Birding Tour Australia: Northern Territory – Alice Springs Birding
Australia: Northern Territory – Alice Springs Birding
This short tour around Alice Springs in the south of the Northern Territory of Australia also takes in the magnificent Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock). It is an ideal tour to combine with our other Australian tours, and it fits in perfectly between our Western Australia: Southwest Specialties and Northern Territory: Top End Birding tours. Combining all three of these short tours will give you an excellent list of the birds of north, central, and western Australia, complete with a multitude of highly sought-after endemic birds.
The striking Spinifex Pigeon is one of our targets on this trip.
As with all our other tours this is a small-group tour. The majority of our tour will be based in Alice Springs, though we will also venture further afield to base ourselves near Uluru so we are well placed to enjoy this important feature. We will have a wide range of target birds while here, and will focus on the region’s specials such as Spinifex Pigeon, Spinifexbird, Rufous-crowned Emu-wren, Dusky Grasswren, Rufous Grasswren, Banded Whiteface, Grey Honeyeater, Western Bowerbird, Black-breasted Buzzard, Diamond Dove, Grey-headed Honeyeater, Black Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Slaty-backed Thornbill, White-backed Swallow, Crested Bellbird, Black-eared Cuckoo, Bourke’s Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Spotted Harrier, Little Eagle, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Purple-backed Fairywren, Splendid Fairywren, White-winged Fairywren, Red-browed Pardalote, and Painted Finch.
Splendid Fairywren is one of many spectacular species found around Alice Springs.
For those wishing to explore Australia further, in addition to the two tours mentioned above, this tour can also be combined with our two other Australian tours: Tasmania – Endemics and the Orange-bellied Parrot and Eastern Australia: from the Outback to the Wet Tropics. Not sure where to go birding in Australia? Take a look at our series of blog posts here that will give you some ideas!
Itinerary (6 days/5 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Alice Springs
Arrival in Alice Springs. We will meet at our hotel in the evening for a welcome meal, ready to start birding the following morning. For those arriving early, there are plenty of birds in the river floodplain and botanic gardens near our hotel.
Overnight: Alice Springs
Days 2 – 3. Birding Alice Springs environs
Two full days birding the Alice Springs area. There are several sites within close proximity to Alice Springs (even inside the city limits) and we will have morning and afternoon sessions at a range of these sites, such as the old telegraph station, the botanic gardens, the desert park, and the local back roads. Some of the species we could find here include Spinifex Pigeon, Western Bowerbird, Grey Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Black Honeyeater, Hooded Robin, Painted Finch, Black-breasted Buzzard, Little Eagle, Galah, Australian Ringneck, Diamond Dove, Black-eared Cuckoo, Crimson Chat, Splendid Fairywren, Mistletoebird, Rainbow Bee-eater, Zebra Finch, Grey-crowned Babbler, White-browed Babbler, Torresian Crow, Little Crow, Australian Boobook, and Red-browed Pardalote.
Hooded Robin is a delightful bird, and we should find this as we bird our way around Alice Springs.
We will also venture out from the city into the ‘desert’ areas too, where we will look for some different and highly sought-after species such as Rufous-crowned Emu-wren, Spinifexbird, Dusky Grasswren, Banded Whiteface, Bourke’s Parrot, Crested Bellbird, Slaty-backed Thornbill, Red-browed Pardalote, and White-browed Treecreeper.
Red-browed Pardalotes are gorgeous, tiny birds.
Widespread Australian species we may find here include Southern Whiteface, Spotted Harrier, White-winged Fairywren, Purple-backed Fairywren, Hooded Robin, Inland Thornbill, White-fronted Honeyeater, Hooded Robin, Magpie-lark, White-backed Swallow, and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.
Overnight: Alice Springs
A spectacular male Purple-backed Fairywren displays to a rather drab female.
Day 4. Alice Springs to Erldunda
We will have a final morning birding in the Alice Springs area looking for any of the birds mentioned above, before we drive south to Erldunda, where we will spend the night. We should have time for some birding around our accommodation in the late afternoon, when the temperature has dropped, and we will look for some of the birds mentioned for day 5 below.
Day 5. Erldunda and Uluru (Ayers Rock)
We will spend the morning birding around Erldunda and making our way to the famous Uluru (Ayers Rock), which we will reach in the mid-afternoon. Some of the birds we will be on the lookout for in the morning include Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Chiming Wedgebill, Budgerigar, Crimson Chat, Orange Chat, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, and maybe the nomadic Inland Dotterel.
In a country blessed with a myriad of stunning parrots, Major Mitchell’s (Pink) Cockatoo takes some beating!
