Top End Birding – Australia – Part 3 Final Leg

Top End Birding – Australia – Part 3 Final Leg

This will conclude the final leg of our 3 week trip to Darwin in search of the Top End birds. It moves on from Katherine and continues to Victoria River and Timber Creek before returning to Darwin. So our 3 weeks is up – 3rd to 24th Oct 2013.

Our campsite in Katherine is Shady Lane. It lives up to its name and with the facilities it offered it is probably the nicest of the campsites and the best priced.

Before we leave Katherine we spend an early morning in town in search of the Yellow-rumped Mannikin. Instead we find the Chestnut-backed Mannikin and 3 Buff-banded Rails. Then as we are about to start off again Sally spots several Varied Lorikeets amongst the Rainbows.

We took the advantage of being in Katherine to visit Katherine Gorge. There was quite a steep climb to the top for the view. At 9 am we were going no further than 2/3rds of the way up – hot and hectic – see photos.  We also visited Mike Reed’s home along the night before. He was kind enough to invite us in to check out the birds in his property and to offer us a delicious tea.

The gorge was interesting and we saw some special birds along the way.

And then it was time to move on. We headed West towards Konunurra with the intent of stopping at Victoria River roadhouse and Timber Creek along the way. We got as far as Timber Creek (290 kms west of Katherine) before deciding it was time to return to Darwin. In retrospect this was a poor decision as we ended up having too much time on our hands at the end. It would have been more interesting to have continued the extra 220 kms to see the area and get a taste of the Western Australian birds.

Mike had given us info of places to stop at along the way to find some key species. However it seems that everywhere we went had been burnt out – which was rather a pity. However we were rewarded with several nice sightings along the way – and in particular on the Buntine highway 125 kms west of Katherine. We were told we were unlikely to find Banded Honeyeater this year but Sally found one – see photos, along with Budgerigars and Cockatiels.

Have you ever seen a Road Train – well here is a poor picture – all of 120 metres long! Not something to pass with a Campervan and certainly scary when one passes you – it seems to go on forever.

Road Train
Road Train

Victoria River was one of our favourite stopping places – from a birding point of view. We had a long road with a flat bare field on the way to the boat launch which seemed to call in a number of different species – Australian Pratincoles and Bustards as well as different Falcons and Goshawks. The bridge over the river served as a great vantage point to look for the elusive Purple-crowned Fairy-Wren which we eventually found. Also it was from there that we were lucky enough to watch Brown Quail scurrying about.

Our next stop was only 90 kms further – Timber Creek. Lookout in the town sprinklers for Finches, go to Policeman’s Point to find the Fairy-Wrens and don’t forget the airstrip for Oriental Plovers and Pratincoles expected at this time of the year. Good advice but mostly unlucky with habitat change. However we did take the scenic lookout over the town and found our first Black-tailed Treecreepers. The Timber Creek campsite was well treed and not bad for some birds – albeit birds we had seen previously. Gregory’s Tree was just up the road – a large Baobab of significance to both the Aboriginals and the early settlers. We were told Gouldian Finches were often seen there but we found none! However the site was interesting.

Decision time. On to Konunurra or back to Darwin. We chose the later and now regret not exploring beyond as we had too much time on our hands at the end in Darwin. We probably would not have found many more species but it would have been good to see the area. Certainly we were expecting Katherine to Konunurra to be dry hot and barren but we found it far from that. The Victoria River which we followed was as large as any in in South Africa and still flowing strongly at the end of the dry season. The journey was through sandstone escarpment and the habitat varied and well treed.

From Timber Creek after a late start we headed straight back to Katherine. We popped in to several of the birding spots we had visited along the way but mostly it was too late in the day. One or two birds were photographed.

So back in Katherine to Shady Lanes camp site. The plan to visit Ferguson River again very early. We arrive there at 06h30. The Hooded Parrots are all around us. We quickly take our position right next to the waterhole – this time I took a chair for comfort!

The Hooded Parrots soon started coming down to drink – there must have been close to 50 of them. Once they had had their fill it was the turn of the finches – Long-tailed, Masked, Double-banded, Crimson and a couple of Gouldians.

