Thursday, 24 July 2014

Australia Trip - Day One: Birding around Darwin City Centre

Darwin City Centre at dawn from our apartment block.
Photo by Adam Archer

Following a pretty smooth flight with Malaysian Airlines (avoiding Ukraine air space) via Kuala Lumpur we finally arrived at the 'Top End' of Australia during the early hours of the morning. Despite the rigours of spending nearly a full twenty four hours travelling from one end of the planet to the other I just could not get off to sleep. At first light I decided to set up my scope and scan the awakening City of Darwin from the lofty position of the twenty-fifth floor our our apartment complex.

Before any birds actually appeared I was surrounded by dozens of unfamiliar calls. Panic began to set in as I failed to recognise any of them. Birding abroad is often a very steep learning curve. Within a few minutes though I was watching several very familiar Black Kites descending on the city streets, circling and occasionally making a quick grab for any scraps of food leftover from the night before. I then spotted my first Magpie-larks of the trip, followed by a small group of Bar-shouldered Dove and a scattering of wonderful White-breasted Woodswallow. This was enough to solve any jet-lag and I could not wait to get down at ground level to find some extra new 'world ticks'.

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles miles)
A familiar sight around Darwin's parks and open spaces.
Photo by Adam Archer

After breakfast we decided to take a quick stroll around the Liberty Square area before picking up our hire car. Almost immediately we were enjoying Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Straw-necked Ibis and Masked Lapwing all at point blank range, as well as many White-gaped Honeyeaters and a single Brown Honeyeater. Other urban dwellers included a pair of Forest Kingfisher, Pied Imperial-Pigeons, Australasian Figbirds and Double-barred Finches. Back at the apartment a Nankeen Kestrel flew through.

Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca neglecta)
A very common, easy to see species around Darwin.
Photo by Adam Archer

During the afternoon, Nadia met up with the rest of the bridesmaids and her soon-to-be-married sister for a relaxing session at a nearby health spa. This left me plenty of time to explore some more and hopefully acclimatise to the searing heat. The first stop was the George Brown Botanic Gardens on the outskirts of the City. Here I found Australian White Ibis, an immature Striated Heron, several Peaceful Dove and a Varied Triller amongst those species already seen earlier. It was here where I almost stepped on a King Brown snake whilst creeping around trying to photograph the Striated Heron. As it is a pretty venomous species I made a mental note to be a bit more careful throughout the remainder of the trip!

Fannie Bay looking south-west towards Darwin.
Photo by Adam Archer

With the temperature tipping 35c I left the botanic gardens and headed for the nearby coast where I hoped it would be a few degrees cooler. Keeping a careful lookout for Estuarine Crocodiles and Box Jellyfish I decided to take a quick paddle along the beach at Fannie Bay to cool off whilst watching a small flock of Silver Gull. Just inland from the Museum of the Northern Territory I was thrilled to find my first Rainbow Bee-eater of the trip, a species that was high up on our list of target birds. Luckliy Nadia also managed to catch up with a few during the afternoon whilst she lazed around in a pool sipping Champagne!

My first of many Rainbow Bee-eaters of the trip.
Fannie Bay, Darwin, NT.
Photo by Adam Archer

So the first day of 'urban birding' around Darwin was all pretty enjoyable albeit rather hot and sticky. It did however leave me hungry for more. We celebrated our arrival in Australia that evening at the local waterski club with some of Siobhan and Luke's wedding guests. The Barramundi and chips there were delicious and come highly recommended if you're ever passing by!

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