Tour leaders: Philip Maher & Patricia Maher
Australian Ornithological Services Pty Ltd
Top End Birding Tour Report
05 May to 19 May 2021
(18 & 19 May were traveling back to Darwin days and not officially part of the tour).
This Top End tour spanned sixteen days including one and a half days travelling back to Darwin from Kununurra. We did a little birding en route to Darwin. Trisha and I have been doing this tour just about annually since 1988, and on the odd occasion, twice a year.
Places visited included Darwin, Fogg Dam, Kakadu, Pine Creek, Katherine, Victoria River, Timber Creek, Kununurra, Wyndham and Mitchell Plateau.
The birding around Darwin was some of the best I have experienced in that locality. So good was the birding, it took us an hour to move on from the Casurina Beach car park.
We did well in the Darwin mangroves, seeing three chestnut rails and the white-breasted whistler on our first attempt. The white-breasted whistler is a scarce bird around Darwin. The little kingfisher was another good bird out at Howard Springs. We had some fun trying to get photos of the rainbow pitta out there. Who could forget both barking and rufous owls in the Darwin Botanic Gardens and the rose-crowned fruit-dove.
Kakadu NP, on the other hand, was a challenge and we had to work hard to see the endemics, but we got them in the end. We finished up having great looks at the three pigeons plus white-lined honeyeater and sandstone shrike thrush with a good dose of luck. The three pigeons in Kakadu, black-banded fruit-dove, chestnut-quilled rock-pigeon and the red eyed form of partridge pigeon have become scarce in the park, particularly the latter two. The black-banded fruit-dove has always been a bit of a challenge to find as they follow the fruiting fig trees, although it has probably declined as well. The other two have definitely declined over the last couple of decades. There have been many poor Wet seasons in the Top End over that period that have led to extensive fires burning into places around the escarpment that should probably not be burnt, or at least not regularly. This is causing problems for many species in the park, both birds and mammals.
The white-throated grasswren, one of the most impressive birds in Australia that we saw regularly in Kakadu for twenty years, is now a rarity in the park. The few areas where it’s extant can no longer be accessed within the park.
There were a couple of tawny grassbirds, a species I’d not seen there previously, on the South Alligator floodplain this year. The Top End had recorded a good Wet season with some late rain in April. Pretty much the whole Top End was still green and lush, more like the Wet season than the Dry. I suspect this was the reason the tawny grassbirds were still out on the floodplain. After much effort we also managed to identify a couple of zitting cisticola on the floodplain. It is quite a challenge to identify this species in the dry season. Again, I think the late Wet was a big factor in our success.
The big Wet season had its drawbacks though, as it meant that all the waterbirds were spread far and wide across the country. We probably saw the lowest numbers of magpie geese we have ever seen in the Top End and we completely missed hardhead on the tour for, I think, the first time ever.
We had some great encounters with northern rosellas in Kakadu this year. They were seemingly everywhere and by far the most I’ve seen in the park. Some years they can be a tough bird to see anywhere in the Top End.
One of Australia’s most impressive snakes, the black-headed python was also spotlighted near Cooinda.
The Pine Creek area was brilliant and it’s great to see the hooded parrots thriving in the town. Gouldian finches were doing well south of Pine Creek. Nice flocks of juveniles were seen, as well as beautiful adults in the late afternoon along with masked and long tailed finches.
We had good luck south of Katherine as well, finding a male northern shrike tit, more or less by chance. In the last hour or so of the day we had the shrike tit, long tailed and masked finches, golden backed honeyeater, varied sittella, black tailed treecreeper (which was the bird we originally pulled up for) and flushed up a little buttonquail. It really was a magic hour. This was the only locality we saw the treecreeper this year, which is a worry as in the past we have had multiple sightings in several localities.
We had some fun with red backed buttonquail down the Buntine Highway, southwest of Katherine. There were at least four males calling in the late afternoon around a swampy depression but try as we might we could not lure them out or flush them. We managed one brief view in flight.
Timber Creek was fantastic as usual, and we had a great time south of the town seeing a least seven species of grass finches including yellow rumped and pictorella mannikins and Gouldian finches. Hooded robins, golden-backed honeyeaters, varied sittella and spinifex pigeon were also seen in this area. There were plenty of red backed fairywrens as well but the coloured males were scarce with not a single coloured male was seen on the entire tour.
Who could forget the spotted nightjar we put up in the stony hills near Timber Creek that landed on a low branch of a tree and allowed us to get within five metres. This is the first time I have ever seen this species land in a tree during the day.
We had many wonderful encounters with black-breasted buzzards throughout the Top End. Conversely, square-tailed kites were wanting with only one bird seen on the drive back from Kununurra to Katherine. Raptors in general were quite scarce and, for the first time ever, we failed to see a spotted harrier on this tour.
On the island in Lake Argyle, we saw forty or so yellow chats and had fun flushing up buttonquail and trying to identify them. There were red-chested buttonquails for sure, and most likely red-backed buttonquail as well, but it was hard to get the binoculars on them in flight. This is the first time I’ve had buttonquail out on the island. It was covered in seeding grasses this year, which had been largely lacking in previous years. Great looks were also had of no less than five white-quilled rock pigeons from the boat. An extraordinary bird. Luckily, we did have good looks at them here as they were scarce on the Mitchell Plateau. We observed only one bird this year whereas in previous years we’ve seen many.
Black-bellied crimson finches were abundant around Lake Kununurra this year. Finches are incredible the way they can breed up quickly in good years, laying four to six eggs and having multiple clutches. Our only white-browed crakes of the tour were seen here as well.
Australian little bittern outfoxed us. We had three males calling quite close, but no amount of coaxing would entice them out.
