Subject: grasswrens, New Guinea, mats
Sent: 6/12/99 3:02 PM
To: birding Aus,
Have just returned from a trip to Kakadu. It's really quite lovely in
the wet season (actually we call this the build up or Gunumeleng, the
time of storms). Lots of lizards basking on the road - three species of
goanna, plus Blue-tongued Lizard and Frilled Lizard. This latter is
known as Blanket Lizard by my Kuninjku relatives. For the uninitiated
this term which refers to the frill actually likens it to a foreskin.
Also at least three sp. of Rainbow Skink (Carlia sp).
Some birds are very obvious this time of the year, but not raptors.
Apart from the ubiquitious Black and Whistling I only saw Wedge-tailed
Eagle, Brown Goshawk, Peregrine and Brown Falcon (1). But Cicadabirds,
Rufous Whistlers (and in the mangroves, Mangrove Golden Whistler);
Golden-headed Cisticola singing its little heart out; Brown Quail;
Red-winged Parrot feeding on fruiting Ficus coronulata; Northern Rosella,
Pheasant Coucal; honeyeaters - Dusky, White-gaped, Brown were everywhere,
also Red-backed Fairy-wrens. Oh and two White-throated Grasswrens, and
no, they weren't at Gunlom Falls.
These grasswrens are all over the escarpment in suitable habitat some
much more accessible like Plumtree Creek and Yirmikmik.. But try and
tell some birders that. They simply must go to Gunlom even when they're
not fit or healthy or acclimatised enough to tackle that big climb
safely. But that's not all. Not only do they want Gunlom but they'll
often have GPS readings to point them to exactly the spot that someone
else saw the bird often months before, if not a year ago. Some have said
things like, "Oh my friend saw it and he was sitting on this rock and
that's where I want to go." Yet, especially later in the year the
darned birds can be calling around us as we first reach the top. It
really is quite amusing except when that particular birder shouldn't be
up there in the first place.
Banded Fruit-dove gets similar treatment. I've had people who wanted to
follow Thomas and Thomas literally down that horrid little polluted creek
near Gunlom. I've even had people tell me that the birds 'should be in
that fig tree on the left' because that's what the book says. The fig
tree happens to be on the right but no matter - it's not much use if the
bloody thing isn't fruiting! These shy birds aren't going to sit up
there against the skyline just for the fun of it.
And then when I suggest looking in the dense trees (Elaeocarpus
arnhemicus) along the creek where Banded Fruit-dove are much more likely,
no they won't have a bar of it. But I guess it's like telling people
that if they really want to have a decent crack at Chestnut Rail they
ought to go to Stuart Park mangroves and them deciding that because the
traditional area is Buffalo Creek or Thomas and Thomas say Middle Point,
that's where they'll go!
And just because birds have been seen at such and such a GPS setting or
from a particular rock or in a particular tree at some stage doesn't mean
they're going to be there and obvious all the year round. Whereas Hooded
Parrots, Banded Fruit-doves and White-throated Grasswrens are virtually
invisible in May and earlier they're much easier to see two or three
months later. Banded Fruit-doves actually breed in the gorge beside
Nourlangie at this time and in many other little accessible pockets of
monsoon forest near the escarpment as well. Perhaps my next book ought
to be 'Birding by the Stars!' or 'How to get your Bird by Wishful
That being said, I have a request from an American friend who wishes to
go birding in New Guinea by which I suspect she means Papua New Guinea.
Could anyone put me in touch with the people running these trips?
Lastly, some of you may remember me speaking of my older Aboriginal
sister Esther Managku whom I visited in Kudjekbinj, Arnhemland some
months ago. Esther, a master weaver, makes mats and baskets out of
pandanus, coloured with natural dyes. Presently she has some for sale
(ten and ten make twenty mats, she tells me, and some baskets) if anyone
is interested in buying them for Christmas presents. I think I mentioned
that Esther takes in the children of alcoholic parents in an attempt to
bring them back to their culture and young men who've been in trouble
with the police. This money would buy clothing and educational and art
If anyone wants to have a look at these items there is a photo available
on the Earthfoot website http://www.earthfoot.org.
A happy Christmas to all and best wishes for the New Year.
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