Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Around Oz Part 10: Darwin - Fogg Dam, Buffalo Creek, Casuarina

Rainbow Pitta
After leaving Kakadu National Park (see last post) we moved on to Fogg Dam, a well-known birding destination south-east of Darwin. We walked the rainforest trail and saw 3 or 4 Rainbow Pittas, hearing several more.

Grey (Brown) Whistler
Another species in good numbers was the Grey (Brown) Whistler, a potential split from the species that is widespread in New Guinea and eastern Indonesia.

Red-headed Honeyeater
Red-headed Honeyeater was lovely to see again. Other birds included Emerald Dove, Green-backed Gerygone and Broad-billed Flycatcher.

Monsoon rainforest - Fogg Dam
The monsoon rainforest in the Top End of the Northern Territory occurs in surprisingly small, well-defined patches in what is otherwise a huge expanse of tropical savannah woodland.

Among the many waterbirds present were a pair of Brolga with a recently fledged young. Less engrossing was the total absence of Freshwater Crocodiles: when I lived in Darwin in the early-1980s, many could be seen during a walk along the Fogg Dam causeway. Victims of cane toads, it seems. Yet a large trap had been set by NT authorities to catch a Saltwater Crocodile in the vicinity. Why bother?

Orange-footed Scrubfowl
Orange-footed Scrubfowl were common at Fogg Dam, and after we moved on to Darwin, we found they were numerous and tame everywhere. Odd that they aren't like that in north Queensland.
After Fogg Dam, we moved to the Lee Point Resort and Caravan Park - our over-priced home for the next week, though nicely located a fair distance from the CBD and close to the beaches. We were comfortably situated in a spot near an adjoining bushland reserve. Barking Owls and Bush Stone-Curlews are ever present.

Buffalo Creek
It was nice to be back in Darwin, a city I lived in once (early-1980s) and spent a good deal of time in on other occasions. Favourite spots revisited now included Buffalo Creek and Casuarina Beach.

Casuarina Beach
Large-billed Gerygone
A spot of birding one moring on Buffalo Creek with Greg, a fellow from Broome who is staying at our caravan park and is a keen bird photographer. We spent some time grappling with two Gerygones in the mangroves and monsoon forest - Large-billed and Green-backed. Other birds we saw included Grey Whistler, Yellow White-eye and Red-headed Honeyeater, with Black Butcherbird heard.

Green-backed Gerygone
World War II underground tunnels - Darwin
We did a walking historic tour of the Darwin CBD. Among the more interesting sites were  underground tunnels built after the Japanese bombing of Darwin during World War II to protect oil supplies from the bombers. I could not believe how much the Darwin CBD had changed since I lived in a city that I had been very fond of. I recognised major landmarks like the Victoria Hotel and the Tree of Knowledge, but so much was different.

Common Greenshank
We called in at the Port of Darwin. An overwintering Common Greenshank was on the mudflats along with Eastern Reef-Egret and Eastern Curlew.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Around Oz Part 9 - Kakadu: Nourlangie & Muirella

Barking Owl
After leaving Mardugal (see last post), we moved on to Muirella Park for our last two nights in Kakadu National Park. Again a nice camping ground - this one adjacent to the pandanus-fringed Djarradjin Billabong.

Green Pygmy Goose
An afternoon walk along the so-called Bubbu Trail was interesting, with loads of Green Pygmy-Geese among the waterfowl.

Masked Finch
Other interesting birds included three Brown Songlarks (3) in grassland, Zitting and Golden-headed Cisticolas, and the regional race of Cicadabird, while Masked Finch showed well in an area of dry grasses.

Nourlangie Rock above Bubbo Lagoon
Nourlangie Rock looked magnificent as it towered over the wetlands in the late afternoon. However, there is much to be desired about the management of this and other areas of Kakadu National Park. The Bubbu Trail was allegedly closed due to seasonal conditions, but it has simply not been maintained for several years; we had to turn back half-way because we were getting lost. We saw similar things elsewhere in the park: outstanding walking trails were unattended and overgrown.

Nourlangie Rock
One morning we drove to Nourlangie Rock where we did the short hiking circuit as well as a detour up one of the better vegetated gullies. 

Arnhem Land escarpment from Nourlangie

Aboriginal rock art, Nourlangie
Plenty of Aboriginal rock art and lovely views over the sandstone escarpment of Arnhem Land at this popular tourist spot; Nourlangie is actually an outlier of the main sandstone plateau.

Helmeted (Sandstone) Friarbird

White-lined Honeyeater
White-lined Honeyeater and the endemic race of Helmeted (Sandstone) Friarbird were seen, along with a lovely Black Wallaroo.  I was last at Nourlangie Rock in 1972, when I camped for a week by myself in a cave, with Aboriginal bones laid many years ago on rock ledges near the roof of the cave. So having seen all the regional endemic birds on that and other trips to Kakadu, this visit was more relaxed.

Nourlangie Rock above Andangbang Billabong
We visited Nourlandja Lookout and another, smaller sandstone outlier, before walking around Andangbang Billabong. Again, Nourlangie was an impressive backdrop to wetlands.

