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Birding Australia’s Wet Tropics and the Top End - 5th - 19 July 2019

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Old Wednesday 24th July 2019, 06:01   #1
MKinHK
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Birding Australia’s Wet Tropics and the Top End - 5th - 19 July 2019

5th July – Cairns Esplanade
After an early arrival into a beautifully sunny Cairns after a dirt-cheap red-eye from Shenzhen we had to wait a few hours to check into our hotel overlooking the famous Esplanade, after picking up some cheap imports in the shape of House Sparrows, Common Mynas and Feral Pigeons at the airport, plus a dozen Pacific Black Ducks in a drainage channel between the runway and the apron and 20 Cattle Egrets on a riverbank just beyond the airfield.

July is exactly the wrong time to be there, with a tiny handful of the thousands of palearctic waders that spend the northern winter here showing on the mudflat as we walked along the boardwalk to find brunch. These included a dozen or so Whimbrel, an Eastern Curlew, and a Black-tailed Godwit. Local waders included a solitary Pied Oystercatcher, four Black-winged Stilts and half-a-dozen or so Masked Lapwings. The mudflats and bay also held twenty-odd macrotarsa Gull-billed Terns and a solitary Caspian Tern, plus thirty-odd Silver Gulls, a dozen ever-wonderful Australian Pelicans, a couple of Reef Egrets (looking rather paler than their counterparts in Hong Kong, a Great Egret and a solitary Intermediate Egret. An adult White-bellied Sea Eagle soaring over the water added some class and, best of the lot, an Eastern Osprey stooped and caught a fish - the first time I’ve actually seen this in 30–odd years of birding.

The Australians do a wonderful job at creating public open spaces that provide opportunities for recreation and wildlife and also look stunning. Having visited a few cities in Australia Cairns looks like the best of the lot. Birds seen on the walk to brunch included lots of Rainbow Lorikeets, Bar-shouldered Doves, four typically hyperactive Willie Wagtails, several piebald Magpie Larks, a Straw-necked Ibis and thirty-odd Australian Swiftlets - my first lifer of the trip. I also enjoyed pishing in a couple of Olive-backed Sunbirds and my first honeyeater of the trip – a very curious Brown Honeyeater – small, fawn-coloured with a hint of a green wing panel. Also noteworthy was a large colony of Spectacled Flying Foxes in front of Cairns Library, which also held a bonus Australian Figbird.

Less attractive were a street gang of Feral Pigeons that swooped in to scavenge the leftovers on the next table. If the coffee shop were to served pigeon this would be a great circular economy solution to reducing food waste. Currently its just disgusting!

The last bird of the day, standing guard in the sand under the lights by the public pool on the Esplanade was a Bush Thick-knee – one of my favourite Australian birds, which I was able to snap with the iPhone from just a few feet away.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 24th July 2019, 06:47   #2
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looking forward to hear more! Australia might be in the books for us sometime the next few years!

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Old Wednesday 24th July 2019, 15:57   #3
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Love the reef heron shot, Mike.


I did Queensland a few years ago, so I'm looking forward to some memories as well as lovely new info on the Top End.
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Old Wednesday 24th July 2019, 21:33   #4
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Love the reef heron shot, Mike.


I did Queensland a few years ago, so I'm looking forward to some memories as well as lovely new info on the Top End.
Likewise, this will be an enjoyable read
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Old Thursday 25th July 2019, 13:11   #5
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Many thanks Gents - I can highly recommend it!

6th July - Cairns Esplanade and Darwin
A swift 90 minutes along the Esplanade before our flight to Darwin with the tide right out produced most of the same waders plus eight distant Grey-tailed Tattlers and a fine pair of Beach Thick-knees picking their way along the edge of the narrow sandy beach – and much closer than I ever expected to see them here. Other good birds were fifty-odd Metallic Starlings, which have recently colonized Cairns first as a breeding bird and latterly as a resident in smaller numbers. My second honeyeater was the rather gawky Hornbill Friarbird – a long bump in the top of the bill separating it from the rather similar, albeit extralimital, Silver-crowned and Helmeted Friarbirds. Other additions included a couple of Spangled Drongos, eighteen Scaly-breasted Munias and four ever-elegant White-breasted Woodswallows.

