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Kakadu, Katherine and Kununurra: parrots, pittas, pigeons and a frenzy of finches


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Thanks for this great report @@Treepol - so many beautiful photos. Hearty congratulations on that mistletoe bird photo - so difficult to see them - I still remember my delight at seeing one and it was actually in the garden of all places high up in a silver birch.


Have also been enjoying returning to places like Nourlangie Rock and seeing them through your eyes.

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Day 11


I had a day off between trips (well, actually Mike had a day off to regroup and provision for the next 4 days) so I had an easy time and spent 3 hours at the Casuarina Shopping Centre where everything was the same as at home - Subway, Katies, Suzanne Grae and House. I was really pleased to be leaving the city and heading out into the bush early the next day.


Mike and Jenny called for me at 6 am this morning after which we drove south to have breakfast at the Ferguson River, where we had stopped the previous week. Northern Rosellas flew into a nearby tree and Peaceful and Bar-shouldered doves and a Rufous Whistler fluttered in the trees on the far bank. The muted, almost pastel colours of the Northern Rosella are so unusual in this family of usually polychromatic birds.






After breakfast we drove into Katherine for fuel and some last minute groceries. A large flock of straw-necked ibis circled overhead. We then turned west along the Victoria Highway to the Buntine Highway turn-off at Buntine Memorial which honours Noel Buntine's contribution to early road construction in the Northern Territory and the development of road trains as a viable means of road transport across the vast distances in the Top End.


The lunch stop was at a small waterhole where curious cattle eyed us suspiciously. A Red-tailed black cockatoo showed a keen interest in us from a treetop.




The road was unusually busy with police, 2 mounted police units, construction vehicles and an ABC News vehicle, and we wondered what was going on further along the road. We continued on to the Top Springs Hotel at 4 pm. Mike and I went for a drive down the Binns Track which is an unsealed section of the Buchanan Highway. Zebra finches, Gray-crowned babblers, Red-backed Fairy Wrens and Budgerigars were all out in the last of the afternoon sun. There were about 300 budgerigars in the synchronised squadron that wheeled, turned and flashed emerald green above us.


Zebra Finches



Illawarra Creek was the last stop of the day where Fairy Martins, Crimson finches, Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters and a Willie wagtail all gathered at the water source.

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Treepol, I´m departing on Nov 16th (Rwanda first). Yes, Petra´s guide and vehicle for all of Kenya.

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Day 12


After a good sleep we left Top Springs and soon found our breakfast stop at the Armstrong River. The rising sun turned the river into a sheet of yellow glass where these cattle crossed, meanwhile the road goes on and on..








Many birds came to the river early, including Crimson finches, Peaceful Doves, Black fronted Dotterel and Banded Honeyeaters.








We are now travelling in cattle country and road trains (and flies!) are an increasingly common sight.




Pushing on, we are headed 170 kms to Kalkarinji which will be the fuel and lunch stop before we tackle Gregory NP. Overhead a Wedge-tailed Eagle glides effortlessly and before too long we reach the next river and begin a fruitless search for Purple Crowned Fairy Wrens. A pair of Black-fronted Dotterels and a flock of Crimson Finches live around the bridge.






Kalkarinji is an isolated settlement that was the location for the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off the previous weekend – now we knew where all the traffic from yesterday originated. A celebration marking this historic occasion was attended by representatives of the Mabo and Linjiani clans to honour their contributions to Indigenous Land Rights in Australia. The anniversary of the walk-off is marked by a new interpretative display.




The Kalkarinji Art Centre is a hub for local artisans - the dot painting is called Wild Tomato Dreaming and the other canvas depicts events around the walk-off.




After lunch we started up the Wave Hill Station stock route, crossing Mt Sanford station before entering Gregory NP.




The first Diamond Doves if the trip are seen on this road followed by Cockatiels and Black-faced wood swallows.




We are fortunate to see a barely airborne Australian Bustard, which is similar in size to a Kori having fewer markings. Wild donkeys and a few wild cattle are startled by the vehicle as we pass by. The 4WD track through the path presents some driving challenges with many steep-sided dry river and creek bed crossings, wash-outs, a jump-up and many continuous badly pot-holed sections. There were a couple of water crossings such as this one at Fish Hole Yard, where Jenny was checking the depth of the water and barely discernible track.




A second Bustard is rudely awakened and flaps in an effort to get airborne. Other nocturnal species seen were Spotted Nightjar and a Tawny Frogmouth. The drive was very interesting and we kept stopping for birds and some of the larger and more interesting boab trees which delayed arrival at Timber Creek until after dark.

