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
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
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
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)
Ph/fax 08 89818492
PO Box 39373
WINNELLIE NT 0821, AUSTRALIA
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