Planning A Birding Adventure To Australia’s Northern Territory (Top End)

Now that you know how to use miles to get to Australia and use Darwin as a gateway city, what you really want to know is how to get out in the bush where the birds are!  Fortunately, Australia is an amazingly easy country to travel around in.  It’s safe, everyone speaks English and the tourism infrastructure is excellent!  All you need is a well-researched plan and a car to get there.

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MAKE YOUR PLAN

1. Determine what species of birds you want to see. Bear in mind that no matter what species you are targeting, you will find many other species in the same location. In my case, although I was really keen to see wild Parrots, I was very happy to see that other species such as Rainbow Pittas, Gouldian Finches and Bowerbirds were also within reach.

2. Use guide books such as “Parrots of the World” by Joseph Forshaw and “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Graham Pizzey & Frank Knight to determine where these species can most easily be found. These books have maps to help you formulate an itinerary. Although I prefer Kindle/eBooks for casual reading, with a field guide you really need the hard copy to be able to compare the birds you see to the images in the book. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the species. As long as you get a decent photo, you can always look them up! You can buy these books on Amazon.com if you don’t have them already.

3. Use other internet resources to find out where the birds have been seen most recently. These may be Facebook or Twitter contacts, blogs like Miles to the Wild or trip reports on Surfbirds. Google the scientific name of the bird + “report”. For example if you Google “Lophochroa leadbeateri sightings” you get this. If you have destinations in mind from researching the field guides, you can get better results by Googling “Lophochroa leadbeateri Bowra” such as this.

4. Use eBird searches on the species to see where other people have reported them.  I now have a full tutorial on how to use eBird to plan a trip.   Spend more time if the destination has more of the species you are targeting.

This step can be very time consuming as you need to research each species you want to see individually but it is well worth it as you will save lots of time once you are traveling and you can travel independently which saves you lots of money and gives you more choices as to when, where & how you want your birding adventure to happen!

5.  Visit some local birding websites.  The Northern Territory ones are especially helpful and I can recommend:

Experience the Wild

NT Bird Specialists

Book:  Top End Birdwatching written by Mike Reed.  I found it for sale at the Katherine Museum or contact NT Bird Specialists.  Wonderful book and helped me find lots of birds and identify them from the photos.  Plus it doesn’t weigh much!

Laurie Ross

Once I did all the research, this is the itinerary I put together which gave a fair shot at all my target birds.  I will go into depth on each hotspot in turn throughout this series.

NT Birding

LOGISTICS

You will definitely need a car, as this is a huge chunk of territory to cover and public transport is very sparse.  One thing to note about the Northern Territory is that cars don’t have unlimited kilometers like in most other Aussie cities and the per kilometer cost will probably double your rental car budget.  For this trip, since I happen to be a member of RACQ (the local auto club) I got 15% discount on Thrifty Car Hire-including the rental, the kilometers and insurance.  My own GPS covers all of Australia so I brought it along.  The itinerary above is all on tarred roads so a 2WD car is fine but if you want to include places like the Marrikai Track you will need a 4WD.  Always get quotes from several car companies and use whatever discounts you qualify for!  Refueling is cheaper in Darwin and Katherine so always top up before heading into the Outback.

A good plan is to bird early in the morning, use the afternoon to either siesta by the pool or drive to the next destination, then more birding in the afternoon.  The Territory is HOT, even in September which is when we did our trip!

Accommodation ranges from typical Aussie caravan parks (that also have self-catering cabins) to Outback style B&B’s.  You only chance to use hotel points will be in Darwin and Katherine but in this case I recommend choosing a property based on location and convenience within your price range.  We were low-budget and our accommodation averaged around $100 AUD per night.  Plan on picnic breakfasts and lunches while birding or driving between locations, then either BBQ or hit up a pub for dinner.

Stock up on groceries before leaving Darwin or Katherine for a better selection and cheaper prices.  We have a cooler that we keep the meat in and the drinks for the day.  Most accommodations will have a fridge and microwave, even a small kitchenette.  Having said that, by the time the trip was finished, we couldn’t look at another sandwich for weeks!

