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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents

 
Chapter 9

Kakadu and Darwin



Kakadu National Park
Yellow River Boat Trip
Jaiburu
Mamukala Wetlands
Darwin
Charles Darwin National Park


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Black-necked Stork  Kakadu National Park

Black-necked Stork in Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park

The entrance to Kakadu National Park is not far north of Katherine. The entrance fee of AU$16.50 allows an adult to stay 7 days. It is very hot and very dry here in late August. The northern tip of Australia has two seasons: dry season, and the wet season which starts in January. During the annual "wet" roads flood and most of the park is inaccessible.

Afternoons at Kakadu are hot. Sit in the shade and move slowly. Mornings are cool and rather pleasant. In the evening it cools down quickly and you will probably sleep under a blanket. While it looks like a haven for biting insects I found very few mosquitoes. There are many small flies that do not bite but are very annoying. They try to fly into your mouth, nose and eyes. Soon you are giving the Australia salute,. waving your hand back and forth across your face to shoo off the flies.

In the Yellow Water area I stayed at the Gagudji Lodge and campground in Cooinda. The campground is rather expensive at AU$28 per night, but by this time you are willing to pay almost anything for a shady camp site.. They also have cabins and a restaurant.

I arrived in the early afternoon when it was too hot to do anything but sit in the shade and watch birds. Rainbow Bee-eater, White-throated Honeyeater, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, White Ibis, White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike, Varied Triller, Blue-faced Honeyeater.

Yellow River Boat Trip

The Yellow Water Boat Tours last 2 hours and depart all day long. The best two tours for birds are at 6:45 AM and 4:00 PM. I did both of these tours which cost AU$38 each.

 At 4 PM I took my first boat trip on the Yellow-Water Billabong to Jim-Jim Creek on the Alligator River. There are no alligators here only crocodiles.

The flat-bottomed boats hold 50 people most of whom only want to see crocodiles. The guides knew their birds and tried to interest people in them because other than crocodiles the only other wildlife is birds. They actually seemed happy to have a bird watcher aboard and I was able to get them to stop and close in on the small Azure Kingfisher.

This Forest Kingfisher(right) was perched near the boat dock. We also saw Sacred Kingfisher,Shining Flycatcher, and Restless Flycatchers on the trip.

Forest Kingfisher at kakafu National Park
Esturarine Crocodile The Salt-water Crocodile is more accurately called the Estuarine Crocodile . They do live in freshwater and are very dangerous to humans. You will see more than enough on the boat trip. Mostly they lie in the sun like this big guy holding his mouth open to lose heat.

You must also be wary when walking in other areas of the park especially where you see warning signs as the crocs can run very fast.

Kakadu National Park like most parks has been given to the Aborigines and leased back by the park service. Domestic cattle were introduced here by European settlers. Since the park was established they have been trying to remove the cows which now belong to the traditional owners.

The idea behind returning traditional owners to the park lands is to allow the aborigines to live a traditional life-style. That does not include raising cattle. What problems lie down the road for the Australian national parks as the traditional owners recognize the value of the land. This is a view of the river bank showing cows grazing. Other problem mammals are feral pigs.

The picture taken from the boat shows cattle grazing on park lands.

Cattle at Kakadu National Park
Comb-crested Jacana

You will have no trouble seeing the large waders and ducks: Black-necked Storks, Glossy Ibis, Green Pygmy-Goose, Rajah Shelduck, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Pied Heron, Wandering Whistling Duck, Plumed Whistling Duck, Masked Lapwing, Brolga, Purple Swamphen

Several Comb-crested Jacana (left) walked among pink flowering water lilies.

Another photo taken as the boat drifted along the billabong. On a small mud bank at water's edge I saw Australian Pratincole. Whiskered Terns flew up and down the river.

