Trip report: the Top End and Kimberley

Subject: Trip report: the Top End and Kimberley
Date: Tue, 24 Nov 1998 16:41:11 +1000
 I recently made the most of some frequent flyer points by flying from
Sydney to Darwin, then Kununurra and Broome and back.  It requires the same
number of points as a return ticket to Perth does, but would normally cost
twice as much.

As it was also a sightseeing trip, and as most of the sites I visited are
well known I am not going to include any lists, but rather highlight the
best birds seen at the various locations.  The total trip list was in the
region of 230 species.


Information on getting to the sites mentioned was obtained from the
following sources:
Frank O'Connor's Birding WA page [ ]
provided excellent information for the Kununurra and Broome areas.
Finding Birds in Australia's Northern Territory by David Donato et al
The Complete Guide to Finding Birds in Australia by Richard and Sarah



I did not spend much time birding around Darwin.  I visited TIGER BRENNAN
DRIVE and had a good look at Mangrove Robins near the clearing under the
power poles.  I also heard what might have been Chestnut Rails, but
couldn't see any.  Unfortunately my planned second attempt was rained out.

At LEE POINT small numbers of Little Curlews were seen on the grass near
the communications tower.  Further out at Mangrove Creek I saw a Green
backed Gerygone, Yellow White-eyes and several Red headed Honeyeaters that
came in very close to pishing.  A Black Butcherbird was overhead.  Out at
the end of the point was a small collection of waders, including the only
Sanderling of the trip.

The gate to the SEWAGE FARM was locked but by looking over the fence I
could see good numbers of waterbirds, and a few White winged Black Terns
amongst the Whiskered Terns.  Unfortunately I couldn't make out any

The boardwalk at EAST POINT produced several Collared Kingfishers and
plenty of Lemon bellied Flycatchers.

The Rainbow Pittas were in their usual spot at HOWARD SPRINGS.  Near the
fork in the road on the way in was a tree full of Varied Lorikeets.


FOGG DAM didn't have many waterfowl there as most of it was overgrown with
weeds.  I did hear White browed Crakes, and there were plenty of Jacanas
and a few Green Pygmy Geese present.  I also saw what I eventually
convinced myself was a Broad billed Flycatcher near the carpark just before
the dam.  Does anyone have any useful tips on telling them from female

At MAMUKALA there were the usual huge numbers of Magpie Geese - probably
20,000.  In a tree next to the carpark were three Tawny Frogmouths, and
three Barking Owls were within ten metres of where I saw them in December
1994.  Nearby the track behind Frontier Kakadu Village at South Alligator
produced a Rainbow Pitta.

The YELLOW WATERS cruise gave good views of several species (including at
least seven White bellied Sea Eagles), but didn't add any species compared
to other sites in the area; no Little Kingfishers for instance.  The
commentary about birds was pretty non existent - though it was better than
Katherine Gorge where a Whistling Kite was called "a baby sea eagle".
However nearby where the Kakadu Highway crosses Jim Jim Creek twice, at the
northern bridge I had a very good look at a Great billed Heron, including
as it caught and swallowed a 20 cm fish.  In the trees beside the river
were Rufous throated and Bar breasted Honeyeaters.   A Partridge Pigeon was
seen beside the road between there and Cooinda.

As I drove south towards GUNLOM I flushed a pair of Hooded Parrots from
beside the road 8.8 km north of the turnoff from the Kakadu highway.
Unfortunately I could not relocate them, but did flush several Brown Quail
in the process.  My search around the top of the falls at Gunlom produced
no White throated Grasswrens or Banded Fruit Doves.  The only consolation
came from White lined Honeyeaters and a brief look at a Chestnut quilled
Rock Pigeon, as well as many sandstone race Helmeted Friarbirds.  Another
birder I ran into several days later had seen both the Grasswren and Dove
there but it had taken six hours of searching.  Around the camp site at the
bottom was a Bush Stone Curlew.  The road into Gunlom had been regraded
recently and was easily accessed with a normal car.

I made a second attempt for Grasswrens near Plum Tree Creek (see article in
Wingspan March 1996 for details), but it had been burnt out at some point
in recent years so did not look like it would have any grasswrens there.  I
did see an Australian Hobby, and also saw a Tawny Frogmouth fly past in
daylight hours which I have never seen before.  Stopping a couple of times
on along the road west of Plum Tree Creek yielded Masked and Long tailed
Finches, several Banded Honeyeaters and about ten Brown Quail.


