Kakadu National Park and the Top End, Northern Territory, 8th - 14th August 2003

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


by Dave Gandy


Aug 8th - East Point (Darwin)
9th - Fogg Damn, Bird Billabong, South Alligator River area (Kakadu NP)
10th - Kakadu NP (Gungarre Walk, Mamukala Wetlands, Ubirr, Bardedjilidji Sandstone Walk)
11th - Kakadu NP (Bardedjilidji Sandstone Walk, Merl Campsite, Gubara, Muirella Park)
12th - Kakadu NP (Nourlangie Rock, Yellow Water)
13th - Kakadu NP (Yellow Water), Pine Creek, Edith Falls Road
14th - Edith Falls Road, Furgusson River


Vehicle rental is expensive in the Northern Territory, and I had to look long and hard to find anything that was in any sense affordable. This trip was in the dry season, so there was little need for a 4WD (although I was not able to go for White-throated Grass Wren at Gunlom in Kakadu NP as I had no 4WD). I ended up hiring the smallest car I could find, which in the event actually got upgraded to a medium sized Toyota Pulsar. This was booked via grahamrobeson@octa4.net.au at http://www.carand4wdhireaustralia.com. The car cost AU$360 for 8 days, including limited mileage of 250 km per day free. The route I took was well within the total mileage allowed. I also paid an extra AU$160 to reduce the insurance excess - in the event I didn't need this, although I did manage to scrape a load of paint off the car, which I got repaired by a garage in exchange for a case of beer (how very Australian!).

Unleaded petrol was about AU$ 1 per litre (up to AU$ 1.06 per litre in Kakadu NP), I made a practice of filling up every time I saw a petrol station as you could never be sure when there would be another one. The police are meant to be sharp on catching speeding cars, however I never spotted any speed traps or cameras (because I was going to fast?).


I camped every night whilst birding. The weather was very hot and dry, so I was able to just use the inner fly-sheet of my tent as a mosquito net. Camping was cheap (AU$ 5 per night).

In Darwin I stayed at Elke's Backpackers and Gecko Backpackers - both cheap and very basic, but with friendly staff. A bed in a dorm cost AU$ 20 at both establishments.


Field guide - Pizzy and Knight has the best plates of any Australian fieldguide, as well as excellent text and distribution maps.

Site guide - the newly published Finding Birds in Darwin, Kakadu, and the Top End by Niven McCrie and James Watson is an essential guide for birders visiting this area, and has comprehensive details about all the sites I visited. See http://www.users.bigpond.com/birdsnt/default.htm for more details. I bought a copy of this book in Darwin city centre for AU$ 30.

Biters (big and small)

Mosquitos were pretty pleased to see me, but the only times they got bad was around dusk. Flies were a pain whilst birding, buzzing around my head which made hearing bird calls a bit tricky from time to time. "Rid" repellent seemed to keep all these critters under control.

There are warnings about Salt Water Crocodiles at Fogg Dam and all over Kakadu NP, especially at billabongs. "Salties" are the largest reptiles in the world and can grow up to 7 metres - they can be very dangerous. People in Kakadu are particularly keen to make sure visitors are aware of the danger after a tourist was killed by one in October 2002. Do exercise caution when near water as they are very well camouflaged. When you do see a croc keep a safe distance, although they are fascinating to watch, and very beautiful. If you want to get up-close and personal with Salties, take a 'croc jumping' boat trip on the Adelaide River where dead chickens are hung over board on a pole and crocs launch themselves out of the water to grab them.


I recorded 132 species during my trip, but had no tapes or previous knowledge of Australian birdcalls, so was at something of a disadvantage. The annotated itinerary below shows the highlights at each site

Aug 8th

East Point (Darwin): Australian Hobby seen from the car on the way through Darwin, this was the only one I saw during the trip. Orange-footed Scrubfowl two pairs foraging noisily in undergrowth (easy to see).

Aug 9th

Fogg Damn: Brown Falcon seen on the approach road. Rainbow Pitta seen within 2 minutes of parking the car, flying across the road and calling for five minutes. This bird was watched in the same area several hours later as I returned to the car. 2-3 others were herd calling. Fogg Damn was very dry and as a result did not have the huge concentrations of birds that it is famous for. The only water birds of interest here were Straw-necked Ibis, 6 Brolga and an Australian Darter. Walking along the road produced 3 Forest Kingfishers, Rufous Fantail, Restless Flycatcher, Red-backed Kingfisher and Varied Triller. Also excellent views of Agile Wallaby here.

Bird Billabong: White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Red-backed Fairy Wren (all female types), Masked Finch, Golden-headed Cisticola.

