Darwin and the Top End have to be the most under-rated places to bird on the planet and shouldn’t be overlooked by interstate or international birders. On this seven-day tour you have the opportunity to see over 200 species in a week and explore a huge variety of habitats. From the Mangroves, beaches and monsoon forests around Darwin city, world class wetlands like Fogg Dam and Mamukala, Adelaide River and South Alligator River Floodplains, the Sandstone Escarpments of Kakadu National Park to the Outback grassy plains of Victoria River and Timber Creek. Just some of the bird highlights include local endemics like Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon, Banded Fruit-dove, Whitelined Honeyeater and the beautiful Hooded Parrot, rarities like Yellow-rumped Mannikin, Chestnut-backed Button-quail, Northern Shrike-tit and Red Goshawk and for the colorful bird fans, Purple-crowned Fairy-wren, Rainbow Pitta and of course the spectacular Gouldian Finch.
29th August Darwin – Mary River Resort
30th August Mary River Resort – Jabiru (Kakadu National Park)
31st August Jabiru – Yellow Water – Pine Creek
1st September Pine Creek – Edith Falls – Katherine – Victoria River
2nd September Victoria River – Gregory National Park – Timber Creek
3rd September Timber Creek – Katherine
4th September Katherine – Darwin
DAY 1 – 29th August 2018
After introductions we hit the road to start birding, first stop was Buffalo Creek. Our first bird for the trip was Redwinged Parrots, which have a roost nearby. Other birds we found in the area were Torresian Imperial-pigeon, Redheaded Honeyeater, Yellow White-eye, Orange-footed Scrub-fowl, Emerald Dove and Green Oriole. Next we headed onto the beach where we found some shorebirds, these included Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, Australian Pelican, Silver Gull, Little Egret, Great Crested Tern, Little Tern, Caspian Tern and Common Tern.
Arriving at a monsoon forest nearby, we were greeted by Lemon-bellied Flycatchers, Leaden Flycatcher, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Grey Whistler, Helmeted Friarbird, Shining Flycatcher, Arafura Fantail, Northern Fantail and Green-backed Gerygone. Highlight of the morning was an extremely cooperative Rainbow Pitta sitting in the open only 5 meters away allowing for some amazing photos.
Next we visited a pair of roosting Tawny Frogmouths which were nesting, we also found Grey-crowned Babber,Australasian Figbirds, Orange-footed Scrubfowl and Red-collared Lorikeets we also visited a local shorebird roost, new birds here were Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Greater Sandplover, Lesser Crested Tern and Red-necked Stint.
The last stop before lunch was the Mangrove Boardwalk at East Point, here we found Mangrove Gerygone, Large-billed Gerygone, Toressian Kingfisher, Red-headed Honeyeater and a stunning Broad-billed Flycatcher. After a great lunch at one of Darwin’s best cafes we visited George Brown Botanic Gardens, here we were in search of some day roosting Owls. It didn’t take long and we found out first target, Rufous Owl! We had both male and female sitting together on an open branch, a spectacular sight. Next we went in search of Barking Owls, we didn’t find them in their normal roosting spot but after waiting patiently for a few minutes I heard one calling near by. We walked over and found one of the pair sitting right out in the open.
It was now time to start heading East toward our accommodation for the night, Mary River Resort. We stopped along the way at the famous Fogg Dam and it didn’t disappoint with incredible numbers of Egrets and Spoonbills, new birds were Australian Pratincole and Paperbark Flycatcher. We stopped near the Adelaide River Bridge and had great views of Broad-billed Flycatcher and both male and female Mangrove Golden Whistler.
The afternoon was spent exploring Mary River National Park, here we found White-winged Trillers, Red-backed Fairywren, Striated Pardalote, Masked Finch, Rufous Songlark, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and our first Red-tailed Black-cockatoos.
DAY 2 – 30th August 2018
We had a peaceful cruise on the Mary River in the morning, it’s a great way to start the day and the weather was fantastic. Highlights on the water this morning were White-bellied Sea-eagle, Brown Goshawk, Collared Sparrowhawk, Banded Honeyeater and a few Varied Lorikeets flying around. It was now time to head west towards Kakadu; we had a fair few sandstone endemics to find this afternoon so we headed off as early as possible. Our first stop was a site near Jabiru to look for Partridge Pigeons, lucky for us we had 15 or so relaxing in the shade providing amazing views for everyone.
