Top End trip

To: "birding Aus" <>, "Ellen Rudolph" <>, "Nicole Paris" <>, "Valda Ioane" <>, "Marcy del Clements" <>, "Derry Dean" <>, "Benedict Varela" <>, "Muriel Horacek" <>, "Eden at Fogg Dam" <>, "Jim Conrad" <>, "Penny Toltz" <>, "Cathy Picone" <>
Subject: Top End trip
From: Goodfellow <>
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 00 11:41:12 +0000
We set off about 10.30 am, 25 August, myself and two Americans, Cheryl 
and Blair.  Blair is a teacher of geology and Cheryl a lawyer turned 
environmental manager.  Both are birdwatchers but just as interested in 
everything else including geology and fishing.

They just wanted to 'get out of the city' so we drove straight to Manton 
Dam picking up a range of species from Grey Goshawk and Pallid Cuckoo to 
Shining Flycatcher and Great Bowerbird.  This was while waiting for Blair 
to catch a barramundi in the creek (which he didn't).  We had lunch 
breaking off to feast on tamarind fruits (yum!) which lay about us on the 
watered lawn.  Then off to Fogg Dam stopping on the way to check in at 
'Eden' a homestay near Fogg Dam (about 60 km se of Darwin), very nicely 
set up by Heather and Jerry.  They have just opened and we were their 
first guests.  

After picking up a seafood basket for dinner from the local fish shop we 
drove to the dam where Cheryl and Blair had good views of Purple 
Swamphen, a variety of egrets, Pied Heron - my husband as they called it 
(any partner of mine has Pied Heron Dreaming), Wandering Whistling-duck 
and Green Pygmy Goose, Jacana, Banded Landrail and dozens of other birds. 
 After dark we had good views of Barking Owl but there was a surprising 
lack of Nankeen Night-heron on the causeway, and not many snakes.  Greg, 
who is researching keelbacks in the area told us he'd not found one and 
only seen a few pythons.   However we managed to find both an immature 
Mulga Snake and a big Water Python.  We returned to Eden and shared a 
couple of bottles of champers with Heather and Jerry and talked till 
quite late.  That night like all those who followed we discussed a range 
of subjects.  Blair and I for instance discovered our attitudes towards 
teaching and the rearing of children to be similar even though our 
experiences are worlds apart.  (Mine were in part shaped by being a 
member of an Aboriginal family).

5 am next morning I was woken by the call of Rainbow Pitta.  Neither 
Heather nor Jerry knew this particular species frequented their place,  
although they'd looked.  As we were leaving Jerry spotted one in a little 
patch of scrub near the front gate.  I suggested they change the name to 
'Pitta Lodge' but was outvoted by Cheryl and Blair who really like 'Eden'.

Back to Fogg Dam where we had good views mostly of tourists, but also of 
a number of other passerines including more Rainbow Pittas, Golden-headed 
Cisticola, Retless Flycatcher, Clamorous Reed-warbler, Tawny Grassbird 
and Yellow Oriole.  Nothing out of the ordinary for me but certainly 
exciting for Cheryl and Blair.

Next stop was Adelaide River. Mangrove Golden Whistler was calling but 
was much more reluctant to show itself than earlier in the year.  My good 
friend Steve was waiting for us and we set off for his island about 25 km 
upstream.  Steve was a frequent visitor to the Top End until a couple of 
years ago when he decided to make the Northern Territory his home.  The 
island has been utilised by fisherfolk for many years but Steve was 
interested in having birdwatchers visit as well.  This trip was to be a 
trial and it didn't hurt that Blair was a keen fisherman.  However 
nothing at all rose to  our lures or bait on the 25 km journey and all 
Blair hooked with Steve's snazzy gear and big silver and red lure were 
numerous snags.  I chose a little glittery orange lure for my rather 
ancient rod and reel  as I've found that such colours work well in dirty 

There were other guests on the island who'd come both to fish and watch 
some footy match the next night, and inwardly groaned - Aussie men 
behaving badly!  However Cheryl and Blair fitted in as if they'd lived 
with such blokes all their lives, Blair giving a passable demonstration 
the next day of  behaviour that I bet his students have never witnessed! 
(No, I won't go into details)  That evening Steve took us out to both 
birdwatch and fish, travelling upstream for a few more kilometres.  Best 
bird was Great-billed Heron which are breeding in the area.

