Report No. 15. Thursday, September 25 thru Saturday, September 27. KAKADU, DARWIN ENCORE, HEADING FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA.


Reminder: Sharon's added comments are in {brackets}. Comments inserted after returning to San Jose are in red.

Thursday, September 25, 2003. Day 43 of 118. Yellow Waters (Birding Spot 63).

It's 545am, and we're on the road, heading for Yellow Waters, the name of the place where the boats leave from, for a two-hour billabong cruise.

Right out of the box we get a 14.5-foot crocodile. We're on boat with twenty young people, in the 25-35 age group range, from Holland. Sharon asked the young man sitting beside her where he was from, and he responded, "Guess." She guessed all the places I would have from his accent, and he finally told her. They are fun-loving and enjoying the trip. The attractive young lady next to me has incredible braidwork in her hair, and a Cattle Egret climbs up on his namesake to get a better look.

That's a Croc

The Braidy Bunch

Cattle Egret Doing His Thing

We get Darter and Little Pied Cormorant, plus thousands of Magpie Geese flying over and in. About twenty pairs of Green Pygmy-geese, then a large group of Wandering Whistling-geese.

Then we get a Golden Tree Snake, lounging on a branch sticking out from a tree, but not quite over the boat. Another one is higher up. Two more snakes, and since they are not poisonous, they swallow their prey whole and alive, including frogs, which can be heard for a little while inside the snake. Dream about that!

Skeins of Magpie Geese have been flying in, and Sharon points a special one out to me. I get binocs on it, and there is a small bird flying point. It is, oddly, a Glossy Ibis, appearing for this flight only, by special arrangement.

We get Intermediate Egret and Willie Wagtail.

The captain of the boat, also the commentator, says that they have cleaned out the out-of-control water buffalo population, so there are only about 500 animals now. They were tearing up the habitat, with their habit of mud wallowing.

We get White-necked Heron, looking at small fish coming to the surface and jumping just above the surface. They are Tarpon, the way I understood it.

Purple Swamphen, Royal Spoolbill, and a trip bird - a PIED HERON. There are Black-winged Stilts, Whistling Kites, White-bellied Sea-eagles, including some on or near nests.

We get Gilbert's Dragon, with white on the side of its face.

The two hours have flown by, and we have no new lifers, but it has been fun and relaxing. As we exit the boat, we hear calls from the water plants near where the boat is tied to the dock. As we are watching for the bird to appear, a fellow birder asks, "Have you seen him yet?" We say no, and ask if he knows what kind of bird this is. "WHITE-BROWED CRAKE*," he says. We and he, try all sorts of sounds to entice the crake, but it will not come out of the deep cover, so we move out.

We head for the Madrugal Camping Area Number 2 (McCrie's guide, and a part of our Birding Spot 61)). We go down to the boat ramp, ever mindful of crocodiles, and get Northern Fantail. Sharon gets a female Mistletoebird. A beautiful Leaden Flycatcher, whose throat seems almost blue, is spotted, as well as a couple of friarbirds.

We walk the loop going along and then around a billabong, checking everything. It takes us a while to ID an immature Grey Shrike-thrush, but an adult flying in helps. I have played the song of the White-browed Robin every few minutes as we've been walking in, but we get no response.

Suddenly, after I've given up and put the miniCD player away, up pops a simply beautiful White-browed Robin. I had absolutely no idea this bird would be so beautiful. Black and white lines with a very pale rust on the sides of his underparts. And a nice, sharp call.

Continuing on, we get a pair of excellent Rufous Fantails, and at about a quarter till 11am, we have come to the billabong. It's much larger than I was expecting, and Sharon immediately starts checking for Black Bittern. I just start looking for whatever's moving. Sharon yells to get my attention, which she gets, and we both watch what Sharon calls "our own" Great-billed Heron flying to the left. We follow the big bird for maybe twenty seconds, when it turns to the right and disappears behind some greenery.

Minutes later, two small boats reach us, coming from the same direction as the big heron did. They spooked it, for which we thank them. An immature Varied Triller tests our ID skills, but we successfully find its picture in Simpson and Day.

We finish up, and head out, aiming for the Mary River Roadhouse, which we reach at about 130pm. We check in, hook up the electricity, cool off under the A/C, then go out after it cools off a little. Bukbukluk offers only a blind snake, a dunnert (like a mouse) and hooded parrots, but only as black drawings on a sign.

We return to the roadhouse, fuel up, and turn in for the night.

