A brief trip to the Top End

To: Canberrabirds <>
Subject: A brief trip to the Top End
From: Rob Geraghty <>
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2010 04:24:47 -0700 (PDT)
On the weekend I had the opportunity to have a quick look at a few places close 
to Darwin.  Unfortunately since I was rushed, I missed a lot of birds which 
were heard but not seen.

Around Darwin itself, the most common birds I saw were Magpie Larks and Brown 
Honeyeaters, with Figbirds (ashbyi) crowded into their favourite food trees.  A 
couple of trees in the CBD were also a roosting site for hundreds of Rainbow 
Lorikeets.  In open areas, Masked Lapwings seemed very common, as well as 
Bar-Shouldered and Peaceful Doves.  Outside urban areas, Whistling Kites seemed 
to be everywhere.  A short walk at East Point Reserve saw Masked Lapwings, 
Magpie Larks, Brown Honeyeaters, Peaceful Doves, Red Tailed Black Cockatoos 
(macrorhynchus), Helmeted Friarbirds, Bar Shouldered Doves, Rainbow Bee-eaters, 
Grey Tailed Tattler, and Lesser Sand Plover, as well as a pair of passing 
Herons which were probably Great Billed Herons.  Where I was staying at Cullen 
Bay, Beach Stone Curlews could be heard calling at night from time to time.

In the farmland and forest edges to the north east of Darwin, I saw both Pied 
Butcherbirds (picatus) and one Silver-backed Butcherbird, as well as more Red 
Tailed Black Cockatoos and ubiquitous Lapwings and Whistling Kites.

On Saturday, I drove out to Fogg Dam, which was by far the highlight as far as 
birds were concerned.  Unfortunately, visitors were being advised not to walk 
across the causeway since a large Estuarine Crocodile had been spotted in the 
area, but you could drive across to the well-built observation platform on the 
far side.  The dam was filled with a profusion of water lilies and fish.  In 
the middle of the causeway, a narrow section had water running over it to a 
depth of a few centimetres.  Just above it, giant Saratoga could be seen 
hunting small fish in the shallow water.  Just below, any fish which made it 
past the Saratoga would have to run a crowded gauntlet of Pied Herons, Little 
Egrets and Great Cormorants.  The road ends at the observation platform.  In 
the stream just beyond, ranks of Little Egrets, Royal Spoonbills, Great 
Cormorants, Little Pied Cormorants, and White Ibis were fishing along with a 
lone Jabiru and a lone Radjah Shelduck.  In the
 grass at the water's edge, about a half a dozen Crimson Finches and a Willie 
Wagtail flitted from place to place.  After taking a few photos, I got back in 
the car and drove slowly across the causeway.  Just near where the water broke 
over the road, a pair of Comb-crested Jacana froze at the edge of the water 
lilies, giving me the chance to take photos of everything except their amazing 
feet.  Later, a local explained to me that the popular name for them is "the 
Jesus bird" because of the way their feet allow them to walk across the lilies 
as though they are walking on water.  While I was watching the Jacana, a 
Whistling Kite landed on a short post at the water's edge, apparently hoping to 
snag a fish.

Sadly, one of the walks was closed due to the crocodile threat, but the Monsoon 
Forest walk gave me a great view of a Leaden Flycatcher and a Yellow Footed 
Scrubfowl.  There were many other birds high up in the trees, but the only 
other one I managed to get a look at was a Little Bronze Cuckoo.  At one point 
I disturbed a Quail of some sort, but it escaped identification.

I then drove a little further along the Arnhem Highway to the Adelaide River 
and took a trip on a boat with "Jumping Crocodile Cruises".  The crocs were 
spectacular, as was the White Sea Eagle and Whistling Kites.  The only other 
birds I noted were a single and scared Little Egret and a lone Magpie Goose, 
presumably winging its way somewhere less dangerous.

I then backtracked west and saw the last couple of hours of daylight in 
Litchfield National Park.  At the Magnetic Termite Mounds, I saw Blue Faced 
Honeyeaters, Brown Honeyeaters, Bee Eaters, and a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo and 
although I could hear many finches amongst the grass that was pretending to be 
miniature bamboo, I saw none.  At Florence Falls I tried a short loop walk 
upstream of the waterfall which is paved with stones and very educational in 
terms of the informative signs.  Two signs include a thermometer and a 
hygrometer, making it possible to compare the temperature and humidity on the 
open-forested hill (24.5C, 78%) with the monsoon forested gully (33C, 100%).  
The signs provide inspiration for gardeners from the natural forest.  There 
weren't a lot of birds, but I caught a glimpse of a Great Bowerbird as well as 
Spangled Drongos, Brown Honeyeaters, a White Bellied Cuckoo Shrike and an 
unknown Friarbird, probably a Helmeted.  Further into
 the park, Tolmer Falls were spectacular, but surprisingly devoid of birds at 

More experienced birders would have spotted many more species even in the same 
short trip, but I was quite happy with the new species I'd seen.  I do wish I'd 
got to Fogg Dam a little earlier, so I could have walked to the end to the 
Monsoon Forest walk and perhaps caught a glimpse of a Rainbow Pitta.  Perhaps 
another time, except if I get another chance to look for birds in NT, I'd like 
to try to track down a Gouldian Finch.

I managed to find a copy of "Finding Birds in Darwin Kakadu & the Top End" by 
Niven McCrie and James Watson at Dymocks in the Casuarina shopping centre on 
the Friday night; it was apparently the only place in Darwin where late night 
shopping happens.  The staff member at Dymocks was extremely helpful, 
discovering the book for me in the travel section rather than with the rest of 
the bird and animal books.  The book is very detailed with respect to the areas 
that it covers, and includes species specific information for the region as 
well as a checklist.  My main suggestion for an improvement would be to 
consider the addition of GPS coordinates to assist travelers from distant lands.

In my description I haven't mentioned the weather.  Over the last week in 
Darwin it has been around 33C every day, with daily tropical showers and 
thunderstorms.  The humidity varied between steamy and soaking wet.  In the 
swampy areas, the mosquitoes may carry Ross River virus or possibly Dengue.  
The sea is off limits due to Box Jellyfish, and great care needs to be taken 
near water due to crocodiles.  Sadly, the number of smaller reptiles is falling 
due to the profusion of Bufo marinus (Cane Toads).


Rob Geraghty



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