Edited by Treepol
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Day 13


I had hoped to get a photo of the road trains that were parked outside the Timber Creek Hotel when we arrived last night. Although there were only 4 rigs they seemed to stretch for the best part of a kilometre, however, I was too late because the roadside park was empty at 7 am.


We had a short walk around the camp-ground where a friendly Buff-sided robin posed for pictures, but the freshwater Johnson's Crocodile that lives in the pool behind the hotel was a no-show.




Policeman's Point on the Victoria River was our bush breakfast spot this morning.




A darter preened mid-stream on a dead branch, Rufous Whistlers hopped in the trees and a flock of noisy Red-winged Parakeets fed in riverside trees.




Silver-crowned friar birds were calling from a jiggle jiggle tree where they fed on the pods and fruit. Mike and I unsuccessfully searched the riverside cane grass for Purple-crowned Fairy Wrens, however we did see a Common Sandpiper recently arrived from Siberia. A drive up onto the escarpment in search of Gouldian Finches bought us to the monument to the Nackeroos, men from the North Australia Observer Unit who performed coastguard duties between 1942-1944 in the Timber Creek area.






Turning towards the lookout, we were astonished to see 3 Brown Quail doing a type of moonwalk dance before scuttling into the tall grass. The escarpment is home to 2 interesting trees, the Scarlet Gum and the Nutwood tree. The Scarlet gum has a yellow textured bark, while the Nutwood has a tessellated bark.








This morning we planned to spend some time in Keep NP which borders Western Australia. Cockatoo Lagoon was our lunch stop after which we walked down to the lagoon to see Little Black Cormorant, Brolgas, Plumed whistling ducks, Magpie Geese and Spoonbills.






I was surprised to see this windmill at Cockatoo Lagoon as these iconic symbols of rural Australia are falling into disuse, disrepair and are fast disappearing from the rural landscape.




The Lagoon supports a number of Kapok bushes around the high waterline that are distinguished by a bright yellow flower and cotton wool seed pods.




Mike and I did a walk from the campground in search of Spinifex Pigeon, however we weren't lucky. We saw this St Andrews Cross spider, Diamond Doves, Striated Pardalote, a grasshopper and some amazing scenery.









There is a Quarantine checkpoint at the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia where roadtrains quickly fill up the drive-way and Great Bowerbirds, Galahs and Whistling Kites frequent the garden.




We arrived at Kununurra mid-afternoon and immediately set out in search of Star Finches around the irrigation canals. Rainbow bee-eaters perched on power lines and hunted along the canals.




We ate dinner at the local Asian restaurant and then retired early night ready for a 4 am start.



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Day 14


Today began at 4am so that we could leave Kununurra early to drive 70 kms to Lake Argyle for a 5 hour birdwatching cruise. Along the way a couple of Agile wallabies hopped along the roadside but other than this the drive was unremarkable.


Greg was the skipper/guide for the morning, and he immediately began showing us birds as soon as we left the dock. The Kimberley scenery is outstanding in the early dawn as a huddle of purple hills appears further down the lake and the vivid colours emerge as the sun climbs higher.






There were many Darters this morning, I would think that we saw 100 plus, preening, diving, swimming and drying.




Black-faced Wood Swallows huddled together in the early morning sun, although this one was busy parenting.






A Glossy Ibis fossicked on the shore in the company of Magpie Geese and a pair of Radjah Shellducks. A family of Wandering Whistling ducks paddled in the shallows while others gave the boat a wide berth.






This Short-eared Rock Wallaby and joey sheltered amongst rocky ledges along the shoreline.




Greg looked hard for a Sandstone Shrike-thrush because most were sheltering from a Whistling Kite that floated overhead, all except this brave individual.




Australian Pelicans were present in great numbers, either resting at the water’s edge or paddling alone around the lake.






One of the highlights of the cruise was a sighting of Yellow Chat. These canary yellow birds live on a smalI Island where they perch on stems of grass and low shrubs - this female is very pale and dowdy compared to the male.




We had to wade through knee-high weed to reach the shore here, and I was alarmed to hear that there was a risk of picking up duck lice in the water that contained floating duck poo. Hopefully, the liberal spray of Aerogard and Bushman that I applied will keep me safe. Returning to the boat we had to be careful not to step on the eggs of Masked Lapwings which were laid in a scape above high water mark and are well camouflaged.




After climbing back aboard and risking duck lice for a second time, we set out for Revolver Creek which is the home of some large Freshwater Crocodiles and wading birds. This pair of Brolgas was a pleasant surprise.




I was looking for a Australian Black-necked Storks and was delighted to find this bird in the shallows while a Freshwater Crocodile laid motionless in the mud.








