Birding, twitching, bird watching – no matter what you call it, it’s a popular pastime among most Aussie travellers. And the spectacular Northern Territory (NT) is a favourite among twitching travellers at this time of year. Whether it’s hiking through paperbark swamps, paddling flooded billabongs or climbing to the top of towering sandstone escarpments, birders go to great lengths to discover the Territory’s unique bird life.
So no matter whether you are an earnest birder keen to tick off new sightings, or simply like to sit back and watch the birds buzz on by with a sundowner in hand, these top NT bird sanctuaries will not disappoint. As an added bonus, they’re all close to great bush camps just perfect for your wintertime escape.
YELLOW WATER BILLABONG, KAKADU NP
For biodiversity, Australia’s largest national park can’t be beaten and with more than a third of our bird species inhabiting the park, the birding is exceptional, all year round. From October to April, wet season rains attract migratory birds to the park’s flooded lowlands, and as the park dries out, the ever-shrinking Yellow Water Billabong brings waterbirds into close view.
You can tick off an enviable list of species here: Magpie Geese, Azure Kingfishers, Brolgas, Sarus Cranes, Egrets and Plumed Whistling Ducks. Comb Crested Jacanas traverse the water lilies, nicknamed ‘Jesus birds’ because they appear to walk on water, while enormous, glossy Jabirus patrol the shallows and White Bellied Sea Eagles complete graceful loops overhead.
Roads, rigs & gear
Kakadu National Park, located 250km south of Darwin, is accessible entirely on sealed roads from Darwin, as is the road to Cooinda/Yellow Water, so is suitable for all rigs, vehicles and running gear.
TABLETOP SWAMP, LITCHFIELD NP
This microcosm of the Top End is Kakadu in miniature, easier to explore, closer to Darwin and renowned for its waterholes that are gloriously croc-free. The spring-fed creeks that tumble off the Tabletop Range’s sandstone plateau nurture lush monsoon forests and fill swamps, luring birds and pleasing the birders who follow.
Begin your Litchfield adventure at Tabletop Swamp, watching the waterbirds that gather beneath the paperbarks, and the beautiful blue-winged kookaburras that range the woodlands beyond.
Next, head for Florence or Tjaetaba Falls and hit the trails in search of the Figbirds, Rainbow Bee Eaters, Spangled Drongos and Yellow Orioles that dwell in the rainforest patches around the waterholes.
Roads, rigs & gear
Located just 129km south of Darwin (a 1.5-hour drive), sealed roads make this all-weather park more accessible than most in the Top End.
The track that climbs above Wangi Falls reveals expansive views across the Tabletop Range too, and the 40-minute trek along Greenant Creek climbs to a heavenly plunge pool high above Tjaetaba Falls that is just perfect for cooling off.
FOGG DAM, ADELAIDE RIVER WETLANDS, ARNHEM HIGHWAY
Originally dammed to irrigate the Humpty Doo Rice Project in the 1950s, Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve is now strictly for the birds. When the rice project failed, the waterbirds stayed and this sanctuary became an important feeding and roosting site for Magpie Geese, Egrets, Rainbow Bee Eaters, Azure Kingfishers and more.
The elevated bird hide at the far end of the dam wall provides good views across the wetlands and is a favourite haunt of numerable finch species you’ll easily spot flitting through the Pandanus Palms. The bird life is most prolific from December to July when the water lilies are in gorgeous bloom.
Roads, rigs & gear:
Fogg Dam is located 65km from Darwin, signposted 10km off the Arnhem Highway. With a sealed road all the way in, it is one of the Territory’s most accessible wetland and the only one you can get to all year-round without a 4WD.
DJUKBINJ NP, ARNHEM HIGHWAY
These fertile wetlands lure a black-and-white brigade of Magpie Geese, Egrets, Spoonbills, Ibises, Herons and Pelicans. A great spot to bird watch is found where the road ends at a washed out bridge over a small creek where there is also a shady camping area.
Roads, rigs & gear
Accessible only in the dry season, there is a rugged track into the park off the Arnhem Highway, 80km south-east of Darwin. Access is only possible during the dry (winter) months and better road access and cooler conditions makes between May and October the best time to visit. Check road conditions before visiting and as this is a day-visit area only, consider leaving your van or camper outside the park.
CASUARINA COASTAL RESERVE, DARWIN
This important shorebird sanctuary that fringes Darwin’s coastline for 8km from Nightcliff to Lee Point, is a top place to watch Whistling Kites, Green Orioles, Red-winged Parrots and migratory red-capped plovers. Tackle the Stringybark Walk or head east to Lee Point to watch the waders and terns that gather in large numbers along the shore.
Beyond its long stretches of squeaky white sand, coral reefs and rock shelves support around 600 species of sponges and molluscs whose shells litter the beach at low tide. Sea turtles, mainly flatbacks, nest in the reserve and there are good picnic facilities, boat ramps, dog-friendly beaches and even a section of sand reserved for naturists.
Roads, rigs & gear
Casuarina Coastal Reserve is accessible all year-round from Darwin.
MEET THE AUTHOR
It’s been over 20 years since Catherine tackled her first Aussie Big Lap and she’s been recounting her travel tales ever since, working mostly with her partner, photographer David Bristow. The couple’s first book – Highway One, the Ultimate Australian Road Trip – was published in 2012.
With a background in journalism, magazine editing and as a newspaper manager, it’s long been the outback office that Catherine enjoys best. And when not exploring some dusty outback track, Catherine and her family live aboard a sailing catamaran in Cairns.