Barking Owl
Late in the afternoon, back at Muirella, I called in a highly excited pair of Barking Owls in broad daylight with a little playback. We heard them often at night, along with Bush Stone-Curlew, Dingo, and a roaring Saltwater Crocodile in the billabong. For a full list of birds at Muirella, see here.

Yellow Oriole

Paperbark Flycatcher
Yellow Oriole and Paperbark Flycatcher proved to be common on a final morning stroll on the Bubbu Trail. 

Broad-billed Flycatcher
 On our last day in the park we visited Mamakala Bird Hide, finding Broad-billed Flycatcher in the paperpark forest near the billabong. This species and Shining Flycatcher are restricted to mangroves in eastern Queensland; here they are widespread in woodlands near fresh water. We passed a huge snake roadside - almost certainly a Taipan - which had been disturbed by passing vehicles and reared up to strike our car as we slowed down.... unfortunately it slithered away before the camera was out.

5m saltwater crocodile on south alligator river

South Alligator River
We stopped by the South Alligator River before departing Kakadu National Park via the Arnhem Highway. We saw 5 Saltwater Crocodiles on the muddy bank along the river, which seemed to have large crocodile skid marks in the mud every few metres. One crocodile we saw was huge: about 5 metres.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Around Oz Part 8 - Rufous Owl Encore

Rufous Owl
Rufous Owl is always a difficult bird to connect with so I was pretty pleased to see them so well at Mataranka (see here) just a few days ago. Now I have had an even better encounter, last night here at the Mardagul camping ground in Kakadu National Park (see next post for more information about this lovely spot.)

Rufous Owl
The bird was heard calling at dusk across the billabong, a tributary of the South Alligator River, where we are camped by. A little trawling with the tape and it was here in a minute.

Rufous Owl
The bird continued calling vociferously for another hour or so. The image below is part of the paperbark-lined billabong where the bird was found.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Around Oz Part 7 - Kakadu: Yellow Waters & Mardugal

Saltwater Crocodile
Moving on from the town of Pine Creek (see last post) we entered Kakadu National Park after paying the $25-each entry fee now charged. As we headed north-east along the Kakadu Highway, we saw lots of impressive termite mounts in the savannah woodland. A Black-breasted Buzzard was seen 25km from the Mary River Roadhouse.

Termite mounds - Kakadu
We camped for two nights at the pleasant Mardugal park camping ground, where deep shade under trees lining a billabong offered pleasant relief from the unexpectedly warm conditions we had experienced in the Top End to date.

Our campsite at Mardugal
We were camped 50 metres or so from a billabong that is part of the fabled Yellow Waters - a vast area of rivers, swamps and billabongs in the vicinity of the junction of the South Alligator River and Jim Jim Creek. I was last at Yellow Waters as a hitch-hiking teenager in 1972, when Dave Lindner, a national park ranger at the time and something of a legend in the Top End these days - by all accounts he is still fighting fit - took me under his wing.

Yellow Waters
Things have changed. Yellow Waters is now a thriving tourist centre based around the village of Cooinda, a few kilometres from the Mardugal camp.

Yellow Waters billagong
We opted to take one of the commercial cruises (an excessive $90 per person) to optimise our experience with the wetlands, regarded as some of the most impressive anywhere.

Rufous-banded Honeyeater
Rufous-banded Honeyeater was nice to see while we waited for the boat. We also saw a couple of Saltwater Crocodiles swimming past.

4-metre Saltwater Crocodile male

A family of shelducks walks past the crocodile

Saltwater Crocodile 2.5m female
Saltwater Crocodiles are the star attraction here and we were not disappointed. A huge 4-metre male impressed; like lions with vehicles in African national parks, they are so accustomed to boats that  they allow close approach.
3m Saltwater Crocodile swimming 
Another 5 or 6 smaller crocodiles were equally approachable as they basked in the sun. Just a couple of weeks ago, upstream from here along the South Alligator River, a man was killed by a Saltwater Crocodile which dragged him from his fishing dinghy. There have been several fatalities in Kakadu.

Radjah Shelduck

Green Pygmy-Goose

Nankeen Night-Heron

Pied Heron
Waterfowl were in abundance. Radjah Shelducks were pleasantly common, with one family of ducklings passing close by a nonchalantly uninterested crocodile.  Others included Green Pygmy-Goose, Magpie Goose (very common) and Wandering and Plumed Whistling-Ducks in huge mixed flocks. Other waterbirds included Nankeen Night-Heron, Pied Heron and Glossy Ibis.

Little Kingfisher
A highlight of a walk along the camping ground billabong was a Little Kingfisher in a waterside freshwater mangrove. A full list of birds at Yellow Water and Mardugal can be found here.

Arafura Fantail

Blue-winged Kookaburra

Shining Flycatcher
In the paperbark and pandanus forest near the water around the camping-ground, nice birds included Arafura Fantail, Pied Imperial-Pigeon, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Shining Flycatcher (very common, and much less secretive than in their mangrove haunts in south-east Queensland), Paperbark Flycatcher and Large-tailed Nightjar.
Black-tailed Treecreeper
Good birds in savannah woodland nearby include Black-tailed Treecreeper and Partridge Pigeon, while a Dingo was seen early one morning. I found a colony of Northern Cave Bats roosting in a crevice under a bridge.