BC (Before COVID-19) Mike Eaton had arranged a two-week trip with an overseas friend to travel the Northern Territory in a campervan. Obviously this was jeopardized when the friend was unable to travel to Australia, so he asked if I would like to fill the vacancy.
It would be Mike’s first trip to the NT and so he was keen to track-down and photograph all possible ‘lifers’, I had spent a couple of trips there (…in 1988 and 2010) so had some experience of where to look for these but still had a few missing spaces on my list too.
We had to make some ‘adjustments’ to our flight-dates to accommodate for the Territory Chief Ministers date-change opening the NT/Qld border, and duly set-off from Brisbane on July 17th.
On arrival we undertook all the required COVID-19 ‘form-filling’ then made our way to the Apollo office to pick up our Mercedes Sprinter Campervan and drove to our first campground at Lee Point, north of Darwin. A ‘powered-site’ was AU$40/day and we spent the next 4 nights there, virtually on our own, due to the lack of southern ‘grey-nomads’ (…at the time, Victoria and NSW had some COVID ‘hotspots’, and were forbidden from traveling to the NT)
Our first birding spots were the nearby Lee Point Reserve and Buffalo Creek, great areas to see mangrove, monsoon forest and wading species. Mike immediately started adding ‘ticks’ to his list photographing them with his Nikon P900.
On Saturday we met up with Peter Brown, a Darwin resident who offered to show us a nesting Rufous Owl (Ninox rufa), I was quick to accept as it was one of my ‘target-species’ (I spent many hours trying to find it during my visit in 2010)
Early on Sunday we went to the Holmes Jungle Nature Park and Peter introduced us to another Darwin birder, Magen Pettit. Magen helped us increase our lists and gave us lots of useful ‘local-gen’. We also visited the outside of the Leanyer Sewerage-Ponds, sadly now closed for ‘public-access’. Ebird Link
On Monday we decided to try again for the Chestnut Rail at Buffalo Creek, and got there around the ‘optimum’ time, when the tide was falling and there were fewer fishing-boats (…and fishermen) at the boat-ramp. Scanning further up-river we couldn’t help but notice a large reptile basking on the same bank, then to my surprise a rail walked behind it probably less than a metre away.
From here we met Peter and he showed us the way through the mangroves near Coconut Grove, and although the three of us got reasonable views of the Mangrove Golden only I ‘got-lucky’ and managed a glimpse of a male White-breasted Whistler, so we decided to go back there and try again on our return to Darwin at the end of our trip. The afternoon was spent at Palmerston Golf-Course and Mike increased his tally with Silver-backed Butcherbird, Red-collared Lorikeet and a nice male Crimson Finch. Ebird Link
Tuesday saw us head towards Kakadu with stops at McMinn’s Lagoon and Fogg Dam, no sign of White-browed Crake yet but great views of Rainbow Pitta, Paperbark Flycatcher and Little Bronze-cuckoo (amongst others…) Ebird Link
Our next campsite was the Mary River Wilderness Retreat, this is in a beautiful setting, above the Mary River with lush-vegetation, bird-life was abundant and although we recorded 40+ species we failed to find the Buff-sided Robin which apparently inhabit the bamboo thickets around the site. On the other side of the river we took a drive along the road towards “Bird Billabong” and found our first Black-tailed Treecreepers, a ‘lifer’ for Mike and very ‘photogenic’. Ebird List
On Wednesday we entered Kakadu and headed towards Jabiru with a stop at Mamukala Lagoon, it was fairly warm on arrival but there was still plenty of bird-life, several pairs of Paperbark and Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, and numerous raptors including Square-tailed Kite and Black-breasted Buzzard.
We stopped at the caravan-park at Jabiru for a couple of nights as a base for trips to Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock, searching for several ‘target-birds’ (…this time for both of us, as on my previous visit to the area in 1988 it was very wet and I missed most of the area’s ‘iconic’ species) The Ubirr area was incredibly beautiful, however we arrived at the height of peak burning-season which spoiled our hunt somewhat.
Fairly close to Ubirr there are several locations for sandstone-species and in the late-afternoon after walking a circuit at Bardedjilidji I heard an odd-twittering coming from a rock-outcrop and Mike saw something moving in one of the cracks…..our first Sandstone-Shrike-thrush! On our return Mike spotted a Partridge Pigeon on the roadside but it eluded us after a U-turn, however we did see a a pair at the same spot the next day.
The following morning we got up early and drove straight to Nourlangie and as the only visitors thought that we had a good chance of seeing two of our remaining ‘missing’ pigeons, however despite walking nearly ten kilometres through several nearby-sites we failed to find either, although we did get Mike’s first White-lined Honeyeater at Gubara. Ebird List
Some other wildlife that we encountered around the Jabiru/Ubirr area.
That evening things began to look ‘desperate’, so I contacted a couple of my birding mates (on social-media) and asked them where to look for the the ‘elusive’ columbids. Sites at Nourlangie and Ubirr were given and so we decided to go to them early on Friday morning. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Banded Fruit-dove almost exactly where Charlie Scott had seen them the previous year! Given this good-fortune we went straight back to a site that Marc Gardner had recommended near Bardedjilidji. Within a few seconds of our arrival Mike flushed a Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon near where we had stopped to take scenic pics two days before! Ebird List
What an ‘uplifting’ day! Flushed with success we made way to Cooinda (Yellow Waters) campground, but on arrival found that as the territory was heading into a ‘long-weekend’ (…and the Chief-Minister had granted a financial-incentive for all to get outdoors) there were no ‘powered-sites’ available. No air-con that night for us. In the afternoon we took a walk around the jetty area and around dusk were ‘rewarded’ with a new honeyeater for Mike, Rufous-throated, along with Rufous-banded and Bar-breasted.