Magpie Goose

Large flocks of Magpie Geese are seen on the boat trip and later at the bird blind. Significantly this was the first time I saw the Magpie Goose on the trip. They used to be quite common in Victoria and most parts of the country. Their numbers are quite reduced due to hunting, the drought, and of course habitat destruction.

White-bellied Sea-Eagle

Certainly one of the highlights of the trip was the White-bellied Sea-Eagle. In addition to this individual who posed so beautifully in just the right light, we had two active nests and several birds perched and in flight.

Other raptors seen were: Brown Falcon, Austrialian Hobby, Whistling Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Swamp Harrier

The afternoon trip lasted until sunset. As the sun turned into a great red ball and began to sink behind the trees, the Egrets took to the trees to roost while the Night-Herons went to work. It was dark by the time I returned to the campground. I ate dinner at the restaurant where they offered salad bar for AU$16.50. A small Pied Heron begged scraps of meat from diners. I was feeding him cold ham from the salad bar.

The next morning I was on the 6:45 AM trip. It was very foggy and thick smoke from a wild fire hung over the area. There were fewer people on the trip, but one man insisted on yelling to his son who was on a fishing trip in another boat. He was yelling in my ear and disturbing the quiet of our morning trip. I finally turned around and told him that to see wildlife you needed to be very quiet. I am sure he was quite embarrassed in front of his wife and young son, but come on. Good thing he was an American too or I would not have gotten away with reprimanding him. My personal opinion is that a few Australian men are Neanderthals and the rest let them get away with it.

We saw all the same birds some in better light then the night before..
Jaiburu

After the morning river trip I drove north stopping at the visitor's center. It is a beautiful building with some nice museum exhibits and a video on the park. I had my first Double-barred Finch in the woods around the center.

By noon it was very hot and I settled into the shaded campground at Jabiru. This was a very nice campground with a large swimming pool shaded with an awning. I spent the afternoon in the pool and even had dinner at the restaurant by the pool. If you find the Cooinda campground a bit too primitive you could stay in Jaiburu and drive to the Yellow Water Boat Trip.

There were some good birds in the campground as usual. I photographed this Black Kite there.

The next morning I started off to drive to Darwin with plans to stop twice along the way. Just outside Jaiburu I crossed a small bridge and noticed Brown Quail in the standing water on the side of the road. There seemed to be a lot of bird activity so I hung around. During the last wet season an entire tree, roots and all, washed down this stream and now lies in the shallow pool of water. This makes perfect cover for small birds. I ended up taking out a lawn chair and sitting in the shade for over an hour watching the pool. Double-barred Finch, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, White-gaped Honeyeater, Crimson Finch, Peaceful Dove. White-necked Heron, Red-tailed Cockatoo, Whistling Kite, Little Corella

Mamukala Wetlands

Further down the road I spent three hours in the large bird blind at the Mamukala Wetlands one of the major tourist areas in Kakadu. The bird blind has benches and is shady and cool.

There were three winter plumaged Australian Pratincoles on the mud flat outside the blind. .I first saw this bird from the Yellow River Boat trip and my first take when seeing it on the edge of the billabong was that it looked like a small jaeger with long wings that project beyond the tail. Here I noticed that it tends to bob its head when standing.


Flying over the marsh I saw:Little Tern, Caspian Tern, Whiskered Tern. In the bushes next to the blind Rainbow Bee-eater, Broad-billed Flycatcher

This is the beautiful little Pied Heron feeding outside the bird blind. This is the same little bird that hung out next to the restaurant at Cooinda and was so fond of cold ham from the salad bar

You can see all the herons, ducks and waders here that you see on the boat trip. Here is the Rufous Night-Heron. Little, Intermediate, and Great Egret, Black-necked Stork, Pied Heron, Glossy Ibis, Pacific Black Duck, Rajah Shelduck, Masked Lapwing, Magpie Goose, Wandering Whistling-duck, Darter, Black-winged Stilt, Australian Grebe,

The bird blind was a relatively cool place to hang out as afternoon approached. I gave up the idea of driving on to Darwin. I will spend another night in Jaiburu.

