[A stop on the Darwin and Kakadu Trip, Aug-Sep 2021 trip]
Pine Creek is a small town 225km south of Darwin, 92km north of Katherine, and somewhere you might find yourself passing through on the way onto or from the Kakadu Highway, which starts just outside the town.
Weirdly, none of the tourist websites for Pine Creek mention that it’s a fantastic place to see one of the Northern Territory’s special birds – the Hooded Parrot, whose range stretches from Pine Creek to maybe 150km south… and that’s all.
There’s a stretch of parkland running through the centre of the town, with the lower half of it called the “Water Gardens” (created from old railway tracks that were pulled up, the trenches then becoming water ponds), and this is the first place you’re supposed to go to find Hooded Parrots. We headed there at about 3:40pm and were lucky enough to see a group of them almost straight away.
They are really likeable birds (they were popular in captivity in Australia in the 1980s), and apparently they dig a long tunnel in termite mounds for nesting, which is pretty cool. The difference between the males – with their black caps, bluer chest and yellow wing panels – and the females is striking.
Wandering around the Water Gardens also yielded a few Rufous-Throated, Dusky, White-Gaped and Blue-Faced Honeyeaters, and a trio of Straw-Necked Ibis.
Beyond the south border of the Water Gardens there are a few dry fields and here we spotted a Pied Butcherbird, which was actually quite neat because we hadn’t yet seen any Butcherbirds or Magpies since arriving in the Northern Territory a few days earlier. Other than that and a Rainbow Bee-Eater, the fields were fairly quiet – most of the action was nearer the water. In fact as we walked back past the ponds, the smaller honeyeaters and a Rainbow Bee-Eater were having a great time diving down in into the water.
The other thing that was quite noticeable about this area are the many, many bats hanging from the branches. These animals coexist in the same clusters of trees with some of the birds we were looking at, though the bats did spook and fly off when we got too near.
Across the road from Water Gardens is Heritage Park, a little spot with some shady seats, and here there were plenty more birds including some Great Bowerbirds and Red-Collared Lorikeets – the attraction here seemed to be mangoes.
Grey-Crowned Babblers are not birds I normally think of as commonly present in towns, but there was a group of five happily foraging around on the grass of the park, fairly unconcerned with the bird photographers trying to capture their antics.
There is a tavern / caravan park / petrol bowser combo on the eastern edge of Heritage Park, and here we found Blue-Faced Honeyeaters which looked like they were in scavenging mode.
We stayed overnight at the quirky Pine Creek Railway Resort, just across the road from Water Gardens, and so we couldn’t resist having another look for the Hooded Parrots the next morning. And they were there again, this time on the Heritage Park side of the road, perching on the powerlines and nearby trees, and flying down to sip from a water puddle right near the road.
The usual honeyeater suspects were around too, as well as a White-Breasted Woodswallow.
As we left town we popped into Pine Creek Cemetery and also the nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant. The cemetery didn’t seem to have any birds, but we managed to click some fine photos of Radjah Shelducks through the gaps in the wire fence of the Wastewater Plant.
We had a great time birding at Pine Creek. Hooded Parrots were easily found both in the afternoon and following morning, and were great birds to watch and photograph. There were also a range of other birds, many that weren’t too bothered by human presence – fairly typical of a small outback Australian town.
Pluses and minuses:
+ Excellent location for the range-restricted Hooded Parrot
+ Some other good birds to be found
+ Good accommodation and resupply option in the way to Katherine or Kakadu
– Water Gardens and nearby parkland isn’t very big
– Bats might not be to your liking