And then Steve decided to impress us with his throwing of the cast net, 
and yes he was pretty good, for a newcomer.  His first catch was a fish 
which he identified as a barramundi.  I told him he didn't know what he 
was talking about - it was a Primitive Archerfish, not a common species.  
Steve picked the fish up gently by the lower jaw, and launched it into 
the air whereupon I pointed out that fish weren't designed to fly and 
lectured him on the right and proper way of releasing. 

I also suggested that he not have the loop of the cord around his arm to 
throw.  If he netted a crocodile he might lose his arm (he thought I was 
being over-protective till I pointed out that we'd have to return to base 
camp early if such an injury occurred).  I began undoing his shirt to 
demonstrate how he could secure the loop (around his shirt buttons).  He 
slapped my hands away.  Whether he was not impressed with my reasoning or 
thought I had designs on his body I don't know.  Then he picked the net 
up and threw, this time without the loop around his wrist.  The net 
disappeared under the murky water, followed quickly by the cord.  

"See!" Steve yelled, "You've lost my net!"  "Rubbish,"  I replied, "You 
lost it.  Why didn't you listen to me?"  This bantering set the tone for 
the trip.

We soon retrieved the net but because Steve took about ten minutes to 
arrange himself for each throw, this time I did the casting.  
Unfortunately the pockets around the edge had all torn loose, and the 
bait fell out as soon as I lifted it out of the water.

The engine wasn't working properly resulting in a leisurely trip back 
downstream in the dark with Scorpio above and Barking Owl wook-wooking 
and other night noises around us.  Meanwhile the boys back at camp had 
been busy with elbow exercises.  Blair stayed up with them swapping manly 
jokes etc while Cheryl and I retired to bed.

Next morning Steve obviously concerned for the welfare of his 
hard-drinking guests began to hand out 'Men Only' vitamin pills (no, 
Cheryl and I weren't offered any).  When I asked to see the container, 
Paul, Steve's offsider said not to show me, and that it was 'secret men's 
business', but Steve being the obedient lad he is handed the bottle over. 
 Cheryl and I peered at the label, and burst out laughing.  The vitamins 
therein were the ones given to pregnant women so we told the lads. What 
made it even funnier was the bold statement on the label, "Easy to 
swallow'.  Real manly stuff!  "See!" grunted Paul, "I told you not to 
give it to her!"  

More followed - a discussion over a coffee pot with a burnt rubber ring.  
I offered to have it fixed.  Steve thought I was trying to wangle it out 
of his possession (it was a really expensive coffee pot).  I simply 
offered to take it off his hands when he said he really wanted a bigger 
one anyway!  And then there was the business of appearance.  When I told 
Steve that he needed a decent haircut he responded with, "And I'm all 
right for socks and jocks Mum!" By this stage Cheryl, Blair and I erupted 
in hysterics each time we caught one another's eye.  

After breakfast back to the birdwatching, this time around the outside 
kitchen which is basically a frame covered with mesh.  Shining 
Flycatchers and Lemon-bellied Flycatcher enter the kitchen and 
methodically clean it of bugs, sometimes staying for hours.  We had very 
good views of both, and also female Broad-billed Flycatcher which came 
down to perch on the cable leading from the kitchen to the generator and 
eye us off.  I've often found these little birds to be very curious.  
They are quite easy to tell from female Leaden if one has good light for 
Broad-billed is much bluer, with a paler lores.  They also behave 
somewhat differently in my experience.  Green-backed Gerygones and Little 
Bronze-cuckoos were common.  Wandering to the other end of the island 
Cheryl nearly trod on three Large-tailed Nightjar which we followed over 
some distance.  We also discovered Rainbow Pitta.

