East Point, Darwin, Aug-Sep 2021

[A stop on the Darwin and Kakadu Trip, Aug-Sep 2021 trip]

East Point is a massive (200 hectares) reserve poking out into the ocean on the edge of Darwin. It contains two playgrounds, a lake, exercise stations, public toilets, BBQ and picnic facilities, restaurants and cafes, and a resident population of wallabies. There is a military museum there, a gorgeous man-made lake (Lake Alexander), and an airstrip which is the base for the East Point Aeromodellers Club.

It’s quite a site!

We visited twice, and covered most of the major areas; here’s our impressions.

Monsoon Forest Trail and cliff line

We started with the “Monsoon Forest Trail” on our first afternoon in Darwin, having already visited the excellent George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens, which set the bar high for our birding expectations.

Right at the entrance to the Monsoon Forest Trail we found an Arafura Fantail (the northern equivalent of the Rufous Fantail, and a lifer for all of us) flitting about in the dense foliage, and somehow I even managed to get an unobscured shot (pure luck, but the camera was very much at-the-ready), so that was a great start. After that we didn’t actually see much for a while (we were on the lookout for Rainbow Pitta, which are often seen here), but as monsoon forest was new to us, it was interesting nonetheless. Like much of the ecology of the Top End, it is driven by the dry and wet seasons: many of the trees shed their leaves during the dry season and come into leaf again just before the rains come. Talking of shedding leaves, an Orange-Footed Scrubfowl had made a massive nest of them in a curve of the path.

We’d expected the meandering trail to continue through the thick forest, but to our surprise it popped out into a long, straight open avenue with a dirt road following some power lines, and a couple of patches of newly-planted saplings. What the?! Some forest!

While debating where to go next, given the sudden options, a Torresian Imperial Pigeon cruised past, and then we spotted the brilliant shining blue of a Forest Kingfisher. We tiptoed across the sapling patch to nab some photos of it; it would be the first of many sightings of this species on our Top End trip.

One of the features of this little man-made area in the midst of the forest was a watering system, and while we lingered (spotting a few Double-Barred Finches lurking in the low tangled branches nearby), a couple of honeyeaters came by to grab a drink. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing, so it might have been a daily ritual. All we knew was that when life gives you honeyeaters… you take their photograph.

We ambled west hoping to witness the setting sun, at a leisurely pace to see what other birds might be around, and very soon nabbed another lifer bird, in a couple of rather confiding Grey Whistlers. Their drab appearance is more than made up for by their robin-like friendliness.

Once we left the forested area, it was a simple matter to find a spot to watch the sun set, and while doing so, we noticed some heron-like birds a couple of cliffs across, and managed to track them more closely in the fading light – they turned out to be both the dark and light morphs of Eastern Reef Egret.

Northern Shoreline

We were well aware that we’d only scratched the surface of East Point, so on September 6 – our last morning in the Northern Territory – two of us headed up early and parked at the northernmost tip of East Point. We first wanted to see whether there were any shorebirds along the rocks – and there were! Quite a few.

The smaller birds we ID’ed as Greater Sand-Plovers, counting at least 50. But closer scrutiny of photos later (I had a vague recollection at the time of a different-looking bird being in there) revealed the orange legs and upturned bill of a Terek Sandpiper – a lifer!

A Ruddy Turnstone, three Grey-Tailed Tattlers and a few Whimbrels were also present in the mix; the dominant shorebirds were definitely different to what we’d normally find on a Brisbane coastal shoreline.

Further along we spotted two Beach Stone-Curlews, a Torresian Kingfisher and a dark morph Eastern Reef Egret. All in all, not bad for a modest length of shoreline.

Lake and surrounds

We then made our way southward, into the forest, not seeing much aside from a Varied Triller, keeping mainly to the wider paths, until we somehow found ourselves in a weird spot that looked like a rubbish tip, with a couple of big heaps of refuse. Yeah, there was a sign that said not to enter the area or something, but weirder than that, we couldn’t get out without back-tracking a bunch, so we ducked under a wire fence to end up on the southern shore. Here we found an Australian Hobby serenely perched on a tree, which was a welcome sight.

This shoreline proved productive for birds, with Little Friarbirds and Figbirds and a few others around, then a raft of Red-Collared Lorikeets and a few Torresian Imperial Pigeons.

The Lorikeets – at least 50 in all – were noisily feeding on trees at the north end of the picturesque Lake Alexander; all around this area is very pleasant, with fewer people than we might have expected for a sunny Sunday morning.

At this point we were trying to locate the start of the Mangrove Boardwalk; there had been a small sign earlier but we were having trouble finding it…

Mangrove Walk

Having finally discovered where the Mangrove Walk started, we headed down that pathway.

A little way down this walk, where it is still dry forest, we happened upon a good deal of bird activity all within a single (albeit quite large) tree. A pair of Green-Backed Gerygones were being very active, a Varied Triller was about, and a Bar-Shouldered Dove was on the ground below. As it was our last morning in the Top End I was pretty keen to get a good shot of the Green-Backed Gerygone, as that had eluded me until then; I got something keep-able, anyway.

The Mangrove Walk is paved until it enters the thicker part of the mangroves, at which point it becomes a suspended metal gantry – a very civilised way to explore these very dense and tangled (and muddy!) mangrove habitats. At first there wasn’t much bird life to hear or see, but we walked very slowly and quietly and soon observed a male/female pair of Shining Flycatchers near ground level; soon after that a Lemon-Bellied Flycatcher appeared, obligingly posing for a photo at about eye level – gotta be happy with that.

The boardwalk terminates with a spacious viewing platform not far from the edge of the shoreline; apparently this platform can end up underwater at high tide. Here we saw a Torresian Kingfisher, though not very close – it had caught a crustacean of some kind.

Finally we walked along the bike path back up the car park at the north-east, observing a Masked Lapwing (the northern subspecies, which lacks the “black shoulder” of its southern counterpart), then a Rainbow Bee-Eater at close quarters, and finally a Forest Kingfisher right near the car.

Summary

East Point is a huge area and contains many diverse bird habitats to explore, from rocky shorelines, cliffs and beaches, to monsoon forest, mangroves and very nicely maintained parkland. You can cherry-pick where to bird, or roam at will and find a variety of birds. We had a pretty good time finding and photographing birds both times we were there, with dense forest and mangrove species, shorebirds and raptors all present.

The only downside as a city-fringing birding hotspot is that there’s a hodgepodge of other things sharing space on the point: an Equestrian club, Military Museum, Aeroclub and assorted other bits and pieces – which is fine, it just means you have to spend extra time to navigate around, especially if you’re “roaming at will”. Better signage would help here, for those unfamiliar with the place, but it’s not too big of a deal.

eBird
Hotspot: East Point (214 species), East Point Reserve–Monsoon Forest Walk (139 species), East Point Mangrove Boardwalk (173 species), East Point–far end (180 species)
Checklists for our visits: Aug 27 (19 species), Sep 6 (37 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Huge area and variety of habitats
+ Impressive array of birds to be found
+ Lovely picnic areas, playgrounds, cafes, sunset viewing spots, etc
– Hodgepodge layout with museums and clubs etc sharing the space
– Strange fencelines, dirt roads through forest, and occasional lack of signage can be confusing

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