[A stop on the Darwin and Kakadu Trip, Aug-Sep 2021 trip]
Maguk is one of the pretty tracks in Kakadu National Park that leads to a waterfall… and a plunge pool! The trail follows a creek about 1km down a heavily forested gorge and we found it to be pretty reasonable in terms of birds.
The car park is a simple dirt affair, at the end of 14km of a well-signed turn-off from the Kakadu Highway. This 14km dirt road is listed on the official tourism sites as requiring a 4WD, but we saw plenty of people with regular cars and vans. Of course, much depends on the particular state of the road at the time, so use caution.
The trailhead is also signposted, and crosses a bridge quite soon. After that, though, we found a few wet sections which required a bit of care to cross. I suspect this track could get very boggy indeed after rain, given that there were standing pools of water at the time we were there in the mid-to-late dry season.
The first birds we saw were a Rufous Whistler female, a Red-Winged Parrot and the first of many Dusky Honeyeaters. The foliage and undergrowth is quite dense, so bird spotting was generally a case of trying to ID them in the thick branches.
No visit to any leaf-littered forest floor in the Top End would be complete without encountering at least one Orange-Footed Scrubfowl, and a Little Pied Cormorant and a Nankeen Night-Heron were similarly much easier to see and photograph than the smaller birds in the trees above.
The walking track follows the creek that flows along the bottom of the gorge, and becomes rockier as one ventures deeper. At one point there is a crossing that has orange arrows indicating direction, which is helpful as the trail leads across a tumble of rocks soon after.
At the end of the track the main lagoon and waterfall become visible, and one is mightily tempted to dive in for a swim. While we were there, a few people had taken the side-trail up above the waterfall where there is another pool of water that they were diving into. From our viewpoint down below we couldn’t see this pool, so what they were doing looked certifiably insane.
Anyway, by 9 in the morning quite a few people were about, most of them having a swim or dive of some sort, understandable as it was getting quite warm by now. (Bring plenty of water even on this short walk!)
We took our time on the way back, keeping an eye out for Sandstone Shrikethrush around the rocky sides of the gorge (no luck there), spotting a Peaceful Dove, Helmeted Friarbird, Leaden Flycatcher and Mistletoebird, but it was pretty slim pickings from a photography point of view. The birds were generally a bit far off most of the time. The most excitement came about when we saw a Banded Fruit-Dove, which is a Top End endemic species.
At the time of this writing, Banded Fruit-Dove has only 41 photos on eBird (ever!), so in retrospect I feel pretty lucky to have seen that bird and taken its picture, even if the bird is partially obscured by leaves. It is a nice-looking dove, similar in feel to the Torresian Imperial Pigeon, also found in various northern parts of Australia.
As the morning wore on and we slowly approached the car park area again, there was still a reasonable amount of bird activity, with Northern Fantail and what we reckoned was an Arafura Shrikethrush – the day’s second lifer, but not very near. (Actually, now that I look at eBird, Arafura Shrikethrush also has less than 50 photos ever…). Closer encounters were had with a Great Bowerbird and Spangled Drongo, and another Helmeted Friarbird right back at the car park.
The Maguk trail is a pleasant and reasonably short walk that rewards one with a lovely lagoon and waterfall at the end. The dirt road leading in might not be suitable for some vehicles, and there aren’t any real facilities except a basic car park and occasional signage. There is a flowing creek and plenty of vegetation, and we saw some nice birds there including Banded Fruit-Dove. Other endemics like White-Lined Honeyeater, Northern Rosella and Rainbow Pitta are possible. As is usual, patient birding is rewarded most, though we did find this location a challenge for photography due to the high canopy and sometimes dense vegetation.
Hotspot: Kakadu National Park–Maguk (Barramundi Gorge) (138 species)
Checklist for our visit (24 species)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Pleasant creekside walk with a lagoon and waterfall to enjoy
+ Reasonable bird life, with Banded Fruit-Dove and other endemics possible
– Short walk with no side-trails to explore
– Can be photographically challenging
– Long dirt road providing access can be rough