Day thirteen saw us up extra early for our drive out to Parry’s Lagoon and Wyndham. We piled into the Toyota Coaster only to discover the relatively new bus wouldn’t start. We weren’t expecting that! What to do? A couple of ADF guys were staying in a cabin just behind ours. Trisha asked them if they knew a local auto electrician. Breath-taking luck — they were on an intelligence gathering mission, i.e., establishing local business contacts that could be useful to the ADF — including mechanics and auto electricians. A phone call later, a young, highly efficient young guy and his blue heeler turned up within ten minutes, quickly worked out the problem, fixed it and had us on our way. That was all impressive and incredibly lucky.
The Wyndham and Parry’s Lagoon areas are some of the best birding spots in Australia. Parry’s particularly can be full of surprises. There was so much water out on the floodplain this year that we didn’t have time to fully explore it; it was difficult to find shallow water we were looking for.
At least a thousand glossy ibis were seen there as well as a couple of thousand pied stilts and that was just on the one wetland that was accessible. There were thousands of hectares of wetlands there this year.
The mangroves in Wyndham proved their worth as well. In less than an hour, in one spot, we had a great look at both male white breasted and mangrove golden whistlers, mangrove grey fantail, yellow white eye and mangrove gerygone.
In the late afternoon, just out of Wyndham, we had six species of grass finches including more Gouldians and long tails finches and we finally managed to catch up with star finches which had been eluding us up till then. We had more sightings of spinifex pigeon nearby as well.
Australia must have some of the most impressive finches and pigeons to be seen anywhere on the planet. So, despite an unexpected delay in the morning, it turned out to be a great day.
Mitchell Plateau didn’t disappoint either. We charter a plane and then two helicopters. Pilot log restrictions means we only have about five hours on the ground, so the pressure is on to find our target birds.
We had our main target species, the black grasswren, in less than an hour, with a pair affording us great views and photo opportunities. A single Kimberly honeyeater and a pair of the yellow-eyed form of partridge pigeon were also clocked. Just a single white-quilled rock-pigeon was seen. Other notable sightings on Mitchell Plateau included bar-breasted and banded honeyeaters (both in full breeding plumage), little woodswallow and varied sittella — my first sighting here of sittella. A great end to our birding marathon across the Top End.
One of the best, if not the best, birding destinations in Australia.
Notes on the species recorded
Orange footed scrubfowl Over twenty birds recorded, primarily about Darwin with just a few about Fogg Dam and the top part of Kakadu. Has become more common around Darwin over the last thirty years.
Brown quail: About sixteen birds flushed, one covey of about six in Kakadu. Ten flushed on an island in Lake Argyle.
Magpie-goose: Some of the lowest numbers ever recorded on this tour, only fifty birds were recorded, consisting of about thirty on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu and about twenty on Lake Argyle. The low numbers reflect the big wet season in the Top End which meant that the magpie-geese were spread far and wide.
Plumed whistling-duck: Only about forty birds seen, just a few around Palmerston and the rest around Pine Creek and Katherine. Like the magpie-geese, this species was spread out due to the big wet season.
Wandering whistling-duck: Rather scarce for the above reason, only about sixty seen over Fogg Dam, Kakadu and Parry’s Lagoon. Many more would have been present at Parry’s Lagoon but due to high water levels, access to the vast wetlands was difficult.
Pink-eared duck: Just half a dozen at the STW at Katherine.
Radjah shelduck: Reasonable numbers, about sixty birds seen over eight days of the tour. Breeding at the STW at Katherine where a couple of clutches of young were seen. This species is more resident than some of the other species of waterfowl, hence the higher numbers recorded.
Green pygmy-goose: Moderately common, around a hundred and sixty birds recorded over six days of the tour. Seen Darwin, Fogg Dam, Kakadu and Kununurra. Highest numbers by far on Marmukala wetland in Kakadu. This species is also less nomadic than other species of waterfowl.
Pacific black duck: Relatively scarce. The only place it was at all common was at Parry’s Lagoon wetlands where a couple of hundred were seen.
Grey teal: Only seen at one locality, Parry’s Lagoon wetlands where about a hundred were seen. Not a common bird in the Top End.
Australian grebe: Around a dozen over four days, scattered from Fogg Dam across to Kununurra.
Chestnut-quilled rock-pigeon: This species is becoming increasingly harder to find in Kakadu NP, especially since we no longer climb the escarpment at Gunlom to search for the white-throated grasswren, which has disappeared from that locality. After some effort we eventually located a pair in the Burrunggui area. We were lucky to get them.
White-quilled rock-pigeon: Around five recorded from the boat at Lake Argyle. Scarce on the Mitchell Plateau this year where they were formerly common. The plateau has had several poor wet seasons in recent years. There was evidence of a very hot fire there in the last couple of years that had badly damaged the vegetation.
Spinifex pigeon: Around ten birds seen over three days. The first a single, was seen south of Timber Creek where I have seen them quite a few times over the years. The others were seen near Lake Argyle and a couple near Wyndham.
Partridge pigeon (red eyed form): A scarce bird now in Kakadu NP. It was quite common when we first started visiting Kakadu in the late 1980s. Just seven birds seen on three days, two near the park visitor centre, three near Cooinda (our best views) and two near the ranger station at the south end of the park.
Partridge-pigeon (yellow-eyed form). A pair located in the campground at Mitchell Plateau after quite a search. Normally a good deal more common.
Common bronzewing: Just four birds recorded, one south end of Kakadu the others south of Katherine and west of Victoria River.
Flock bronzewing: A single adult male flushed up from the side of the Victoria Highway about 140 km southwest of Katherine. The habitat looked far from ideal for it. I have seen single birds turn up at odd places over the years.
