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Spectacular Top End

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Male Black-necked Stork

It's been a while since I last blogged, but you can't blame a girl - there's just so much to see up here in the NT! We've been on the road for nearly 10 weeks now and in that time have visited some amazing places. I've completed 250 bird surveys and seen 14 new species. However, I struggle to put down my binoculars so have are relatively few photos to share.

In addition, we've seen a great diversity of freshwater fishes - Black-banded Rainbowfish, Archerfish, Banded Grunter, Spangled Grunter, Northern Trout Gudgeon and Eel-tailed Catfish to name a few. And so many lizards, butterflies, moths and other invertebrates. Check out these amazing Green Jewel Bugs. In the dry season, they form non-feeding clusters on the underside of leaves, close to waterways. We found them at a few spots, including at Elsey National Park.

Green Jewel Bug aggregation
Green Jewel Bug aggregation

After visting Elsey National Park and Bitter Springs, we headed towards Katherine then out to Victoria River. What a gem! Here we explored the old river crossing - a great spot for a dip, the boat ramp and around the traffic bridges. A colony of Fairy Martins were establishing nests under the bridge. I watched them flying down to the river bank to collect mud which they then deposited onto the concrete surface. We also found colonies of microbats and watched fish swimming beneath the bridge, including some large Barramundi.

In the afternoon, I birded along the edge of the Victoria River, looking for Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens in the tall cane grass. I heard them, some just a metre away, but I could not see them for the long grass. Fortunately, the traffic bridge provided the perfect viewing platform! You just stand on the bridge, listen for their calls and eventually, they'll come to the top of the grasses where you can get some great views.

If you visit, be sure to do the escarpment walk, which offers fabulous views over the valley. You might also spot White-quilled Rock Pigeons - we saw two. We rounded out the trip with Brett catching an 83 cm Barramundi, which was subsequently released.

On the way back to Katherine, we stopped at Flora River Nature Reserve, which boasts two cascading waterfalls. Unfortunately, there is no swimming due to the presence of salties but the monsoon rainforest provided an opportunity for some great birding. The ranger camp had excellent facilities - large shady camp sites, flushing toilets and solar showers.

We then headed to Pine Creek - a gorgeous little town just north of Katherine. We stopped here for a few days so I could finish some work on my Thesis. I took the opportunity to photograph Hooded Parrots and Little Red Flyingfoxes. If you have time, Umbuwarra Gorge is a great spot for a dip. The creek was brimming with birdlife and you have a good chance of spotting Mertens Water Monitor.

Hooded Parrot
Little Red Flyingfox

Litchfield was excellent - we spent three nights at Sandy Camp. It's a beautiful spot but you need a four-wheel drive to cross the creek and access the camp. Last time I visited this spot (with Tegan, Andy and Sam) in a Wicked Camper. When we crossed, the car filled up with water and my toiletries bag floated in the footwell.

Apart from Sandy Camp, Cascades, Florence Falls monsoon forest walk, gorgeous swimming holes and a mating pair of Red Goshawk were highlights from Litchfield.

We then headed to Howard Springs and stayed a few nights. Whilst in the area, we birded Knuckey Lagoon, and Howard Springs Nature Reserve - a great spot to see some very habituated Rainbow Pitta.

As we headed towards Kakadu, we stopped Fogg Dam, which did not disappoint. In three hours, we recorded 68 species. The mosquitos were horrendous, so be sure to give your clothing a good spray if you head out there.

We stopped at Sandy Camp on the Mary River for the night. Where freshwater meets salty, separated by a barrage, which becomes flooded at high tide. It's a great spot for wildlife viewing. We watched a 2.5 m salty cross over and in the morning, hundreds of mullet were making their way downstream. We saw 10 crocs whilst spotlighting.

Shady Camp, Mary River

Kakadu was spectacular with many highlights. Among them was the trip to Anbangbang Billabong. It's an emphemeral wetland, but it still had a decent amount of water due to a good wet season. We walked around the edge of the billabong and spotted a white-morph Grey Goshawk along the way. Stark white plumage with a yellow cere and contrasting red eyes - a truly stunning bird.

As we neared the end of the loop, a bus load of tourists pulled up on the opposite side of the billabong and disembarked. In the process, a young Agile Wallaby fled the area and bounded across the billabong in inch-deep water. However, the wallaby soon hit a deep patch and went under with a splash. A croc exploded out of the water and gave chase - first swimming, then running a couple of metres over soggy grass and then into the deep pool. As the croc neared, the wallaby made up some ground as it reached the grassland but the croc grabbed it's tail, before clenching its jaws over the rump and dragging it into the water. It's a moment I will never forget. The speed at which the croc moved was stunning. I have a new found respect and healthy fear of these incredible animals.

Next was Jim Jim falls. The road had just been graded, so we dragged the van out there. It's a moderately difficuly walk/rock hop to the pools at the end so wear shoes. Here we spotted two Black Bitterns that were flushed by another walker. One bird landed in a tree nearby, providing great views! We then walked to the upper pools. Its a difficult climb to the top but so rewarding. We heard and saw many White-lined Honeyeaters along the way. I was excited to see a number of Variegated Fairy-wrens (dulcis subspecies) at the top - the females are divine with their lavender plumage. The vegetation along the upper trail had been recently burned and despite some searching, we didn't see White-throated Grasswrens. On the way back down, I spotted Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeons.

The next day, we headed to Cooinda. On the drive out, we spotted Partridge Pigeon on the side of the road and had distant views for a few minutes before the bird disappeared into the grasses.

We stayed at Mardugal Campground 2 for the night - another great camp. If you visit, be sure to walk along the river at campground 1. We saw two crocs, presumably, in courtship. The female raised her head and soon after the pair were blowing bubbles. As crocodile business happens underwater, we didn't see much but after a few minutes the male surfaced and slowly headed upstream.

The last stop in Kakadu was the Yellow Water Billabong cruise at sunrise. There were hundreds of Plumed Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese, and three pairs of Black-necked Stork are known to breed on the billabong.

Glorious Kakadu sunrise

And don't forget the crocs.

Stay tuned for more adventures. And visit my blog page to see other updates from our travels. If you have any questions about the places we've visited, feel free to get in touch!

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1 comentariu

08 aug. 2021

Oh my goodness Claire….. what an adventure and detailed itinerary.. If I ever get the chance to visit (minus the tourist bus ;-). I’ll have this bookmarked for reference. Now excuse me while I go look up the “saltlies” that prevented your dip! haha I thought of you yesterday as I saw and photographed a tern chick at this place called Cranes Estate in Ipswich Massachusetts but not without being eaten alive by sand flies. Massachusetts Wildlife and other coastal states are stringent about fencing and/ or completely closing or limiting access to known nesting sites and educating the public about why it’s so important. I think we had a good season in some places!

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