|Host: Denise Goodfellow
When: Any time after previous arrangement
Length of tour: any length; a typical 5-day itinerary is outlined below
Minimum/Maximum numbers: Prefer no more than four
Fee charged:(2004) My fee as a specialist guide is Aus $270 a day for singles and couples and $300 a day for more people plus expenses (food, accommodation, permits). I don't provide vehicles but these are available for hire through Delta, email@example.com who are the most flexible car hire firm in the NT and the most reliable in my experience. They also have the best insurance provisions. Accommodation costs vary between Aus $65 for a cabin in Pine Creek to approx. $165 a room in Kakadu NP. Camping is cheaper but I would only recommend it during the cooler months (June-September) Permits to travel to Kakadu are $15 per person. I do not carry public liability insurance, the costs of which are out of my reach. Please make your own insurance arrangements.
Pine Creek Diggers Rest Motel, a corner of which is shown at the left, is situated 200m south of Darwin . This family owned and operated motel features self-contained cabins with air conditioning, ensuite, phone, TV and video, set in beautiful tropical gardens, with off-street parking and a barbeque area. Pine Creek has the largest variety of birds in the Northern Territory, so the Diggers Rest is an ideal base for your birdwatching tour. Kakadu National Park and Darwin are both a 2 1/2 hour drive on sealed roads, while Litchfield National Park is 1 1/2 hours, and Katherine only 50 minutes away. Proprietors Pat & Ron Smith, 32 Main Terrace Pine Creek, NT Australia 0847, Ph (08) 8976 1442, Fax (08) 8976 1458, and they have a Web site, too.
Best time to come: Depends on what you want. January - March are very wet and often movement is restricted because of flooding.. April is drier and hot but wildlfowers and butterflies and frogs are everywhere although most birds are dispersed. The cool months of June to September are the height of the tourist season and it is hard to get accommodation (and sometimes me) except by booking a year ahead. The glorious orange-flowering Woollybutts (no, I am not making this name up!), Eucalyptus miniata, and Fern-leaved Grevilleas, pictured at the right, are in full bloom then. October and November are hot and humid but from then to December are the best months for viewing wildlife (many of our birds and other animals are breeding then and many plants are flowering) and the electrical storms are wonderful. My favourite time of the year.
Perspective: I concentrate on whatever people are interested in whether particular birds (butterflies, moths such as the Day-flying Moth Dysphania fenestrata at the right) reptiles, plants etc) or everything. People who enjoy going out with me the most have an holistic attitude, like meeting locals including Aboriginal people, and are relatively flexible so that they can take advantages of any opportunities that may arise.
For example, one birdwatcher who wanted advice on buying a didgeridoo (a traditional wind instrument made from a hollow branch) accepted an invitation to join my Aboriginal family for a birthday party. He spent several hours with them the next day holding the didgeridoo while they painted, and then was given lessons on how to imitate the calls of certain birds. At the right you can see a basket and mat woven by my "older sister" Esther Managku. They are made from pandanus leaves. Dyes are from native plants, such as from the bright yellow root of Pogonolobus reticulatus, a member of the Rubiaceae.
Statement for the Impaired: "So you're confined to a wheelchair or you've got emphysema. You can still see and hear birds. At the sewage ponds, and some Top End wetlands, you won't even have to get out of the car. And what's to stop you examining the blossoms of eucalyptus, smelling the fresh coconut scent of Pterocaulon sp. members of the daisy family that Aboriginal people (and I) use as mosquito repellent (it really is one of my favourite smells), meeting and talking with Aboriginal people, enjoying the Australian bush!"
Mangroves around Darwin are rich in birds, more so than such habitats in most parts of the world.and those around the sewage ponds are home to five species of honeyeater including the gorgeous Red-headed Honeyeater, three gerygones, two fantails, and four flycatchers and many more. The descending trill of Little Bronze-cuckoo is often heard although the bird itself can be quite elusive. Sometimes we find one of my favourite snakes, White-bellied Mangrove Snake, a placid and beautiful creature which feeds on crustaceans that bury in the mangrove mud, its skin is blotched black and white and sometimes orange. If the tide is low enough we can visit mangroves in the suburb of Stuart Park just a mile or so from the City Centre, for Collared Kingfisher, Great-billed Heron, the very elusive Chestnut Rail,.a bird as big as a domestic fowl, and the pretty, inquisitive grey and white Mangrove Robin.
East Point monsoon vine-thicket, also close to the city, is a good spot for Orange-footed Scrubfowl, a large rotund megapode (large-footed bird) which lives in this forest scraping together large piles of vegetation in which eggs are laid, and then incubated by the heat from rotting leaves. It also inhabits people's gardens and drives those who like tidy yards to distraction with its scratching and scattering of new plants and leaves. Sometimes Blue Tiger butterfly, a monsoon forest species becoming increasingly rare, can be seen among the trees at East Point.