Crested pigeon: Around twenty seen in the drier country from Katherine across to Wyndham. Seemingly not as common about Pine Creek as they once were.
Diamond dove: This nomadic species was very common in the drier areas, particularly west of Timber Creek. At least a couple of hundred birds seen in a day coming in for water. Seen every day from Kakadu across to Wyndham.
Peaceful dove: Not in the big numbers that the diamond doves were in but still one of the most common birds in the Top End. Seen on every day of the tour bar one when we managed to overlook them. A much smaller bird in the Top End than down south.
Bar-shouldered dove: An abundant bird right across the Top End. Highest numbers probably about Darwin and the north end of Kakadu. Seen on every day of the tour.
Brown-capped emerald-dove: A single bird seen well in a small patch of monsoon forest in the Burrunggui area (formerly Nourlangie) in Kakadu.
Torresian imperial-pigeon: Just a few birds seen about Darwin. Seemingly, not as many about as we usually see.
Black-banded fruit-dove: Tough bird to find this year, just a single bird was seen in a patch of monsoon rainforest near Burrunggui. Fortunately, it was approachable, so we got a great look at it feeding on berries. The species is probably declining like many of the endemic birds in Kakadu. A run of poor wet seasons in the Top End in recent years and some extensive fires may have negatively impacted this species.
Rose-crowned fruit-dove: About half a dozen seen about Darwin around the patches of monsoonal forest or vine scrub and in the Botanic Gardens. More around than normal, probably due to the late finish of the wet season. Some great views were had of them as well. Also heard calling in Kakadu NP.
Tawny Frogmouth: A family group of three was roosting in a melaleuca at Palmerston and a family group of four in the caravan park at Kununurra (although we never managed to find their day roost). The birds in the Top End are minute, only about half the size of the birds in the south.
Spotted nightjar: A couple spotlighted around Cooinda. A brilliant view was had during the day of a bird in the stony hills near Timber Creek. We flushed this bird up by chance but instead of landing on the ground, this bird landed on a large branch down low on a stunted tree and allowed us to get very close to it. It was quite extraordinary. I have never seen a spotted nightjar do this before. This bird, believing it was invisible, afforded us some great photos.
Large-tailed nightjar: About half a dozen seen in the monsoonal rainforest at Howard Springs. Some good views in flight were had. You needed to be quick to see one on the ground.
Pheasant coucal: Just five birds about Victoria River and Timber Creek.
Channel-billed cuckoo: Quite a few around this year, probably due to the late-finishing Wet. Two seen and another heard in Kakadu NP. Another seen a few days before the tour at Casurina Beach in Darwin.
Little bronze-cuckoo. One seen well in Darwin and others heard calling in Darwin and at Fogg Dam.
Brush cuckoo: Numbers seemingly down this year. One seen well at Fogg Dam after considerable effort, another fly-by seen near Jabiru. Cuckoos in general have become quite scarce over much of Australia in recent years due to lack of rain.
Pallid cuckoo: Just two for the tour, one in Kununurra, and the other recorded on the drive back to Katherine from Kununurra.
Chestnut rail: Three seen well from the boat at Sadgroves Creek in Darwin. Gone are the days when we used to plough through the mangroves for days to get a glimpse of this species!
White-browed crake: Three birds seen well on Lake Kununurra The only crake seen this year (some years we have seen four species)..
Purple swamphen: Just a few around Lake Kununurra.
Brolga: Around thirty birds seen from the Pine Creek area through to Kununurra. Quite a few pairs with young between the WA border and Timber Creek.
Australian bustard: Five birds seen between Victoria River and Wyndham. An abandoned egg found on an island in Lake Argyle may have been a bustard egg. They have often been present on the island, although none on this occasion.
Jabiru: Seven birds in total seen over five days. Scattered from Fogg Dam/Kakadu through to Kununurra.
Royal spoonbill: Just three birds seen on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu NP. Not a common bird in the Top End.
Straw-necked ibis: Seen on eleven out of sixteen days, highest numbers in the Darwin area with around a hundred birds seen on some days. Quite a few also about Katherine and Kununurra. Not as numerous as in some of the bad drought years in the south when they were seen every day of the Top End tour.
Australian white ibis: Moderately common about Darwin, a few at Fogg Dam and the north end of Kakadu and around Kununurra.
Glossy ibis: Seen on three days of the tour. Around twenty on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu; four on Lake Argyle; and a thousand or more on the vast wetlands at Parry’s Lagoon. There could easily have been thousands on the vast shallow wetlands at this locality. We could (with difficulty) only get into one small portion of one wetland. The tall vegetation obscured the view as well making it difficult to see how many birds were present.
Australian little bittern: Three birds were calling from a thick bed of cumbungii near Lake Kununurra. Despite all our efforts to lure them out, not so much as a tail feather was seen.
Black bittern: One bird was flushed up at Fogg Dam but was only seen by some of the group.
Nankeen night heron: Around twenty birds seen on five days. Mainly Darwin. / north end Kakadu and a few around Lake Kununurra.
Striated heron: Just three birds were seen in the mangroves in Darwin from the boat.
Pied heron: Moderately common on Fogg Dam and on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu. Good numbers at the Katherine STW. Single birds seen at Lake Argyle and Parry’s Lagoon. There could well have been many more at the latter locality but accessing the vast wetlands was a challenge in the time we had available.
White-faced heron: Seen in low numbers from Kakadu across to Kununurra. Seen most consistently between Katherine and the WA border.
Little egret: Common only at Fogg Dam and the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu. Just a couple elsewhere. Not seen at Parry’s Lagoon where they are seen in good numbers some years; likely they were there somewhere.