I visited CHINAMAN'S CREEK early one morning and was rewarded with great
views of a pair of Hooded Parrots.  They seemed extremely wary and even
though they would sit near the water it took a very long time before either
of them drank. Other birds present included Banded and Yellow tinted
Honeyeaters and Cockatiels overhead.  I didn't see any Gouldian Finches
though, and David Andrew had been there the previous two mornings without
luck either.


I arranged a special birding tour on LAKE ARGYLE with Lake Argyle Crusies.
I would certainly recommend it.  By contacting them several weeks before I
got there they were able to advertise it locally and there were about 16
passengers when they only needed seven to confirm the trip.  They hope to
run a morning birding trip each Sunday next dry season.

The initial part of the lake was the deep water part, and had a few ducks
and cormorants.  As we headed further south we started getting into flatter
water with waders.  At our first stop we could see such species as
Australian Pratincole, Little Curlew, Oriental Plover and several Long toed
Stints which were close enough to see their leg colour.  Wood Sandpipers,
Sharp tailed Sandpipers and Marsh Sandpipers were also present.

As we headed further south into the upper Ord River, Australian Bustards,
Black necked Storks and Brolgas could be seen.  We were shown where Yellow
Chats used to be seen, and were told that none had been seen for eighteen
months (their absence prompted by Lake Argyle Cruises printing a brochure
that mentioned them), but soon after we arrived we located a couple sitting
on the top of dead sticks calling.  We eventually saw three.

Further up the river we stopped at one point and got off the boat and
walked a short way to see a pair of Purple crowned Fairy Wrens.  We also
flushed a couple of Barking Owls nearby.

Back on the boat we headed back north and made another stop to check out
large numbers of waders.  Good numbers of Oriental Plover could be seen,
together with quite a few Australian Pratincoles.  Other birds recorded
included Black tailed Godwits, Pacific Golden Plovers and Gull billed

On the drive back from Lake Argyle we stopped at DEAD HORSE SPRING where we
saw several White quilled Rock Pigeons and an unexpected Painted Finch, as
well as a couple of Grey fronted Honeyeaters.  Spinifex Pigeons were on the
roadside nearby, and a Spotted Harrier not far away.

I also did a boat trip on LAKE KUNUNURRA with Duncan's Ord River
Adventures.  The boat didn't go all the way to the dam at Lake Argyle, but
it was smaller than the other companies' boats and a bit slower, so
probably offered better birding opportunities.  The operator also knew the
birds well.  Highlight was a good look at three Black Bitterns on Spillway
Creek about 50m from where it joins Lake Kununurra.  I asked about Little
Bitterns.  Apparently they are seen occasionally but rarely, and it is
really just a matter of luck; the times he has taken birders out to look
for them he generally doesn't see them.  Black Bitterns seem pretty
reliable though.

Hidden Valley on the edge of KUNUNURRA has Sandstone Shrike-thrushes (and
White quilled Rock pigeons too apparently, though I didn't see any).  If
you don't fancy paying the admission fee there, Sandstone Shrike-thrushes
are also at Kelly's Knob Lookout.  One interesting bird seen in Kununurra
itself was an albino Bar shouldered Dove.

The plains to the north of Kununurra, Weaber Plains and Ivanhoe Plains, are
mentioned in Thomas and Thomas for Yellow rumped Mannikin.  I found a
couple quite easily at the spot they suggested.  Be careful when counting
to the third irrigation canal; the first one is huge, and then it's easy to
drive past the next two without noticing as they are a lot smaller.  I also
saw Star Finches there, and the only Diamond Dove of the trip.  An
Australian Bustard could be seen in one of the paddocks a long way away.  A
stop at the corner of      Road late in the day produced several Bustards
flying overhead, and two Barn Swallows.  I returned one evening
spotlighting, and the only thing I managed to spotlight was one Brown
Falcon on power wires.

One day I drove to WYNDHAM and back.  Several people have seen Black
breasted Buzzards along the road.  I saw none; in fact, I hardly saw any
raptors at all that day.  At Wyndham a visit to the Mangroves near the
wharf produced Mangrove Gerygones and Mangrove Grey Fantails.  No whistlers
were heard, but it was the middle of the day.  I was going to visit the
museum in Wyndham, but it had "closed until 1999" outside!

