Trip Report NT: Border to Darwin,12-31 August, 2005

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Trip Report NT: Border to Darwin,12-31 August, 2005
From: "Dam Lamb" <>
Date: Sun, 6 Nov 2005 09:38:10 +1100
Entered the NT heading for Barkley Homestead.Walked the perimeter of the 
caravan park, checking the dam and three small settling ponds. Only water birds 
were Grey Teal and Australian Grebe,not many other birds apart from small party 
of Crimson Chat. Travelled north on Tableland H'way towards Cape Crawford 
hoping for Flock Bronzewing or Letter-winged Kite.Neither seen,not even a 
Black-shouldered Kite, but we did score a Grey Falcon 5km north of the Playford 
River crossing.Saw our first group of Australian Pratincole 40km on, along with 
the occassional Bustard. This section of the h'way passes through some very dry 
country, with little grass for the cattle grouped around the few bores. 
Welcomed the arrival of Cape Crawford with its grassed lawns, sprinklers, and 
exceptional hamburgers.Sat on the verandah and watched Masked,Long-tailed and 
Double-barred Finch enjoy the cooling waters, as did the Yellow-tinted 
Honeyeater.Ruminated on the large, heavily barred raptor which flew down the 
McArthur River at the road crossing 10km south before settling on Spotted 

 On to Borroloola for first attempt at Mangrove Golden Whistler, may have seen 
a female but unsure.We did however get Crimson Finch,White-gaped Honeyeater and 
the first of many NT White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike.Tried a reported spot for 
Purple-crowned Fairy-Wren, but burnt-out as was much of the bush around the 
township. Wanting to dip my toe into Gulf waters we drove 70km to Bing Bong, 
seeing our only Square-tailed Kite and Black Falcon amongst the hundreds of 
Black and Whistling Kites near the burning areas.Bing Bong is a mining company 
port with limited access to the coastline but it did give us Peregrine Falcon, 
Osprey,Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea-Eagle in the one area.Small number 
of waders on the mudflats.

 Next o'nite stop was at Mataranka where we stayed at the thermal springs.I 
walked a track along the river hoping for Great-billed Heron, no joy, only 
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Restless Flycatcher. That night however heard a loud 
flapping above my head as I read outside camper.Looked up to see a large owl 
only 5 foot above my head.Quickly headed-off in pursuit to find, only 50m away, 
a Rufous Owl perched holding a still-struggling flying-fox in its talons.It 
tolerated my observations for a few minutes before heading-off into the night 
(only my second sighting of this magnificent owl).

 Heeding the call of civilisation and becoming aware that the ?annual Festival 
was on, we changed plans and headed for Darwin, camping at Lee Point so as to 
be close to Buffalo Creek, which I had identified as my best shot for Chestnut 
Rail.We were to spend 2 weeks in Darwin, quickly settling into a rhythm of 
birding early and mid morning, pool swims, markets (of which Darwin has many) 
and Festival events, mainly in latter part of day and night.Started looking for 
Chestnut Rail at Buffalo Creek on 18th Aug .when the combination of tides and 
time of day was ideal (falling high tide between 6 & 8 m at dawn) . I would 
hear the bird(s) calling every time so it became increasingly frustrating when 
they failed to appear.I was ultimately successful 11 days later when one 
emerged from the mangrove cover directly opposite the boatramp around 0730 on a 
very low tide.To prove how easy it really was, I returned the next day with 
Maria at the same time and we saw a pair at exactly the same spot.There are 
other birds at Buffalo Creek (just as well) not the least of which are Rainbow 
Pitta of which I saw no less than 5 one morning by the roadside within 300m of 
the ramp.Other good Buffalo Point birds are Common Sandpiper and Greenshank on 
the creek banks,Little, Great and Eastern Reef Egrets  in the shallows, 
Red-headed, Rufous-banded and White-gaped Honeyeaters, Silver-crowned 
Friarbirds, Yellow Oriole, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove,Northern Fantail, Sacred 
Kingfisher in the bush.Waders can be seen at most times on the shore between 
Buffalo Creek and Lee Point and although I wader-watched a few times, didn't 
find anything out of the box.But go wader-watching with the Keates and you'll 
find a Great Knot with a white over black leg flag on the right upper leg, 
great excitement, as this bird had been flagged in Shanghai, China, we believed.

  Made early morning visits to Holmes Jungle and Leanyer Swamp, which was 
completely dry, not unexpectedly for this time of the year. Holmes Jungle had a 
couple of Brolga ,Brown Falcon,Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Dusky Honeyeater, Grey 
Whistler, Golden-headed (but not Zitting) Cisticola and Rose-crowned Fruit 
Dove.At the Fiddlers Lane section of Knuckey's Lagoon we ran into our QWSG 
colleagues, Sheryl & Arthur Keates before the pre-arranged phonecall.This 
fast-drying wetland held Magpie Geese,Green Pygmy-geese, Pied Heron, all 4 
wetland Egret,White-necked Heron,all three Ibis, as well as Royal Spoonbill, 
Brolga, Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Australian Pratincole and Whiskered 
Tern.Earlier that morning we had birded at Snipe Lagoon (another of the 
Knuckey's complex) with very similair birds but with Singing Bushlark and a 
Little Bronze Cuckoo.