Eastern reef egret: Around six seen from the boat at Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin.
Australian pelican: Our only sighting was a flock of around fifty birds flying over the Parry’s Lagoon wetlands.
Little pied cormorant: A scarce bird this year. Around thirty at Fogg Dam and just a couple at Lake Argyle. Another bird was seen at a roadside pond near the WA border.
Great cormorant: A single bird at the spillway at Lake Argyle. A scarce bird in the Top End.
Little black cormorant: Around ten birds on Fogg Dam, our only sighting.
Great pied cormorant: About half a dozen birds from the boat on Lake Argyle; usually the only locality we see this species on the Top End tour.
Cattle egret: Moderately common, mainly about Fogg Dam, Katherine and Lake Argyle. Highest numbers around Katherine (about 100 birds).
White-necked heron: About seven birds seen over six days. One bird in Kakadu; the rest mainly singles between Katherine and Kununurra.
Great-billed heron. A single bird heard only briefly bellowing near Cooinda in Kakadu NP. This species had probably also spread out due to the better Wet.
Great egret: Quite low numbers. Only around thirty seen for the whole tour. Most were at Fogg Dam (around twenty). Like other waterbirds, this species took advantage of the good Wet and spread far and wide.
Intermediate (plumed) egret: Common only at Fogg Dam where around a hundred birds were seen. Just a few on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu and the odd one on Lake Argyle. Numbers well down across the Top End.
Darter: Only five birds in total, located at Fogg Dam and the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu NP. We didn’t spend much time around the wetlands in Kakadu as we had our work cut out for us with some of the other species.
Bush stone-curlew: Around twenty-five in the parks in Darwin where the species seems to be thriving. A pair seen near Jabiru in Kakadu NP.
Beach stone curlew: Our only sighting was a single bird at East Point. This species is still bravely hanging on in Darwin. I have never seen a juvenile bird around Darwin.
Pied stilt: Our first sighting was a pair on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu NP. Around twenty birds at Katherine STW where some were breeding. A couple of thousand birds on the vast wetlands near Parry’s Lagoon, and there may have been many more in this area.
Greater sand plover: A couple on the rock shelf at East Point.
Black-fronted dotterel: Pine Creek STW and Katherine STW —around ten at the latter. A few at Victoria River and Lake Argyle.
Masked Lapwing: Common throughout the Top End wherever suitable habitat occurs. Seen on most days of the tour; highest numbers about Darwin. Breeding at Katherine STW and at Lake Argyle.
Red-kneed dotterel: One of the most unusual sightings of the tour were two red-kneed dotterels on the rock shelf at East Point. Two others seen at Katherine STW, a more typical site for this species.
Comb-crested jacana: Common at Fogg Dam and Lake Kununurra (about thirty seen both localities, breeding at the latter). Quite a few Mamukala Wetland in Kakadu NP and at Lake Argyle.
Whimbrel: One on the rock shelf at East Point.
Terek sandpiper: One on the rock shelf at East Point.
Grey-tailed tattler: Five on the rock shelf at East Point.
Common greenshank: Seven on the mudflats at Wyndham.
Red-backed buttonquail: About four males were calling in tall swampy grass in a wet area on the Buntine highway, west of Katherine. One seen poorly. A very tough bird to get a good look at; almost impossible to flush in tall grass. Another two birds flushed on a swampy island in Lake Argyle that were also thought to be this species. Red-chested buttonquail were also present at this locality.
Chestnut-backed buttonquail. Three birds flushed at two different localities around Katherine. On both occasions they were in heavy grass, and it was nigh impossible to get a look at them on the ground. I think Pete was the only one lucky enough to see a female on the ground, albeit briefly.
Red-chested buttonquail: Some good looks were had of this species in flight. Two or so birds were seen out at the island out in Lake Argyle and around eight in the grassland around Parry’s. It was much grassier on the island this year and it’s the first time we have flushed buttonquail there despite many visits over almost three decades.
Little buttonquail: One bird flushed in grassy woodland on the Central Arnhem Road and another flushed in some sparse grassland in the Parry’s Lagoon area. I think this is the first time I have seen this nomadic species at either of these localities.
Australian pratincole: Migrating flock of around thirty birds seen at Pine Creek STW. A few at Katherine STW. Around thirty birds on the island in Lake Argyle and around fifty near Parry’s Lagoon.
Silver gull: About three birds around Darwin.
Australian gull-billed tern: About thirty birds around the wetlands at Parry’s Lagoon.
Caspian Tern: About six birds on Lake Argyle that must be breeding on one of the many islands in the lake as some of them appeared to be carrying food to young.
Whiskered tern: Seen at three localities — about fifteen at Fogg Dam, ten or so at South Alligator floodplain and around six Parry’s Lagoon wetlands.
Rufous owl: A pair in Darwin Botanic Gardens not far from nest hollow. They were down low so excellent views were had.
Barking owl. A pair also in Darwin Botanic Gardens; the first I have seen there for some years. A single bird was flushed out on the causeway at Fogg Dam. A pair recorded up the northern end of Kakadu. Birds were calling each night at Cooinda and at the caravan park at Kununurra.
Eastern osprey. A couple of birds seen about Darwin. Pairs were nesting at Lake Argyle and on an electricity pylon at the entrance to Kununurra.
Black-shouldered kite. Our only sighting was a single bird seen on the last morning not far out of Darwin.
Black-breasted buzzard: A good year for buzzards with eight sightings over six days. This is probably up there with our previous best tallies of this species in the Top End. Our first sighting for the tour was a pair up the north end of Kakadu, not far from the Ubirr rock art site. Other sightings comprised a single bird near Pine Creek and a single near Parry’s Lagoon. The remaining four (a pair and two singles) were all sighted between Victoria River and Kununurra.