We will have some time taking in the sights of Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the afternoon and we will keep our eyes peeled for Rufous Grasswren, a recent (2020) split from Striated Grasswren. The birds here are touted as a further split, Sandhill Grasswren.
Day 6. Travel Uluru (Ayers Rock) to Alice Springs
After spending the early morning in the Uluru area looking for the species mentioned above, we will travel back to Alice Springs where the tour ends in the mid-afternoon.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.Download Itinerary
Northern Territory: Alice Springs Birding Trip Report, October 2023
5 – 11 OCTOBER 2023
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Spinifex Pigeon gave incredible prolonged and close views while we were birding in Alice Springs – what a stunner!
This Alice Springs birding tour started in Alice Springs on the 6th of October 2023 and ended back there on the 11th of October 2023. This short bird tour focused on birding around Alice Springs but ventured further afield to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park; this area is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its natural and cultural values. We visited the spectacular Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) as well as Erldunda, the geographical center of Australia!
We recorded 90 bird species on this Alice Springs bird tour, and all species were seen. Plenty of specials of the “red center” were found, including Spinifex Pigeon, Diamond Dove, Spinifexbird, Rufous Grasswren, Dusky Grasswren, Banded Whiteface, Southern Whiteface, Crested Bellbird, Western Bowerbird, Black-breasted Buzzard, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Red-backed Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Grey-headed Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, White-backed Swallow, Chiming Wedgebill, Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Hooded Robin, Little Crow, Australian Raven, Purple-backed Fairywren, Splendid Fairywren, White-winged Fairywren, Red-browed Pardalote, and Australian Zebra Finch.
It was a big parrot year, with loads of Budgerigars seen, which was an incredible sight wherever we went. We also saw Mulga Parrot, Australian Ringneck, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Pink Cockatoo (formerly Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo), Galah, Little Corella, and Cockatiel, but best of all (and a massive surprise), a small flock of the rare, localized, and nomadic Princess Parrot.
Our dawn and dusk visits to Uluru were another huge highlight of the tour, seeing this world-famous landmark in the changing light of the sun rising and setting will live long in the memory.
Part of a flock of over 3,000 Budgerigars that we enjoyed watching ahead of sunset at Uluru.
Day 1, 6th October 2023. Arrival in Alice Springs
We arrived in Alice Springs in the late afternoon and had a group welcome meal in the evening, discussing the plans for the coming week of birding in the arid Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock) areas.
Day 2, 7th October 2023. Birding the Alice Springs area
For our first birding in Alice Springs, we visited the Alice Springs Desert Park, and it was a great introduction to a suite of birds found in the arid center of Australia. Before leaving the hotel, right outside our rooms, we had Little Crow, Pied Butcherbird, Galah, and Yellow-throated Miner. As we made our way to the park, we added Australian Magpie, Magpie-lark, and Australian Ringneck.
On arrival at the Alice Springs Desert Park, we found Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Singing Honeyeater, Grey-headed Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, Purple-backed Fairywren, and Splendid Fairywren, all before we reached the car park!
Splendid Fairywren is a gorgeous bird and we saw plenty during the Alice Springs bird tour.
We spent the morning walking around the trail system in the park. At first it was quite quiet, but a flock of Australian Zebra Finches soon spiced things up, as did a flock of Crested Pigeons and a couple of Peaceful Doves. Unfortunately, several flocks of Budgerigars sped across the site but didn’t land in view. A Nankeen Kestrel and Wedge-tailed Eagle were noted above a nearby ridgeline, and then we hit an area that was very busy with birds. An area of low vegetation gave us our first Diamond Doves and then the star attraction, Spinifex Pigeon. It was playing hide-and-seek for a while, but then came out into a better position and gave us some absolutely incredible views. Prolonged and very close, see the cover image! While we were waiting for the pigeon to show better, we noted several other species, including Crested Bellbird, Grey Shrikethrush, White-browed Babbler, Hooded Robin, more Australian Zebra Finches, and several of the honeyeater species already mentioned.
As we continued on our walk, we found Western Bowerbird, Grey-crowned Babbler, Brown Goshawk, Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Falcon, Australian Ringneck, lots of Splendid Fairywrens, Mistletoebird, and Fairy Martin. It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning, and we also appreciated seeing the different habitats and landscapes that really added to the experience, with so many beautiful wildflowers and butterflies on show too.
Crested Bellbird gave some great views. It was more interested in finding food for its young, rather than worrying about us watching it.
After a break for lunch during the middle of the day, we took a walk at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, where we found our main target, Red-browed Pardalote, as well as the closely related Striated Pardalote. Both pardalotes showed well, which was appreciated. Walking around the grounds, we picked up some nesting Rainbow Bee-eaters, which showed nicely, and we also noted Australian Magpie, Pied Butcherbird, Little Crow, Yellow-throated Miner, White-plumed Honeyeater, Black-faced Woodswallow, Weebill, Crested Pigeon, and Spotted Dove. We also found a Black-tailed Monitor sunning itself on a rock.
Australian Ringneck was a common, but rather attractive sight around parks and gardens in Alice Springs. This subspecies is also sometimes known as the “Port Lincoln Parrot”.
Day 3, 8th October 2023. Birding the Alice Springs area
We spent the morning birding in some arid open areas to the southeast of Alice Springs, where we found lots of new and exciting species.
As we drove along the dry and dusty dirt road, we made several stops in different vegetation types, and during these various stops, we found lots of target birds, including Budgerigar (great perched views rather than the flyover views had the previous day), Mulga Parrot, Australian Ringneck, Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Banded Whiteface, Southern Whiteface, Cinnamon Quail-thrush, White-backed Swallow, Red-backed Kingfisher, Brown Songlark, Rufous Songlark, Australian Pipit, White-winged Fairywren, Splendid Fairywren, Inland Thornbill, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Grey Butcherbird, Crested Bellbird, Hooded Robin, Australian Zebra Finch, Little Buttonquail, Black-shouldered Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Falcon, and Nankeen Kestrel.
A pair of Banded Whiteface were seeking some shelter in a bush where they showed nicely.
After a break for lunch and a siesta during the hottest part of the day, we ventured back out along the same road that we’d explored during the morning but called in at some different spots. Here, we found two family groups of Purple-backed Fairywrens, the males giving some excellent views. Other species seen here included Red-backed Kingfisher, Western Bowerbird, Black-faced Cuckooshrike, and Black-faced Woodswallow. A brief stop at a small waterbody resulted in us finding a pair of Common Bronzewings coming in for a drink at dusk, with a pair of gorgeous Mulga Parrots nearby. On the drive back into Alice Springs, we saw Red Kangaroo and Common Wallaroo, and earlier we saw a Central Bearded Dragon.
A stunning male White-winged Fairywren gave us some excellent views.
Day 4, 9th October 2023. Alice Springs to Erldunda
We spent the early morning birding along a dirt road southeast of Alice Springs, and after carefully walking our way through a stand of spinifex (a very sharp Triodia grass), we found ourselves watching the tough and secretive Spinifexbird, one of the main targets of the trip. Spinifexbird is a warbler-like bird that is part of the Grassbirds and allies family (Locustellidae). It took some pinning down, but once we got it, we had some good views. While looking for the Spinifexbird, we also saw Budgerigar, White-winged Fairywren, Little Buttonquail, Brown Songlark, Australian Zebra Finch, Black-faced Woodswallow, and Crimson Chat.
A grassbird of the desert! Spinifexbird was at home in a dense stand of impenetrable spinifex. Luckily, it eventually came out into view, allowing us all to get great views of this top tour target.
We moved locations and found some rocky outcrops to look over. Once we were in the correct habitat, it didn’t take too long to find our main target from the site, Dusky Grasswren. We found two family groups, though the first group was getting some hassle from a Willie Wagtail and, as such, were a bit skittish. A second family group showed a little better. While in this area, we also saw Purple-backed Fairywren, Australian Zebra Finch, Red-backed Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Brown Falcon, and Nankeen Kestrel.
A Dusky Grasswren showed rather nicely.
After enjoying lunch in the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs, we commenced our journey south to Erldunda, our overnight stop as we ultimately made our way to Uluru (Ayers Rock). We made a couple of stops along the way. The first stop, at a waterhole, gave us sightings of White-necked Heron, Black-fronted Dotterel, Masked Lapwing, Maned Duck, Grey Teal, Red-backed Kingfisher, Little Corella, Australian Hobby, and multiple honeyeaters we had become very familiar with over recent days. An ice cream stop resulted in a sighting of Pink Cockatoo (formerly, and until very recently, known as Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo) and an uncovered water source on a station (farm) a little further along the road provided sightings of Budgerigar, Galah, Little Corella, Australian Ringneck, Fairy Martin, White-winged Triller, White-plumed Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, and Australian Raven. After sunset, a Whiskered Tern was noted flying around the hotel car park.
Purple-backed Fairywren was one of three species of fairywrens seen on this Alice Springs birding tour.