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 2 (White-browed Crake - heard only, White-browed Robin) For the Trip: 253.

Trip Birds Today: 3 (The 2 Lifers plus Pied Heron) For the Trip: 297.

Snakes Seen Today: 2 (Two Golden Tree Snakes - harmless, unless you're a frog) For the Trip: 6.

Sleep in: Mary River Roadhouse, Mary River, NT

Friday, September 26, 2003. Day 44 of 118. A Terrible Road. The Escarpment Climb.

Bulletin! Bulletin! We get up early.

We head out to the highway and turn north again, the way we came from yesterday. We turn right, onto the road to Waterfall Creek (Birding Spot 65) at 535am. The road is a terrible, terrible washboard, corrugated monstrosity, for our motorhome.

An hour and a half later, we have traveled 39 km (25 mi) on that bone-jarring dirt and gravel road, and all I can think of is that 1) the grassbird we've come in to see had better be easy, and 2) I have to drive that road again, to get out of here.

We walk around a bit, to the waterfall and the plunge pool. The sun is rising, and it is getting hotter, but the good news is that the trail up the escarpment will be in the shade if we get going pretty soon.

A Cool Pool Lies Beneath

I want to find the ranger to ask him if there are any campground owls, but Sharon doesn't want to wake him up. Anyway, we want to get going, to see if we can make it up the escarpment climb.

The flies are out in force, so we put on our netting. We get a Pied Imperial-pigeon, then we start the climb, at 732am. High up on the trail, Sharon gets a kingfisher. It's pretty steep, and moderately tough, but we make it up. We look back through the trees and can see our motorhome, WAY down below. Our information says that the White-throated Grasswrens will be up on the sandstone peaks, where there's spinafex. We walk by the pools, which are currently being used by several swimmers, and head upstream.

A Kingfisher, Way Up There?

We Can Barely See Our Motorhome Below (left). The Pools Just Before the Waterfall Were Inviting

It's very hot in the sun now, and Sharon is getting red. We make it to what seems the optimum position, and wait. Each of us check different directions, until we can't stand the heat, then we go back down into the shade, to watch a different, less interesting area. But in birding, you can never tell when or where your bird will pop up.

About 9am, I see an alligator sunning himself in the pool just before a small waterfall. Alligator? Don't you mean crocodile? No, alligator. I call Sharon, and we watch it slide into the pool, and dive deep. Sharon says it's some kind of water monitor, and I estimate it to be maybe one meter long, including the tail. We'll check when we get back to the motorhome.

Twenty minutes later, we give up and start back down the trail. Two boys meet us, then five minutes later another small boy. Sharon asks, "Are you going to go swimming?" and the boy says, "Yip. Did you go?" Sharon says no, and he asks, "Were you scared?" Sharon says no, and he's off again, chasing his mates.

Three minutes later, their mom, dad and little sister are making their way up the trail. The girl says to her parents, "Hurry, hurry." She sees us and says to Sharon, "Why are you wearing those things on your head?" {We both have "bug" gear. Bob's is a baseball cap that has netting you can pull down over your head or leave rolled up. Mine is also netting that has elastic and fits over the brim of my hat. Both of these are not for mousquitos although they would work for that. They are for these little black flies that seem to be everywhere, especially in the dry areas. These flies like to land on you and get in your eyes, ears and nose. I have to tell you, without these nettings, they would drive me crazy. When they are about, we pull down this netting and they land on that. I wonder if it frustrates them to be so close to my face without actually being ON my face. I don't care, or care what we look like. These have saved our sanity.} We tell her we don't like flies, then we continue our downward path.

Near the bottom, we get a black bird with a red eye and lyre tail, and it's a Spangled Drongo. I grab the trunk of a tree, and hey! I get an Australian splinter! I think it's my first one ever. I may keep it.

We find the camp manager, and ask him about owls. He doesn't know of any, so we tell him we went up to try for the grasswren without success. "There's only been five reports of grasswren up there all year," he says. Dohp!!! I sort of wish we would have known about this before we went up. Oh well, we probably would have gone anyway.

We bounce our way back for another 90 minutes and reach the blessed bitumen about 1130am. I want to get down and kiss it, but you can never tell where the road has been, so we head back towards the roadhouse again.

A week or so ago, we were six days behind my schedule, and I was beginning to accept that. Yesterday I looked at it again, and we were only two days behind. I feel bad that we breezed through Darwin so fast, plus I was in pain when we were there, so I ask Sharon if there's anything in Darwin that she didn't see that she would like to. And I tell her about the new position-vs-schedule situation.