Square-tailed kite: In contrast to buzzard, it was a poor year for this species with just a single bird seen between Kununurra and Timber Creek. (Given this species breeds primarily in southern Australia, it is little wonder that it has declined given the recent run of drought years. They nested for three consecutive years in Deniliquin and raised a total of one young).
Wedge-tailed eagle: Just nine birds seen over four days of the tour; probably around average for this species which is not that common in the Top End. Mainly seen between Victoria River and the WA border.
Swamp Harrier: Three seen for the tour; one over a swampy island out in Lake Argyle and two around the vast wetlands near Parry’s Lagoon. None this year at South Alligator floodplain where we have often seen them in the past. Fairly scarce bird in the Top End.
Brown goshawk: Quite common this year. We recorded twenty-one birds; up there with the best numbers we’ve recorded on this tour. Seen daily from Darwin right through Kakadu, Pine Creek to Katherine area. The highest numbers were recorded in Kakadu NP. Just a couple of birds observed between Timber Creek and Kununurra.
Collared sparrowhawk: Much less common than the brown goshawk, only a single bird positively identified near the escarpment in Kakadu NP.
White-bellied sea-eagle: Quite a common bird across the Top End, ten birds seen over seven days of the tour. Localities included Darwin, Kakadu NP, Lake Argyle and Parry’s Lagoon. The higher numbers were seen in Kakadu NP where it has always been relatively common.
Whistling kite: A common bird, seen every day of the tour bar the first day in Darwin. Highest numbers about Fogg Dam and South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu and Lake Argyle/ Kununurra and around Parry’s Lagoon. Parry’s had the highest number with around thirty birds seen, as well as young birds in a nest in a boab tree.
Brahminy kite: Just two birds seen; one in Darwin and one in Wyndham.
Black Kite: Common across the Top End, one of the few birds to be seen on every day of the tour. One hundred and fifty between Katherine and Victoria River was the highest number of birds. Most of these were around the Katherine rubbish tip. Good numbers were also around Parry’s Lagoon/Wyndham where there was burning off. They love a fire.
Rainbow bee-eater: Common across the Top End. Seen on all but one day of the tour when we somehow managed to see none. Hard to understand as we saw about a hundred on the previous day around Pine Creek.
Little kingfisher: Two birds seen for the tour — one briefly by Annie in the mangrovesin Darwin and the other seen well by all near Howard Springs. Always a good bird to get in the Top End.
Azure kingfisher: Just three birds for the tour; one in the mangroves from the boat in Darwin, one at Victoria River and one at Timber Creek.
Forest kingfisher: About twenty birds seen on the first four days of the tour — from Darwin to the north end of Kakadu.
Torresian kingfisher: Abundant in the mangroves along Sadgroves Creek with about fifteen seen from the boat. None seen elsewhere.
Sacred kingfisher: Few about Darwin but the highest numbers were about Lake Argyle/ Kununurra/ Wyndham with up to ten seen in a day.
Red-backed kingfisher: Four birds seen over two days, all in the Katherine/ Pine Creek area. Seemingly, no longer around at the Fogg Dam turnoff on the Arnhem Highway where it was once regular.
Blue-winged kookaburra: Common right across the Top End. Seen or heard on every day of the tour bar the first day in Darwin when we didn’t travel far from the city centre.
Nankeen kestrel: A rare bird across the Top End on this occasion. Just two birds recorded, one in Parry’s Lagoon area and the other between the WA border and Timber Creek. Probably widespread rainfall in the interior had lured them elsewhere. Overall, raptor numbers are well down throughout Australia after years of drought and poor wet seasons.
Australian hobby. Another scarce bird this year with just a single sighting in Kakadu NP. Another possible sighting in the Wyndham area. Like the kestrel it has probably been lured south to where budgies are currently in big numbers, a favourite food of this species.
Brown falcon: Moderately common with around twenty-five birds seen over ten days of the tour. Highest numbers between Timber Creek and the WA border.
Peregrine falcon: Two sightings of single birds in Kakadu NP where it nests around the escarpment.
Cockatiel: Quite common from the Katherine area through to Wyndham. Highest numbers between Timber Creek and the WA border.
Red-tailed black cockatoo: A common bird across the Top End, seen on every day of the tour. Maximum of 80 in a day between Katherine and Victoria River. A female was seen backing into a nest hollow in a big dead eucalypt, a few kilometres down the Buchanan Highway. The first nest I’ve ever encountered anywhere in Australia.
Galah: Common across the Top End, seen on all but three days of the tour. Most common from Pine Creek/ Katherine to the WA border. Maximum of 100 seen around Pine Creek. Ostensibly, more common around Darwin now than previously. Much paler than southern birds.
Little corella: Big numbers about Fogg Dam and the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu NP. Also, around Victoria River, just a few elsewhere. Flocks of more than two hundred in some localities.
Sulphur-crested cockatoo: Moderately common, seen most days of the tour in small numbers. None seen Kununurra/Wyndham.
Hooded parrot: Up to fifty birds seen around the town of Pine Creek; some nice-coloured males as well. Also, plenty of juveniles indicating a good breeding season. They appear to feed at times on the introduced grasses in the parks in Pine Creek. A couple of decades ago they were quite scarce around the town.
Northern rosella: Probably the best numbers I’ve ever seen on this tour. Whether it was an aberration, or they are genuinely increasing, I cannot say. Around fourteen birds seen in Kakadu NP from the north end to the south but more so in the south. Couple of pairs in the Pine Creek/ Katherine area. Also a pair of the Kimberly subspecies seen on the Mitchell Plateau.
