5 reasons to learn birds at the Katherine Bird Festival

by | Jun 20, 2021 | Bird News, Wild Top End, Wildlife News

Come to the Katherine Bird Festival this September

There’s lots of great reasons why you should learn birds in Katherine — and they’re not all bird related!

Do you love colourful birds? The most psychedelic of them all may be Australia’s tiny Gouldian Finch (pictured above by Marc Gardner) often found around Katherine in the Top End of Australia.

On the other end of the scale, both in size and colour, is the massive Australian Bustard which is mostly a dull brown/tan and another Katherine local.


Australian Bustard on the tropical savannah

So what are Gouldian Finches or Australian Bustards when they’re at home, I hear you ask? And that’s a fair question if you’ve just begun birdwatching. We can take you to the Katherine Bird Festival this September to find out.

Travel Hint: Echidna Walkabout operates a special tour to the Katherine Bird Festival. It’s an add-on to our 7 day Wild Top End tour – click here to register to go to both at the end of this story. (keep up to date here: Katherine Bird Festival Facebook)

There’s lots of great reasons why you should learn birds in Katherine — and they’re not all related to birds!

Reason# 1 – great for beginners

Organisers of the Katherine Bird Festival go out of their way to ensure that even first-time birders feel included and nurtured. There’s no boasting or one upmanship. Ask any question and feel comfortable that you’ll get a non-judgmental answer with some special local knowledge thrown in!

Reason# 2 – Katherine is warm, it’s in the tropics!

If I had only one reason for going to the Festival, this would be it, even if I had no interest in birds. Katherine is 300 kilometres inland, away from most of the high humidity of the coast.

I have never worn a pullover or long pants in Katherine, seriously NEVER, why would you? All you need to bring are shorts, light tops, a hat, toothbrush and your binoculars — you might be travelling a bit light but you get my drift!

Reason# 3 – go birding up an epic river

Running right through the town is a deceptive river that in the winter “Dry” you’d think was a creek, but in the monsoon “Wet” can rise up to 20 metres. Katherine River is epic, a river of legends. One story is documented here: Katherine floods remembered as ‘something from a movie’, 20 years on

Head east of Katherine to Nitmiluk National Park and you’ll witness what this river is capable of; over millions of years it’s blasted through the tough sandstone of the Arnhem land escarpment creating a labyrinth of gorges that are simply staggering.


The festival includes an option to join a guided tour in the Katherine Gorge

During the Dry, when the river is sedate, Nitmiluk Lodge offers boat cruises up the Katherine Gorge.

Festival Hint: When you register for the Katherine Bird Festival you have an option to join a private guided bird tour up the Katherine River Gorge.

Outside the Festival season you can also paddle a canoe down the river on a fully guided and supported Gecko Canoeing & Trekking, highly recommended.

Reason# 4 – conservation & research

Many birds in the Top End are being impacted by an insidious combination of climate change and excessive burning practices. To help birds the Katherine Bird Festival organisers often include a conservation and research project that participants can join.

Activities in the past have included working with local Aboriginal kids to build and place nesting boxes for birds and researching the movements and abundance of Gouldian Finches.


Mick Jerram (one of the event organisers) is assisted by event volunteers to place nesting box for Gouldian Finches as part of the 2018 KBF

Reason# 5 – breakfast with Gouldians, dinner with Bustards

On the penultimate day of the Katherine Bird Festival a small group of us rise well before dawn, pile into a 4WD and head out into the bush.


This is where Gouldians live!

We end up high in some remote hills and walk to a small pool where we set up to look for Gouldian finches. While we wait, nestled amongst the rocks, we munch on whatever we’d grabbed for breakfast.

We’re here on an important mission: to help research the numbers of these tiny, colourful finches that were once common but are disappearing fast.

As the sun rises higher into the sky a small flock of Gouldian Finches flashes in for a brief drink and just as quickly disappears. My heart is racing — I cannot believe what I’ve just witnessed.


Red and black headed Gouldian Finches at a secret waterhole where we did our research (Photo: Marc Gardner)


Gouldian Finch research site with volunteer researchers from the Festival

At the other end of the day dinner is organised way out in a tropical grassland under some huge eucalyptus trees. Tables and chairs are set up then cars appear out of nowhere transporting locals and visitors. Spotting scopes point out into the vast savannah, delicious food and a huge ice chest with beer and wine appear….and the sun lowers in the tropical sky.


Bustard spotting over a casual tropical dinner

Four Red-tailed cockatoos fly over followed by a screeching squadron of Varied Lorikeets — an incredible sight for a southerner.

Then it happens, a local meanders over to one of the spotting scopes, beer in hand, and laconically tells the growing throng under the trees (30 or 40 by now) that, “there’s a few bustards out there”.

A “few” turn out to be 6 or 7, more than I’ve ever seen in one place at the same time. Some of us spend the next 30 minutes watching these magnificent birds strutting about imperiously in the dried grass.

I’m in heaven, not only because of the bustards, but also because of the people who are sharing this time with me, eating, drinking and laughing as the sun sets over the tropical savannah.

No pressure, just people, birds and nature. And Katherine..


Photo credit: A special thankyou to Marc Gardner for his exceptional photos of Gouldian Finches in this story. Marc is one of the organisers of the Festival along with Mick Jerram. They are both crack birders and two of the most generous, supportive guys you’ll ever meet.
Register to join our special trip to the Katherine Bird Festival this September

Each year we run our 7 day Wild Top End trip into Kakadu and Mary River National Parks – book your Wild Top End tour here.

After a short break in Darwin, we will operate a special trip to the Katherine Bird Festival.

Would you like to join us in Katherine?


See similar posts: Australian birds | Top End birds