Holmes Jungle, Aug 2021

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

Holmes Jungle is a 250 hectare nature reserve on Darwin’s eastern fringes. Don’t let the name put you off: it’s not all jungle! There’s a range of different habitats and therefore many different bird species here.

Entry is via a well-signed turn-off from Vanderlin Drive. Officially vehicles can access the park from 8am to 6pm, but we didn’t know that, arriving around 8am by sheer coincidence anyway…

We weren’t sure where within the park to go first, so opted to just keep driving deeper in and see what happened. We got to the area I’ve marked “Straight road” on the map above, and were compelled to stop due to quite a bit of bird activity on both sides of the road.

As you can see from the photos, the road is of the “red dusty dirt” variety, but it’s fringed by sparse dry forest, tall grasses, and some Pandanus palms. A few of the dead trees were hosting some birds – Peaceful Doves, Rainbow Bee-Eater, Olive-Backed Oriole, some Rufous-Banded Honeyeaters, and the unmistakeable shining blue of a Forest Kingfisher.

We’d hopped out of the car by this point and were merrily snapping photos in the strong morning sunlight, when we noticed finches were around, and closer scrutiny revealed some Long-Tailed Finches amongst the more common Crimson Finches. For a while they were foraging together on the road, and flitting up to the shelter of the roadside palm trees now and again.

There was quite some variety in the colourings on the Crimson Finch – some males were totally black on their lower half, others blacker around the head. Fascinating, and super beautiful too!

Other birds we observed as we lingered along this road, which was pretty quiet except for the very occasional cyclist or car passing by, were Red-Collared Lorikeets, a flock of Pied Herons passing over, and a Cisticola, probably Golden-Headed though we were also on the lookout for Zitting Cisticolas which are sometimes to be found here (but supposedly best identified by their “zitting” calls, which we didn’t hear).

We eventually got back into the car and headed the short distance to the end of the road, which terminates in a little loop and features a tiny walk to the creek (Palm Creek). Here – as we’d seen from further away earlier – there were a ton of Black Kites in the trees.

Other birds were saw here were Double-Barred Finch and Torresian Imperial Pigeon, but I would be pretty wary if I were them, with all those Black Kites around. Crazy stuff.

We then backtracked up “Straight road” and headed for the Jungle Picnic Area, which lies pretty much in the centre of the Holmes Jungle reserve. Here we found more Long-Tailed Finch on the roadside, then a bunch of different honeyeaters once we walked into the picnic area.

I’m not sure statistically which are the most frequent type of honeyeater at Holmes Jungle, but we saw Rufous-Banded Honeyeater, White-Gaped Honeyeater, White-Throated Honeyeater and – most excitingly – two Bar-Breasted Honeyeaters. The latter was a lifer bird for us, though we never attained a clear unobscured view of them.

A Lemon-Bellied Flycatcher was the most confiding of the birds we saw here before we headed into Jungle Walk.

As the name suggests, Jungle Walk gets you into some pretty dense forest – Monsoon Forest, in this case. It’s dense enough that you have the problem of being able to hear birds but locating them in the tangled foliage is much more difficult. Not so the many butterflies that were fluttering across the track…

When the track widened or passed through a small grassier patch, we were able to spot a few birds – a Rose-Crowned Fruit Dove very high up, an Arafura Fantail, a Grey Whistler and a Brown Honeyeater or two.

Unfortunately the track was closed just after the bridge over the creek (seriously, the signage in this reserve is pretty good on the whole, but there was no indication of this before actually coming to the closure…), so that prevented us from completing the loop.

On the way back we spotted two Dollarbirds, then as we dallied at the picnic grounds, we saw a White-Bellied Cuckooshrike, a few Little Friarbirds, and some Black Kites circling low. We chatted for a while to a friendly guy who said he came and went to Indonesia for his business, but generally speaking there weren’t a lot of people around – possibly because it was a weekday.

Summary

A single morning at Holmes Jungle wasn’t enough to be too definitive about the place as a birding location, or to form an opinion as to whether it justifies its spot as the Northern Territory’s #5 birding hotspot (according to eBird), but I can certainly say it holds a variety of different habitats – grassland, dry forest, monsoon forest – and apparently there is some wetland around too (to the north-east?) though I am not sure how you access that. On our visit the grasses and roadsides were very productive for birds early in the day, giving lovely encounters in the golden sunlight. The dry forest was good for the honeyeaters and others, while the monsoon forest was dense and much dimmer, but made for a pleasant shady walk with a few different bird species again.

Apart from the picnic tables and a public toilet (at the Hilltop Picnic Area), there aren’t any other facilities, just a network of tracks and an agreeable sense of being much further from the hustle and bustle of Darwin than you really are.

eBird
Hotspot: Holmes Jungle (216 species)
Nearby: Leanyer Ponds (234 species), Knuckey Lagoons (196 species)
Checklist for our visit (39 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Several different habitats to explore
+ A good range of birds to see
+ Close to Darwin but feels a world away
– Have to drive between the different areas
– Few water birds unless you can find the wetland area (?)

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