South Alligator River area (Kakadu NP): stopping the car and exploring the roadside bush produced Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and pairs of magnificent Red-tailed Black Cockatoos flying over the bush.

Aug 10th

Gungarre Walk: after camping at the South Alligator Resort, adjacent to the Gungarre Walk, I did this trail at dawn. This area had the highest concentrations of forest birds I saw during the whole trip. Highlights included a flock of 30+ Figbirds, Yellow Oriole, White-throated Honey-eater, Blue-winged Kukaburra, 3 Rainbow Pittas (all seen well, with little effort), Rose-crowned Fruit Dove (the only one of the trip), Pied Imperial Pigeon (the only pair of the trip), and Rufous-throated Honeyeater.

Mamukala Wetlands: this impressive wetland had good numbers of waterbirds including Australian Pelican, Radjah Shelduck, Green Pygmy Goose, Hardhead, Pacific Black Duck, Black-necked Stork, Magpie Goose and Comb-crested Jacana. I also saw Lemon-bellied Flycatcher behind the hide

Ubirr: this fascinating rock art site affords wonderful views over the outback forest and wetlands (the latter held huge concentrations of Magpie Geese). The only other birds of note here were a cracking pair of Blue-faced Honeyeaters.

Bardedjilidji Sandstone Walk: this is one of the best sites to see two of Kakadu's target birds - Sandstone Shrike-Thrush, and Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon. I visited in the late afternoon and saw one Sandstone Shrike-Thrush (but only for a minute or so) and had excellent views of Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon on the ground. I had felt a bit uninspired when I learned that one of the targets birds of Kakadu was a pigeon (and a brown pigeon at that!), but I was surprisingly impressed by this bird - a sandstone specialist that has a very partridge like flight and disappears with a whirring of wings.

Aug 11th

Bardedjilidji Sandstone Walk: a second visit at dawn produced 5 Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeons, but no further sign of Sandstone Shrike-Thrush.

Merl Campsite: returning to the campsite to collect my tent, I found the only Partridge Pigeon of the trip, and also had excellent views on Grey Shrike-Thrush.

Gubara: the bush in this area was very quiet, apart from good numbers of Silver-crowned Friarbirds and a pair of Pied Butcherbirds.

Nourlangie Rock: another fantastic rock art site, but no notable birds. However, this is a magical place to be at sunset, with occasional pairs of sulphur-crested cockatoos flying over a seemingly endless expanse of outback forest against the red cliffs of Nourlangie Rock, making this one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

Muirella Park: arriving at this campsite after dark I saw an Australian Owlet-Nightjar on the roadside (the only one of the trip).

Aug 12th

Nourlangie Rock: I did a 12km walk around the Rock (another good sight for Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon, and Sandstone Shrike-Thrush). I saw one Sandstone Shrike-Thrush, but no Rock Pigeon. Other notable bird seen here were White-lined Honeyeater (another sandstone specialist), Helmented Friarbird, Little Woodswallow, Peregrine, Forest Kingfisher, Double-barred Finch and a group of Variegated Fairy-wrens including a stonking male (which was unquestionably bird of the trip!).

Yellow Water: Northern Fantail, Long-tailed Finch, Shining Flycatcher, Azure Kingfisher, Brush Cuckoo, and Rufous Whistler were all seen around the boardwalk.

Aug 13th

Yellow Water: an early morning cruise (Au$40) on Yellow Water produced excellent views of Salt Water Crocodiles and a great variety of birds, including 5+ Nankeen Night Herons, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Brolga, Royal Spoonbill, White-necked Heron and Little Kingfisher.

Pine Creek: leaving Kakadu I headed south towards Katherine in the hope of connecting with two of the best looking, and rarest birds in the Northern Territory - Hooded Parrot and Gouldian Finch. Both of these species are nomadic, although there are a number of apparently reliable sites.

Pine Creek is a small town, which is known as a good site for Hooded Parrot, however despite extensively looking around this area I dipped. The only notable species here were Great Bowerbird and Yellow-throated Miner.

Edith Falls Road: this road is also a good site for both Hooded Parrot and Gouldian Finch - I again dipped on both, but did see a number of new species for the trip including Varied Sitella, Banded Honeyeater, Weebill, Striated Pardolote, Northern Rosella, Red-chested Button Quail, Red-winged Parrot and Grey-crowned Babbler.

Aug 14th

Furgusson River: a final attempt at seeing Hooded Parrot and Gouldian Finch was again unsuccessful, however this site produced several more new species: Red-browed Pardolote, Little Shrike-Thrush, Black-breasted Buzzard and Grey Goshawk.


I would like to thank Niven McCrie for advice in planning this trip, which was a great introduction to Australia and its wildlife.