The cliffs around East Point and Darwin itself consist of a siltstone rock called porcellanite, used elsewhere in the world to make fine china. From the Lower Cretaceous (120 myo) it is formed in part by the skeletons of uni-celled creatures called radiolaria. The cliffs, stained in rainbow hue by leaching iron compounds, glow at sunset. Washed by a sea turning aquamarine, then cobalt as the sun sinks, these beaches are a sight never to be forgotten.
Travel 60 km to Fogg Dam that afternoon. Fogg Dam is an artificial dam built for a rice project in the 1960's. It failed, but left the Top End with a wonderful lake with juxtaposed monsoon and paperbark forest, and floodplains. That night we can look for Bush Stone-curlews and owls and .nightjars. Fogg Dam is also good for snakes such as Water Python and Keelback, and frogs.
Water Python, or Boloko as it is called by the Kuninjku people to whom I am related, is my children's dreaming, meaning they are related to this snake. For them to kill Boloko would be murder, to eat her, cannibalism. Rowan my young son took this seriously indeed. The dying python he saw at age five wasn't an anonymous road victim, but his sister, and he cried as if his heart would break. My children must nurture their dreaming animal and her country.
The most comon frogs are tree frogs (family Hylidae), namely the emerald-striped Dahl's Treefrog and the rather plain Roth's (the latter has a maniacal cackle). Members of the southern frog family, the Myobatrachidae, also occur here, Marbled Frog being among the most common. Stay overnight at a nearby bed and breakfast.
DAY 2: Next morning return to Fogg Dam early. Four species of egrets (mainly Intermediate), Black-necked Stork, or Jabiru, (shown at the right) and other birds dot the eastern side of the causeway occasionally joined by Brolga, Purple Swamphen and the odd Banded Land Rail. Jacana are common among the waterlilies on the other side. Depending on the season and time of day little birds (often referred to as LLJ's - little brown jobs) - Clamorous Reed-Warbler, Golden-headed Cisticola, Tawny Grassbird and White-browed Crake may be out in the open.
In the monsoon forest the pretty Rainbow Pitta hops around on the ground, the pale blue patch on its wing flashing amid the dark undergrowth, and the sonorous notes of Yellow Oriole and Rufous Shrike-thrush fill the air. The best time to see the Rainbow Pitta is around October-November when it starts to call.
Drive 120 kms on to Kakadu National Park. Along the road we may spot birds of prey depending on season, Brown Falcon -- such as the one at the right -- being one of the most common. Another animal commonly seen is a large lizard, either Sand Goanna or Gould's Goanna. They look very similar to most balanda (white people) but the Kuninjku can easily tell them apart. Only the initiated or old people can eat the former species while anyone can tuck into the latter.
That afternoon we can visit the Mamukala wetlands to look for open forest and wetland birds before travelling on to the Bardedjildji Sandstone (to pronounce 'dj' stop your tongue halfway along the palate).
This rock country is well over a thousand thousand million years old. The rocks in this particular area are layered like heaps of pancakes. Rock Figs grow out of the sandstone (their fruit is quite disgusting to the human palate but Rock Ringtail Possums like them!), and the beautiful native gardenia Gardenia megasperma can be seen.
Animals found here include Short-eared Rock-wallaby ('wallaby' means 'little kangaroo'), Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon and Sandstone Shrike-thrush.
Return after sunset spotlighting,along the road for button-quail, owls, and nightjars. Stay overnight at Kakadu Holiday Village.
DAY 3: Leave accommodation early and head for the art site of Nourlangie. Scattered throughout the rock shelters are paintings done by Aboriginal people. Although dating is an an inexact science as yet, it is thought some are over twenty thousand years old. My brothers-in-law, now dead, were among the last men to paint on rocks (for the curious, one of these men, Bobby Bardajarai Nganjmirra's paintings on bark are in the Kluge Collection, Virginia).
The escarpment has many endemics - Banded Fruit-dove, Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon, White-lined Honeyeater, White-throated Grass-wren. Silver-crowned Friarbird, a large and quite ugly honeyeater, is commonly seen among flowering trees around this area.
And not only birds, but plants and reptiles and mammals such as the Black Wallaroo ('wallaroo' means 'rock kangaroo') pictured at the left. Wallaroos are marsupials endemic to the Arnhemland escarpment. This is a male. Females are grey.
Travel 160 km farther to the little town of Pine Creek where we can visit the sewage ponds. Several bird species are to be found in the vicinity but one regular is the pretty little Black-fronted Dotterel which breeds here. Finches - Masked, Long-tailed and Double-barred are common as is Red-backed Fairy-wren. Cockatiel, Hooded Parrot, Red-winged Parrot (pictured at the right) and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. and a couple of species of woodswallow, neat little birds related to our butcherbirds.
