Inala Nature Tours - Top End Tour Trip Report Darwin - Kununurra July 2022
Trip Report written by guides: Angus McNab & Cat Davidson
11th July 2022 - Day One
The tour started with Breakfast in Darwin this morning, after everyone had arrived, we made our move south east of the citys to search for one of the more sought after targets – Rainbow Pitta. Upon arrival we were greeted with the screeches of Black Flying-foxes before we moved into the monsoonal vine thicket. The first birds to greet us were Varied Triller, Rufous-banded Honeyeaters and Mistletoe birds. Before long, Orange-footed Scrub-fowl, Red-collared Lorikeets and Green-backed Gerygone were found as we made our way to the waterway. With Snapping turtles and barramundi swimming below, we watched as Rainbow bee-eaters swooped for food. As morning tea was about to begin, Cat spotted a Pacific Baza, which we watched taking its morning tea.
In search of Rufous Owls we went, unfortunately they were not to be found. However, we were fortunate to find a beautiful pair of Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, Torresian Imperial Pigeons, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Green Oriole, the Bin Chicken (Australian White Ibis) and watched as Brown Goshawk and Black Kite Circled overhead from the Carpark.
A short Drive to the shore revealed several new birds, Great Bowerbird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike,
both of which were quick to depart while Peaceful Dove fed less than 10m in front of us. Our first views of Bar-shouldered Dove were nice after hearing them for much of the morning. The beach was somewhat quiet, but we did see Australian Tern, Striated Pardalote, some Masked Lapwings and the vibrant Brahminy Kite cruising along the dune. A distant Sacred Kingfisher had us wondering through the heat haze but its identity became apparent as we got closer.
To our final destination – The birds were here! A short walk across the beach towards the shoreline we saw a huge line of waders along the beachfront. Hundreds of Great Knots were feeding on the dropping tide. Upon closer inspection, some Red Knots in breeding plumage were spotted hiding in the mix, and as we continued searching Red-capped Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Grey-tailed Tattler and a Black-tailed Godwit were picked out. As we progressed towards the river, gulls and terns were observed flying and fishing, as the tide got lower and lower. As we approached the boat ramp in the final hour of sunlight the place came alive! White-bellied Sea Eagle, Red-headed Honeyeater, Azure Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Eastern Reef Egret (dark morph), Mangrove Gerygone, Yellow White-eye and most excitingly, the elusive Chestnut Rail!
It was hard to leave but dinner time approached so we headed to the bus, only to come to a screeching halt 150m down the road, as Cat spotted a Rainbow Pitta, one of our main targets of the day sitting on the edge of the coastal vegetation. Quickly jumping out of the car we were able to watch the bird as it foraged through the leaflitter
Back to our hotel for dinner, bird list and rest after a big first day.
12th July 2022 - Day two
Another breakfast in the dark allowed for an early drive out to a Dam, famous for its Water Pythons amongst other things. The Dam includes some diverse habitats, two of which we searched. The monsoonal rainforest/vine thicket and the floodplains/wetlands. To start we walked along the Monsoon Track, which was loud with numerous bird calls as we made our way from the carpark. Green Oriole, Torresian Crow, and the chirps of Honeyeaters were what first caught our attention, though it was Varied Triller, Grey Whistler, and Arafura Fantail that were the first birds to be seen. As we stood looking skyward numerous wetland birds flew over, but we’ll get to those later. Continuing on as we listened to, and tried to find, Broad-billed Flycatcher, we spotted a small nest near the top of the canopy. As we waited for its owner to return, we observed both Little-bronze Cuckoo and Horsfield’s Cuckoo, hanging around the top of the same tree. As the owner, a Lemon-bellied Flyrobin returned to the nest, we were able to watch as it also saw the cuckoos and it quickly attempted to aggressively remove them from the area. A very interaction, as we assumed the cuckoos were wanting to lay their eggs in the Flyrobins nest.
As we attempted to head to the wetlands we were slowed by the presence of numerous birds, the first a Rainbow Pitta spotted by Sandra, which allowed us to stand under a flowering gum, which was being visited by Dusky, Red-headed, White-throated and Rufous-banded honeyeaters. Reaching the wetland wall we stopped for morning tea as Comb-crested Jacanas walked across the lily pads, pied, great, and intermediate herons stalked prey, and a Brown Goshawk sat obligingly in a nearby tree.
