The Urban Birder
With so many hours of sunlight, Darwin offers ample opportunity for birdwatching – if you can stand the heat, that is
David Lindo visits Darwin in Australia, where he enjoys many unusual birds
DARWIN IS SITUATED in Northern Territory (NT) in what Australians term the Top End. The heat in NT can be unforgiving, and after 30 minutes of 36°C with 95% humidity it can crumple resolve and send you scurrying to seek refuge in the nearest air-conditioned shopping mall. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the city is the world’s sunniest after Phoenix, Arizona, with 3,067 hours of sunlight per year. Darwin is a coastal city facing the Timor Sea and is actually nearer to Timor in south east Asia than it is to Brisbane on the east coast. Its close proximity to Asia has a great influence on the range of species to be found in the city, as some migrate to and from that region. For many visiting birders, the city is better known as the gateway to Kakadu National Park, a wildlife wonderland that is a three-hour drive to the east. But ignore this city’s avian virtues at your peril because at the very least, it is a great identification training ground in preparation for the multitudes of birds to be found in Kakadu. My visit was timed for early April, outside the rainy season and during the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn, thus migration was in action. There are a number of birds that were totally obvious. Masked Lapwings with their peculiar flappy yellow facial wattles are ubiquitous with patrolling birds on almost every stretch of green. Rainbow Bee-eater, the only representative of this colourful and largely Afro-asian family, are also prevalent in the city, having freshly arrived to spend the winter. On the coasts, Silver Gulls patrol and the parks are home to inquisitive Magpie Larks, a curious blend of Magpie meeting a Starling on steroids. Downtown is the venue for an incredibly noisy nightly roost for several thousand Red-collared Lorikeets.
The Darwin Botanic Gardens offers 42 acres to wander through, with most of it being fairly open scattered woodland. You should fairly easily come across Orange-footed Scrubfowl, either noisily shuffling through the undergrowth or strutting out in the open park lawns like chicken-shaped giant Moorhens. Although not shy, they do keep a wary eye on anyone watching them, and don’t usually allow very close approach. There is also plenty of activity in the trees. It will take a little bit of time to decipher the several honeyeater species that can be present. Rufous-banded, Dusky, Brown, Whitethroated and Blue-faced Honeyeater are all possible along with Helmeted Friarbirds. These birds are not difficult to see as they move through the trees