After an unintended detour to Lichfield Park we headed for Darwin – a long haul in the heat of the day – fortunately the air-conditioner in our campervan worked extraordinarily well.

Once back in Darwin we stayed at a different campsite – Oasis. It was closer to where we wanted to revisit the next day – Fogg Dam. Early start as usual. The Dam seemed much quieter than when we visited 2 weeks earlier – perhaps because of all the rain they had (which we missed). Anyway we were rewarded with several new species which we had yet to see.

From there we headed for Adelaide River bridge along the Arnham Highway – hoping to find a Mangrove Golden Whistler. This was not to be although we did find a bird which we were almost sure could have been a female – picture taken and later told it is a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher.

The following day we returned to Lee Point. A walk along one of the tracks flushed 50 to 100 Chestnut-breasted Mannikins – which obligingly posed for photos. The waders on shore were abundant – thousands. A great many were Great Knots.

We also re-visited East Point and found that the Northern Fantails had completed their nest and were sitting for us.

That night we headed south to a campsite we had heard about – Tumbling Waters. Very attractive and with quite an active camp bird population. Sally even spotted one elusive Northern Rossella right next to our campsite. We had been looking everywhere to find one.

While there we visited Darwin River Dam but heard lots and saw little (that we could ID anyway).

While there we visited Denise Goodfellow – whose book we had been using throughout our travels. We were very impressed with her knowledge of all things flora and fauna. She helped to set us right with several of our mystery birds.

Our last day (morning) was spent initially on Tiger Brennan Drive, Darwin looking for the Chestnut Rail without success – tide was too high. Afterwards we returned to where we started – Charles Darwin NP. We tried the mangroves for Mangrove Golden Whistler – which we could not find despite it calling within metres of us. Otherwise a quiet day with sightings of a number of birds including Pheasant Coucal and a Grey Shrike-Thrush.

So that concludes our 3 week trip around the Top End of Darwin. We hope you have enjoyed the stories and photos. We are waiting at the airport for our flight at one in the morning – back to Melbourne.

Paul & Sally Bartho

Darwin – Kakadu National Park. (Second leg)

Darwin – Kakadu National Park.

After six nights in Darwin we set off for Kakadu and beyond – with no program. As usual we depart early at 6am -a lot cooler, yet light enough to keep a look out for animals crossing the road.

Our first stop – Fogg Dam. We arrive just as the sun is rising and the place lives up to its name – quite foggy over the wetlands. We have been advised to be careful on the causeway as the crocs have been seen basking there. The drive along the causeway is very productive with several bird hides along the length and one at the end.

At our first stop we are quickly rewarded with an obliging White-browed Crake.

Along the way we see a number of waterbirds but also a few other specials.

Then a walk in the woodlands beside the wetlands is surprisingly active – and Sally sees a Pheasant Coucal much to my dismay as it was readily visible.

After several hours there, we head for Mary River. The campsite is reasonably priced, shady and it has a good cookhouse. We are greeted by Little Correllas everywhere bathing in the spray and puddles as the grounds are watered.

There are several good walks in the camp which is beside the Mary River. On one that evening we had good views of a pair of Dollarbirds amongst others.

The next morning we were up early and headed for Bird Billabong about 8 kms from the camp. We arrive at 06h15 – it is almost an hour’s walk to the billabong and we see a number of Wallabies and their kin along the way.

There is a good bird hide unfortunately on the west side of the billabong – meaning we are facing into the rising sun. An hour spent there was very productive for waterbirds. And we even saw a large family of feral pigs wallowing in the billabong.

Afterwards we return to the campsite and enjoy a good cook up at the cookhouse.

Next stop is Kakadu. Along the way we stop at several places and the Mamukala wetlands just off the highway and a short way from the car park (for a change) was teeming with waterbirds.

On to Jabiru – the main town in Kakadu NP – and to the Kadadu Lodge campsite. Kakadu is about 20000 sq. kms (1/3 the size of Tasmania). Over 10% of the surface area is constantly under water. It is probably the only National Park worldwide which houses an entire river system – the Alligator Rivers of the Top End.

