Saturday 26 July 2014

Australia Trip - Day Three: Birding around Darwin & the Casuarina Coastal Reserve

Following the celebrations of the day before we decided to take it easy today and check out the fantastic birdlife around Darwin once more. Whilst the City obviously takes it's name from one of my ultimate heros, Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist never actually visited the area. It was instead named in honour of him by his friend and former shipmate John Clements Wickham following the third voyage made by HMS Beagle to Australia in 1839. Darwin himself actually visited Australia on the second expedition on board the same vessel during 1836. At this time he spend two months visiting Sydney, the inland settlement of Bathurst, Hobart Town on Tasmania and King George's Sound in Western Australia.

Ship Bell Chime - Darwin
Commissioned in 2009 to celebrate the birth of
Charles Darwin 200 years before in 1809.

We initially ventured down to the harbour area where we stumbled upon a Black Flying Fox roost. This species is one on the largest bats in the World and it was amazing to see them hanging around in one of the most populated areas of the city next to a busy road. Around the harbour a number of Masked Lapwing were seen as were a large gathering of White-breasted Woodswallow. Both Collared Kingfisher and Sacred Kingfisher were nice to see fishing along the shoreline and a couple of familiar Common Sandpiper were flushed from the rocks. Other species of note included 16 Little Black Cormorant, an adult Striated Heron and 2 Gull-billed Tern. Amongst the coastal vegetation a pair of Varied Triller were great to see along with a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and the odd Australasian Figbird

Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus)
Darwin Harbour, NT.
Photo by Adam Archer

We then headed back to the digs for breakfast where we enjoyed both White-bellied Sea Eagle and a stunning adult Brahminy Kite from the comfort of the balcony as we munched our cereals. I then ventured out of town towards Casuarina Coastal Reserve whilst Nadia crawled back into bed. Her bridesmaid duties from the day before had obviously taken their toll.

To be honest by the time I got to Lee Point I was wishing that I had gone back to bed too. The late morning temperature was stifling, the heat haze was horrendous and to make matters worse the tide was way out. Around the corner at Buffalo Creek I was told by a local fisherman that a couple of large Estuarine Crocodiles had been spotted earlier that morning and to be careful if I was walking amongst the mangroves. Needless to say I heeded the advice and positioned myself just above the tideline to scan the vegetation. Amongst the darkness of the muddy mangroves I eventually spotted a superb male Red-headed Honeyeater and Northern Fantail zipped through. Overhead, Black Kites were numerous whilst the odd Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea Eagle also showed well in the hope that one of the anglers might throw them a fish or two.

I decided to head back into Darwin and convince Nadia to return with me later in the day when the tide would be in and the heat would not be so unbearable.

Black Kite (Milvus migrans affinis)
Buffalo Creek, Casuarina Coastal Reserve, NT.
Photo by Adam Archer

As planned, we returned back to Buffalo Creek during the late afternoon. On our way we spotted a trio of Red-tailed Black Cockatoo flying east over Lee Point Road. This huge, noisy parrot is a sight to behold and probably has the most relaxed, graceful flight of any bird I have seen anywhere around the world. Along Buffalo Creek Road we spotted a White-bellied Sea Eagle perched up being mobbed by our first Torresian Crows. Around Buffalo Creek itself the tide was well in but this seemed to have attracted a wild bunch of drug-crazed beach bums. The Police were onsite to try and convince them that messing around at the edge of the creek may result in a lost limb or two but they continued anyway. Any white dude sporting dreadlocks deserves to be eaten by a crocodile though in my opinion!

Adult White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)
Buffalo Creek Road, Casuarina Coastal Reserve, NT.
Photo by Adam Archer

With all the drama down at the boat ramp there was no chance of us connecting with an elusive Chestnut Rail so we turned our attention to the beach. At first glance it all appeared rather quiet but a quick scan through the scope proved otherwise. There was a single Australian Pied Oystercatcher, 12 Masked Lapwing, 6 Pacific Golden Plover, a couple of Mongolian Plover, 4 Whimbrel and a scattering of Sanderling. The highlight however was a total of 16 Red-capped Plover, the Australian equivalent of our Kentish Plover over in Europe.

Roosting along a nearby sandbank were 28 Australian Pelican surrounded by 30 Gull-billed Tern, 7 Crested Tern, 14 Lesser Crested Tern, a single Caspian Tern and a number of Silver Gull. There were also large numbers of Intermediate Egret along with the odd Little Egret fishing in the shallows.

Nadia scanning for shorebirds near Buffalo Creek.
Photo by Adam Archer

Me enjoying my first ever Red-capped Plover.
Buffalo Creek, Casuarina Coastal Reserve.
Photo by Nadia Shaikh

On our return we stopped off at various points along Buffalo Creek Road where we saw our first Red-winged Parrot (male) of the trip along with the odd Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. Along Lee Point Road near the suburbs of Wanguri, Nadia spotted an Eastern Osprey perched up, whilst further along we encountered a large gathering of Galah (a parrot made famous in Britain by Alf Stewart of 'Home & Away' fame) feeding in a weedy field along with a few Straw-necked Ibis and a flock of Magpie-lark.

As dusk approached we made our way back to Darwin and headed to Woolworths (yes folks it still exists in Australia) to pick up some supplies. Even a usually mundane shopping trip in the middle of a city is a treat for any wildlife enthusiast down under though. A number of huge Black Flying Foxes were flapping around the car park and just over the road along Peel Street thousands of Red-collared Lorikeets were flying in to roost in a single tree. The sight of this many gaudy looking birds together was awesome if not a little deafening. A marvellous end to another fantastic day on the other side of the planet!  

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