Burrungkuy (Nourlangie), Sep 2021

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

Nourlangie is one of the more well-known locations in Kakadu National Park, known for rock art, great views, birds and bushwalking. There is no accommodation at the site, but there are two campgrounds a short drive away, and the settlements of Cooinda and Jabiru lie 23km and 11km away, respectively. The drive in and the car parks are all sealed, and as it is a popular tourist site, expect plenty of guidance signs and information panels.

The area has three main locations of interest to birders: Nawurlandja, a rock formation that offers a short climb to great views; Anbangbang Billabong, a swampy flat wetland; and Nourlangie Rock, where there are a few short trails through the forest and rock art sites, as well as a longer 12km circuit walk up and around the escarpment.

Nawurlandja

Nawurlandja is a smaller rock formation that offers amazing views across the area. From the car park it is a short walk through dense bush to a set of metal stairs and then you’re up on the rocky slopes. From here there are a couple of triangle sign markers, but no real trail, so we explored to see what we could find. It was about 7am at this point.

Being a rocky, not very vegetated landscape, the birding here was decidedly of the “low percentage” variety – which makes any birds one does discover that little bit extra special. A Great Bowerbird and a host of White-Bellied Cuckooshrikes were good spots for us, landing on the branches of the few trees scattered through the gullies and cracks of the rock.

But Sandstone Shrikethrush was the bird we were really after (having dipped on that bird at Lawn Hill NP a few months earlier), and we were lucky enough to see one on a rock face not too far off. That was pretty exciting, but it was equally nice just to enjoy the area and the vast views out across the surrounding landscape before it got too hot – the sun had risen above the neighbouring escarpment and it was likely going to get quite warm.

Nourlangie

The more extensive trails around the larger escarpment of Nourlangie offer a few different experiences. One can saunter slowly and admire the rock art, seek out birds and other wildlife in the forest and bush around the base of the rock, or climb up to the top of the escarpment and – if you have the time and enough water and food – do a full 12km circuit right around the tops.

From the car park, we wandered east in the direction of Gunwarrdehwarrde Lookout, saving the rock art for later and hoping to maximise our birding chances with the early morning start. We didn’t see or hear a lot, just a few Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos and Olive-Backed Orioles, and some small honeyeaters. The view from Gunwarrdehwarrde Lookout wasn’t super inspiring, as it is from a rocky outcrop and the cliffs of the escarpment still tower around you, so we decided to see how far we could get on the longer Barkk Walk, knowing that we were very unlikely to do the full 12km loop.

The walk heads into some pretty dense brush, as it slowly works its way north-east up the slopes. The top of the escarpment beckoned!

There was more Olive-Backed Oriole action here, as well as a lot of noise from the forest below the cliff line. This noise turned out to be Spangled Drongos and Friarbirds – we reckoned a mix of Helmeted and Silver-Crowned. At one point it was becoming a veritable cacophony, though on the whole we weren’t close enough for really high quality photos to be taken. The highlight here was a sighting (our second, following the one at Maguk) of a Banded Fruit Dove.

We were relieved to be in the shadow of the escarpment for a lot of the slog up this trail as it became steeper and rockier, the bird noise receding behind us. Eventually we reached the top and the view from here was really spectacular. A few other bushwalkers were coming through as well.

At the top we felt like exploring a little more, and followed the trail into what I’ve labelled as the “plateau” area on the map. It features flat grassy tracts with sparse dry trees and interesting vertical rock formations. It felt like a place to see interesting birds (the super elusive White-Throated Grasswren was whispered about in very hopeful tones), but we didn’t actually see many birds at all.

Still we were drawn forwards by the serene beauty of the area, following the triangular trail markers that led into some remarkable rock pillars. Once through that area, we eventually reached a point where we could see out across to the west, and stopped for lunch and to ponder our options. We’d gone maybe 4 or so kilometres of the 12km loop, but we were fast running out of water and it was getting very hot (it was about 10:30am by then), so we decided to backtrack.

Not a bad decision, as we spotted our second Sandstone Shrikethrush of the day in the tall rock pillar section; this bird was much closer than the first one we’d seen.

We didn’t see any more birds of note, and finished by quietly exploring the rock art sites back nearer to the car park.

Anbangbang Billabong

On the way out of the area we did a little drive-by of the larger billabong. A walking path follows the entire circumference of this slice of wetland, which likely would make for some good birding.

We spotted a bunch of bird species in the few minutes we looked, like Green Pygmy-Geese, Plumed Whistling Duck (seemlingly a Kakadu standard), Pied Heron (ditto) and a few Cormorants.

Summary

The Nourlangie area offers a few delights. We saw Sandstone Shrikethrush twice, and a Banded Fruit Dove to boot, and there were at least a couple of sections which had quite a bit of bird activity in between the quieter stretches. According to eBird, there is a reasonable chance of the endemic Chestnut-Quilled Rock Pigeon in this area too.

However, I think to enjoy this location best you’d want to be a fan of views from rocky slopes and lookouts, and/or be a keen bushwalker. I would have loved to have done the full 12km Barkk Walk, but wasn’t prepared for that with enough water. With views like that, and the beautiful peace and remoteness of the plateau areas, any birds you might find would be icing on the cake.

Definitely visit quite early, or very late, in the day, as it gets very hot with all that rock around!

eBird:
Hotspot: Nourlangie Rock (178 species), Nawurlandja Lookout (109 species), Anbangbang Billabong (155 species)
Checklists for our visits: Nourlangie Rock (18 species), Nawurlandja Lookout (9 species), Anbangbang Billabong (13 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Possibility of seeing uncommon/endemic birds like Sandstone Shrikethrush, Banded Fruit Dove and Chestnut-Quilled Rock Pigeon
+ Great scenic views from various rocky lookouts
+ Awesome bushwalking, especially if you’re prepared to tackle the longer 12km loop
– Some areas very quiet for birds
– Can get uncomfortably hot

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: