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Home to more than one-third of Australia’s avian species, Kakadu National Park is a bird-lover’s paradise, and Kakadu Bird Week is now attracting an annual migration of twitchers to this Top End treasure. Australian Geographic’s Gemma Chilton reports.

IT STARTS WITH A sudden break in eye contact – pupils dart up and to the right. Then, an index finger extends out and, as if responding to an invisible magnetism, hones in on a specific direction. I watch the process patiently.

Around us the bush thrums with life – insects buzzing, reptiles rustling through leaf litter and a chorus of birds. I can pick out the calls of a few magpie geese in the distance, but not the specific melody that has caused this interruption to our conversation. I’m a newcomer to all this and my ear isn’t tuned in yet.

In the immediate vicinity, a dozen pairs of binoculars are lifted to eager faces, pointed towards the direction now indicated by our guide, who has singled out the call of one sought-after species. It’ll be perched on a branch, a tiny spot against the landscape, and he’ll explain in detail where to find it – “See that tree, with the straight trunk that forks to the right?” – until our binoculars finally settle on their target.

It feels almost voyeuristic to watch quietly from a distance, taking in every detail of the bird’s beauty against a perfect circle of mottled green backdrop: delicate bill, dazzling plumage and restless movements, before it flutters out of sight, as if exiting stage left.

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