AUSTRALIA'S TOP END
BIRDING WITH A CAMERA (BwC) Tour
This tour focuses on photographing the wildlife of the Top End, the most diverse part of the Northern Territory. It is home to some truly spectacular birds, including the gorgeous Gouldian Finch, the delightful Purple-crowned Fairywren, the glistening Rainbow Pitta, and the ultramarine Hooded Parrot.Along with these “prize-winning” birds is a fascinating landscape comprising of wet monsoon forests, dry Eucalypt savannah and stunning sandstone canyons, in addition to some truly fascinating Aboriginal culture, including the ancient aboriginal rock galleries of Nourlangie Rock in Kakadu.
Day 1: Arrival in Darwin. The tour starts at 2pm. Our first day in the Top End will see us visiting a number of easily accessible monsoon forest photography sites close to Darwin as well as the mangroves and mudflats of Buffalo Creek, where we will be shooting shorebirds along with gulls and egrets. We should also shoot our first Agile Wallabies this afternoon. We spend the first night in Darwin.
Day 2: East Point to Victoria River. Dawn will see us at East Point having breakfast in the field. As soon as it gets light, we begin shooting the skulking Rainbow Pittas and Arafura Fantails as well as more common birds like the Green Figbirds. We will also spend time with the cryptic patterned Bush Thick-knee and plenty of Agile Wallabies in good light.
After the light conditions get too strong, we head south into the grassland savanna of northern Australia. Here the photography changes from being opportunist to very site specific. We will be stopping on the way for any raptors or drip sites the guides know, but will be concentrating on the waterholes where birds come in this very dry time of the year. We will arrive in the late afternoon with perfect light for the many corellas and cockatoos that gather at the edge of the Victoria River and some great landscape photography opportunities. At some point in the late afternoon we will also concentrate on snapping some great shots of the stunning Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens. We will spend the night at Victoria River Roadhouse.
Day 3: Katherine to Timber Creek. Today we’ll drive to Timber Creek for a two-night stay, but not before spending time at dawn around a local waterhole for our first shot at the stunning Gouldian Finch, as well as Long-tailed and Masked Finches too. En-route to Timber Creek there will be chances for more specialties, like Buff-sided Robin and the gorgeous Purple-crowned Fairywren. Two nights will be spent in a motel in the tiny Outback town of Timber Creek.
Day 4: Timber Creek. This town is in the heart of finch country; up to nine species can be found in this area, with the key species being the local Yellow-rumped Mannikin and Star Finch in particular. There will also be chances at Black-tailed Treecreeper, and Bar-breasted and Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters there too, all northern specialties. The shooting here is walking or driving along until the guide locates a group of birds worth targeting. There is a little monsoon photography where even in the middle of the day, the shade makes photography productive. Photo targets in here include the Buff-sided Robin and Freshwater Crocodiles.
Day 5: Timber Creek to Top Springs. We start the day in at a wetland area that often hosts a myriad waterbirds, including Brolga (an endemic Australian crane species), Radjah Shelduck and Australian Darter. Along with these guys, we should also pick up photos of Magpie-Geese, Pied Herons, Green Pygmy-Geese, and maybe a Buff-banded Rail or White-browed Crake scurrying out of the reeds. We will arrive at Top Springs in time for an afternoon search for the rare Gray Falcon and unpredictable Ground Cuckooshrike, as well as Australian Bustard and Australian Pratincole.One night will be spent in a small motel within remote Top Springs, in the heart of Australia’s Outback.
Day 6: Top Springs to Pine Creek. After some further time around Top Springs in the morning, photographing the striking Spinifex Pigeon, Banded Honeyeater and the “Golden-backed” form of Black-chinned Honeyeater (a likely split), Varied Lorikeet, and Paperbark Flycatcher; we’ll head back north to the edge of Kakadu National Park. In the afternoon, we will concentrate around the tiny town of Pine Creek, where Hooded Parrots will be the main focus, but can also spend time photographing other Outback species like Red-winged Parrot, Cockatiel, and Broad-billed Flycatcher. A single night will be spent in Pine Creek.