Cheers
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Old Friday 26th July 2019, 00:17   #6
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Gripped on the Beach Thick-knee. I missed that one.
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Old Monday 29th July 2019, 00:20   #7
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Sorry you dipped Jeff - it won't help to tell you its a species that has long been friendly to me!

6th July pm - Darwin

The fact that it took almost three hours to fly from Cairns to Darwin - two places both in the top right corner - created a very real sense for of how big Australia is. After circling over the bay and the northern edge of the Atherton Tablelands and the Daintree the flight crossed tantalisingly south of Cape York – home of the outrageous Palm Cockatoo, the magnificently named Trumpet Manucode (a drongo with extra attitude) and a host of other endemics - and crossed the coast made beautiful by the squiggly patterns of rivers meandering before they entered the Bay of Carpentaria.

After arriving in Darwin – and again waiting several hours to check in – we headed up to the excellent Darwin Museum via another quality brunch, this time at Laneway Coffee shop, and a walk through the leafy suburb of Parap and Vestey’s Lagoon park. This walk delivered more Brown Honeyeaters, which again responded excellently to pishing, our first Orange-footed Scrubfowl and a smallish unidentified goanna draping itself attractively down a branch. A walk into the Botanic Gardens began to deliver more birds – a pair of Bush Thick-knees showing much better than the singleton in Cairns, several handsome Rainbow Bee-eaters were hunting in the baobab section, a few more pairs of Orange-footed Scrub Fowls rooted in the leaf litter and, best of all, I was put onto a wonderful pair of day-roosting Rufous Owls that by another visiting birder. A regular feature here, these owls, which were my top target for our time in Darwin, sit with 4 and 10 metres of the ground and give easy views . . . if you happen to know where to look for them! The glitter in his left eye hints that he was less than delighted to be immortalised on film.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Tuesday 30th July 2019, 10:10   #8
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Glad you got the owl

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Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
Sorry you dipped Jeff - it won't help to tell you its a species that has long been friendly to me!

6th July pm - Darwin

T best of all, I was put onto a wonderful pair of day-roosting Rufous Owls that by another visiting birder. A regular feature here, these owls, which were my top target for our time in Darwin, sit with 4 and 10 metres of the ground and give easy views . . . if you happen to know where to look for them! The glitter in his left eye hints that he was less than delighted to be immortalised on film.

Cheers
Mike
Glad you saw the Rufous Owl we even saw one hunting Possum during the day, last August.
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Old Tuesday 30th July 2019, 12:06   #9
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Many thanks David/Sarah - watching one hunt must have been fantastic!

On the way out of the Botanic Garden a flowering palm had attracted several honeyeaters, including three new species for me - Rufous-banded Honeyeater – short-billed greenish-backed with a grey head and broad diffuse rufous breast band, the darker and curve-billed Dusky Honeyeater, and the similarly dark, but with a pale spot at the base of the slightly short bill – White-gaped Honeyeaters. Added to these were a couple more Brown Honeyeaters, and a female Olive-backed Oriole, a single Varied Triller, several Bar-shouldered Doves and a few Black Kites overhead.

