from the Top End

To: "birding Aus" <>
Subject: from the Top End
From: Goodfellow <>
Date: Sat, 3 Mar 2001 18:25:15 +0000
I'd met Tony's brother some time ago and when he told me they'd set up a 
fishing operation on Shoal Bay just out of Darwin I jumped at the chance 
to get out there and say hullo to them both, and to have a look around.  

We left later than I wanted to (Michael had trouble waking up) and we got 
to the turnoff on Howard Springs Road even later (Rowan needed to be 
dropped off at his Saturday job).  It took longer to travel the 14 kms to 
the landing because of the eroded and partly flooded dirt road.  

I thought the catch of the several crab pots Tony loaded in the dinghy 
would go to supplement his income.  I was wrong but more about that 
later.  Anyway we set off, laying crab pots as we travelled, until we 
reached a tiny estuary reaching into the floodplains.  At that time 
little was calling apart from Rufous-banded Honeyeater, and the few 
visible species were nothing an Australian twitcher would write home 
about - lots of Sacred Kingfishers, a few Azure Kingfishers, Rainbow 
Bee-eater, Shining Flycatcher and Whistling Kite.  There were individual 
Common Sandpipers and flocks of Terek Sandpipers, the latter perched 
within the mangroves and along the estuary into the floodplains.  Tony 
didn't know what they were until I pointed out the field marks.  

We stopped amid salt flats and Tony grabbed my castnet (yes, I did offer 
to catch the bait!), and was off across the mud crouching low so the 
mullet wouldn't see him (it's actually easier to catch them if you're at 
the same level ie in the water, not always a good idea!).  However he did 
well, bringing half a dozen or so back to the dinghy and remaining 

Meanwhile Michael and I were watching the birds - Pelican, Pied Heron, 
Little and Great Egret, Aus. White Ibis, Whimbrel, Eastern Curlew, a few 
Black-tailed Godwits and Masked Lapwings, plus the waders mentioned 

On the way back we passed many dinghies their owners wielding lures and 
expensive fishing gear. Most were having no luck.  Yet within minutes of 
chucking in my baited K-mart special handline I had a barramundi hooked , 
although unfortunately couldn't land it.  Sadly the only big hook I had 
was the K-mart special and it was now straight (straight hook?).  So we 
forgot the fishing and motored back to the landing picking up the crab 
pots along the way.  'Lousy birding' I said to Tony, 'and probably no 
mudcrabs either' as we hauled in a half a dozen amid the sweet song of 
Rufous-banded Honeyeaters and the odd Brown and Mangrove Golden Whistler. 

Back at the landing I found who the crabs were for and visions of 
steaming sweet white flesh assailed my brain.  We left them waiting for 
us at the landing and motored on to try to get into the area on the 
seaward side of Holmes Jungle swamp, 

Zipping in and out of the mangroves was fun, although I don't suppose it 
would be for those not quick enough to dodge the branches..  The 
vegetation here was mainly Grey Mangrove Avicennia marina which hung over 
the little estuary like a continuous arch decorated with flood debris- 
gerygone nests.  Then we stopped for a listen.  Mangrove Gerygone, 
Lemon-bellied Flycatcher and Brown Whistler were singing their little 
hearts out along with Little Bronze-Cuckoo.  An adult White-bellied 
Sea-eagle sat above contemplating us.  

Seeing blue sky through the fringing vegetation Tony and I thought we'd 
go for a stroll leaving Michael with the dinghy.   We got to the 
saltflats and strolled across the sedges trying to pinpoint exactly where 
we were.  'Don't walk there,' I told Tony as one of his feet disappeared 
calf-deep into the black ooze.  Sometimes the mud can be quite deep.  
Returning to the dinghy we  spotted a flock of Royal Spoonbills and 
flushed a Great-billed Heron.  

Michael was sitting where we'd left him.  'I had visitors while you were 
gone,' he said, 'a pair of Chestnut Rail.'  They and Banded Land Rail 
visit the landing each morning as well.   Little Kingfisher suddenly flew 
ahead of us as we returned, an azure and turquoise flash.

There is a large patch of pristine monsoon vine forest to one side of the 
house containing a large shell midden and we went to have a look at it.  
Lovely interesting plants abounded.  Tony laughed when first I pointed 
out Denhamia obscura once used as a contraceptive by Aboriginal women, 
and then Canarium australisicum used for controlling bleeding after 
childbirth.  Many plants were flowering - the lovely pink, 
crimson-throated Ipmoea abrupta, and the little white star-like 
Jacquemontia paniculata.   The lolly pink and black seeds of Giddy giddy 
Abrus precatorus,  and pods of Kurrajong Brachychiton diversifolius (gum 
is great to chew and inner bark can be used for bandages) lay among the 
shells.  Plus lots of other fascinating vegetation.   I'll go back in a 
week or so to see what it's like early in the morning and perhaps catch 
up with the nesting Black-necked Stork, the ospreys, Rainbow Pitta etc, 
etc.   Meanwhile I have to go - the crabs are ready to eat.

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