 Visited Palmerston Sewerage Ponds on two occassions, the first with the Keates 
where I got  first Darwin tick , Mangrove Grey Fantail.Other good birds were 
Mangrove Robin,Radjah Shelduck, Yellow White-eye, Broad-billed Flycatcher, 
Large-billed Gerygone (nest building),Mangrove Gerygone, and Red-headed and 
Rufous -banded Honeyeater, all seen in the mangroves outside the ponds in the 
NE corner.Marsh and Common Sandpipers were in the pond margins. A second visit 
added a pair of White-browed Crake and the sad sight of an freshly dead 
Buff-banded Rail caught in the barbed-wire surrounding the ponds. The second 
Darwin tick was also supplied by the Keates when they took us to Middle Point 
Rd (opposite the transmission towers) near Fogg Dam for the marvellous sight of 
4 perched Letter-winged Kite which had first been seen only the day before.What 
luck. We spent time scoping them before heading-off down the road to Harrison 
Dam where we got Spotted Harrier, Glossy Ibis as well as the more usual 
waterbirds.Another look at the kites on the way back was rewarded by the scoped 
sight of one lazily spreading and lifting a wing, revealing the much-sought 
underwing pattern.

We had a couple of day trips from Darwin, one to Howards Springs where we 
couldn't locate the Little Kingfisher seen in '98,but did see over a dozen 
Bar-breasted Honeyeater feeding in flowering meleluca, along with 
Rufous-banded.Rainbow Pitta were easily seen, as was Rose-crowned Fruit 
Dove.The drier woodland produced Rufous Whistler,Grey Fantail,Leaden 
Flycatcher, Grey Shrike Thrush, Grey-crowned Babbler and Spangled Drongo.Varied 
Trillers called incessantly.

The other day trip was to Litchfield NP  via Batchelor where the town park had 
many flowering euculaptys being utilized by Rainbow Lorikeets (red collared), 
Blue-faced Miner.The birding wasn't that prolific in Litchfield, though we 
enjoyed the swims at Buley Rockholes and Wangi Falls, and the coffee at the 
Monsoon Cafe.Took the back road home to Darwin, saw a Collared Sparrowhawk 
perched over the Finnis River, Emerald Dove at Berry Springs. Drove down ot 
Middle Arm as dusk arrived, big mistake, almost carried away by the mozzies and 
midges, and not a Chestnut Rail or Great-billed Heron to be seen.

 A couple of hours at Leanyer Sewerage Works with Sheryl was very rewarding, 
with good views of the almost resident Little Ringed Plover (another Aust. 
tick), numerous Pied Heron,Plumed Whistling Duck, Jabiru.Earlier we had tried 
for Yellow-rumped Mannikin in the hospital grounds but had only found 
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.A dusk visit to East Point Reserve resulted in brief 
but sufficient views of Large-tailed Nightjar (another new bird), whislt the 
"chop chop" call could be heard from all sides. We also heard the nightjar in 
the caravan park at Lee Point, where Bush Stone Curlew were heard nightly, and 
seen often. The caravan park also produced Orange-footed Scrubfowl,Pied 
Imperial Pigeon,Rainbow Bee-eater, Restless Flycatcher.Just outside the park 
towards the creek is a small dam where we found Little Egret, Common 
Greenshank. juv White-bellied Sea-Eagle, and Great Bowerbird, 
Double-barred,Long-tailed and Masked Finch.

Other sites visited in Darwin included the mangrove edge in the new housing 
development (?Bayview) off Tiger Brennan Drive, (city end )where I could hear 
Chestnut Rail so close to pathway but just couldn't see it.We also tried 
Channel Island and Elizabeth in the search for the rail and heron and got the 
common waterbirds but never the targets.The Botanic Gardens were visited a few 
times, mainly for Festival events, and on the one occassion I looked for the 
Rufous Owl it was easily found.Gave myself a scare at the Lee Point high tide 
roost when I thought I had a Roseate Tern, but it turned-out to be a common old 
Common Tern loafing with Little Terns.We found a great second-hand bookshop at 
Rapid Creek where I picked up a NZ fieldguide and an Indonesian "where to find 
birds" book for $10 each.We loved the Museum and Art Gallery which has the most 
impressive Maritime Gallery with over 20 real life small sailing vessels from 
the island nations to our north. The Cyclone Tracey exhibition is quietly 
moving and a graphic reminder of the power of nature.

As in 1998, we had a great time in Darwin.I got 5 new birds, with two specials, 
one almost too easy (the Letter-Winged Kite), and the other (Chestnut Rail) 
demonstrating that if you keep at you are rewarded--- or maybe you just got 

Russ Lamb, Maleny, SEQ
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