On the way back I visited MARGLU BILLABONG in the Parry's Lagoons area.
There was some water left, but the birds present in the area could be
counted in the tens, not thousands that other people have seen.  Star
Finches and Australian Pratincoles were the most interesting species
present.  The surrounding vegetation all looked very dry, completely
different to where I had seen Yellow Chats on Lake Argyle.  I would have
been surprised if any of the Yellow Chats recently reported in the area
were still there, but I did not look for long.

A local birder told me the most likely spot to see Gouldian Finches at the
moment is MOLLY SPRINGS (see Frank O'Connor's page for details).  I visited
there twice.  The first time I saw plenty of honeyeaters coming in for
water, including Banded and Yellow tinted.  I did not see any Gouldians,
though Masked, Long tailed and Crimson were in the area.  On my second
visit the water level in the creek had risen and the birds no longer seemed
interested in drinking there.  At nearby Pumpkin Springs I saw two Spinifex

I also visited the BUNGLE BUNGLES, as part of a three day non birding 4WD
tour.  I strongly recommend it for the scenery.  The only birds I saw there
that I didn't see elsewhere on the trip  were a Yellow plumed Honeyeater
and a Red backed Kingfisher.  White quilled Rock Pigeons and Sandstone
Shrike-thrushes were common.  Apparently Grey Falcons are seen there


Finally I visited BROOME.  I stayed the first two nights at the Bird
Observatory.  Chris, the warden, will be able to give you good information
on where to look for waders and mangrove birds.  I went to Crab Creek in
the mid morning on the first day, about an hour after high tide.  I saw a
good selection of waders.  Plenty of godwits and Whimbrels were roosting on
the sand behind the mangroves when I arrived, together with several other
species including an Oriental Plover.  As the tide receded I was able to
creep out through very muddy mangroves and watch the birds feeding.
Highlights were a Redshank (apparently reasonably reliable at that site)
and a single Broad billed Sandpiper.  Other species included Terek and
Common Sandpipers, Red necked Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Great Knots.

I returned the next morning very early on the incoming tide in order to
chase mangrove species I had missed the previous day.  Within 100m of the
end of the mangroves I found several Dusky Gerygones and a pair of White
breasted Whistlers (with bands), although it did take a while to see them.
Mangrove Grey Fantails were also pretty common.  At a site Chris mentioned
for Mangrove Golden Whistlers right on the edge of Crab Creek I waited for
a long time.  After thirty or forty minutes I had a female fly over and
land on the other side of the creek for about fifteen seconds.

I was keen to see an Asian Dowitcher, but apart from one unconfirmed report
the week before, there hadn't been any seen in the Broome area this season,
even by the three month AWSG expedition.  Clive Minton said to me that they
are all at the Port Hedland salt works this year; the conditions there are
gradually becoming more suitable for them again.  Apparently the AWSG
counted over 50 000 Oriental Plovers this year!  (How about posting the
figures, someone?)

Various button quails have been reported recently near the observatory's
Malurus trail.  A couple of hours there revealed plenty of Brown Quail but
nothing more.  Barn Swallows were seen several times around the

Another site I visited was BARRED CREEK.  It is accessed from the Cape
Leveque road, and is about eight kilometres north of the turn off to
Willie's Creek.  You can get more details from the bird observatory.  The
road probably needs a four wheel drive as it's pretty sandy.  It was
recommended to me as a site for Lesser Frigatebird, and after about half an
hour there one sailed overhead.  I was also hoping to see the local race of
the Lemon bellied Flycatcher here but it wasn't to be.  Once again the time
of day was bad for mangrove birds.

The AWSG group had located a Red necked Phalarope at LAKE EDA a few days
earlier and I decided to go out there.  I had to go with George Swann of
Kimberley Birdwatching as it is private property and he was able to
organise access.  Unfortunately the phalarope had left.  However many good
birds were seen including several Yellow Wagtails, about 250 Little
Curlews, Swamp and Spotted Harriers, a White winged Black Tern and a Black
Falcon, apparently an unusual sighting in the area.

Murray Lord

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