Top End Birding Tour

23 May to 7 June 2017


Part 1: Darwin, Fogg Dam, Kakadu NP, Pine Creek, Katherine.

Part 2: Katherine, Victoria River, Timber Creek, Kununurra.

Part 3: Mitchell Plateau black grasswren flights 6 June 2017: Charter flight from Kununurra to Mitchell Plateau and helicopter to Mitchell Falls.

Pre-tour night
23 May 2017 


Day 1

24 May 2017 

Darwin area:
Mangroves, rainforest, wetlands and Botanic Gardens.
With sunrise at about 7 am, we'll head out as early as we can to bird the Darwin mangroves, concentrating on the most difficult species — the chestnut rail. If we have no luck in the morning, we'll go back late afternoon for the falling tide. The more easily seen species 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 beyond the ocean's horizon after which we'll spotlight for large-tailed nightjar.

Overnight: Darwin

Rufous owl 24 May 2016 Philip Maher

Day 2

25 May 2017 

Darwin area

More mangroves are on the agenda this morning giving us another chance should we need it for chestnut rail. 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

Chestnut rail 23 May 2016 Philip Maher

Day 3

26 May 2017 

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. If we have the energy tonight, we'll spotlight around South Alligator for barking owl, spotted nightjar, northern brushtail and dingo.

Overnight: Kakadu Resort

Day 4

27 May 2017 

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

28 May 2017 

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 of the variegated fairy-wren (race dulcis) 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

29 May 2017 

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

30 May 2017 

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

31 May 2017
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 1 June 2017.

Day 9

1 June 2017 

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
2 June 2017 

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
3 June 2017 

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 head across the border into Western Australia.

Overnight: Kununurra

Day 12

4 June 2017 


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 (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

5 June 2017 


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

Participants electing NOT to take the Mitchell Plateau option finish the tour after breakfast on 6 June and can fly back to Darwin that day if they wish.


Part 3: Mitchell Falls option

Day 14

6 June 2017 

Kununurra—Mitchell Falls 

Today will see us ready for a 5.30 am departure for our charter to the Mitchell Plateau and then our transfers 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

Photo of black grasswren by John Lombard 2016

7 & 8 June 2017: Tour participants are welcome to catch a ride back to Darwin with us. We'll overnight in Katherine on the 7th and arrive in Darwin around lunchtime on 8 June 2017. Email Patricia for details about catching a ride back to Darwin.

Alternatively, participants can fly out of Kununurra.

Part 1: Darwin to Katherine: $4,750 AUD + $720.00 AUD single supplement (23 May to lunch 1 June 2017)

Part 2: Katherine to Kununurra: $3,500 AUD + $635.00 AUD single supplement (1 June to breakfast 6 June 2017)
Part 3: 6 June accommodation/meals $200 per person + $123 single supplement. Cost of the Mitchell Plateau charters if there is 10 participants plus guide: approximately $1,113.00 per person. Cost if there is 11 participants plus guide: $1,012.00 per person. Payload restricts the number of passengers. On 2016's highly successful charter,we chartered one 13 seater plane and three helicopters. Note that AOS do not charge a guiding fee for this day. The charter costs are divided between the number of participants going. Top End tour participants have first call on seats but non Top End participants are welcome to put their names on a waiting list.