Next stop was at the local sewage ponds; here we found Pied Herons, Pink-eared Duck, Hardheads, Pacific Black Duck, Australian Grebe, Eurasian Coot and Grey Teal.
After lunch in Jabiru it was now time to head north to Ubirr, here we found White-lined Honeyeater and also had a pair of Sandstone Shrike-thrushes singing high up on the escarpment. Our last target in the area was Chestnut-quilled Rockpigeon so we headed for a picnic area where I had seen them resting in the middle of the day, it was our lucky day as we had an individual doing that exact thing. Four out of the five Kakadu targets in a couple of hours was incredible!
With time up our sleaves we headed to the hotel to check in before heading out again at 4.30pm, our number one target this afternoon was Banded Fruit-dove. Arriving at Nourlangie Rock we enjoyed the stunning walk through the rocky escarpments and it didn’t take long before we spotted a Banded Fruit-dove fly in near us carrying nest material, the male provided incredible views topping off another amazing day. Other new birds here were the Sandstone race of Helmeted Friarbird, Little Shrike-thrush and Dusky Honeyeater.
DAY 3 – 31st August 2018
This morning we were booked on the world famous Yellow Water Cruise, arriving nice and early we got front row seats and settled in to see what this picturesque morning would to bring. It didn’t take long to start ticking up the birds; Green Pygmy-goose, Forest Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Brolga, Black-necked Stork, Plumed Whistling-duck, Wandering Whistling-duck, Magpie Goose, Comb-crested Jacana, Dusky Moorhen, Brush Cuckoo, Red-kneed Dotterel, Australian Pratincole, Rufous Night-heron, Glossy Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Tree Martin, Crimson Finch and Paperbark Flycatcher. Highlights were a pair of Maned (Wood) Ducks and incredible views of both Azure and Little Kingfishers.
After a big cooked breakfast at Cooinda Lodge it was time to head off toward our next destination Pine Creek, stopping along the way we found a pair of photogenic Buff-sided Robins, Black-tailed Treecreepers, Silver-backed Butcherbird, Varied Lorikeets flying over and a pair of nesting Red Goshawks, definitely a contender for top 5 of the trip. Arriving at Pine Creek we had a much deserved break before heading out again late that afternoon, we enjoyed great views of Great Bowerbird at his Bower, Red-backed Kingfisher, Black-faced Woodswallow, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Redcollared Lorikeets, White-throated Honeyeater, White-breasted Woodswallow and our the main reason we stay in Pine Creek, the spectacular and locally endemic Hooded Parrot. Lucky for us we had about 50 individuals coming down to pre-roost, a great way to finish the day.
DAY 4 – 1st September 2018
This morning we got up early to arrive at the Edith Falls area at sunrise for our first chance to see one of the main targets of the trip, the Gouldian Finch. We got lucky and had about 100 of these stunning birds flying, feeding and perching around us. Other great birds we found were Masked Finch, Double-barred Finch, Long-tailed Finch, Diamond Dove, Grey Shirke-thrush and a pair of Northern Rosellas perched in the morning light. The walk back to the car found us a family group of Crimson Finches that are always popular.
It was now time to head to Katherine for brunch before refuelling and stocking up on snacks before our big drive out toward Victoria River.
At a toilet stop along the way we found Weebill, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Great Bowerbirds and a pair of Singing Honeyeaters. The hottest part of the day we birded a farmers dam which was incredibly productive, here we found Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Variegated Fairy-wren, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Black-fronted Dotterel, Cockatiel, Rufousthroated Honeyeater, White-throated Gerygone and a very entertaining group of Apostlebirds.
At our last stop before heading to the roadhouse we found an extremely rare Northern (Crested) Shrike-tit, always a great bird to pick up on this trip.