As the sun dropped we headed across the road to Mindil Beach - a famous spot for watching the sunset in Darwin. To be honest it was nothing special, but I did pick up a Forest Kingfisher, 20-odd Masked Lapwings on the beach and flyover White-breatsed Wood Swallows and a Brown Goshawk.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 31st July 2019, 15:41   #10
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My other top target in downtown Darwin was a Barking Owl, which is known to hang out close to the steps down to the open air Deckchair Cinema near the southernmost corner of Bicentennial Park. As I walked along the Esplanade I was distracted by a Collared Sparrowhawk soaking up the first rays of the sun, more Brown Honeyeaters in the same park by the church, and couple of Orange-footed Scrubfowls squabbling and running all over the road. Before heading down the staircase I found my first Helmeted Friarbird, from which the Hornbill Friarbird seen the day before in Cairns was split (as a Cape York and NE Queensland endemic)in recent years, a flock of 30-odd tiny Peaceful Doves feeding on the lawn by the war memorial along with several Double-barred Finches and the Top End endemic Green-backed Gerygone, which gave a good impression of a shorter-tailed Common Tailorbird, with its grey head and bright green upperparts. Five Little Cormorants flew past across the sea.

More to come . . .

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 31st July 2019, 16:15   #11
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On the first pass I completely failed to find the Barking Owl, which is one of the many species of boobooks that seem to have split on a one-species-per-island basis throughout the Philippines and Indonesia. Not as big as yesterday's Rufous Owls, which are also a Ninox , both an excellent online guide to the birds of Darwin by Laurie Ross and eBird had it nailed in the same spot, where mature trees hung over the concrete stairway down to the Deckchair Cinema.

After forty minutes or so of not finding it I wandered out along the water's edge, finding a couple of hunting Rainbow Bee-eaters, a Magpie Lark or two, and more interestingly a metal jetty sticking out into the bay which held a mix of loafing Gull-billed, Whiskered and Crested Terns, plus a couple more Little Cormorants and another lifer in the form of a fly-by Radjah Shelduck.

My second search for the owl was no more productive, despite plodding up and down the staircase for another forty five minutes and trying to turn every branch into an owl. A scolding gang of Spangled Drongos, Brown Honeyeaters and Varied Trillers had me interested in a stand of trees next to the bank, but there was no sign of a lurking owl. After another walk around the war memorial I tried again and almost immediately picked up a movement in the canopy - Arafura Fantail - one of the wonderful family of hyperactive flycatchers the bounce around with their dark, white-tipped tails spread in a semi-permanent fan. Another Top End endemic It is easily separated from the closely related but extralimital Rufous Fantail by the reduced rufous on the tail. Pursuing better views of the fantail I stepped off the concrete path and this crucially changed my angle into the stand of trees where the mobbing had been going on earlier, and there was the Barking Owl, sitting there looking composed contained and sleepy - probably having tired itself after laughing at my inept attempts to find it over the last three hours!

I have to say it was well worth it. It was much smaller than the distinctly hefty Rufous Owls of the day before and had a rounded dark powdery grey crown, loosely defined white around the eyes and broad maroon-tinged russet streaks on the breast. It was completely unconcerned by me and I was delighted to get some nice shots while wondering how on earth I'd taken so long to find it. Shortly after seeing it I also got onto my first Northern Fantail. Less manic than the Arafura Fantail, it sat still with a closed tail on a single branch for a good deal of the time - much more like a regular flycatcher. My final bird of the morning was a very vocal Yellow Oriole that finally gave itself up fo r a photo after singing constantly without ever providing anything like a good view.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 31st July 2019, 18:34   #12
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Great stuff, Mike, and well done on persevering with the Barking Owl.
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Old Tuesday 6th August 2019, 23:04   #13
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Walking back through the woods a scuffling in the leaf litter turned out to be a Pacific Emerald Dove – very similar to Emerald Doves I see occasionally in Hong Kong, but with a longer bill and more prominent white shoulder patches and a little further along a pair of Shining Flycatchers foraging no more than a metre above the ground– the male an iridescent midnight blue, and the female even more striking, with a dark cap, rufous wings and tail, and a bright white belly. A second flycatcher tick, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher – Flyrobin is just too ridiculous a name! – allowed close approach as it hunted from a bare branch along the edge of the forest. Sadly there was no sign of the hoped-for Rainbow Pitta, but another Flycatcher – a female Leaden Flycatcher that had me wondering about the rather similar male Broad-billed Flycatcher popped up briefly in the tree above us just as we watched a dozen Agile Wallabies on the lawn of the model airplane club.