Varied lorikeet: A scarce bird this year with only around a dozen birds seen, all between Cooinda and the south end of Kakadu, but we did get some nice views. A few heard about Katherine. Strangely, none west of Victoria River where they are usually abundant. The bloodwood trees were only just coming out in flower so it might have been a different story a few weeks on.
Red-collared lorikeet: A common bird right across the Top End, seen on all but two days of the tour. Highest numbers in Pine Creek where at least a hundred and fifty birds roost in the town.
Budgerigar: The only sighting was a single bird seen a few kilometres down the Buchanan Highway. There were sizeable flocks of masked woodswallows in the area as well, which is a species with which budgies often associate.
Red-winged parrot: Common across the Top End, seen on all but two days of the tour. Highest numbers (around thirty) about Timber Creek and Kununurra. Many pairs had juvenile birds with them indicating a good breeding season.
Rainbow pitta: Some good sightings around Darwin and Howard Springs — four birds seen in total. Heard only at East Point.
Great bowerbird: Moderately common, particularly around Pine Creek and Katherine. A few seen on most days of the tour.
Black-tailed treecreeper: Only three birds seen on the Central Arnhem Road. Probably the lowest number I have ever recorded of this species on this tour. None seen in Kakadu or south of Timber Creek where there were once quite a few. Some of the woodland south of Timber Creek had had a severe burn through it in the last couple of years, and many of the trees were badly damaged. I had not been down this road since 2018. The severity of the damage to the vegetation this year made some area almost unrecognisable.
Red-backed fairywren: A single brown bird seen in Kakadu. Moderately common with up to fifteen birds seen in a day from Victoria River across to Wyndham. Not a single coloured male was recorded.
Black grasswren: A pair was found fairly easily on the Mitchell Plateau, thanks to David and Mary’s good hearing. The pair was obliging as well allowing good views and photos.
Banded honeyeater: Widespread but in low numbers this year. Seen on eight days of the tour from Kakadu across to the Mitchell Plateau. Around fifteen seen south of Timber Creek in flowering bloodwood. Nowhere near as numerous as they are some years. The bloodwoods where only just starting to flower west of Victoria River, which might account for their low numbers. Some adults in full breeding plumage on the Mitchell Plateau.
Brown honeyeater Common throughout, seen on all but two days of the tour.
White-quilled honeyeater (formerly blue-faced honeyeater): Common throughout, seen on all but two days of the tour, i.e., on the Mitchell Plateau and in the Wyndham area. Highest numbers recorded Katherine to Timber Creek.
White-throated honeyeater: Moderately common about Darwin, Fogg Dam and the north end Kakadu. Lower numbers elsewhere, none seen about Kununurra or Wyndham.
Golden-backed honeyeater: Some good sightings of this delightful bird on the Central Arnhem Road and south of Timber Creek. All up, about a dozen birds seen and others heard. One of my favourite birds.
Little friarbird: A few seen around Darwin but the majority of our sightings were from Pine Creek across to Timber Creek. Highest numbers about Timber Creek.
Helmeted friarbird. Only seen in the Darwin area where it is moderately common.
Silver-crowned friarbird: Seen daily in low numbers from the south end of Kakadu across to Victoria River. A couple about Wyndham.
Dusky honeyeater: Seen almost daily from Darwin through Kakadu to Pine Creek and none thereafter. Highest numbers at Fogg Dam.
Red-headed honeyeater: Moderately common in the Darwin mangroves, one at Fogg Dam.
Bar-breasted honeyeater: A couple near Howard Springs and a few at Fogg Dam that were coming down and landing on the water lilies. Also, two at the campground on Mitchell Plateau. Not a common bird.
Rufous-banded honeyeater: Common from Darwin to the north end Kakadu.
Rufous-throated honeyeater: Moderately common from Katherine area through to Wyndham. Highest numbers south of Timber Creek. Less numerous than in previous years.
Yellow chat: Moderately common out on the island in Lake Argyle, at least forty birds. They appeared not to be breeding this year as indicated by the males not calling much and not being in full breeding plumage. This was probably due to the dam having risen and drowning most of the swampy vegetation they like to nest in.
Kimberly honeyeater: Just a single bird was seen on the Mitchell Plateau. Seemingly not as common as in previous years. There had been a severe fire here in the last couple of years and the vegetation had been badly damaged. As this species appears to specialise in eating figs it makes it vulnerable to poor wet seasons and fire damage to the fig trees.
White-lined honeyeater: About five birds seen and a few others heard in two different localities about the escarpment in Kakadu. Numbers of this species probably down on previous years for similar reasons to the Kimberly honeyeater. The two species are closely related.
White-gaped honeyeater: A common bird across the Top End, seen on all but four days of the tour. Highest numbers of around thirty in the Darwin area.
Singing honeyeater: About six birds seen, mainly between Victoria River and Timber Creek, and one bird seen near Wyndham.
Yellow-tinted honeyeater: Moderately common from south of Katherine to Timber Creek in suitable habitat. Around forty birds seen.
Grey-fronted honeyeater: About ten birds seen in the hills about Timber Creek. We didn’t look for them in other suitable habitat.
Yellow-throated miner. Widespread but patchy and not in big numbers. Seen from Darwin area right across to Kununurra. Highest numbers about six in a day in the south end of Kakadu and Victoria River to Timber Creek.
Red-browed pardalote: Three birds seen Victoria River and Timber Creek areas. Perhaps not as common as in previous years.
Striated pardalote: Seen or heard every day from Darwin through Kakadu to Pine Creek. Few about Victoria River and Timber Creek, a couple on the Mitchell Plateau. Numbers seemingly down about Victoria River and Timber Creek where it was formerly a common bird.