It was getting difficult to leave.  The blokes were asking Blair to stay 
for the big game that night. Steve arguing the hardest - as a 
non-follower of football he was being forced to barrack for the other 
side, and needed help.  Blair was wavering.  It was obvious Cheryl and I 
had to move fast so we hustled them both down the hill and into the 

On the return trip Blair used my rod for trolling.  He hadn't had any 
success with the you beaut Shimano with the crash hot reel and the big 
lure which till then had only caught branches (and a lot of them) unlike 
my little orange job.  He hadn't been at it more than a couple of minutes 
when he yelled that he was snagged again.   I think Steve was about to 
make smart remarks about fly fishermen being inept at real fishing when a 
giant yellow mouth fringed in silver scales leaped out of the water 

When we parted company in the carpark Steve and Cheryl hugged each other 
tightly and Blair gripped his hand with fervour.  !It was obvious the 
bonding was complete.

We cooked the barramundi at our next campsite, Malabanbandju watched by a 
French couple who were curious about how one would cook such a large 
fish.  They shouldn't have watched us!  First I gutted the fish then 
wrapped it in the thin alfoil we'd saved from our seafood baskets two 
days before, then placed it on a grill over hot coals.  The lack of 
suitable barbecue utensils was a bit of a worry but Blair aided by the 
Frenchman thought they could manhandle the fish to the table with 
branches.   They couldn't, and the fish slipped out of their grasp and 
landed on its head in the dirt.   Also it was still raw inside.  By this 
time the French couple were giving us strange looks!  All we could do was 
scrape off the cooked flesh and returned the fish to the barbecue.  When 
the time came to remove it again we manouevered the fish onto my one and 
only teatowel and then transferred it to the table.  

Next morning early we drove to the Bardjelidji sandstone near the East 
Alligator to both have our breakfast and look for sandstone birds.  No 
such luck but great scenery and good views of Mistletoebird and 
White-bellied Cuckooshrike which perched above our heads.   

A walk through the nearby monsoon forest produced Emerald Dove, Little 
Shrikethrush, Rufous Fantail and great views of crocodiles.  The first 
was a 3.5 m. beauty.  She was floating downstream like a bathing beauty, 
with her forefeet out to the sides,  just the claws showing daintily 
above the surface (I've never ever seen a crocodile do this before).  And 
then we came upon a gigantic beast which really made Blair think twice 
about staying around!  All of 5 m. long it was sunning itself on the 
opposite side of the river, dainty shell-pink colour of its gape in sharp 
contrast to its huge bulk and 10 cm. teeth.  

Blair confessed to being quite paranoid on our way back to the car and 
Cheryl who had stayed behind.  He kept leaping in fright at each small 

But the most intriguing aspect of this walk was the behaviour of two 
Spangled Drongos fighting seemingly to the death on the forest floor, 
their beaks locked together.   For 25 minutes they ignored us totally 
even though Blair walked within two metres of them to take photos.  One 
was on top of the other for much of the time its wings outspread like a 
wrestler pinning his opponent to the canvas, the bird underneath buried 
out of sight in the leaves.  Then a third bird joined in, hopping down 
every so often to give a peck while a fourth moved around in the 

We then drove to the Koongarra saddle for lunch.  Few birds to speak 
ofapart from White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and Yellow Oriole and 
White-gaped Honeyeater but great views of the country from under the 
'Allonsyncarpia ternata', a beautiful  large tree found only in the 
Arnhemland escarpment where, as at the saddle it can form monocultural 

 Cheryl and Blair had made one stipulation - they wanted to avoid 
'touristy sites' but she wanted to call in at Nourlangie just to say she 
had been there.  The middle of the afternoon and there were tourists and 
buses from one end of the place to the other.  We stayed twenty minutes 
the crowds putting them off searching for Arnhemland endemics such as 
White-lined Honeyeater, Banded Fruit-dove and Chestnut-quilled 
Rock-pigeon.   However Blair got a good look at the geology.  Especially 
interesting are the huge boulders of virtually non-stratified 
conglomerate crammed with sharp-edged cobbles.  We think possibly one 
immense mudflow.

 We drove onto the Kambolgie campground in the third stage of Kakadu.  

On the way I spotted a solitary Partridge Pigeon and yelled, 'Stop!'  (It 
amused Blair and Cheryl no end that I would yell when I saw a bird and 
yet point out in a quiet voice that Blair was driving on the wrong side 
of the road or doing something equally life-threatening.  Not quite 
true!).  I told them that this bird was sometimes very hard to find and 
so we should 'seize the day' and so we backed up and went after the bird. 
 It did my reputation nor the bird's no good to find a dozen or so 
trotting calmly around the barbecue when we reached Kambolgie.