A walk along the edge of the lake revealed no waterbirds, but a couple of Helmeted Friarbirds were plundering a tree garlanded with small white fruit, while two impressively large Blue-faced Honeyeaters perched atop a large palm that was also fruiting extravagantly. Perhaps the most impressive sight was the arrival of some 60 Australian Figbirds obviously coming in to their night-time roost and adorning a couple of bare trees like an unexpected shower of bright yellow black-headed mangoes. Just before we left a loose gaggle of White-gaped, Brown, Dusky and Rufous-banded Honeyeaters came in nicely to my pishing, and as we drove back into the city, a hefty Pied Imperial Pigeon balancing on a wire was my first since seeing a few on Phi Phi island in Thailand a full 30 years ago in 1989.

Next morning I was back at East Point for another shot at another top target – Rainbow Pitta. A couple of Grey Whistlers welcomed me at the beginning of the forest trail, along with a Collared Sparrowhawk perched in a mangrove tree. I struggled in the forest, with not even a hint of a pitta, but a couple of Spangled Drongos, more White-gaped Honeyeaters, a monstrous Orange-footed Scrubfowl mound and, best of all, a flock of 30 odd finches of which 25 were Double-barred Finches and the rest were Crimson Finches including a couple of lovely deep red males.

Next . . . Kakadu!

Cheers
Mike
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Old Tuesday 13th August 2019, 13:01   #14
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It's an interesting place Darwin - birding apart, it has the usual beautiful coastal parks and colonial buildings and some wonderful building-size street art, but always the sense of it not quite being able to hide the rough edges of a highly remote frontier town.

With a couple of hours to kill before picking up the car and heading off to Kakadu we made a visit to the extraordinary Crocosaurus Cove in downtown Darwin. There were no birds here, but they did have an excellent display of native herps including all the deadly snakes,Black-headed Python, which is my new favourite herp, some excellent lizards, the always entertaining Archerfish and among the hundred or so Saltwater Crocodiles a couple that were somewhere between 5 and 6 metres long.

Astonishing as it sounds you can pay to be lowered into the tank of one of these monsters in a perspex cylinder while the staff dangle bits of chicken over the croc on a string to make it jump out of the water. While Australia has some of the best curated and sensitive cultural and wildlife interpretation this seemed to be crass beyond belief. As we watched in horrified fascination it was clear that the croc was much more interested in the two generously proportioned ladies in the perspex cage than the tiny morsel of chicken.

Our drive to Kakadu delivered few birds, but as we entered the park after dark a dead adult kangaroo in the road had Carrie swerving hard to avoid it and doing brilliantly to keep the car on the road as she swerved back to avoid running off and then a couple of times more to bring the car under control. We don’t drive in HK, so for Carrie to deal so well with hard to see roadkill while travelling at 110kmh at night felt a bit like Neo being programmed to know kung fu and jujitsu in the Matrix just before he needed to. This would not be the only kangroo-related incident of the trip . . .

Cheers
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Old Tuesday 13th August 2019, 13:11   #15
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Next day was one of the best birding days of the whole trip. I slept badly, itching for the dawn to break in a place I’d wanted to visit for decades. I was out at the first crack, and immediately found an Australian Hobby perched atop the radio mast. A short path through the dry monsoon forest took me to the shore of a weed-choked lake which was absolutely humming with birds. First up were flocks of 30-50 Little Corellas, three or four Red-collared Lorikeets (the top-end variant/split of Rainbow Lorikeet) and a screeching gaggle of 150-odd Varied Lorikeets, pure white against a sky of an impossible blue - at least for this pollution-addled Hong Konger. More surprising were marauding gangs of six to ten Black-faced Cuckooshrikes both in the trees along the edge and also through the reeds across the billabong. More exciting were a flock of a dozen Green Pygmy Goose – a lifer for me – which flew over and then settled on an open stretch of water off to the left.