Also found throughout the area in suitable habitat is the endemic Partridge Pigeon, a rather tame little bird that waddles and has a startling red face. In areas of stringybark one can hear the call of Black-tailed Treecreeper. I describe it as sounding as someone would if he whistled with his head down a toilet bowl!
Bats inhabit caves and old mine sites throughout the area. One, the carnivorous Ghost Bat, has huge ears and looks a little like a deformed rabbit. Called Buma Buma by Kuninjku people its closest relatives are found in Africa.
Stay overnight in a cabin at Digger's Rest.
DAY 4: Early next morning travel 50 km to the Fergusson River where if you sit quietly you may see Hooded Parrots and (depending on time of year) Gouldian Finches among myriad species of other birds. Gouldian Finches are spectacular little birds. They are sometimes called Rainbow Finches which well describes their collection of hues - purple, yellow, cerulean blue, green. The famous naturalist John Gould (1804-1881) named the bird in honour of his wife Elizabeth, a fitting memorial to one whose exquisite paintings of Australain birds helped bring them to the world.
There are interesting plants here, a rare pink and black flowering grevillea and a member of the daisy family that smells like fresh coconut and was used by Aboriginal people as a mosquito repellant. Nearby Edith Falls is a beautiful pool bordered by Fern-leaved Grevillea and other trees.
A night visit to nearby Umbrawarra Gorge may produce good views of Rock Ringtail Possum, Sugar Glider and Olive Python (Mandjudurrk to the Kuninjku). Overnight at Digger's Rest.
DAY 5: Travel north to Litchfield Park. This area is known for its numerous waterfalls and plunge pools surrounded by thick monsoon forest such as that at the right. Plants include the fragrant white-blossomed Fagrea racemosa and the large tree Xanthostemon eucalyptoides. Like many Top End plants these have no common name. Many slender palms grace these forests, among them the red-berried Carpentaria palm, now a favourite of tropical gardeners across northern Australia.
Buley Rockholes are my favourite spot. Several basins, up to twenty feet across and six feet deep have been carved out of the sandstone here, and are filled with native fish - red and yellow Chequered Rainbowfish, purple-spotted gudgeons and banded grunters. A delightful spot for easy snorkelling.
Return to Darwin, only 170 km away.
Option1. Spend an extra half day in the mangroves and monsoon forest patches around Darwin. Stilt-rooted Mangrove Rhizophora stylosa with its looping aerial roots, mud, sandflies and the odd crocodile turn some people off this fascinating habitat. But take the plunge (but not literally! ) and you'll find an entrancing world of new birds, periophthalmic mudskippers and interesting plants.
Option 2. Half a day at the Adelaide River stalking mangrove birds including the uncommon Mangrove Golden Whistler, and estuarine crocodiles. Opportunities are opening up here with possibly a trip on an amphibious vehicle across the wetlands.
Opiton 3. Comfortable, easy-to-drive houseboats are available on the Mary River. Not for everyone, just those who like relaxed wetlands birdwatching (and crocodile-spotting) and perhaps a spot of fishing. Glass of Aussie red in hand watch the sun set red over the floodplains, its departure heralded by the mad chorus of Blue-winged Kookaburras and the bark of crocodile.
Option 4. Spend another day in Kakadu and climb the escarpment (shown at the right) looking for White-throated Grasswren and other sandstone endemics. Grasswrens are hard to find in the early to mid months of the year and as it is a steep 300 m. climb with lots of prickly 'spinifex' at the top I would suggest it only for the really dedicated or those with big lungs and thick skins.
Option 5. A drive down the Victoria Highway 450 km south west of Darwin will net the birdwatcher a whole bunch of other species. Apart from those finches named already, here there are Zebra Finch and Star Finch. Among the cane grass at Victoria River and elsewhere lives the exquisite Purple-crowned Fairy-wren. Among the rocks live the pretty rust-coloured Spinifex Pigeon and White-quilled Rock-pigeon. The elusive Grey Falcon is best seen in this area. The escarpment of this area is spectacular. Overnight at the Victoria River Inn.
Option 6. Take a 16 mile trip up the wide, brown Adelaide River to an isolated tropical island. Once reserved for only fishers who come from all over the world to catch barramundi, this lodge is now available for birdwatchers. Watch for Shining Flycatcher and Black Bittern among the native bamboo and paperbarks. Gorgeous Crimson Finch abound here, and sometimes nest in the rafters of the buildings. White-bellied Sea-eagle, Brahminy Kite, Marsh Harrier and several other raptors are recorded from the vicinity. Brolga dance along the banks and the reedbeds, depending on what time of the year one visits, are often alive with the song of cisticola and warblers. Goannas, turtles and crocodiles abound. No Swimming. Accommodation is basic but comfortable, in air-conditioned bedrooms elevated over the river. At night one can sit outside on the wide verandah and watch the sun set and the river go by to the calls of nocturnal birds and, if it's mating season, the bellow of crocodiles. Costs $200 Au per person per day.
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