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Fatbirder Spotlight on… The Top End

?a new Fatbirder series highlighting lesser known birding destinations?

Fatbirder launches a new series of news stories featuring lesser known birding destinations around the world that have been brought to my attention. Fatbirder patrons are invited to submit their own. The very first highlights Australia`s Top End the area of the Northern Territory around Darwin. A recent article (Written in 2001 and published last year) in the BOCA magazine under the general title Travelling Bird Observers by Peter Ginnane from Morphett Vale, South Australia. Contained the following:Mary River Park on the Arnhem Highway is a great example. Close to Darwin, daily service by Greyhound (return), cabins, grassed caravan park and a man who does bird tours by foot and/or boat. He is good. On the first afternoon and next morning I walked along a 2.5 km loop beside a paperbark and bamboo?lined billabong and returned high enough up the bank of the Mary River to be safer from the ever present Saltwater and Freshwater Crocodiles. By lunchtime I had 57 species. After a Mary River cruise with Mike I had 76 species, including White?browed Robin, 3 Great?billed Herons, Black Bittern, Crimson, Masked and Double?barred Finches, 5 flycatcher species, and?seeking refuge from a raging bushfire a Pictorella Mannikin amongst Long?tailed Finches in pandanus and grass in the well?watered park. The ones I didn`t see included nesting white phase Grey Goshawks. Fogg Dam on the way to Mary River and Kakadu and the Mary River Wetlands is another must for a bird observer. Many water, tropical and savannah birds are to be seen. Two specials for me were Rainbow Pitta and Rose-crowned Fruit Dove.Take a look at Fatbirder`s Australian page NT for an overview of the areea and links to specialist guides and accommodation. 2003 could be a great time to visit as one of the locations mentioned in the article, Mary River Park, has a celebration of birding the area which is open to all.Bird Week at Mary River Park [Arnhem Highway, Top End, Northern Territory, Australia] is taking place from 18th to 25th August 2003. This NT Bird Specialists` Bird Week will provide a great venue for meeting bird enthusiasts who would like to experience the birds of the Top End. August is a great time to go birding in the Northern Territory. Birds of the Darwin, Mary River, Kakadu, and Katherine areas will be included in the week`s tours and discussions. Last year`s dry weather conditions, that covered most of Australia, have led to the wet areas drying up fast after this Wet Season and the birds congregating in the Top End have been in very large numbers again. [Mary River park is ever open so you can go some other time; accommodation and guided tours are available all year. See their website at http://www.maryriverpark.com.auSpecialties of the area include: Rufous Owl (these should be nesting in August, possibilities of chicks), Great-billed Heron (easily seen on the river cruise), Black Bittern (seen hiding in the bamboo on the river`s edge), Large-tailed Nightjar, Rainbow Pitta, White-browed Robin, Pacific Bazza, and Grey Goshawk (white phase). [A bird list of 192 species is available from Mary River park].The 6 hectares (15 acres) of landscaped native gardens at Mary River Park are dotted with Darwin Woolybutts Eucalyptus miniata, which produce brilliant orange flowers from June to August. The flowers attract the Red ?collared Lorikeet and 8 species of Honeyeater. As the gum-nuts start to ripen, flocks of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos & Little Corellas arrive for the harvest. July ? August also sees the flowering of the Silver-leafed Paperbark Melaleuca argentea and the Weeping Paperbark Melaleuca leucadendra on the riverbanks, attracting large flocks of Varied & Red-collared Lorikeets. Additionally, as if out of nowhere, tens of thousands of fruit bats arrive to eat the Paperbark blossoms and hang upside down from the native Australian Bamboo Bambusa arnhemica. The Bird Week` is timed to coincide with the nesting & fledging of the Rufous Owls. Fantastic viewings of these large bar- breasted owls with their fierce yellow eyes & huge talons are possible as they sit and guard their nests. Two permanent residents along the river are the Great Billed Heron and the Black Bittern. Both are regularly sighted from our cruise boat. Twenty-two species of raptors have been recorded at Mary River Park, including the elusive Red Goshawk, so with such abundance it feels as if Christmas has come early! Bird Week accommodation, lectures and discussions will be at the relaxed Mary River Park venue, which is only 110km from Darwin on the Arnhem Highway. The Bird Week packages include all meals, transfers, guiding, lecture and discussion sessions. Accommodation is additional as there is a choice of air-conditioned or fan-cooled cabins ( with attached private facilities, linen & towels provided). Powered caravan sites and camping sites are also available.The key speakers will be three Top End Specialists:

Don Franklin has spent nine and a half years living and working in this tropical environment as a wildlife biologist. He has worked with the Parks and Wildlife Commissions in many parts of Australia ? including the Northern Territory ? and with the Northern Territory University. He is currently working on the ecology and management of the Top End Bamboo Bambusa arnhemica. Mary River Park is one of the study sites. Don specialises in the ecology of seed eating and nectar-feeding birds, plant ecology, and the conservation of threatened species. He has worked on the conservation programs for Gouldian Finch for 3 years, Helmeted Honeyeater for 3 years, Regent Honeyeater and Black-eared minor.

Dr Max Finlayson is currently Director of the National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research based in Darwin, Australia. He has worked on wetlands and their flora and fauna in many parts of the world. For the past decade he has been an official advisor to the Ramsar Wetlands Convention with a special emphasis on integrated wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring. In 2002 he was awarded Recognition of Excellence for his technical contributions to the Convention. Dr Finlayson has also been involved in Wetlands International for more than a decade and is currently President of its Board of Directors. His interest in water birds focuses mainly on habitat usage and the maintenance of ecological features that ensure the survival of both resident and migratory species. He also enjoys immensely assisting landholders and managers to develop an understanding of the water birds that use their land and the necessity of maintaining in good condition the landscape to ensure the survival of the species that use them. Mariagrazia Bellio is an ornithologist with experience over two decades with water birds, in particular waders. This has included extensive bird banding in Europe and surveys in and around Kakadu National Park and the Gulf of Carpentaria (northern Australia). Her key interests are ecology and behavioural ecology of birds. She has a passion for learning about bird ecology and physiology and relating the everyday habits of water birds to their survival, particularly their innate abilities to migrate across large distances and to adapt to an array of habitat conditions. Ms Bellio enjoys teaching and talking about birds to diverse groups, whether school children or landholders or tourists or professionals. Currently employed at a governmental research institute in Darwin, Australia, she is applying her twin delights of ornithology and communication. Don Franklin, Dr Max Finlayson and Mariagrazia Bellio are frequent visitors to Mary River Park and as visitors to the Bird Week 2003 will share in their wealth of knowledge through lectures and topical slides sessions as well as joining in individual discussions, chat sessions and field experiences. Their knowledge and understanding of birds and the ecosystems that they are part of will provide an interesting backdrop to the real birds observed duringthe week.For further information get in touch with Mike Ostwald, Mary River Park general@maryriverpark.com.au Tel +61 8 8978 8877For an overview of the birds there is no better source of information than Birds of Australia`s Top End by Denise Goodfellow. It is the most comprehensive bird book produced on this area by the author of three previous fauna books. It has 28 watercolour plates and over 400 individual maps, diagrams and black and white illustrations, and covers all resident and migratory birds in the Top End and many vagrants as well. Aboriginal (Kunwinjku of NW Arnhem Land) names and information are included, plus details and pictures of plants. Scrubfowl Press. ISBN: 0957884907 [See the Fatbirder review.

4th July 2014