Bring lots of sunscreen and mosquito repellent, especially for Howard Springs!  If you are using carry-on only, you can easily buy it in Darwin at any supermarket.

Getting To Darwin, Northern Territory With Airline Miles

Darwin is the gateway to the vast Northern Territory of Australia and you’d be surprised how big it really is!  If you are already in Australia (see miles guide here), it’s pretty easy to pick up domestic flights to Darwin (DRW) from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

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INTERNATIONAL OPTIONS

STAR ALLIANCE

There are no Star Alliance carriers operating to Darwin, however if you have Singapore Krisflyer miles you can use Silk Air from Singapore.

ONEWORLD

Obviously in Australia Qantas is the main player and you can redeem your miles from any OneWorld partner.  Although Qantas has no direct international flights from Darwin, you can easily add on a Sydney-Darwin (for example) segment to any international award to Australia.

Malaysian Airlines flies direct from Kuala Lumpur and is a great choice for people arriving from Europe.

SKY TEAM

There are no Sky Team carriers operating to Darwin although people with Delta miles can redeem them on Virgin Australia.

NON-ALLIANCE AIRLINES & LOW COST CARRIERS

Virgin Australia is the big one and as mentioned above people with Delta miles can redeem with them.  Virgin is also partnered with Singapore Airlines, Etihad and others.

Jetstar is a partner of Qantas but not a member of OneWorld but they have frequent sales so you are better off keeping an eye on their sale page and just paying for the flights.  This is what I did, I got BNE-DRW-BNE for $210 each!

Air Asia flies direct from Denpasar.

Air North has some interesting destinations like Dili, Timor-Leste and some remote Aussie towns.

 

 

IHG Pointbreak Deals Released Through 31 Oct – Some Potential For Eco-tourists

Although the IHG Pointsbreaks have been less inspiring in recent years, there are usually a few that can be used for eco-tourism and birding.  At 5000 IHG Rewards per night, these are a great bargain if you can use them.  Use your airline miles to get you to the country and the only thing left to pay is the rental car or taxi hire!

FULL POINTSBREAKS LIST

Here’s my picks:

PANAMA  –  Rent a car and visit Soberania National Park
CROWNE PLAZA PANAMA

COLOMBIA  – Have your hotel book you a car & driver for the day and go to Chingaza National Park or BioAndina
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES BOGOTA ZONA FINANCIERA

INDIA  – Jaipur is about 3 hours from Bharatpur and the Keoladeo National Park, you’ll need to spend the night there to go birding at dawn.
CROWNE PLAZA JAIPUR TONK ROAD

AUSTRALIA  – Rent a car and head up to the Blue Mountains.
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS SYDNEY MACQUARIE PARK

Ultra-cheap Fares USA – Australia, Won’t Last

I came across this incredible deal in my feed and I thought I would share it since many people may be waiting for the perfect opportunity to visit Australia and see the wonderful birds we have here!

Examples:

Los Angeles – Brisbane: $426
Las Vegas – Brisbane: $468
Los Angeles – Melbourne: $505

Full details of this deal can be found on Secret Flying.

** This is an error fare and sometimes these deals are honored, sometimes the airline cancels them so don’t book any non-refundable accommodation, tours or anything until you are sure the deal will be honored!

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60,000 United Miles To Sydney Promo Open For All Until 28 Jan

A few days ago, I told you about a targeted discounted offer on flights between the USA and Sydney.  I predicted that this deal would soon be open to everyone based on the language of the email I got stating it was a “presale”.

Good news!  Now anyone can get this deal and with the Aussie dollar so low, its the perfect time for Americans to come Down Under!

For a limited time, enjoy a 20 – 25 percent discount on roundtrip MileagePlus® Saver Awards in United Economy® when you travel from the U.S. or Canada to Sydney, Australia. Book by January 28, 2016, and travel between February 2, 2016, and June 22, 2016, to take advantage of the discounted rates.

Discount Days of travel Regular price Reduced price*
25% off Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu 80,000 miles 60,000 miles
20% off Fri, Sat 80,000 miles 64,000 miles

*Some exclusions apply. See terms and conditions for details.

Note: This table shows mileage rates for roundtrip flights. For one-way itineraries, the regular price still applies.