She wants to try again for the Rose-crowned Fruit-dove, and I'm with her, so when we get to the Stuart Highway, we simply turn north instead of south. We come to Hayes Creek, where we refuel. As I'm getting ready to sign the credit card slip, the lady behind the counter can't find a pen. She mumbles something which, if I heard her accurately, tickles me a little. "What'd you say?" I ask her. "I said I think all my pens have gone on walkabout," she says. "That's what I thought you said," I tell her as I can't help laughing. And neither can she.

When we were in Bamaga, in the top part of Cape York, we learned that "walkabout" is a natural part of an aboriginal's life. When they feel stressed, or want to experience nature, or want to visit their granny out in the bush - for any reason, they just interrupt their normal life, and leave. No warning, no notice, no preparations - they just leave. And this is totally understood by the aboriginals, in their existence. "You'd get sacked if you did that in the U.S., I'll bet," the lady said to us when we checked out of Resort Bamaga, "up top."

We continue on and at 3pm, we check into the same Shady Glen Caravan Park we were in a few days ago. We know the drill, so requesting the same boom gate code (Don't tell Samantha), and getting it, we just turn around and head on toward Darwin proper.

Driving into Darwin (Birding Spot 52), I notice stuff I didn't before. On our left, a couple of sixteen-inch diamter above-ground water(?) pipes are painted a nice light sky blue. And there are figures painted all along the length. Maybe by kids, maybe by aboriginals. Hey, how about by aboriginal kids?

And by 330pm we're in downtown Darwin. Sharon has found me an internet shop, and by 420pm, I'm out. It's the most advanced one we've seen so far, and I send out Report No. 12, and take care of incoming and outgoing emails. The owner/manager is Swiss. He had a shop in Alice Springs till a couple of months ago, but there wasn't enough business, so he closed up and moved here. Business is booming here, and we wish him success.

We go to the Botanic Gardens, recommended by McCrie's guide, our goal for the afternoon. We are after two specific birds here, and the odometer says 76666. We check the toilet block trees, the rainforest walks, the place where the road splits, all as suggested by McCrie's wonderful book, but can't get any hint of our target birds.

On the rainforest walk, however, we see a bird that illustrates a fundamental human principle. And that is, people like to see little versions of things. Little people, puppies, kittens, colts, etc. And what we see is a miniature Orange-footed Scrubfowl. It's amazing. This bird dug its way out of the mound, tended by its dad for a period of time. And we wonder how long since he dug out.

I go back to the motorhome to get my bird CDs, and we go back in, playing Rufous Owl and Rose-crowned Fruit-dove. We don't get any response of either one, but we do meet Jim and Sal Burrow, who are here from England. They are curious about what we are doing, so we talk to them, and I play them the sound of the owl.

As I'm talking, Sharon interrupts me, saying, "Did you hear THAT? Listen!" I listen, and hear the crystal clear call of a Barking Owl, clearly waking up from his day sleep. We head over to the sound, inviting the Burrows to follow us, which they do.

I'm quite sure Sharon will spot this owl first. Sal doesn't come as far as Sharon, Jim and I, and we all start searching. In a few moments, Sal says, "I've got them. There's two of them." We go over by her, and sure enough, a pair of remarkable BARKING OWLS* are perched high in the tree. We watch them for five or ten minutes. They look around, blinking their eyes, and looking a little like me at about 5am.

After the Burrows take off, we watch a pair of Scrubfowl get into a knockdown, drag out fight. Feathers are flying, and the owls follow this fracas with some interest.

We don't get the two birds we're after, but we are tickled about the Barking Owls. On the way home, we decide to celebrate with out first stop at MacDonalds. French fries never tasted so good, and it's probably been two years since I had a quarter pounder with cheese.

We get to an aboriginal college, as directed by Sharon's AA contact, and I stay in the hot, sweaty motorhome, transcribing my notes, while Sharon sits in the nice, cool A/C of her AA meeting.

But I don't mind. We got Barking Owl today. Arr-OOOOOOO!

Our plan was to bird the Esplanade tomorrow, but I feel the call of the road, and when Sharon gets back, I ask if it'd be ok to take off early in the morning instead of going back into Darwin, to which she says that phrase I love to hear. "Let's do it".

Bird Summary:

Life Birds Today: 1 (Barking Owl)
For the Trip: 254.

Trip Birds Today: 1 (The 1 Lifer)
For the Trip: 298.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 6.