Arriving at Victoria River we checked in and had a quick look around the campground, we found good numbers of Silver crowned Friarbirds and finally some perched Varied Lorikeets. The last part of the day was spent looking for Purple-crowned Fairywrens, I have visited this area regularly this year so knew exactly where to look. Arriving at the site we enjoyed incredible views of both male and female strutting around in front of us.
We finished the day with great views of Brown Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel and a very friendly Red-kneed Dotterel.
DAY 5 – 2nd September 2018
Day five we headed west of Victoria River in search of our next new birds, arriving at one of my favourite sites in the area we soon found Jacky Winter, Little Woodswallow, Black-chinned Honeyeaters and great numbers of both Pictorella Mannikins and Gouldain Finches. Searching the area even further we found a single Grey-headed Honeyeater and an extremely cooperative group of Spinifex Pigeons. A quick stop before breakfast we picked up the tiny little Red-browed Pardalote.
After breakfast at Timber Creek we went off to look for our last Honeyeater for the trip, again I had been in the area plenty of times this year so knew exactly where to look. Arriving at the site I got out of the vehicle and had one immediately above the car, birding isn’t supposed to be this easy! Last site before retiring for the hottest part of the day was just West of Timber Creek; here we found both Variegated Fairywren and Purple-crowned Fairywren and also another Grey-fronted Honeyeater.
The afternoon session was spent in the near by grasslands in search of our last Finches for the trip, we headed straightto an area I found them last week and straight away we got onto a few Star Finches followed closely followed by our first Yellow-rumped Mannikin. Soon after we had a large feeding flock containing at least a hundred Yellow-rumped Mannkins and few Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, good numbers of Star Finches and also 10 or so Pictorella Mannikins. A dream mix of Finches! Not far down the road we located a feeding group of Star Finches and Crimson Finches, bringing up 9 species of Grass Finches for the day!
Last spot for the day was a ridgeline in search of one of North Australia’s hardest birds, the Chestnut-backed Buttonquail. We drove slowly along the ridge but didn’t have any luck so turned around and started to heading back, it didn’t take long before 4 small birds flushed off the side of the road. Button-quail! We jumped out and I managed to get the whole group a good flight view. To top the day off I located a lone Zebra Finch bring up the magic number of 10 Grass Finches for the day.
DAY 6 – 3rd September 2018
The trip had been so successful that we had a free morning to go and explore the area, leaving Timber Creek at 6.30 we headed to the Bullita Access Road; here we slowly birded along the road looking for anything unusual. Nothing rare turned up but we did have fantastic views of Red-backed and Sacred Kingfishers, Pictorella Mannkins, Gouldian Finches for the third time this trip, Red-backed Fairywren, Horsfields Bushlark and a fly-by Australian Hobby. After breakfast we headed back towards Katherine, stops along the way found us perched Cockatiel, soaring Wedgetailed Eagle and a flock of around 100 Red-tailed Black-cockatoos. In the afternoon around Katherine we found better views of Fairy Martin finally showing its field mark Rufous cap and two new birds for the trip, Common Bronzewing and our last Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner. We also bumped into a nice feeding flock of Gouldian Finches, Masked Finches, Hooded Parrots, Grey Shrike-thrushes, Little Friarbirds, Varied Sittela, White-winged Trillers, Black-faced Woodswallows, Blue-faced Honeyeaters and a fly over pair of Northern Rosellas, a great way to end the day.
DAY 7 – 4th September 2018
The last morning of the trip we decided to try for one of the tougher birds in the area, Great-billed Heron. In the grassy fields we found a few pairs of Australian Bustards and the area down towards the river was buzzing with Varied Lorikeets and Banded Honeyeaters but sadly no Heron. After a delicious breakfast at the local Finch Café we started the drive back towards Darwin.
On the drive back North we had great views of Black-fronted Dotterel and near Adelaide River I spotted a different bird of prey, I quickly pulled over, Black Falcon! The bird soared above us for a few minutes getting harassed by the local Whistling Kite before glidding off into the distance, what a bird to finish the tour on! While enjoying a delicious lunch we did a final checklist and totaled the birds, we finished up on 205 birds seen with an additional 1 heard only.
Going to be a hard trip to top.