The wetlands were full of birds, Australian White Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks, Brolga, and a single Black-necked Stork (not a Jabiru). The Hide at the end of the dam wall gave us great views of Pied Heron, Green Pygmy Goose, White-winged Tern and several perched White-bellied Sea Eagles. Though the Forest Kingfishers were probably considered the most stunning bird as they perched on the stalks of Lotus flowers in the full sunlight.
Our destination after lunch was a quick stop at the Adelaide River, home of the original jumping Crocodile, but that wasn’t what we were there to see. The Mangrove Golden Whistler was our target, and although we were able to view the bird, views were limited to glances and a small yellow patch viewed through the vegetation. Despite the limited presence of the whistler we were able to see a young Estuarine Crocodile on the muddy edge of the Adelaide River. Before heading into Kakadu a short fuel stop allowed us to watch a number of White-Quilled Honeyeaters in gums around the petrol Station.
The first of many slightly longer drives and we reached some beautiful Wetlands, our final destination for the day. A nesting Whistling Kite was nice to see as we approached the bird hide, which provided us good cover and allowed us close proximity to many birds. Magpie Geese, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Green Pygmy-goose, Plumed Whistling Duck, Rainbow Bee-eaters all gave great views, but thanks to an Egret, we were able to watch a Black Bittern do two fly bys right in front of the group! The 150m walk back to the bus was slow as we observed some interesting flight behaviours of Paperbark Flycatchers, watched a pair of Rufous Whistlers, and got onto a pair of White-winged Trillers. Leaving is never easy when birds keep appearing; Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Peaceful Dove, Crimson Finch, Red-backed Fairy-wrens slowed our departure, but we had to leave to save some energy for our after-dinner walk. After dinner and bird list a small posse of us headed out on a night walk. It was a balmy night, but quiet for wildlife, however, we saw two Brush Tailed Possums (with a non brushy tail), bats flitting about under the glow of the street lights, and then on our return to the hotel, Angus spotted a Barking Owl perched perfectly up at the top of a dead tree giving us great views of a fantastic bird to finish up another wonderful day.
13th July 2022 - Day three
Today began with a walk around the Bowali Visitor Centre to look for the Partridge Pigeon, and while looking for these elusive pigeons we saw Red-winged Parrots, Diamond and Peaceful Doves, White-winged Trillers, Torresian Crow, and more female type Red-backed Fairy-wrens - still looking for that male…
Our next stop for the day was Ubirr, a very important site looked after by the neighbouring clans of the Bunidj, Manilagarr, Murrwan and Mandjurlngunj people. We climbed up past the remarkable rock art galleries with their spectacular designs of Fish, Turtles, Aboriginal stories such as the Narmarrkkanj sisters whose story teaches about Saltwater Crocodiles and their dangers. There was also the famous painting of a Thylacine high up on a rock face.
Between looking at the remarkable rock art we returned to birding and throughout the walk we saw a Great Bowerbird, Green Oriole, White-breasted Cuckoo Shrike and Forest Kingfisher. From the top of the hill with spectacular views in all directions we saw a White-bellied Sea Eagle circling with a Whistling Kite and as we made our way back down a pair of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos flapped slowly overhead. Returning to the carpark for morning tea we had fantastic views of Crimson Finch in the Pandanus. We were also fortunate to spot a Rock Wallaby high on a ledge between the beautiful layers of patterned sandstone, only giving away its presence by moving slightly as we moved along the path.
Our next stop was amongst the Sand Palms and the Woollybutt trees with their spectacular orange blossoms, gave us several new and beautiful birds including Red-collared Lorikeet, Little Friarbird, Rufous Whistler and finally …. a spectacular male Red-backed Fairywren. A Mistletoe Bird gave us lovely views perched very appropriately on top of a clump of mistletoe and we had some lovely sightings of flocks of Double-barred Finches and Peaceful Doves along the road verge. The iconic Cahills Crossing over East Alligator River gave us fantastic views of large Estuarine Crocodiles and while keeping a safe distance from the waters edge we enjoyed watching a Whistling Kite making repeated dives over the water and a Little Egret fishing in the middle of the crossing. All hoping the local fisherman wasn’t standing to close as the crocodiles edged closer.
