Top End Birding Tour

10 May to 24 May 2020

Part 1: Darwin, Fogg Dam, Kakadu NP, Pine Creek, Katherine.
Part 2: Katherine, Victoria River, Timber Creek, Kununurra.
Part 3: Mitchell Plateau 24 May 2020 : Charter flight from Kununurra to Mitchell Plateau and helicopter to Mitchell Falls.


Pre-tour night
10 May 2020
Darwin

Day 1
11 May 2020
Darwin area: Mangroves, rainforest, wetlands and Botanic Gardens. We will head out soon after sunrise (around 7 am) but we will leave our chestnut rail search until later in the morning when we have a falling tide. We'll cruise around Darwin Harbour in search of the rail from a comfortable boat. Other species we may see include red-headed honeyeater and yellow white-eye. Later we'll visit some patches of monsoon rainforest where target birds will include the spectacular rainbow pitta and rose-crowned fruit-dove. Also, here we should see large-billed and green-backed gerygones and possibly mangrove golden whistler. We should get pied imperial pigeon perched on power lines around Darwin suburbs. We'll lunch at the Darwin Botanic Gardens where we'll have a look for rufous owl. Nearby wetlands and mudflats should get our bird list soaring in the afternoon. Collared kingfisher and beach stone curlew are on the agenda late afternoon. We'll witness the sun setting spectacularly on the sea's horizon after which we'll spotlight for large-tailed nightjar and finish our day at Peewees Restaurant, overlooking the water.
Overnight: Darwin


Day 2
12 May 2020
Darwin area
More mangroves are on the agenda this morning giving us another chance should we need it for chestnut rail, in the unlikey case we haven't yet seen it from the boat.  Other species could include mangrove robin, shining flycatcher, mangrove grey fantail and the melodic mangrove gerygone. Pied heron and radjah shelduck should be about and there is a chance for grey goshawk. We will lunch at Howard Springs where we have a chance for rufous owl, rose-crowned fruit dove and rainbow pitta and less glamorous species like lemon-bellied flycatcher and spangled drongo.
Overnight: Darwin

Day 3
13 May 2020
Darwin to South Alligator Village
We leave Darwin this morning travelling east to Kakadu NP. En route to Kakadu we will visit Fogg Dam where the patch of monsoon rainforest is often alive with birds. It can produce little bronze-cuckoo and brush cuckoo, bar-breasted and rufous-banded honeyeaters as well as rainbow pitta. White-browed crake can often be seen on the wetland and we could see our first brolgas here, plus a variety of waterbirds. After lunch we will make a stop at Adelaide River for the stunning mangrove golden whistler should we still need it. We'll spotlight around South Alligator tonight for barking owl, spotted nightjar, northern brushtail and dingo.
Overnight: Kakadu Resort

Day 4
14 May 2020
South Alligator Village to Cooinda
The South Alligator floodplain can be an excellent area for raptors such as both spotted and swamp harriers, black-shouldered kite, brown falcon and black-breasted buzzard, and sometimes a surprise or two. It can also be good for zitting and golden-headed cisticolas and Australian pratincole, and occasionally Australian bustard. The patch of monsoon rainforest at South Alligator can be good for Arafura fantail and cicadabird. We will also visit some of Kakadu's famous wetlands where we should see green pygmy-goose and wandering and plumed whistling-duck. The spectacular Arnhem Land escarpment will come into view today. We will be on the lookout for woodland birds including partridge pigeon and black-tailed treecreeper.
Overnight: Gagudgi Lodge, Cooinda

Day 5
15 May 2020
Cooinda area
This morning we will visit the Arnhem Land escarpment where our main goal will be the elusive black-banded pigeon – one of the hardest birds to see in Kakadu NP. Other possibilities here include Top End endemics such as white-lined honeyeater and sandstone shrike-thrush. Both species have beautiful melodic calls that echo through the escarpment. The Arnhem Land race (dulcis) of the variegated fairy-wren can be seen here. We'll also visit one of Kakadu's major Aboriginal rock art sites. After lunch, we will check out some woodlands for chestnut-backed button-quail as well as other woodland birds such as varied lorikeet, silver-crowned friarbird, rufous-throated and banded honeyeaters and black-tailed treecreeper.
Overnight: Gagudgi Lodge, Cooinda

Day 6
16 May 2020
Cooinda to Pine Creek
This morning we will bird the swamps and lagoons around Cooinda for two of the Top End's more difficult species, the great-billed heron and little kingfisher. This area is one of the best areas in Kakadu NP for turning up surprises, such as red goshawk and Pacific baza. Other species we could encounter here include black bittern, large-tailed nightjar, buff-sided robin, grey goshawk and bar-breasted honeyeater. Later we will travel south to some of the Arnhem Land escarpment country for the increasingly difficult chestnut-quilled rock-pigeon and partridge pigeon.
Overnight: Pine Creek

Day 7
17 May 2020
Pine Creek back to Kakadu NP
An early start this morning as we make our way to back into the Park for our final attempt for some of the Arnhemland endemics. Also, here we seek the oddly proportioned chestnut-quilled rock pigeon, its colours perfectly camouflaged against the rocks on which it lives. After lunch we will leave Kakadu NP behind and head towards Pine Creek. We'll be on the look out for hooded parrot, a quite rare and beautiful parrot that nests in termite mounds and inhabits the stony hills, often feeding in recently burnt areas.
Overnight: Pine Creek

Day 8
18 May 2020
Pine Creek to Katherine
This morning gives us more chances for hooded parrot as well as northern rosella and plenty of great bowerbirds, their bowers scattered around Pine Creek. We will also be on the lookout for Gouldian and star finches. We might also see our first cockatiels today as well as rufous-throated and yellow-tinted honeyeaters and perhaps the beautiful white-winged form of the varied sittella in the dry woodland. Overnight: Katherine

Start of part 2: Katherine at lunchtime on 19 May 2020.