I was watching from a fully fenced-in floating jetty, as Kakadu is crawling with Estuarine Crocodiles. Close-in to the jetty a couple of Radjah Shelducks were grotting on the mud with an Intermediate Egret and a couple of Magpie Geese. I was delighted to pick up a couple of Blue-winged Kookaburras – another lifer – were lurking with intent along the fringes. Something startled the Radjah Shelducks, which then perched on a snag and spent a good 20 minutes checking me out and calling. Out on the floating vegetation where the Green Pygmy Geese went down a couple of Comb-crested Jacanas foraged unobtrusively, and in the trees behind them a slow-flying parrot turned out to be the first of an elegant pair of Red-winged Parrots. White-bellied Sea Eagles surveyed the scene regally from a couple of snags while small groups of Little Cormorants, and Wandering Whistling Ducks flew here and there, Black and Whistling Kites drifted over and and a white-necked immature Australian Darter flew up briefly before disappearing again into the reeds.

Tearing myself away from the jetty I followed a path into the forest picking up Leaden Flycatcher, several White-gaped Honeyeaters, Varied Trillersand best of all the absolutely stunning Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, which came up off the deck but fortunately was curious enough to perch in a treetop and check me out, allowing me to drink in this amazing mix of yellow green white and rosy pink. An absolutely brilliant bird! One the way back to our room a White-bellied Cuckooshrike came close to check me out, and an Arafura Fantail responded to my pishing at the end of a wonderful morning session.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Saturday 17th August 2019, 04:36   #16
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Coming back to our room was no less birdy as several hundred Little Corellas had obviously decided the hotel grounds were the perfect spot for a mid morning break. While most birds were happy to perch and preen a few others clearly had energy still to burn. One bird in particular spun itself dizzy by gripping a telephone wire in both feet and rotating like a gymnast on a high bar. It stopped - of course! - as soon as I started filming. Not finished with the attention seeking, it hung upside down, wings spread for a good half minute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hYU...ature=youtu.be

We also received a visit from a tiny lizard sp. that popped its head over the doorstep. Any insights on ID would be most welcome.

Our major plan for the day was to join the justifiably famous Yellow Water Evening Boat Tour – which was some 80 kilometres away. On the way we passed a controlled grass burn which had attracted fifty or so Black and Whistling Kites, numerous egrets and ibises and a spectacular Black-necked Stork – or, to give it its local name - Jabiru. In a more wooded area a group of massive Red-tailed Black Cockatoos cruising slowly over the road, seemingly defying gravity with their slow heavy flight, reminded me again why they are among my favourite Australian birds. As the cruise was not until the evening our destination was the wonderfully-named Anbangbang Billabong on the edge of the sandstone escarpment that covers much of the eastern half of Kakadu. With the dry season starting to kick in the pools of remaining water attract more and more birds, and Anbangbang performed to perfection. Much of it was covered in floating and semi-inundated vegetation that played host to a terrific array of waterbirds. Two Comb-crested Jacanas picking their way across a silvery meadow of grass opened the scoring, while hundreds of Wandering and Plumed Whistling Ducks and Radjah Shelducks, including a pair with several youngsters dabbled among various lily species, a couple of which were in flower.
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Old Saturday 17th August 2019, 04:46   #17
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Our first Estuarine Crocodile lurked under a bush in the middle of the billabong while a couple of Intermediate Egrets stalked nearby as the chatter and stench of the Black Flying Foxes in the grove of eucalypts we were standing under oozed over us in the heat of the day. As we walked round the billabong we kept adding birds - a couple of Little Black Cormorants, twenty Black-winged Stilts, an adult Australian Darter, a sleeping Royal Spoonbill small groups of Green Pygmy Geese and, across the water a wonderful family of five Emus, looking as if they’d just stepped out of pre-history were just my second ever. An Australian Pelican looked way out of scale, a couple of Grey Teal, a Pacific Black Duck and a Hardhead further burnished the list of waterfowl, while half-a-dozen foraging Straw-necked Ibises positively glittered in the bright sunlight.