Traveling isn't always easy especially with teenagers and all the spoiled teenagers do not live in the US.   I overhead this comment. from a young lady  "What I don't understand is why we drove in the car for hours and hours to get to this little bit of water that's full of birds." This young lady made her point as I heard her father losing his temper with her on the way out.

The next day I started out again for Darwin stopping again at the water hole, bird blind and at the Kakadu Lodge to walk to the billabong. This was a pleasant and birdy walk but I didn't see anything new. At the Alligator River picnic ground I had my first Pied-Imperial Pigeon.

Darwin

I arrived in Darwin in the afternoon on August 21 and checked in Shady Grove Campground. It is much too hot to bird in the afternoon. I have decided that mornings are for birding and afternoons for sitting by the pool or even better in it. Willy is hitting 10,000KM and is due for an oil change. I made arrangements to get it done the next day. On Thursday evenings the campground sponsors a sausage sizzle. For AU$2 you get a sausage with grilled onions on white bread and a glass a wine. This is the last week of the tourist season in Darwin and the last sausage sizzle. It is too hot and humid from now until after the next wet season.

I left early the next morning for the East Point Reserve. This is a park with several beach areas. The beaches are wide and beautiful, but signs warn against swimming or even wading in the water here because of the very poisonous box jellyfish. I can't believe people actually live here.

At the first beach stop I had Common Sandpiper two Sacred Kingfishers, Ruddy Turnstones, Lapwings. At the Equestrian Club gate: Imperial Pigeon, Bar-shouldered Dove, Peaceful Dove, Rainbow Bee-eater.
Bush Stone-curlew


I thought I had gotten really lucky when I found this stone-curlew standing in the grassy park area. Closer examination convinced me that this is actually a Bush Stone-curlew. The more elusive Beach Stone-curlew is only found on the beach. I only saw one too far away to photograph. This is a nice shot of the Bush however.
Orange-footed Junglefowl
The park abounds in Orange-footed Junglefowl. This is one of the three Megapods or mound builders and along with the Bush Turkey is not endangered.

I wandered around in this park until I found my way to Pee Wee's restaurant. There is a track into a remnant of the rainforest which follows a power line. I walked this track and another which branched off and found: Varied Triller, Large-billed Gerrygone, White-gaped Honeyeater.

A Gerrygone is a warbler type bird and the name is not pronounced Garry gone. Put the accent on the second syllable ger rig' gon ne. Most Europeans are familiar with the bird so calling it Garry gone will label you as a North American birde

Agile Wallaby

Agile Wallabys are at home and protected in this park. Notice the white strip along the cheek.

I was wandering through the park looking for the Mangrove boardwalk. Just after Lake Larribee turn right into a parking lot. Once in the parking lot you will see a sign for the boardwalk. By the time I finally located the boardwalk it was 10 AM and far too hot. Also the tide was very low. This area was a big disappointment and I had only Leaden Flycatcher and White-gaped Honeyeater

White-breasted Woodswallow

Behind the 50m outdoor swimming pool at Nightcliff. I found this group of White-breasted Woodswallows all lined up on a wire. How curious that these birds even in the heat of the day sit so close together.  Back in the states I visited the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park and they have a flock of White-breasted Woodswallows in a flight cage and they line up just like this.

This parking lot also had: Restless Flycatcher, Sacred Kingfishers, Red-colared Lorikeet, Little Friarbird.

Follow Casuarina Street to a parking lot with a big banyan tree. There is a bridge to a mangrove covered island here. I was too hot and tired to take it on, but I think this may be a good place to come to in the morning. Unfortunately it is popular with dog walkers. How does anyone live in this heat and humidity and walk their dog at noon.

It was just too hot for me so I went to the grocery and took the car to be serviced. Back in the campground I immersed myself in the pool until the sun went down. I did see Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike , Rufous-banded Honeyeater, White-gaped Honeyeater from the pool.