Day 9
19 May 2020
Katherine to Victoria River
This morning we will be on the lookout for the rare northern race of crested shrike-tit, which lives in the woodland about Katherine as well as the golden-backed form of black-chinned honeyeater. Travelling west, we will have more chances for Gouldian and star finches, as well as chestnut-backed button-quail. Budgerigars can occasionally be seen in this area and of course, we will be ever alert for raptors.
Overnight: Victoria River Roadhouse

Day 10
20 May 2020
Victoria River to Timber Creek
Birding the canegrass along the Victoria River should deliver purple-crowned fairy-wren, yellow-rumped mannikin and star finch. These species have declined in number and have a restricted distribution. Freshwater crocodiles are also common in the Victoria River. We then head west to bird the dry woodland for species such as red-browed pardalote and red-backed kingfisher. If the bloodwoods are flowering, the varied lorikeets should be about.
Overnight: Timber Creek Motel

Day 11
21 May 2020
Timber Creek to Kununurra
We have another chance this morning for Gouldian finch — seen in good numbers around Timber Creek in recent years. Black-chinned (golden-backed form), yellow-tinted, rufous-throated, grey-fronted and banded honeyeaters are some of the species that are seen in the flowering eucalypts and grevilleas in the area. We will keep an eye out for pictorella manikin, masked, double-barred, crimson and star finches and the yellow-billed form of long-tailed finch, as well as raptors, such as square-tailed kite and black-breasted buzzard. Ground cuckoo-shrike and hooded robin are sometimes seen south of Timber Creek. In the afternoon we’ll head across the border into Western Australia.
Overnight: Kununurra

Day 12
22 May 2020
Kununurra
A big bird list is assured when we take a boat trip on Lake Argyle this morning. Our primary target is yellow chat. If water levels are suitable this chat breeds out on swampy islands in the lake. Other possible species here include white-quilled rock-pigeon and sandstone shrike-thrush. Short-eared rock wallaby and northern nail-tail wallaby may also be seen here. We'll head back into Kununurra in the afternoon and check out the reedbeds round Lake Kununurra where black-backed bittern (Aus little bittern) is a possibility, as is Baillon's and white-browed crakes. There is usually an abundance of waterbirds and finches about the lake.
Overnight: Kununurra

Day 13
23 May 2020
Kununurra
Driving northwest this morning to Wyndham, we check out areas for spinifex pigeon and finches, including pictorella mannikin and Gouldian finch—if we still need them. In Wyndham we will explore the mangroves for white-breasted whistler, mangrove grey fantail and the Kimberley form of lemon-breasted flycatcher. Later we will visit Parry's Lagoon, which consists of vast grassy plains and freshwater swamps, where we have a chance for Australian pratincole and red-chested and red-backed button-quails, yellow chat and zitting cisticola. Black-breasted buzzard, spotted harrier and black falcon frequent this area; and there is always the chance of shorebirds.
Overnight: Kununurra

The end of part 2 of the Top End tour. Those participants choosing not to do the Mitchell Plateau excursion can fly back to Darwin or elsewhere, or alternatively, they are welcome to spend the day in Kununurra and travel back with us to Darwin on 25 & 26 May.

Part 3: Mitchell Falls option
Day 14
24 May 2020
Kununurra—Mitchell Falls
Today will see us up early for our charter to the Mitchell Plateau and then our transfer by helicopter to the Mitchell Falls campground area. Our chief purpose is to seek out the black grasswren, the most isolated of the grasswrens, which inhabits the boulders and spinifex around Mitchell Falls. The Kimberley honeyeater, a Kimberley endemic recently split from white-lined honeyeater, will be another of our targets today. Distinctive subspecies we may see in this area are the rare yellow-eyed form of the partridge pigeon — the Mitchell Plateau is the last stronghold for that race; the Kimberley race of the grey butcherbird and the Kimberley race of the variegated fairywren. We return to Kununurra mid afternoon, taking in the spectacular view across the Kimberley.
Overnight: Kununurra

25 & 26 May 2020
Parts 1 & 2 tour participants are welcome to catch a ride back to Darwin with us. We'll overnight in Katherine on 25 May and arrive in Darwin around lunchtime on 26 May. Alternatively, participants can fly out of Kununurra. http://www.airnorth.com.au/

2020 tour costs:
Part 1. Darwin to Katherine (day 1 to 8 inclusive and includes pre-tour night)
$5,265.00 AUD per person twin share
Single supplement $752.00 AUD

Part 2 Katherine to Kununurra (includes dinner and accommodation in Katherine day 8 and then day 9 to day 13 inclusive).
$3,264.00 AUD per person twin share
Single supplement: $475.00 AUD

Total for parts 1 & 2 combined is $8,399.00 AUD per person twin share.
Combined part 1 & part 2 single supplement: $1,127.00

Part 3 Mitchell Plateu 24 May 2020
Australian Ornithological Services Pty Lrd does not charge a guiding fee for the Mitchell Plateau excursion.
The cost of the charter is simply split among those participating in the excursion. Cost of the fixed wing & helicopter charter is $1,032 per passenger if there are nine participants
Eight participants: $1,161.00 AUD
Seven participants: $1,327.00 AUD

+ accommodation & meals on 24 May $150 AUD per person. Single supplement of $75.00

Tour patricipants catching a ride back to Darwin with us pay for their own accommodation in Katherine on 25 May. We will arrive back in Darwin at about midday on 26 May 2020.

NOTE: Birders not on the Top End tour are welcome to put their names down for the Mitchell Plateau excursion; however, they will need to wait until AOS know the final numbers for our Top End tour before having a seat on the aircraft confirmed.

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