We were all hot and dustry and Blair and Cheryl wanted a bucket bath in 
the nearby creek.  I wanted to check the site for crocodiles but Blair 
raced ahead of me.  Sensibly he had picked a site where the water was 
shallow.  Unfortunately it was fringed with Freshwater Mangroves, 
'Barringtonia acutangula'.  Itchy caterpillars feed on the new leaves of 
these little trees and the slightest contact can leave one itching for 
weeks.  I had warned them both but only Cheryl remembered. By the time I 
reached Blair he had already stripped off. He quickly gathered his 
clothes and sprinted stark naked down the dusty Gunlom road for the other 
side of the creek, 
I had promised them a sky full of stars and that's what we got along with 
a blazing sunset and sunrise.  

We loaded the vehicle and drove out early, to the Rockhole where we had 
great views of Black Wallaroo first from the lookout above, and then when 
we climbed around the rocks behind the rockhole.  While the visible 
geology here is mostly sandstone there was much basalt and some outcrops 
of ignimbrite resulting so Blair thought, from a pyroclastic flow.  The 
sandstone here is about 1.6 billion years old.  The ignimbrite is older 
still.  'Melastoma polyanthum' was flowering here, pretty mauve, 
yellow-centred flowers but I couldn't find any of the sweet fruit.  

We stopped briefly at the Pine Creek sewage pond where they added 
Hardhead and Radjah Shelduck, Black-fronted Dotterel and Masked Finch and 
other birds, to their Australian list.

Not much was moving about in the heat of the day so we retired to the 
air-conditioned cabins at Digger's Rest for a shower and brief sleep 
before heading off to nearby Umbrawarra Gorge.  Apart from being a place 
of great beauty I thought Blair might find the Depot Creek sandstone 
quite interesting.  Along the way we picked up Varied Sittella at close 
range and Black-tailed Treecreeper among other species hopping around in 
'Eucalyptus phoenecia' and 'E. tectifica'.  In the gorge we got good 
looks at White-throated Gerygone which was calling sweetly in the 
towering paperbarks.  The path is lined with 'M. polyanthum' and an 
allied plant,  another pretty mauve-flowering species, 'Osbornia 

We joined the Merten's Monitor for a swim in a rock pool, fully clothed.  
On the way home they added Little Woodswallow.

Next morning we set off for Fergusson River.  Birds there included 
Cockatiel, Azure Kingfisher, Banded Honeyeater and Gouldian Finch.   I 
showed them some of my favourite plants, one a Pterocaulon sp. that 
smells like fresh coconut and which I use both as insect repellent and 
air freshener, a range of grevilleas including the rare pink and black 
flowering 'G. benthamii', and 'Calytrix' sp.  

Lunch stop was at Robin Falls where we spotted Black Bittern.  We ate dry 
biscuits and flavoured tuna while sitting with our feet in the running 
water surrounded by grunters, hardheads and rainbow fish.  Another of my 
favourite plants grows here, a tree with racemes of white perfumed 
flowers 'Fagraea racemosa'.

On the way home I tried to find some deposits of banded iron, formed at a 
time when oxygen was the new kid on the block.  But without success.  I 
think the site has been destroyed by roadworks.  However we found some 
lovely specimens of chlorite.  We also  had a good look at White's 
formation in a road cutting.  This Lower Proterozoic (2.3 byo) 
metamorphosed sandstone contains little squares where crystals, possibly 
pyrites have weathered out.  There appears to be an ancient creek above 
one side, but on close inspection it looks more like a contact zone with 
breccia.  And then home to Darwin where I suspected trouble was waiting - 
an Aboriginal grandson had been critically injured a week before and I 
expected he would die.  And yes, he had and there was trouble, more than 
I imagined.  But that is another story.


Denise Goodfellow (Lawungkurr Maralngurra)
Specialist Guide
Ph/fax 08 89818492
PO Box 39373

Parap Bookshop
2ndhand and new books
08 89813922

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