Lunch back in Jabiru under the shade of a tree and then a hour to rest in the heat of the day before we returned to the visitors centre to try for the Partridge Pigeons allowing great close up views of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and the excellent interp in the centre. Back at the hotel some of the group did a final lap of the grounds and saw an Olive-backed Oriole and a selection of lovely Honeyeaters, all set to the background noise of the nearby colony of Black Flying Foxes roosting and gently squabbling in the late afternoon breeze.
After dinner we again headed out for an evening stroll, and again found a common (northern) brushtail Possum in the grounds of the hotel. Due to the sighting of the possum we changed direction for a closer view, which put us on course to spot an Australian Boobook as soon as we reached the road. Great close up views were had by all. The next 45 minutes was quiet but after a walk through the woodlands we came back to the road to spot a Blue-winged Kookaburra and hear the distant calls of a Barking Owl. A quick stroll towards the Barking Owl was made easier as it also flew towards us, giving good close views.
14th July 2022 - Day four
Bouncing out of bed and full of breakfast we left Jabiru and headed for our first location of a Billabong. Staying well back from the water we had a good scan of the whole wetlands and it was full of great birds, with two first sightings for the trip of Black-fronted Dotterel and Pacific Black Duck. A tree next to the car park had a lovely Rufous Whistler displaying and some Peaceful Doves meandering around in the leaf litter.
At the area previously ( mistakenly ) called Nourlangie Rock ( Upper rocky outcrop is called Burrunggui and the lower area is called Anbangbang ) we arrived minutes after the gate officially opened and began birding in the lower pathways. There was a cacophony of noise from the Silver-crowned Friarbirds and the Helmeted Friarbirds who were squabbling and feasting in the Woolybutt trees. The trees were busy with action and we quickly sighted a string of great new birds including a Sandstone Shrike Thrush, Pacific Emerald Dove, and White-lined Honeyeater. Making our way up amongst the rocks we had a great view of a Blue-winged Kookaburra and then from the top of the plateau Angus spotted a Chestnut-quilled Rock Dove, a fantastic sighting as the feathers are the very colour of the rocks around it and it was mainly motionless. Winding our way through the rest of the track we absorbed the incredible rock art and marvelled at the phenomenal cliffs and overhangs.
Driving to Cooinda for lunch we passed a spectacular flock of about fifty Red-tailed Black Cockatoos feasting and calling by the side of the road. Finishing lunch we headed to the Yellow Waters
Billabong, and awaited our afternoon cruise. As we looked over the floodplain, feral horses were feeding in the long grass. Green Pygmy Geese and Australasian Darter were observed at close range before heading out for a cruise.
On the cruise, Estuarine Crocodiles were seen quickly, and repeatedly, some around 3.5m in length, many much smaller. Swimming, basking, hunting, they were numerous. Reminding us not to go near the water’s edge. Birds were also bountiful, thousands of whistling ducks, Black-necked Stork, Egrets, Kites, and kingfishers were spotted across the floodplain. A pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles flew past and after close looks at one in a tree, one individual swooped down next to the boat and grabbed a large fish from the water, metres in front of us! We continued to cruise and a small Freshwater Crocodile was seen basking, and a baby Swamp Buffalo lay in the shade.
Another drive was a good time for a nap as we made our way south towards Pine Creek. Guna spotted Donkeys from the window, and we saw a number of other birds as we closed in on our next target, the Hooded Parrot. Arriving in Pine Creek a quick walk through the park and numerous birds were seen, males, females, juveniles, many looking for a drink and place to bathe. A lovely end to another good day of birding.
15th July 2022 - Day five
With a long drive ahead of us we had a quick breakfast, spotted a Blue-winged Kookaburra outside our accommodation and headed straight for our first destination...the Treatment Plant, it wouldn't be a birding trip without a visit to a sewage plant.
The birds were very loud, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos calling from our arrival through to our departure. Within the ponds, Pied Stilts, Australasian Grebes, Plumed Whistling Ducks, Royal Spoonbill and Rajah Shelducks were comfortably sitting and swimming. It wasn’t comfortable for everyone as two pairs of Rajah Shelducks with ducklings of differing ages fought to protect their young from each other. The peaceful doves, Leaden and Paperbark Flycatchers were much calmer. Cockatiels made numerous passes with many small flocks putting on a display. While a lone Red-backed Kingfisher sat high on a perch in the distance. A quick visit to the neighbouring cemetery didn’t provide closer looks at the kingfisher, but we saw some huge termite mounds, and were intrigued by the arrangements and displays in the cemetery.