I was especially pleased to find two good lifers in the shape of both Pied Heron and White-necked Heron, the latter being quietly photobombed by the Emus as they wandered off into the bush – just brilliant! The last good bird here was also my first cuckoo of the trip – a Brush Cuckoo the peered down at us in a stand of melaleucas , but allowed a close approach and good views. Any insights into the ID of the silhouetted hirundines would be most welcome.

This short video gives some sense of the site - especially the din made by the roosting bats.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeRXGMrBoeQ
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Old Saturday 17th August 2019, 07:15   #18
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A few more pix from Anbangbang Billabong:

1. Black Flying Fox
2. Pied Heron
3. Magpie Geese
4. Brush Cuckoo
5. unidentified hirundines (any thoughts in ID most welcome)

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 21st August 2019, 13:08   #19
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After an already excellent day we headed over to Yellow Water Creek to join one of their famed evening tours. This was hardly a gentle nature tour – sixty plus people on each of four boats with a female American guide who no-one could possibly call subtle. To be fair though the cruise is more of a general nature attraction than a specialist birders cruise – and we did see plenty of birds and other wildlife – albeit to a commentary that was the extraordinary linguistic novelty of ocker australianisms delivered in a rich Southern States drawl.

The main target for most of the participants were the many Estuarine Crocodiles. We saw perhaps eight or ten of these during the two-hour cruise, some of the very close, a couple of them impressively large and all of them unrepentantly menacing. Other mammals included a dozen or so feral Wild Boar and numerous Water Buffalo, a well-established import from Asia. One of these Buffalo had found the perfect wallow on the edge of the river. Perfect though it was this could hardly be said to be a long-term strategy given the large numbers of croc that would be delighted to make a meal of it. However our guide informed us that despite several attempts by the local crocs he continued to use the same spot on a daily basis - and there was no way he would let some overgrown gecko twist his mellow.
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Old Wednesday 21st August 2019, 14:00   #20
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The birds started with a Whistling Kite calling from its nest in a melaleuca close to the jetty, an adult Australian Darter lurking in the reeds as we pulled away a fine pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles on a snag above the first bend. The creek wound through areas of partially flooded grassland, which made an attractive habitat for a couple of pairs of Brolgas – Australia’s endemic crane. Slightly smaller than the rather similar Sarus Crane, Brolgas are the same dusty grey but have less red on the neck than their larger cousins. Several hundred Plumed Whistling Ducks clearly found the banks of the creek to their liking, especially where they could roost up under overhanging vegetation, and plenty of Cattle Egrets picked their way between the Water Buffalo. Other good birds included a close Jabiru, a dazzlingly deep-blue Azure Kingfisher on a creek-side pandanus and, lurking in another shaded pool, my first Great-billed Heron! On the way back to the jetty an adult Nankeen Night Heron posed perfectly on the warm evening light, and we drifted right up to a foraging Jabiru as it stalked along the edge of the creek and enjoyed an Australian Pelican getting ready to settle down for the night.
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Old Wednesday 21st August 2019, 14:27   #21
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The big highlight for me here however was a male Comb-crested Jacana with a solitary youngster. They were not at all afraid of the boat and we enjoyed wonderful views as they picked their way over the floating vegetation and the youngster briefly stopped for a quick hug, hiding under its parent’s wing with its feet sticking ridiculously out the below.

