Welcome to Birdquest

NORTHERN AUSTRALIA

Tuesday 18th September - Wednesday 3rd October 2018

Josh Bergmark

Chestnut-breasted Whiteface (Josh Bergmark)

Chestnut-breasted Whiteface (Josh Bergmark)

There is a reason that the Northern Territory proves to be one of the top holiday destinations for Australians year after year. Warm and sunny, spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife and Australia’s largest protected areas all rolled together into one package. What’s even better is that the best birding season happens to be at the tail end of the tourist season, so we pretty much never need to worry about the crowds! Surprisingly, although many international birdwatchers do visit Darwin and Uluru, few get the chance to comprehensively explore the extremely varied regional biomes to the extent that we do on this tour. We commenced our journey once again in middle of the country by focusing on the birds of the Red Centre. An apt description for the area, we searched rolling orange sand dunes, brick-red rocky gorges and dusty backroads for some fantastic species, the first of which were around the outback town of Alice Springs. Diminutive Rufous-crowned Emuwren and hyperactive Dusky Grasswren were coaxed out of the spinifex while fantastic Western Bowerbirds and ridiculous Spinifex Pigeons proved positively tame at certain sites. Crepuscular Bourke’s Parrots came down to drink in the evening only metres away from us while White-browed Treecreeper, Diamond Dove, Painted Finch and Splendid Fairywren were all sought out amongst some less spectacular but nevertheless important birds which include the restricted Slaty-backed Thornbill, and the strange (but well-named) rarity, Grey Honeyeater. Vibrant Orange and Crimson Chats were seen in places, Banded Lapwing and Brown Falcon were found from the vehicle, and the sewage works held a selection of bizarre Pink-eared Ducks, Black-tailed Nativehens, Black Swans, acrobatic White-backed Swallows, plus elegant Red-necked Avocets and Red-kneed Dotterels. Further south around Erldunda we worked hard to pin down some true desert birds, with well-camouflaged Inland Dotterels eventually located on their favourite open plain, adjacent to some scrubby saltbush which held the likes of Chiming Wedgebill, Cinnamon Quailthrush, White-winged Fairywren, and the superb Banded Whiteface. Imposing Wedge-tailed Eagles, Pink Cockatoos and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos showed off on the roadside, but we had to drive a little further to twitch the rare and declining Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. Some time around Uluru was dedicated to observing the impressive geological structure, but we mostly worked on finding certain birds like Little Woodswallow, Red-backed Kingfisher, Redthroat and Sandhill Grasswren. A pair of the latter showed so phenomenally well in front of us that the duo won bird of the trip!

This smorgasbord of course was only stage one, and after arriving in the tropical Top End we set our sights on a completely new set of birds. We scored on the extremely difficult Chestnut Rail once again in the muddy mangroves of Darwin after some significant effort, along with Red-headed Myzomela, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Mangrove Golden and White-breasted Whistlers, Mangrove Robin, Mangrove Fantail, Torresian Kingfisher, Black Butcherbird and Canary White-eye. With some dedicated searching we also located some splendid Beach Stone-curlews along the shore, along with a host of waders like the declining Great Knot and Far Eastern Curlew, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Red-capped Plover, Pied Oystercatcher, and ubiquitous Raja Shelducks. It was certainly more relaxing to enjoy birds in the lush and green local parks however, highlighted by an impressive family of Rufous Owls at the Darwin Botanic Gardens, abundant Bush Stone-curlews and Orange-footed Scrubfowls running around like chickens, bubbling Green Orioles and Varied Trillers with Blue-winged Kookaburras and Red-collared Lorikeets ever-present. Certain parks even hold populations of the flamboyant Rainbow Pitta, one of which once again advertised his brilliance right next to us! Towards the edge of town some rarer species also showed up, with Little Curlew, Silver-backed Butcherbird, Barking Owl and Crimson Finch all seen in one afternoon no less!

Moving inland to savannah country, we travelled through beautiful areas of rocky escarpments which tried to hide the endemic White-lined Honeyeater, Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon and Black-banded Fruit Dove, but all were found without much trouble. Billabongs which still held water at this late stage of the dry season were teeming with birds - Magpie Geese mixed with abundant Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks, beautiful Green Pygmy Geese, Azure and Little Kingfishers, Nankeen Night and Pied Herons, White-bellied Sea Eagles, dainty Comb-crested Jacanas, Brolgas and Black-necked Storks, plus of course some enormous Saltwater Crocodiles! The woodlands around Katherine produced yet more new species, some major highlights including the rare and endangered Red Goshawk at a nest, sublime Gouldian Finches and Hooded Parrots at local water holes, close and personal encounters with Australian Owlet-nightjar, Black-tailed Treecreeper, and deck views of both Little Buttonquail and the rare endemic Chestnut-backed Buttonquail. Towards to Western Australian border at Timber Creek we were in finch heaven, with a huge flock of Star Finches containing a handful of Yellow-rumped and Chestnut-breasted Mannikins, with some beautiful Masked and Long-tailed Finches nearby. The local open fields and airstrips were searched thoroughly, turning up Oriental Plovers, Australian Pratincoles and stately Australian Bustards. The other specials here were White-quilled Rock Pigeon and the cracking Purple-crowned Fairywren, plus some responsive Buff-sided Robins and a Southern Boobook. We finished up with all the attainable Top End endemics and major specialties in the bag, recording 276 species overall with a bonus set of 15 mammals during the tour. There were a few big reptiles too…

Sandhill Grasswren (Josh Bergmark)

Sandhill Grasswren (Josh Bergmark)