Birding trip in the Top End

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Birding trip in the Top End
From: Denise Goodfellow <>
Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2013 09:55:13 +0930
In late September a Canadian couple, Susanne and Jeff, arrived to spend a
few days birding. They¹d been to Australia before and had stayed with the
Gregory¹s at Cassowary House. Jeff was also interested in Indigenous people
and social issues, and had worked in this field for many years.

They stayed the night at our place in Darwin River, 80 kms southwest of
Darwin.  It¹s truly wonderful having a property like ours where visitors can
stay.  We were able to show them open and closed forest, one dominated by
eucalypts and the other by a mixture of monsoon forest trees and Swamp
Mahogany, each with different avian inhabitants.

We showed them how we were trying to control fire, by clearing the place of
weeds such as Gamba grass, and raking up the cured speargrass, taking care
especially to clear around our very old woollybutts (Eucalyptus miniata).
Most have very large hollows, habitat for a range of taxa ­ and so they¹re
very important. 

The understorey of part of our closed forest consists of a beautiful grass,
an Eriachne species. plus the gorgeous mauve-flowering Osbeckia australiana,
a member of the Melastomaceae.  In the early morning golden shafts of light
fall upon these plants highlighting their colours and form.  But this area
hasn¹t been burned for decades and the pandanus growing there cause some
worry ­ these plants go up like bombs when they do catch fire.

Our home is also a good place to show visitors Agile wallabies that come in
to feast on our lawn, and the Blue-winged kookaburras, Radjah Shelduck and
other birds, plus Northern Brown bandicoots and Brush-tailed possums that
come in to be fed.  The couple we bought the property from and Brian's
parents before them fed these animals, indeed several generations of them,
for the past 25 years.

We¹d hardly got out the gate the next day when we saw one of our target
birds, Partridge Pigeon - at least seventeen of them ­ - leaving our
property for the place on the other side of the road.  They took their time,
toodling across the road like a bunch of toddlers. In Kakadu later several
birders expressed frustration at not having seen these birds.  Suzanne
replied that they should visit my place!

Hayes Creek, about 150 kms south of Darwin, was our first stop.  Gouldian
Finch was our target bird for the next morning. Bright and early we drove
out and within an hour were at the site.  This was the area where, a year
ago, Bruce Richardson and I saw a male Gouldian Finch and a Peaceful Dove
preening each other.

Forty plus Gouldians, mostly immature birds, flew up as we drew near.  And
then a male Hooded Parrot appeared, resplendent in turquoise and yellow.  A
wave of other birds appeared and we watched those for a little while before
leaving. Stopping at a patch of gallery forest we spotted a Pacific Baza
high in a tree.  Then above us appeared a powerful raptor, Red Goshawk, and
darting at it, a much smaller Brown Goshawk.

We journeyed on to Katherine and then down the Victoria Highway to the
Victoria River. This is a very beautiful part of the country.  We went
looking for Purple-crowned Fairy-wren near the bridge.  The birds were
calling from cover but would not show themselves. The next morning we went
elsewhere, to my favourite spot.  It had recently been completely burnt out
so no birds.  From further down the river the fairy-wrens were calling again
and I caught some movement, but nothing that I could show my friends. We
next scaled the escarpment. To my surprise I found I had difficulty keeping
my balance while climbing.  Not climbing stairs for six months had taken its
toll. However White-quilled Rock-pigeon wasn¹t cooperating either although
the scenery made up for the lack of birds.

We set off back towards Katherine, on the way spotting a bustard, the fourth
sighting for the Highway.  At a roadside stop we went down to the creekline
to look for Star Finch, but instead found a Black Kite caught in a fishing
line, dangling two metres above the bank.  It was impossible to reach
without help. I retraced my steps to a motorhome at the stop, and asked the
driver whether he had a long pole.  Murray responded at once and grabbing a
fishing rod, managed to free the bird which fell into the river.  We both
tried to grab it before it moved out of reach. Murray fell in and slipping
on the wet bank I nearly followed him.  I grabbed the bird and it grabbed
me, by the finger.  Murray tried to free me, but was handicapped having lost
most of the fingers on one hand. With the bird firmly attached I couldn¹t
climb up the steep bank and so Murray had to push me, from behind. At the
top I lay the bird down gently on its back, and it began to relax its grip
on my finger (I¹m just glad the bird wasn¹t a Wedge-tailed Eagle!)  With
help from Jeff and Suzanne we managed to untangle the line from the bird,
and although we couldn¹t remove the hook, the wing could at least move
freely and seemed more or less undamaged. Suzanne gave the bird some water
and we left it under a bush to recover.

Onto Pine Creek where we spent the night.  The next day we saw a range of
birds at the sewage ponds, but the highlight was thirty or so Hooded Parrots
at the oval.  

In Kakadu NP the endemics weren¹t easy to find; for a start none of the
trees where I usually look for Banded Fruit-dove, were fruiting.  Finally we
found a very obliging bird sitting watching us from a tree on a side track.
White-lined Honeyeater were calling but unlike at this time in past years
they were largely staying out of sight.  Finally Jeff spotted one.

Bardedjilidji yielded no birds of interest.  Yet the scenery plus the rock
art make this one of my favourite places.  The paintings here include the
scariest and most puzzling sorcery painting I've ever seen.

However, there were three very obliging Rainbow Pitta in the Mangarre Forest
near the East Alligator.  By the way I used to regularly see Mangrove Grey
Fantail here, until Cyclone Monica hit back in 2006, knocking down several
of the large paperbarks along the bank.

The trip ended up abruptly after a phone call from my partner; our seriously
ill dog, Sarah, was recovering.  Consequently I developed a lung infection
(I tend to get sick after an emergency has passed, not during it!), and I
had to return home.  As a last hoorah I took the couple to a particular spot
on the Adelaide River.  As soon as we arrived three Mangrove Golden Whistler
appeared, a male and two females.  Then a Broad-billed Flycatcher flew in to
examine us, perching only a couple of metres away, displaying the white
lores commonly seen on this species.

I was too ill to take the couple to Fogg Dam to see Rose-crowned Fruit-dove
but for the past few weeks this species has been very active and they were
able to return and see it easily.

It was a good trip overall, with a couple of nice people.

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 71,  Darwin River,
NT 0841
043 8650 835

PhD candidate, SCU
Vice-chair, Wildlife Tourism Australia




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