Day 7: Pine Creek to Kakadu NP. Depending on how we have gone with the Hooded Parrot, we will either spend more time around Pine Creek shooting it, or having an early morning start to get up to a spinifex escarpment before the day heats up, and have our best shot at Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon and Partridge Pigeon. In the afternoon, we shall head north to Cooinda Lodge in Kakadu National Park, stopping for more specialties along the way, such as Silver-backed Butcherbird and Northern Rosella. While Great Bowerbirds are common in the Top End, and are sure to have been seen by then, we will stop off at a fascinatingly decorated bower for the species, if needed. Once in Kakadu, we will take a leisurely boat trip into the Yellow Waters billabong that is just brilliant for bird photography as well as guaranteed shots of massive and menacing Saltwater Crocodiles. Some of our main target species will be Azure, Sacred, and Little Kingfishers (the latter difficult elsewhere in Australia), 3 species if ibis, Black-necked Stork, Plumed Whistling-Duck, Nankeen Night-Heron, Pied Heron, and Comb-crested Jacana. The night will be spent in Kakadu.
Day 8: Nourlangie Rock (Kakadu NP) to Darwin. We have a morning boat rip planned to see if we can rack up more shots of the kingfishers, but if we have done very well the afternoon before, we will instead head directly into the heart of Aboriginal country in Kakadu. Our first stop will be the mighty sandstone outlier of Nourlangie Rock, part of the Arnhem Land Escarpment. Among Nourlangie’s many attractions are its extensive galleries of aboriginal art dating back thousands of years, and also the scenically impressive blood-red sandstone cliffs that form this mighty outcrop. There are a number of local specialties; the beautiful Black-banded Fruit-Dove inhabits the monsoon forest surrounding the base along with a rare kangaroo called the Black Wallaroo. Regardless of if we start at dawn here, or do the boat trip beforehand, we will spend ample time here to photograph the landscape and artwork before heading back to Darwin. Some people may wish to take an evening flight from Darwin to the east coast, others may want to spend the final night in Darwin before heading home or east.
Day 9: Departure from Darwin. Depending on flight schedules, we may have time for some birding near Darwin before we depart.
PACE: Moderate. This is a fast-paced trip that tries to maximize the number of sites covered and therefore wildlife photographed. Breakfasts are typically packed and taken in the field at around 5:00am-5: 30am each day. As there are many long drives on this tour to get to the well separated Outback sites, there is limited downtime at hotels in the middle of the day, as this time is usually downtime in the vehicle, with birding stops along the way too. There are drives of between three and five hours on six of the days, although these are drives where some photography is planned along the way, and passes through excellent habitat, so they are done with plentiful stops.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most of the photography is done from flat or slightly inclined roads or dirt tracks, and there are no high elevations on this tour. The toughest aspects of the tour are high temperatures and long drives, though walking-wise, this is an easy tour.
CLIMATE: Hot and usually dry (except in Darwin, where it can be humid too), with little rain expected. The high temperatures in Darwin at this time of year, are 84 Fahrenheit/29 Celsius, with humidity usually in excess of 80%. In Kakadu the atmosphere is drier, but with average high temperatures reaching 96 Fahrenheit/36 Celsius at this time.
ACCOMMODATION: Moderate to very good. In Darwin we use a modern, business-style, hotel, although in the remote parts of the Outback (e.g. Timber Creek and Top Springs), we will be using simple Australian motels. These are similar in style to American motels, but generally have smaller rooms, although all places have private bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24-hour electricity.
PHOTOGRAPHY: There are no feeder sites on this tour, and so any photography is opportunistic, although many Australian birds are quite approachable and photogenic. The exception to this rule is the waterholes and water drips where the birds are concentrated and we spend a lot of time waiting for them to come in and drink.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for entry into Australia, which must be valid for at least six months beyond your departure. All visitors must obtain a visa or travel authorization in advance, however, this can usually be done online fairly painlessly; check the Australian immigration website, or ask our office staff for help if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from night of day 1 through to night of day 8; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 9 (if you have an early flight on this day, you may miss the included breakfast); safe drinking water between meals; most hotels in Australia provide a kettle and tea and coffee; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the night of day 8; transfer by taxi to the airports at the start and end of the tour; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle driven by the tour leader; one boat trip at Yellow Waters, Kakadu on the afternoon of day 7 (this is on a large, spacious official park boat, shared with other tourists); entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; international flights; excess baggage fees; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.