The next stop, required a short walk along the river to the rocky section upstream. The pools looked perfect, the river bed amazing, the surrounding vegetation still smouldering from a recent fire that cleared most of the surrounding undergrowth. Unfortunately, this may have impacted on our ability to find finches. The Black Kites appeared happy with 20-30 individuals soaring above us and the fire scar. We did manage to find some Diamond Doves and Double-barred FInches but it was otherwise quiet.
Lunch at a shady park gave us some lovely views of a posse of cheeky Apostle Birds and a very close Straw-necked Ibis who gave great photographic opportunities of its iridescent neck and wings.
A longer drive as we headed west along the Victoria Highway providing most with the opportunity to nap during the heat of the day. To break up the drive we stopped and searched for the elusive (Northern) Crested Shrike-tit. Initially silent, the birds started making some noise as there were many gums in flower. Little Friarbird were present as was Banded Honeyeater, the dense foliage hiding its presence until the last second as it flew away, with most only getting a slight glimpse. As we continued to search a small flock of Black-faced Woodswallows flew above us, coming in close to check us out as we checked them out.
Continuing west we dropped in on the Victoria River Roadhouse, utilised the facilities and watched as the Great Bowerbirds moved between the trees at a short distance. Walking down along the old highway we stood and overlooked the majestic views up river. A Freshwater Crocodile enjoyed the late afternoon sun as Little Corellas, searched for places to perch for the night, and Crimson Finches chirped from the long grass.
On the final stretch of the day before Timber Creek we had two side-of-the-road sightings, one was a magnificent Australasian Bustard who strolled slowly away into the brush and the other a handsome sandy coloured Dingo who gave us a few suspicious stares before vanishing amongst the rocks.
Arriving at the Timber Creek Hotel we settled into our dongas and some took a short look around the creekline where the Black Flying Foxes were roosting in the warm evening breeze. The resident Freshwater Crocodiles remained hidden but the ever wonderful Buff-sided Robin did make an appearance, happily foraging and putting on a display as we watched before dinner.
16th July 2022 - Day six
The day didn’t start as hoped, the dry conditions of the previous months limited the presence of birds despite the numerous flowering gums. Grey-fronted Honeyeater were present and were by far the most numerous bird seen, the constant contact calls were 99% of what was heard. Little and SIlver-crowned Friarbirds were spotted as were both male and female Banded Honeyeaters, great views for all. Recent low-level burns didn’t help our chances of finding a Chestnut-backed Button-quail but
we tried nonetheless. With the low level of bird activity we headed to the creekline in search of birds coming in to drink.
Double-barred FInch were quickly heard and that’s always a good sign. Crimson Finch were spotted soon after and then bird after bird they came in. Long-tailed Finch, Gouldian Finch, Masked Finch, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Red-browed Pardalote, all new birds for the trip. Peaceful, Diamond, and Bar-shouldered Dove were also present amongst others. We sat in the shade, traded stories and enjoyed the beautiful creekline until lunchtime.
Back to the caravan Park, and lunch was had in the shade as a Freshwater Crocodile relaxed on a Pandanas and a family of pigs foraged across the creek. A Buff-sided Robin was hiding in the Pandanas, giving some a quick look, leaving others wanting more. Heading along the same creekline behind our accommodation we began the search for Purple-crowned Fairywrens, it was still warm, and very dry. Dry enough that we could walk a few hundred metres down the creekline with barely sight of any water. Buff-sided Robins were obliging with 4-5 individuals being seen as we meandered our way along.
Following on we headed out in search of Finches and Munia. It was still very warm but the afternoon chatter had begun, and Fairy Martins, Tree Martins, Black-chinned Honeyeater, White-winged Triller, and Red-backed Fairywren were buzzing about. We found two finches we were looking for Zebra FInch and Star Finch! We’ve noticed a high female to male ratio in many of the birds we’ve been looking for but we did manage to get a male Star FInch up in a Boab before we left.
The last short stop at a bridge allowed for scenic river views and Purple-crowned Fairywrens. The riverside was very dry but suitable for the Fairywrens, which although being cryptic, did show themselves for the group.
17th July 2022 - Day seven
Picking up where we finished off, and west to avoid the sun we walked the boundary fence in search of mannikins. First cab off the rank was Horsfield’s Bushlark, with multiple individuals flying overhead and dropping into the long grass. It wasn’t long before one dropped onto the track in front of us for a better look. Continuing on, Masked Finch, Golden-headed Cisticola, Diamond Doves, Weebill and Striated Pardalote were heard and seen in the vegetation.