The White-quilled Rock Pigeons were sheltering in rocky overhangs from the midday heat which made photos too hard. All too soon, the cruise was over and we were having lunch before heading back into Kununurra for some final birding. Mike and I glimpsed an Australian Reed Warbler before it disappeared into the heart of the reeds and found a young Gilberts Dragon soaking up the sun.




This stand of boabs in Centennial Park board provided an unusual backdrop to a flock of Australasian Swamphens.




The final bird of the trip was a Comb-crested Jacana that picked its way over the floating hearts.




Mike and Jenny took me to the Kununurra Airport for my late afternoon flight back to Darwin where I arrived at 6 pm for a final 2 nights at the Palms Tropical Resort.

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Day 15


I wanted to spend my last day in the Top End completing as many sightings of birds and other animals as possible so Laurie Ross of Birding Tracks drove me to Knuckeys Lagoon and then to the Territory Wildlife Park for a four hour visit.


Knuckeys Lagoon was brimming with Magpie Geese, Royal Spoonbills and Pied Heron.










I had heard many good reports of the Territory Wildlife Park from people interested in animals and birds and others that don’t usually bother with wild critters so I was curious to see what the park offered. The park covers a large area (I heard 400 hectares) where transport is by a free shuttle 'train' that travels continuously around a 4 km loop. Wetlands exhibits include an aquarium, Goose Lagoon, a billabong and the Oolloo Sandbar. The Monsoon Forest contains a large walk through aviary and the Woodland area has a nocturnal house and the Flight Deck. Mike recommended the Flight Deck display of mostly predators, so we made it there in time for 11 am.


The best thing about the park was that it attracted many wild birds and there was so much space that water and tree monitors live around the lagoon and wallabies hopped through the undergrowth.


Here are the photos of the wild bird visitors that frequented the park.


Black Butcherbird



Northern Fantail



Red-headed Honeyeater



Brown-capped Emerald Dove



Spangled Drongo



Green Oriole



Arafura Fantail



Pacific Black Ducks



Leaden Flycatcher



Brown Honeyeater



These photos are of the less fortunate birds who live in the walk through aviaries.


Green Pygmy Goose



Gouldian Finches









Channel-billed Cuckoo






Pied Imperial Pigeon



Varied Lorikeet





Australasian Grebe



Forest Kingfisher



Australian Fig Bird



Rose-crowned Fruit Dove








These guys were the stars of the flight deck:


Black-breasted buzzard



Red-collared Lorikeet



Eastern Barn-owl



Bush-stone Curlew




Brahminy Kite






Finally, here are some of the non-feathered creatures we saw at the park:


Young Agile Wallaby



Northern Yellow-faced Turtles



Merten's Water Monitor



The time passed very quickly as Laurie and I criss-crossed the park, mostly walking sometimes catching the train. All too soon it was time to return to Darwin as Laurie had a client flying in at 3.30, and I needed time to pack ready for the flight home the next day.

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Here are some final words on my wonderful fortnight in the Top End.


A Day out with Mike


Days out with Mike begin between 4.45-6.30 am before a short drive of around 40 minutes to a peaceful and secluded breakfast stop. We set up before sunrise just as the birds are appearing. Breakfast is cereal, fruit, yoghurt with real tea or freshly brewed coffee. There are usually 1 or 2 morning activities that could be a stake-out at the breakfast site, or a short bird walk. Morning tea and coffee with biscuits was always welcome after the early start.


Lunch is anytime between 12-2 pm - salad with tinned fish, falafels and cheese with a choice of pita or sliced bread or rolls. This is followed by fresh fruit, tea, coffee and biscuits. Afternoons were usually a walk, stake-out or travel to the next overnight stay. Dinner was usually early around 6-6.30 pm and mostly at the restaurant attached to the accommodation. The a la carte meal was included in the cost of the tour. The bird call happens at dinner each night and mostly the day finishes at 8-8.30 pm.


Travel on the first tour was in a comfortable Hyundai van and for the Kununurra charter in a Landrover Discovery.




This trip is the closest that I have come to an African safari-style holiday in Australia. The early starts, breakfast and lunch in the bush and there was always something to look at – birds, scenery, the open road stretching away into the distance. The one thing that was missing was that coveted afternoon nap!


Mike is a very knowledgeable guide with keen eyes and ears to spot, locate and identify the birds, animals and reptiles of the Top End. He is also one of the hardest working guides that I know. Mike gets up early and is always on time to collect us and the luggage before heading off for another day out. He does the lion’s share of the preparation and cleaning up of breakfast and lunch. In between, he leads the walks, guides, shops for supplies along the way, does the check-ins and is always and unfailingly good-humoured.



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Thanks for sharing @@Treepol, this brought back great memories and gives me some interesting ideas for if/when we get back to this area.

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