Green-backed gerygone: Only five birds seen in suitable habitat in the Darwin area. Perhaps not as numerous as in previous years. The Kimberly subspecies could not be located this year on the Mitchell Plateau where I have been seeing them for over twenty years.
Large-billed gerygone: Four birds seen all around Darwin.
Mangrove gerygone: A few in the mangroves in both Darwin and Wyndham.
Weebill: Around ten birds seen from just south of Cooinda in Kakadu NP to the Timber Creek area. Numbers down on previous years.
Grey-crowned babbler: Seen daily in quite good numbers from the drier parts of Kakadu through to Wyndham. Highest numbers of about thirty a day about Pine Creek and Timber Creek.
Varied sittella (white-winged form). Good numbers south of Timber Creek with about twenty in a day. A large group also seen south of Katherine and for the first time a group was seen on the Mitchell Plateau. None seen in Kakadu or south of Pine Creek where we have often seen them in previous years.
Figbird. Common only about Darwin with up to a hundred seen in a day.
Olive-backed oriole: About six seen in a day in Darwin, more than I have seen there previously. Singles south end of Kakadu and Victoria River. Three around Lake Argyle.
Yellow oriole: Good numbers about Darwin, Fogg Dam and north end of Kakadu. A few also seen Pine Creek, Katherine and Timber Creek.
Northern shrike-tit. A single male seen on the Central Arnhem Road after we had stopped to look at a black-tailed treecreeper. Always a good bird to see in the Top End.
Brown whistler (aka grey whistler): Seen only around Darwin and Fogg Dam where it was moderately common. Up to ten seen in a day.
Rufous whistler: Widespread in low numbers from Fogg Dam through Kakadu across to Wyndham. Highest numbers about Victoria River and Timber Creek.
White-breasted whistler: A pair seen in the Darwin mangroves and another male in the Wyndham mangroves. A scarce bird around Darwin, much more common in the Wyndham mangroves.
Mangrove golden whistler: One male briefly seen in the Darwin mangroves and a pair seen well in the Wyndham mangroves.
Arafura shrike-thrush (aka little shrike-thrush). A good year for this species. Singles seen Darwin and Fogg Dam and three in a patch of monsoon rainforest in Kakadu. Also heard in another patch of rainforest in Kakadu.
Grey shrike-thrush: Pairs seen most days in dry woodland from Kakadu through to Timber Creek.
Sandstone shrike-thrush: Three about the escarpment in Kakadu NP and another three from the boat on Lake Argyle. A good number for this uncommon species.
Black-faced cuckoo-shrike: Common bird throughout the Top End, seen on all but three days of the tour. Migrating flocks of ten or so birds seen on several occasions. Highest numbers about Darwin, Katherine area and Timber Creek. Up to twenty birds seen in a day on a couple of occasions in those localities.
White-bellied cuckoo-shrike: Not as numerous as the black-faced cuckoo-shrike but still a common bird, seen on all but four days of the tour. Highest numbers about Darwin, Kakadu, Pine Creek and Katherine. Less common in the drier country west of Victoria River.
White-winged triller: Seen throughout the Top End on all but four days of the tour. A single bird seen in Darwin where I have not often recorded it. Highest numbers in the drier country south of Pine Creek/Katherine and west to Kununurra. Up to thirty recorded in a day south of Timber Creek. This species is migratory/nomadic and numbers can vary greatly from year to year.
Varied triller: Common about Darwin, Fogg Dam and the north end of Kakadu. Up to fifteen birds seen in a day. Some of the best numbers seen here in many years. A single bird about Pine Creek was the furthest south we recorded it.
Black butcherbird: Around six birds seen about Darwin in suitable habitat.
Australian magpie: Just two birds seen about Kununurra/Lake Argyle, which is about normal for this species on this tour. Not common at all in the Top End.
Pied butcherbird: Moderately common, seen daily from Kakadu through to Kununurra. Highest numbers in the drier country from Katherine area to Timber Creek. None seen around Darwin or the Wyndham and Mitchell Plateau areas.
Silver-backed butcherbird: A couple about Palmerston and a couple in Kakadu NP. One in Kakadu was a bit further north than where I have seen them previously. The nominate race on the Mitchell Plateau could not be located this year.
Masked woodswallow: Our only record of this nomadic species was a flock of around a hundred birds down the Buchanan highway.
White-browed woodswallow: Just a couple of birds seen with the masked woodswallows.
Black-faced woodswallow: Common in the drier country from south of Pine Creek through to Kununurra. Highest numbers were in the Timber Creek area with up to fifty seen in a day. A good indicator species when looking for finches and other species.
Little woodswallow: Three birds in woodland south of Cooinda, three birds in the stony hills near Timber Creek and four birds on the Mitchell Plateau.
White-breasted woodswallow: Common across the Top End, seen on all but five days of the tour. Highest numbers about Darwin, Pine Creek and Katherine, with more than fifty birds in a day seen on several occasions.
Northern fantail: Eleven birds seen in widely scattered localities from Darwin to Kununurra.
Willy wagtail: Moderately common from the Fogg Dam area across to Wyndham; seen on all but four days of the tour. Highest numbers about Katherine and Wyndham areas with about fifteen seen in day.
Arafura fantail: Seven birds seen over five days. Localities included Darwin, Fogg Dam and Kakadu.
Mangrove fantail: Three birds seen in the Wyndham mangroves. Difficult to see around Darwin nowadays.
Spangled drongo: Seen daily from Darwin through Kakadu to Pine Creek. Highest numbers about Darwin with with about twelve seen in a day.
