112. Forest Kingfisher (Todiramphus macleayii)
Seen at scattered locations on 5 days. None seen in the extreme south and southwest of the region.
113. Red-backed Kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygia)
Seen on 6 days at widely scattered locations throughout the region.
114. Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus)
Seen on all but one day at widely scattered locations throughout the region.
115. Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)
Several seen on rocks at Nightcliff in Darwin and another seen at the bridge over the Adelaide River on the Arnhem Highway.
116. Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)
Abundant. Recorded every day.
117. Rainbow Pitta (Pitta iris)
Seen by Peter and Sheryl at Buffalo Creek. A couple also seen at East Point in Darwin and another at Fogg Dam.
118. Black-tailed Treecreeper (Climacteris melanura)
Seen only once, along the road to Bird Billabong near the Mary River crossing of the Arnhem Highway.
119. Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti)
Two parties seen at the top of the falls at Gunlom. These birds were of the western Arnhem Land subspecies dulcis.
120. Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus)
Not seen around Darwin but recorded on all but one day further south. On only one occasion was a fully coloured male seen.
121. Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus striatus)
Recorded on all days in small numbers.
122. Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris)
Seen on most days throughout the region.
123. Mangrove Gerygone (Gerygone levigaster)
Commonly heard at Leanyer and Palmerston sewage works. Eventually a couple of birds were seen well.
124. Large-billed Gerygone (Gerygone magnirostris)
Recorded at Leanyer and Palmerston sewage works and at Fogg Dam.
125. Green-backed Gerygone (Gerygone chloronotus)
I only saw this species at the bridge over the Adelaide River on the Arnhem Highway. Peter and Sheryl recorded the species at xxx before I joined them.
126. White-throated Gerygone (Gerygone olivacea)
One seen at Marlow Lagoon. Another recorded at Pine Creek.
127. Helmeted Friarbird (Philemon buceroides)
The only definite HFs we saw were on the sandstone escarpments in Kakadu.
128. Silver-crowned Friarbird (Philemon argenticeps)
Seen at Marlow Lagoon and commonly in Kakadu National Park.
129. Little Friarbird (Philemon citreogularis)
Very common. Recorded all days.
130. Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis)
Seen on all but one day away from the Darwin area.
131. Yellow-throated Miner (Manorina flavigula)
Seen at Marlow Lagoon in Palmerston and on most days in the south of the region.
132. White-lined Honeyeater (Meliphaga albilineata)
Several birds recorded at Nourlangie and Gunlom in Kakadu National Park.
133. Singing Honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens)
Only recorded in the Timber Creek area.
134. White-gaped Honeyeater (Lichenostomus unicolor)
Very common. Recorded on all but one day.
135. Yellow-tinted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus flavescens)
Common in the south and southwest of the region.
136. White-throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus albogularis)
Very common. Recorded on all days.
137. Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta)
Abundant. Recorded on all days.
138. Bar-breasted Honeyeater (Ramsayornis fasciatus)
Not common, but recorded at Pine Creek, Mataranka and Fogg Dam.
139. Rufous-banded Honeyeater (Conopophila albogularis)
Common in the northern part of the Top End but not recorded in the south or southwest.
140. Rufous-throated Honeyeater (Conopophila rufogularis)
Largely replaces the Rufous-banded Honeyeater in the south and southwest, where it proved very common.
141. Banded Honeyeater (Certhionyx pectoralis)
In 2004 I only saw a single Banded Honeyeater but this year they proved common. We saw many near Pine Creek, and others at Mataranka and Gunlom and Yellow Waters in Kakadu National Park.
142. Dusky Honeyeater (Myzomela obscura)
Generally very common apart from the drier area in the southwest.
143. Red-headed Honeyeater (Myzomela erythrocephala)
Seen in mangroves at several locations around Darwin e.g. Buffalo Creek, Leanyer sewage works, and also at the bridge over the Adelaide River along the Arnhem Highway.
144. Jacky Winter (Microeca fascinans)
Recorded on each day in the south and southwest part of the region.
145. Lemon-bellied Flycatcher (Microeca flavigaster)
Common in the Darwin area and at Fogg Dam.
146. Mangrove Robin (Eopsaltria pulverulenta)
Several present in mangroves next to Palmerston sewage works.
147. White-browed Robin (Poecilodryas superciliosa)
A pair were present at the campground at Timber Creek.
148. Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis)
Recorded on each day in the south and southwest but not in the north of the region.
149. Mangrove Golden Whistler (Pachycephala melanura)
At the Adelaide River Bridge on the Arnhem Highway we observed a pair and perhaps one other male.
150. Grey Whistler (Pachycephala simplex)
Recorded on four days. All records in the northern part of the Top End.
151. Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris)
Common throughout. Recorded most days.
152. Little Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha)
Seen on three days in the northern part of the Top End.
153. Sandstone Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla woodwardi)
One seen at Ubirr by Peter. Reasonably common high on the rocky ridges around Gunlom.
154. Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica)
Not too common, but one or two birds recorded at sites throughout the region on 5 days.
155. Broad-billed Flycatcher (Myiagra ruficollis)
This species is often difficult to separate from the next one, but birds seen at Palmerston sewerage ponds, Fogg Dam, Yellow Waters and Mary River were clearly of this species.
156. Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)
Very common. Recorded on most days throughout the region.
157. Shining Flycatcher (Myiagra alecto)
Common in mangroves at Palmerston sewerage ponds. Also recorded along the Mary River and at the Adelaide River bridge on the Arnhem Highway.
158. Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta)
Regularly recorded through out the region. Seen on all but two days.
159. Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca)
Abundant throughout the region. Recorded all days.
160. Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons)
The birds found in the Top End are likely to be split as the Arafura Fantail. Observed in mangroves at Palmerston sewerage works, in monsoon forest at Fogg Dam, and in thick riverside vegetation where the Arnhem Highway crosses the Adelaide River.
161. Mangrove Grey Fantail (Rhipidura phasiana)
Recorded only once - in mangroves at Palmerston sewerage ponds.
162. Northern Fantail (Rhipidura rufiventris)
Very common thoughout the region. Recorded on all but 2 days.
163. Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
Abundant throughout the region. Recorded all days.
164. Spangled Drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus)
Recorded on 5 days in the central and northern parts of the region. Not in the south or southwest.
165. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae)
Very common. Recorded all days.
166. White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina papuensis)
Very common. Recorded all days.
167. White-winged Triller (Lalage sueurii)
Found on five days throughout the region, particularly away from the coast.
168. Varied Triller (Lalage leucomela)
Recorded on four days. Seemed fairly common around Fogg Dam.
169. Yellow Oriole (Oriolus flavocinctus)
Recorded on four days at locations throughout the region.
170. Figbird (Sphecotheres viridis)
Recorded on only three days, and mainly in the northern part of the region.
171. White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus)
Overall this was the commonest woodswallow and we saw it on most days.
172. Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus)
Only recorded around the Timber Creek airstrip.
173. White-browed Woodswallow (Artamus superciliosus)
Only recorded around the Timber Creek airstrip.
174. Black-faced Woodswallow (Artamus cinereus)
Recorded on five days throughout the region. More common away from the coast.
175. Little Woodswallow (Artamus minor)
Recorded on four days. Noticeably common around the sandstone escarpments.
176. Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus)
Not common but found on several days at a few sites e.g. Marlow Lagoon, Kakadu.
177. Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis)
Recorded on most days throughout the region.
178. Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
Several birds seen along the Stuart Highway between Katherine and Mataranka.
179. Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides)
One corvid calling in the campground at Gunlom sounded very much like an AR. If so it would be several hundred kilometres north of its usual range.
180. Torresian Crow (Corvus orru)
Recorded in small number throughout the Top End on all days.
181. Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea)
Several birds seen at Mataranka Hot Springs.
182. Great Bowerbird (Chlamydera nuchalis)
Recorded on most days. More common away from the coast.
183. Singing Bushlark (Mirafra javanica)
Seen on several days away from the coast. Numbers seen at the Timber Creek airstrip and along the Central Arnhem Road.
184. Double-barred Finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii)
The commonest finch in the region by far. Seen on all but one day.
185. Long-tailed Finch (Poephila acuticauda)
Seen on four days at sites throughout the region. Not as common as the Masked Finch.
186. Masked Finch (Poephila personata)
Recorded on most days, and more common further away from the coast.
187. Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton)
Observed on most days, and always near water.
188. Star Finch (Neochmia ruficauda)
Small numbers at Timber Creek airstrip and a flock of approximately 100 on the side of the Victoria Highway not far from the airstrip.
189. Yellow-rumped Mannikin (Lonchura flaviprymna)
Four birds feeding on seeding grass heads at Policemanís Point near Timber Creek.
190. Chestnut-breasted Mannikin (Lonchura castaneothorax)
A flock seen at Palmerston Sewage Works.
191. Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae)
A single adult and a flock of about 20 juveniles were seen at Maranboy Creek on the Central Arnhem Highway. Small flocks (both red-faced and black-faced adults and juveniles) totalling perhaps 100 birds were observed coming to drink at a small waterhole 8km east of the Mary River crossing on the Arnhem Highway.
192. Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum)
Found on five days, and it appeared more common away from the coast.
193. Tree Martin (Hirundo nigricans)
Recorded on most days, particularly in the northern parts of th Top End.
194. Fairy Martin (Hirundo ariel)
Recorded on most days throughout the Top End.
195. Clamorous Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus)
Recorded on each visit to Fogg Dam.
196. Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)
A single bird seen at Fogg Dam.
197. Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)
Recorded in grassland at sporadic localities throughout the Top End on four days.
198. Yellow White-eye (Zosterops luteus)
Recorded at Leanyer and Palmerston Sewage Works.