Day 5, 10th October 2023. Erldunda to Uluru (Ayers Rock)
We did some early morning birding near Erldunda, where we found our main target, Chiming Wedgebill, and also found a flock of over 40 Crimson Chats. It was a great start to the day, and we enjoyed watching family groups of White-winged Fairywren, Purple-backed Fairywren, and Splendid Fairywren. Other species noted included Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Southern Whiteface, Singing Honeyeater, White-backed Swallow, Mulga Parrot, Brown Falcon, and Nankeen Kestrel.
After checking out of our accommodation, we made our journey west to Yulara, our base for the night, to explore the nearby Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We spent the afternoon watching a flock of over 3,000 Budgerigars swirling around in a stunning murmuration in front of Uluru (Ayers Rock) as they moved between feeding and resting areas. We also stayed to watch the sunset at Uluru, a really impressive sight.
Our group watched Uluru change colors during the late afternoon.
Day 6, 11th October 2023. Uluru (Ayers Rock) to Alice Springs
We made an early morning visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) to watch the sunrise, and wow, what a sight it was, possibly more beautiful even than the previous night’s sunset! There were fewer birds around during the dawn period, mainly just a few Singing Honeyeaters, a Nankeen Kestrel, and a small flock of Budgerigars, but we were really here for the view, and it was very impressive.
We moved locations and started birding along a pretty sand dune system. We found several new birds, such as Masked Woodswallow, Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, White-fronted Honeyeater, and Pied Honeyeater. After a fair bit of searching, we located the rare and localized Rufous Grasswren, which showed well and proved to be a tour highlight. We also had excellent views of thousands of Budgerigars flying over the dunes, some of them landing close by. Crimson Chats were breeding and showing very well too, the males looking glorious in the early morning sunlight.
The top prize in the sand dunes near Uluru was this localized Rufous Grasswren, which showed well.
While wandering around the dune system looking for the Rufous Grasswrens, we were having a constant stream of Budgerigars flying over, some right over our head and within arm’s reach! A few small flocks of Cockatiels were also noted flying over too, but then the surprise of the tour happened. We were alerted to an unusual parrot call and looked up to see a small flock (five birds) of the rare, nomadic, and seldom-seen Princess Parrot flying through – a remarkable sight.
There were thousands of Budgerigars flying around, with birds occasionally landing close to us.
After our morning birding, we left the Uluru area and commenced the journey back to Alice Springs, where we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. The journey was uneventful, and we noted Black-breasted Buzzard, Wedge-tailed Eagle, and other common roadside raptors along the way.
It was a bumper season for Crimson Chats breeding in the sand dune systems around Uluru, and they gave great views.
We had a final group dinner together and chatted about the many highlights we had over the previous week of birding the Alice Springs and Uluru area (and longer because everyone on this tour had also joined our Top End bird tour that ran prior to this tour). Some of the top highlights from this trip were Spinifexbird, Rufous Grasswren, Budgerigar, Spinifex Pigeon, Crimson Chat, Purple-backed Fairywren, and Princess Parrot.
Bird List – Following IOC (13.2)
All species were seen. The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: VU = Vulnerable.
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)|
|Maned Duck||Chenonetta jubata|
|Grey Teal||Anas gracilis|
|Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo||Chrysococcyx basalis|
|Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)|
|Spotted Dove||Spilopelia chinensis|
|Common Bronzewing||Phaps chalcoptera|
|Crested Pigeon||Ocyphaps lophotes|
|Spinifex Pigeon||Geophaps plumifera|
|Diamond Dove||Geopelia cuneata|
|Peaceful Dove||Geopelia placida|
|Australasian Grebe||Tachybaptus novaehollandiae|
|Little Buttonquail||Turnix velox|
|Masked Lapwing||Vanellus miles|
|Black-fronted Dotterel||Elseyornis melanops|
|Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)|
|Whiskered Tern||Chlidonias hybrida|
|Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)|
|White-necked Heron||Ardea pacifica|
|Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)|
|Black-shouldered Kite||Elanus axillaris|
|Black-breasted Buzzard||Hamirostra melanosternon|
|Little Eagle||Hieraaetus morphnoides|
|Wedge-tailed Eagle||Aquila audax|
|Brown Goshawk||Accipiter fasciatus|
|Collared Sparrowhawk||Accipiter cirrocephalus|
|Black Kite||Milvus migrans|
|Whistling Kite||Haliastur sphenurus|
|Red-backed Kingfisher||Todiramphus pyrrhopygius|
|Rainbow Bee-eater||Merops ornatus|
|Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)|
|Nankeen Kestrel||Falco cenchroides|
|Australian Hobby||Falco longipennis|
|Brown Falcon||Falco berigora|
|Red-tailed Black Cockatoo||Calyptorhynchus banksii|
|Pink Cockatoo||Cacatua leadbeateri|
|Little Corella||Cacatua sanguinea|
|Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)|
|Princess Parrot||Polytelis alexandrae|
|Mulga Parrot||Psephotellus varius|
|Australian Ringneck||Barnardius zonarius|
|Western Bowerbird||Chlamydera guttata|
|Australasian Wrens (Maluridae)|
|Purple-backed Fairywren||Malurus assimilis|
|Splendid Fairywren||Malurus splendens|
|White-winged Fairywren||Malurus leucopterus|
|Rufous Grasswren||Amytornis whitei|
|Dusky Grasswren||Amytornis purnelli|
|Crimson Chat||Epthianura tricolor|
|Pied Honeyeater||Certhionyx variegatus|
|Brown Honeyeater||Lichmera indistincta|
|White-fronted Honeyeater||Purnella albifrons|
|Singing Honeyeater||Gavicalis virescens|
|Grey-headed Honeyeater||Ptilotula keartlandi|
|White-plumed Honeyeater||Ptilotula penicillata|
|Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater||Acanthagenys rufogularis|
|Yellow-throated Miner||Manorina flavigula|
|Red-browed Pardalote||Pardalotus rubricatus|
|Striated Pardalote||Pardalotus striatus|
|Australasian Warblers (Acanthizidae)|
|Western Gerygone||Gerygone fusca|
|Inland Thornbill||Acanthiza apicalis|
|Chestnut-rumped Thornbill||Acanthiza uropygialis|
|Southern Whiteface – VU||Aphelocephala leucopsis|
|Banded Whiteface||Aphelocephala nigricincta|
|Australasian Babblers (Pomatostomidae)|
|Grey-crowned Babbler||Pomatostomus temporalis|
|White-browed Babbler||Pomatostomus superciliosus|
|Chiming Wedgebill||Psophodes occidentalis|
|Jewel-babblers, Quail-thrushes (Cinclosomatidae)|
|Cinnamon Quail-thrush||Cinclosoma cinnamomeum|
|Woodswallows, Butcherbirds & Allies (Artamidae)|
|Masked Woodswallow||Artamus personatus|
|White-browed Woodswallow||Artamus superciliosus|
|Black-faced Woodswallow||Artamus cinereus|
|Little Woodswallow||Artamus minor|
|Australian Magpie||Gymnorhina tibicen|
|Grey Butcherbird||Cracticus torquatus|
|Pied Butcherbird||Cracticus nigrogularis|
|Black-faced Cuckooshrike||Coracina novaehollandiae|
|White-winged Triller||Lalage tricolor|
|Australo-Papuan Bellbirds (Oreoicidae)|
|Crested Bellbird||Oreoica gutturalis|
|Whistlers & Allies (Pachycephalidae)|
|Rufous Whistler||Pachycephala rufiventris|
|Grey Shrikethrush||Colluricincla harmonica|
|Willie Wagtail||Rhipidura leucophrys|
|Crows, Jays (Corvidae)|
|Torresian Crow||Corvus orru|
|Little Crow||Corvus bennetti|
|Australian Raven||Corvus coronoides|
|Australasian Robins (Petroicidae)|
|Hooded Robin||Melanodryas cucullata|
|Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)|
|White-backed Swallow||Cheramoeca leucosterna|
|Fairy Martin||Petrochelidon ariel|
|Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)|
|Brown Songlark||Cincloramphus cruralis|
|Rufous Songlark||Cincloramphus mathewsi|
|Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)|
|Australian Zebra Finch||Taeniopygia castanotis|
|Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)|
|Australian Pipit||Anthus australis|
|Total heard only||0|
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Kangaroos, Wallabies, and Allies (Macropodidae)|
|Common Wallaroo||Osphranter robustus|
|Red Kangaroo||Osphranter rufus|
|Black-flanked Rock Wallaby||Petrogale lateralis|
|Dromedary Camel||Camelus dromedarius|
|Feral Dog (Dingo) (H)||Canis familiaris dingo|
|Hares and Rabbits (Leporidae)|
|European Rabbit||Oryctolagus cuniculus|
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Monitor Lizards (Varanidae)|
|Black-tailed Monitor||Varanus tristis|
|Central Bearded Dragon||Pogona vitticeps|
|Long-snouted Lashtail||Lophognathus longirostris|
|Lively Ctenotus||Ctenotus alacer|
|Elapid Snakes (Elapidae)|
|Yellow-faced Whipsnake||Demansia psammophis|
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