Book: January 7 – January 28, 2016
Travel: February 2, 2016 – June 22, 2016

FULL T&C’S & BOOKING PAGE

Birders – check out my posts on birding in Western Australia, Tasmania & South-east Queensland.

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HT:  Running with Miles

Targeted – Discount Mileage Awards From USA To Australia

Remember all those fantastic Australian birds I showed you last year?  Well if you need an extra incentive to plan a trip Down Under and are either a United Explorer Visa holder or have Premier status then you can save 20-25% miles for economy award tickets!

CHECK YOUR EMAILS FOR AN OFFER AS THIS IS TARGETED

UA Aus sale

If you have not been targeted, don’t give up as United often extends these promos to the general public after elites and credit card holders have has a chance.  They did say “pre-sale” so I am pretty sure that a “sale” will follow.  I’ll let you know if/when this happens.

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

The Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is a carnivorous bird in the kingfisher family Halcyonidae. It is probably the most iconic Australian bird and its distinctive “laugh” is as true blue Aussie as you can get.

IMG_9057 IMG_9055 IMG_9026aThey are very clever and more than one picnicker has lost a BBQ steak or bread roll to a swiftly swooping Kookaburra.  We have quite a few of them in our suburb and I often wake up to the laugh outside my window and if you walk through any reserve or national park in Queensland, Victoria or NSW you will most likely see Laughing Kookaburras or even have unexpected guests at your picnic!

KookaburraLEARN MORE ABOUT KOOKABURRAS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Birdlife Australia

Birds in Backyards

ABC Science

VIDEOS

The best video of the laugh was actually filmed at San Diego zoo.  It’s kind of hard to predict when a wild one will laugh unless you want to sit there and film until it does.  This is how they actually sound in the wild………..or in your backyard!  What a wake up call!

Here’s some wild Kookaburras

And just to show you how iconic they are in Australia, here’s a kid’s song about them!

 

Crimson Chat (Epthianura tricolor)

The Crimson Chat (Epthianura tricolor) is a species of small bird found in Australia. It is also known as the tricoloured chat, saltbush canary, and crimson-breasted nun.

IMG_8702a IMG_8704aThey have a very large range throughout Australia and I have seen them in several places in Outback Queensland & Western Australia.  The photos above were taken at Bowra Station.

cchatrangeLEARN MORE ABOUT THIS BIRD

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Birds in Backyards

Australian Geographic

VIDEOS

Nice close-up!

 

 

Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri)

The Major Mitchell’s cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) also known as Leadbeater’s cockatoo or pink cockatoo, is a medium-sized cockatoo restricted to arid and semi-arid inland areas of Australia.  Regardless of what common name you use, it’s arguably the most beautiful of all the cockatoos and a real joy to see in the wild, especially in flight with the sun backlighting their pink wings.  These photos I took at Bowra Station don’t do it justice!  I noticed they always had a sentinel or two while most of the flock foraged on the ground.

IMG_8755a IMG_8854a IMG_8874a IMG_8965a IMG_8936aDon’t be fooled by all the green on the map, this highly nomadic bird may have a large range but it is really difficult to find them outside of the major birding hotspots such as Bowra Station (blue dot) in Queensland and Eyre Sanctuary in Western Australia.

MM2rangeLEARN MORE ABOUT MAJOR MITCHELL COCKATOOS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Birdlife Australia

Birds in Backyards

NSW Environment & Heritage

 

VIDEO

One bird foraging in a tree.

Enjoying a paddy melon.

 

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata)

The Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) is a bird resident in Australia.  The dove predominantly exists in areas near water but which are lightly arid or semi-arid in nature, being Central, West and Northern Australia. They are one of Australia’s smallest pigeons along with the peaceful dove. They have been spotted occasionally in Southern Australia in parks and gardens when the centre of Australia is very dry.

IMG_8536aTheir large range extends over most of Australia.  I took the photo above at Bowra Station near the shearer’s quarters.

DDoverangeLEARN MORE ABOUT DIAMOND DOVES

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Birds in Backyards

Xeno-canto

VIDEO

These birds are so popular in captivity I struggled to find one in the wild.  This is a nice close up.