Sleep in: Shady Glen Caravan Park, Winnellie (suburb of Darwin), NT


Saturday, September 27, 2003. Day 45 of 118. Birding at 104.

The sun beats us up and that hasn't happened for a long time. We hit the road and it feels great. At Adelaide River we stop for breakfast, and I record statistics about the new railroad.

We come to Pine Creek, Gateway to Kakadu. And home of the Northern Rosella and Hooded Parrot, in our case.

In early afternoon, we're in Katherine. We zip around, getting ready to head for Kununurra. We hit the internet again and pick up groceries. I inquire if somebody can look at our cab air conditioning system, but a) it's the weekend and no mechanics are working, and b) it's the grand final in AFL - Aussie Rule Football, and at 2pm everybody will be glued to their couch to watch the equivalent of our superbowl.

The A/C still works, but it seems to me that it's losing a little punch. Perhaps it has something to do with the 40 degree C temperature. That's 104 degrees F, when you apply the (9/5)*C + 32 translation equation situation. So we hit the road for Kununurra. We go past Chinaman Creek and Chainman Creek, when I realize that the yellow warning light is on, for the fuel tank. Oops. I was so involved in taking care of details, I forgot to do the obvious. So I drive back to Katherine, where I refuel.

OK. NOW I'm ready . You know how it seems to take FOREVER when you start on a trip, then have to backtrack, do whatever it is that you forgot, and then repeat that bit you just did?

You know.

I fill up the ten-liter can I bought earlier on the trip, when I ran out of fuel. I don't think I told you about that one, did I? I don't tell you everything (believe it or not).

When I was trying to buy fuel, I had to yell into the back room three times, with increasing volume, before I got someone's attention. You see, the game had just started.

We turn off at the Buntine Highway, from McCrie's guide, looking for Star Finch, Gouldian Finch and Square-tailed Kites, but all we get is an unknown honeyeater. Then we get an incredibly blue bird, which turns out to be a Little Woodswallow. I hadn't noticed how brown and blue that bird was, in its blue parts. Beautiful.

We find a cattle watering station, where there are lots of Apostlebirds, a crow, several Great Bowerbirds, Crested Pigeons, Bar-shouldered Doves, Galahs, friarbirds, but no finches of any kind anywhere.

We arrive at the Victoria River crossing (Birding Spot 67), where we check out the corners of the bridge/river intersection, especially the tall grasses. But no Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens show themselves. We get White-faced Heron, lots of corellas, Sulfur-cresteds. Sharon checks up and down the river for Black Bitt'n, but comes up empty on that bird too. We check only the western end, and later, in Broome, we learn that we were supposed to be at the eastern end, where the rascals hang out.


A Bridge Too Far

A light rain comes up, and I take a photo of Sharon, standing in the rain, binocs on a great Dollarbird. It rains about five minutes, then stops, leaving a lightly dampened pavement. No luck, so we hit the road again.

Gregory National Park is on our left as we leave, big red bluffs, or escarpments. On the right is flat, open woodland, then escarpment beyond that. Later, we parallel the Victoria River. It looks low, but has a nice green color with a pretty smooth surface, rippled lightly by the wind.

About ten till six, the sun is starting to shine in my face. I tilt my cap over so the bill blocks the sun, as we get a few Red-tailed Black-cockatoos, lots of Galahs and a crow now and then.

It was at this point, a little east of Timber Creek, that Keith Martin had about twenty Gouldian Finches right next to a 60 k/hr sign ("72 1/2 days ..."), but I didn't make any notes, and we drive on by the spot.


We arrive at our site in Timber Creek, the Circle K, the worst caravan park of our trip. They tell us we can park anywhere, and we park way near the back, to be near the stream and the "far" toilet block. What they didn't tell us is that that toilet block is closed, and we have to walk all the way up to the front one. And it's a poorly-maintained facility. But it has electricity, so we rate it a big 10.0.

Tomorrow we will try for Gouldian in the early morning lawn-watering pools. I'm so excited that I can hardly - just kidding. I drop off to sleep in an instant, as usual.

Bird Summary:

No life birds or trip birds today.

Life Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: Still 254.

Trip Birds Today: 0
For the Trip: Still 298.

Snakes Seen Today: 0
For the Trip: 6.

Sleep in: Circle K Inn and Caravan Park, Timber Creek, NT (worst caravan park yet)

And that wraps up Report 15. Thanks for reading. G'Night "Mite".

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