Down At the Water Hole


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Oceania » Australia
July 14th 2018
Published: July 14th 2018
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About 30km to the south of the town of Pine Creek along the Stuart Highway towards Katherine is the Fergusson River which runs under the highway. In the wet season it’s a proper river, but in the dry season (which is now) the river doesn’t flow and is reduced to a series of pools which are the only real water source for miles. I had heard that this was a particularly good spot to see birds at dawn coming down to drink and before leaving Pine Creek we went down to have a look at the river at dawn. My primary target being the elusive Gouldian Finch with other species like cockatiels being targets too.



There were lots of finches coming down to drink: Double-barred, Masked, Crimson, and Long-tailed. And various other birds as well. Then suddenly, as I was looking at the various finches a flash of colour and three Gouldian Finches appeared! I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Three actual live Gouldian Finches right there! They showed really nicely flying up and down between some overhanging paperbark trees and a little beach area by the water before flying off. I even managed to get some pictures of them along with the group of masked finches that they were hanging out with. Really lovely sighting. Amazing stuff. I genuinely thought I would miss Gouldian Finches, they’re just so sparsely distributed and nomadic that they’re really quite difficult to actually find so I’m extremely pleased to have seen this group of three.

I did see another kind of finch as well, but I didn’t see it clearly enough to be sure of what it was. I suspect maybe Star Finch, but there were just heaps of finches around (and of course when I say finches here, I’m aware that they’re all waxbills and I actually really like waxbills. A little bit later a couple who were camping a bit further down the river to collect some pots that they had left to trap freshwater prawns and said that there was a Freshwater Crocodile that lived up the river a bit. I had seen plenty of saltwaters, but I rather liked the idea of seeing a freshwater so I went up the river and found the rather large pool where it lived. It was very wary and wouldn’t stay visible at the surface for very long at all, but nice to see. There were loads of archerfish in the water too which are cool. No Cockatiels showed up that morning which would have been a nice bird to see; I quite like the idea of seeing common aviary pet birds in the wild like the Gouldians. But I’m not complaining, that Gouldian sighting was amazing.

After a couple of hours birding at the ‘river’ we headed back to Pine Creek to check out, but before leaving the town I had another look in the park in the middle of town to see the Hooded Parrots again. This time, I found them roosting and feeding a bit in one of the trees and there was a male and two females. They just sat there, moving around along the branches a little bit and posed perfectly for great views and ideal pictures, better than the ones on the ground yesterday. So that was really nice.

Our next stop was another onen-night stay at Litchfield National Park which is along the road back to Darwin (and after this I have a couple of days more in Darwin before flying on to Cairns). Litchfield is not a park that normally features on the birding radar much and birders don’t generally visit because it lacks many of the endemics of Kakadu and has similar birds to sites around Darwin itself. This was a stop because Litchfield National Park is a place that my aunt particularly wanted to visit and it is a park that’s know for two things, both of which are quite cool. They are: the huge impressive waterfalls that fall a long distance off the sandstone massif that dominates Litchfield National Park, as well as the Magnetic Termite Mounds. The latter are a huge long row of termite mounds stretching out into the distance that are flat in shape and all oriented in the same way such that they avoid getting heated by the sun too much. Both are pretty cool things to see, and of course all the usual bush birds are here just like any bit of bush in the area. Red-winged Parrots are particularly common flying around and they are wonderful birds. (It’s probably worth noting that Litchfield does sometimes feature when it comes to mammalwatching because there’s a population of threatened Orange Leaf-nosed bats that roosts in the cave behind Tomer Falls but the roost site is closed to the public to protect the bats. You can see them, but you’ve got to be in the area around the cave after dark for that and it’s 45km into the park so I won’t be able to get them).

I considered trying spotlighting in the area around my accommodation which is a few kms outside the park entrance, but most of the area around is private property for cattle ranching and just walking briefly around I think the only thing around are heaps of cane toads. This particular open woodland type habitat that so dominates the area really has been obliterated by cane toads.

New birds:

Yellow-tinted Honeyeater

Gouldian Finch

Long-tailed finch

Hooded Robin

Crested Pigeon


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