I was eating a sandwich when I heard something large scratching in the dirt beside the camper. In the leaves was a Pheasant Coucal, a large bird with a long tail. When I shined a flash light on it, it took off running across the parking lot. I had a hard time identifying it because it was not in breeding plumage. This was where the Michael Morcombe field guide came in handy as it had an illustration of the non-breeding plumage. It is always good to have more than one field guide.

Charles Darwin National Park

My last morning in Darwin I went early to the National Park. The city of Darwin was named in honor of Charles Darwin as is this National Park. From the picnic grounds you have a nice view of the high rise buildings in downtown Darwin. The park was built to preserve the mangroves. Unfortunately the more accessible mangroves closer to the city have all been built up into condominiums and houses.

The park area was an army camp during World War II and you can see some large concrete bunkers from the war days. Darwin was the target of 65 Japanese bombing raids during the war. It is hard to imagine how anything was left after 65 raids, but I guess bombs didn't do so much damage then.

In the picnic area I had a flock of Brown Quail and Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike. I walked a track in the very dry woods around the picnic area with little success. The mangroves are about a 3 km walk from the parking lot and that was too far for me in the heat. This morning it got hot quickly. Darwin National Park is full of biting insects too. Not really my kind of place.

Frilled Lizard at Charles Darwin Nat. Park

Driving out of the park I passed this large lizard on the gravel road. I believe this to be a Frilled Lizard or Frill-necked Lizard. It was very lethargic and allowed me to approach. According to the lonely planet book Watching Wildlife Australia, it is not easy to see except in the wet season. If it is disturbed it raises its frill. I would have loved to see the frill, but I do not purposely disturb wildlife and left it in peace. It certainly made my trip to the park worthwhile.

My next stop was at the Darwin Botanical Garden where I toured the Children's Evolution Garden. It is good to see that here at least people are not afraid of Darwin's Theory of Evolution. I took a walk up through the tropical rainforest to the information center and picnic ground. There were Orange-footed Junglefowl, Brown Honeyeater, Varied Triller, Mistletoe Bird, Double-banded Finch, Magpie Goose, Black Kite, and Sacred Kingfisher. I had my first flock of Fig Birds.

I the hot afternoon I toured the Museum of the Northern Territory which contains Aboriginal Art, Western Art, and an exhibit about hurricanes. This is a good place to learn more about the aboriginal rock art of the Northern Territory.

Unfortunately Darwin is getting me down. It is too hot to bird much past 10 AM in the morning. Last night some kind of flea or biting blood sucking insect got in the camper and really did a number on my legs and arms leaving hard little bites that itch. This morning there is a big fire near town and the smoke hangs over the hot humid city like a pall. My lungs are wheezing like they did the week I spent teaching in Mexico City. Instead of stopping at the lagoons and Howard Spring on the way out of town, I put the petal to the metal and headed south on the Stuart Highway. I thus missed my chance to see the Rainbow Pitta. I left some good birds unseen and some good birding behind. It was a mistake to wait this late in August to come to Darwin and this year the hot muggy weather of September is starting early. Last summer the wet season did not produce as much rain as usual. The drought seems to be spreading north.

I got to the Homestead Resort in Matarenka in early afternoon. I needed a good rest and a night at the campground next to the Elsie Hot Springs National Park was timely. From the campground I walked 500 yards down a path to a spring that bubbles water at 34 degrees Centigrade into a rock pool built by the soldiers during World War II. It is a restful spot surrounded by palm trees. I spent 2 hours just floating in the pool. That night I ate dinner at the restaurant having the fish Barramundi and vegetables. I met two birders there who had stopped at Howard Spring and had seen the Rainbow Pitta

One of the most common sites in the Northern Territory are the termite mounds along the road. Most are much larger than these. Just as you leave Kakadu National Park there is a roadside park that explains termite mounds.

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