Leaden flycatcher: Four birds seen in Kakadu NP and two on the Mitchell Plateau. Numbers down on previous years.
Broad-billed flycatcher: Two in the Darwin mangroves and three at Fogg Dam.
Shining flycatcher: Sixteen birds seen over six days of the tour. Localities included Darwin, Fogg Dam, Kakadu NP and Timber Creek.
Paperbark flycatcher: Seemingly a patchy distribution, two birds up the north end of Kakadu, then not seen till Katherine area and thereafter seen or heard daily across to Kununurra. No more than two seen in a day.
Magpie-lark:Common right across the Top End, seen on all but two days of the tour. Probably one of the most common and widespread birds in the Top End. Up to eighty birds seen in a day about Lake Argyle/Kununurra.
Australian Torresian crow: Common and widespread across the Top End. Seen on all but two days of the tour. Highest numbers about Pine Creek and Katherine. Seemingly becoming more common in the Darwin city area.
Apostlebird: Only two groups seen, one in Katherine town area and another group on the roadside west of Katherine (about ten total). Not seen in recent years at a locality west of Victoria River where we used to record them regularly.
Lemon-bellied flycatcher: Moderately common about Darwin and Fogg Dam. A few in Kakadu NP, one in the Pine Creek area and none thereafter.
Jacky Winter: Takes up were the previous species leaves off. First seen on the Central Arnhem Highway, south of Katherine, then seen daily in dry woodland across to Timber Creek. None seen in WA.
Buff-sided robin: A couple of pairs seen along the creek at Timber Creek. I haven’t seen them in the melaleuca thickets behind Cooinda since a severe fire some years ago.
Hooded robin: A single pair seen south of Timber Creek where I have been seeing them for many years.
Mangrove robin: Just a pair seen in the Darwin mangroves.
Horsfield’s bushlark: About fifty seen on the swampy island in Lake Argyle and just a few seen elsewhere about Timber Creek and Parry’s Lagoon.
Zitting cisticola: Two seen well after much effort on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu. A very difficult bird to see in the dry season. The floodplain was still quite lush and green due to a late wet, which would have helped us.
Golden-headed cisticola: Seen daily from Victoria River through to Parry’s Lagoon. About ten on the island in Lake Argyle, which was our highest daily tally.
Australian reedwarbler: Just a few seen in the beds of cumbungi in Lake Kununurra.
Brown songlark: One on the island in Lake Argyle and two on the grassy plain at Parry’s Lagoon.
Rufous songlark. Our only sighting was a single bird seen on the Central Arnhem Highway.
Australian tawny grassbird: Two birds seen on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu, which is the first time I have seen them at this locality. The floodplain was still quite lush and green due to the late Wet.
Fairy martin: About ten birds seen on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu with tree martins, then not seen till Victoria River. Big numbers about Kununurra and Parry’s Lagoon.
Tree martin: About fifty in Darwin and a couple of hundred on the South Alligator floodplain in Kakadu NP. None seen in western areas.
Australian yellow white-eye: About five in the mangroves about Darwin and a few in the mangroves at Wyndham.
Mistletoebird: A rare bird on this tour. Our only record was just three birds seen at Fogg Dam. Numbers were well down on previous years. Poor Wet seasons and hot fires have eliminated mistletoe from many areas — the main source of food for this species.
Yellow-rumped mannikin: About thirty birds seen at two localities around Timber Creek, mainly juvenile birds. Just a few adults were seen.
Chestnut-breasted mannikin: Some big flocks about Casurina Beach in Darwin. Just a few about Victoria River, Timber Creek and Kununurra. No big flocks, which indicates they were probably still breeding in those areas due to late rains.
Pictorella mannikin: Not common this year. A single bird seen in swampy country on the Buntine Highway, west of Katherine. About twenty seen south of Timber Creek including some nice adults. Probably spread out due to the good Wet season.
Black-bellied crimson finch: Common across the Top End, seen on all but four days of the tour. Possibly the best numbers I have seen for many years. Finches can come back fast after a good season. Highest numbers about Kununurra and Wyndham. Up to a hundred seen in a day around Lake Kununurra.
Star finch: Quite scarce bird this year. About fifteen birds including some nice adults were located late in the day near Wyndham and a few were seen on our return journey near Timber Creek. Possibly spread far and wide due to the good Wet.
Masked finch. About forty birds seen in total over five days. This included a total of seven birds in Kakadu in two different localities, ( a fairly scarce bird in this park now compared to thirty years ago). Still in reasonable numbers on the Central Arnhem Road and in the Timber Creek area. Maximum of around twelve seen south of Timber Creek.
Long-tailed finch. Around fifty birds seen over nine days. A pair seen in Darwin, then not seen again till south of Pine Creek. Seen daily in small numbers from Pine Creek to near Wyndham. None seen in Kakadu NP where formerly in good numbers.
Zebra finch. Less than ten seen over two days. A couple on the Buchanan Highway and half dozen near Wyndham.
Double-barred finch. Seen on nine days of the tour but mainly in low numbers (mostly pairs), from Darwin across to Wyndham. Highest numbers around Kununurra and Timber Creek.
Gouldian finch: Around a hundred birds seen over five days of the tour, which is down on previous years. They were probably still breeding due to the late rains and spread far and wide. There have been several poor wet seasons prior to this one that have probably taken a toll on their numbers. Flocks (of up to eighty) of mainly juveniles were seen south of Pine Creek. Ten or so breeding adults were seen south of Timber Creek. Few adults seen near Wyndham.
Australian pipit: Our only records were a pair on the island in Lake Argyle and a couple more birds in the grasslands at Parry’s Lagoon.