Revisiting another site by request, the early morning sun did wonders for the views The Purple-backed Fairywrens didn’t make another appearance but Fairy Martins, Black-chinned (Golden-backed) Honeyeaters, and White-gaped Honeyeaters were present.
Continuing west we drove towards Western Australia with a Dingo running with us for a while and then sitting to yawn in the sun. Morning tea was to be in a quiet roadside pull off, however, it was anything but quiet. The Bloodwoods were in full bloom and the Great Bowerbird, Little Friarbird, Brown Honeyeater, Red-collared Lorikeets, and Silver-crowned Friarbirds were very excited. An active Bowerbird bower caught our attention as we wandered the surrounding area, the owner watching us suspiciously from above.
Continuing west we made our way towards Keep River National Park, and made our lunch stop at Cockatoo Billabong. The informative ranger station provided information on the park whilst we ate lunch. The billabong was low but retained enough water to keep birds interested. A juvenile Nankeen Night-heron hunted along the opposite bank whilst Red-tailed Black Cockatoos searched for a place to drink. Double-barred FInches were calling and as we searched for them Royal Spoonbill, Plumed Whistling Ducks, Rajah Shelducks and cormorants were spotted at the opposite end of the billabong. The highlight for most was the pair of Australian Hobbies that circled and returned to the nest with food in the local communications tower. We watched as lunch was plucked of its feathers and torn into bite size pieces.
It was finally time to enter Western Australia, after a brief checkover at the quarantine station we
headed towards Kununurra! Our first stop, the sewage plant :) The heat of the day had most birds grounded and we were able to walk the boundary fence peering in at the resting birds. Red-kneed Dotterel, Australian Pratincole, Caspian Tern were all new for the trip, whilst other were just nice to see such as the baby Black-fronted Dotterel, Rajah Shelduck ducklings, and immature Pied Heron.
Our final stop of the day was along an irrigation channel. Although essentially empty, there were numerous birds in the area. Bar-shouldered doves and Magpie-larks were in big flocks of 30-50 individuals but our targets were much smaller. Star Finches were in good numbers, and we had a loose group of 30-40 individuals, hiding within the flock were Yellow-rumped Munia. There were 6-7 individuals camouflaging as well as anything can within the long grass. The birds would fly in ….. land…..and vanish, all in one movement. It was challenging to spot them, but just before they departed for the afternoon, all the Yellow-rumped Munia and a few Star Finches gathered at a highpoint on the grass tops and gave us views to remember.
18th July 2022 - Day eight
It was the earliest start we’d had, and everyone was happily ready to go on time…4:50 am. The hour drive was done with eager anticipation, and arriving just on sunrise the group entered the boat. Heading off onto Lake Argyle as the warm glow spread across the red rock escarpments. Many excellent birds were seen from the boat and on Chat Island. Some of the birds that were new for the trip were Brown Quail, Australian Pelican, Whiskered Tern, Osprey, and the fabulous Yellow Chat. Back on shore at midday it felt like a perfect time for icecreams and we swung into Lake Argyle Resort for an icy treat before hitting the road back towards Kununurra. Five minutes along the road we spotted a pair of fabulous Spinifex Pigeons with their crests standing proud and whilst we were enjoying looking at them some Yellow-throated Minors flitted through the trees. Grabbing some lunch we rested in the cool of our rooms for an hour and then headed out to the edge of the local wetland. From the boat ramp we could spot a nice selection of waterbirds such as Green Pygmy Goose, Pelican, Australian Darter, Austalasian Grebe and Little Black Cormorant and out dancing on the lily pads were the delicate and delightful Comb-crested
Jacanas. Scattered throughout the parkland were many busy Australasian Swamphen and Masked Lapwing and zooming through the late afternoon sky were flocks of up to twenty Red-collared Lorikeets. A final smiley group photo was taken on the shore of the lake and then we began to work our way around the edge of the water. One particularly fruitful corner gave us sightings of Australasian Reed Warblers, Golden-headed Cisticola, Crimson Finch and the small, elusive, and wonderful Spotless Crake and excellent bird to finish an excellent tour!
( A huge thank you from Cat and Angus for joining us on this fabulous tour )