A morning was spent in Gubara looking in vain for sandstone specials. However we were lucky enough to find Red-winged Parrots and a Collared Sparrowhawk.

We tried Nourlangie before doing the tourist bit and going to Ubirr to see the Aboriginal Rock Art – quite impressive despite the heat.



That night we head for Cooinda and Gagudju campsite for 2 nights. The intention here was to go on their well known early morning boat cruise where birding is a prime part. We were not disappointed – the wildlife was teeming, thousands of Magpie Geese and hundreds of Green Pygmy-Geese amongst a vast array of ducks and herons – even saw a dingo – albeit fleetingly. Despite the $100 per person the trip was brilliant. Many lovely Kingfishers and even a GBH as they call it – a Great-billed Heron.

Breakfast at the lodge after the cruise was included – and we royally dug in. Even at breakfast the birds still appeared – Mistletoebirds and a Great Bowerbird robbing guests’ plates.

The campsite has a very welcoming pool and birdlife in the grounds is abundant – check out one of our first sightings:

We also went on the late evening cruise which was not so bird orientated however we did find the Little Kingfisher although the captain nearly did not bother to stop!. This second trip is at a discount $25 each. If I had realised that we could have gone on the early morning cruise the next day for that price then that is the choice I would have made – even if it meant paying an extra $11 to cover the cost of breakfast again.

And that concluded our stay in Kakadu. Perhaps we should have gone to Gunlom early one morning to have another go at seeing the sandstone specials – however 40 kms each way on a dirt track was a bit risky especially as we were told that we were not covered by any insurance if we went off road.

And so we headed for Pine Creek and an overnight stay in an unpowered but cheap campsite at Edith Falls. Along the way we bumped into a few interesting birds.

The swim in the pools were a lifesaver – however the Falls were not that impressive except that they were still flowing rapidly for the end of the dry season.

We did have several good sightings in Edith Falls including a late night Bush Stone-Curlew and I got my sighting of a female Pheasant Coucal.

Monday morning – real early start – meeting Mike Reed (a Birding Pal based in Katherine) – what a superb morning he gave us. We went to a secret site of his to find the elusive Hooded Parrots and Goudian Finches. Of course it drizzled which dampened the birds spirits. However after a very patient wait we were rewarded with both – along with a number of other species we had yet to see.

Next it is the Katherine region and perhaps down to Konunurra.

Paul & Sally Bartho

Darwin first leg of Top End birding in Australia.

Good Day,

Sally and I have been in Darwin now for 5 days. We have been chasing birds locally before heading off tomorrow for Kakadu, Pine Creek, Katherine and Timber Creek (Konunurra if we have time).

We have a campervan so are very flexible as everything goes with us wherever we go. Having said that on our second attempt we found a decent campsite just out of town – Hidden Valley. a whopping Prices are double RSA and all foodstuffs approximately 50% more expensive. Petrol about R17 a litre and alcohol a whopping 300% more expensive – cheapest wine R90 a bottle and R500 for a case of beer (330ml cans).

It has been hectically hot – usually from 8 am onwards. So up early and push on until exhaustion and bad tempers prevail. By 11:30 we are back in the campsite pool cooling off. It is a struggle to get the energy to go out again late afternoon.

On top of that unless you are around water – sea or lagoons – the birding is slow. 30 to 40 species in a very good morning. Not helped as quite a number of places only open at 08h00!! Hardly birder friendly (on occasion they do forget to close the gates).

We have ventured to the following birding spots:

  • Charles Darwin NP (opens at 08h00)
  • Knuckley Lagoons
  • Lee Point
  • Buffalo Creek
  • Holmes Jungle (opens at 08h00)
  • East Point
  • Howard Springs (opens at 08h00)
  • McMinns Lagoon

What follows is a series of pictures from each of these places – we hope you enjoy them. We have been bold enough to put names to most of the birds but if you know better then please let us know.

Charles Darwin NP:

Good place to start birding in Darwin – we saw some very nice species – Little Shrike-Thrush took a lot of chasing to get a picture (bird is darker than shown in the photo).

Knuckley Lagoons

Good place to take a chair in the evening. Not much shade during the day. A good variety of waterbirds.