As we were walking back from the jetty a rather chunky dark brown bird flew over my head and landed briefly in a roadside tree, stopped for a frustratingly short few seconds and then ghosted away – a wholly unexpected Rufous Owl! This was not our last bird of the day – during the 80km drive back to to the Aurora Lodge we flushed three unidentified nightjars from the surface of the road. Any insight into what species is the most likely here would be greatly appreciated.
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Old Wednesday 21st August 2019, 14:48   #22
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The big highlight for me here however was a male Comb-crested Jacana with a solitary youngster. They were not at all afraid of the boat
Fantastic. This brings back fond memories of my trip to Kakadu and to Yellow Waters, some 30 years ago . I wasn't a birdwatcher back then but just a general wildlife/nature enthusiast (just the thought of all the bird species I could have "ticked" then makes me shiver!), but I did manage to capture two individuals of the very same bird (Comb-crested Jacana) on (actual!) film, although the views were not as good as yours. I so want to go back now! Keep it coming!
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Old Wednesday 21st August 2019, 20:57   #23
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Love the arty croc close up!
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Old Tuesday 27th August 2019, 13:20   #24
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Many thanks Pete. They're impressive beasts. The close up reminds me that in this environment we humans are most definitely part of the food chain!

The next day we headed back to the sandstone for a guided tour of the rock art and general wildlife. I was hopeful of finding a couple of the specialist sandstone species – Sandstone Shrikethrush, Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon, and in my wildest of dreams White-throated Grasswren. My hopes were raised as a birder coming out the other way mentioned that he’d just seen a couple of the pigeons on top of one of the iconic pancake stack formations of the region. I dipped, although a couple of rather pale-headed Black Kites had me briefly excited, but I did pick up a few other birds between the introduction to some of the ancient rock art and experiencing the strong citrus taste of green ants https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-...a-bite/8277414 for the first time. The best of these were a small group of Little Wood-swallows swirling above the ridge – all-dark with two white notches at the tip of the tail. Others included a Rainbow Bee-eater, which was joined on its hunting perch by half a dozen Long-tailed Finches – another lifer, showing the triangular red bill with a broad black throat patch and the eponymous long tail. A large brown bird flying away might have been a Great Bowerbird, but disappeared without a backward glance. A walk into the riverside forest as the day warmed up added a female Leaden Flycatcher, but no sign of the endemics.

Keen to stay in the sandstone zone I was delighted to find that there was another boat trip - The Guluyambi Cultural Cruise through the sandstone country from the north-easternmost corner of the easily accessed part of the park near Cahill’s Crossing on the evocatively misnamed East Alligator River. This is a popular spot to watch the crocs gather as they wait for the rising tide to bring mullet up the river. This trip started with wonderful views of a Great-billed Heron perched up in a dead tree right by the riverbank. Seeing this massive heron so well was a stark contrast to the fleeting views of the previous day. We also enjoyed close views of a hefty Brown Goshawk doing a poor job of hiding behind the trunk of a shaded tree. We added a few more crocs on our way up to the spot where we could get out amidst the sandstone by a small lake that ... had no birds apart from a White-throated Honeyeater and a very distant sandy-coloured bird that might just have been a Sandstone Shrike-thrush, but was just too far away for any vaguely convincing stringing. A Little Egret standing nonchalantly on a small beach which held one croc while another drifted slowly by in the shadows clearly knew more about the abundance of mullet for the crocs to feed on that we did! It was also interesting for hazing yellow lores - a colour Little Egrets in Hong Kong never show.

Our final stop for the day was at the rather disappointing Mamakalu Wetlands close to our accommodation. With the water covered in emergent vegetation there were not many waterbirds on show and in the end we did better for passerines, including a very showy Lemon-bellied and male Paperbark Flycatchers, Crimson and Long-tailed Finches and a Brush Cuckoo perching elegantly on the same dead tree as a Bar-shouldered Dove.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Sunday 1st September 2019, 14:30   #25
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Next morning we drove out of Kakadu as the sun came up with little opportunity for birding, flew back to Cairns from Darwin, and drove up to Daintree about 2 hours north for a two night stay at the justifiably famous birder-friendly hotel Red Mill House, which is within walking distance of the jetty for the equally justifiably famous Daintree Boatman Nature Tours. The only memeorable birds on the way were a Black-shouldered Kite, a Jabiru on the edge of a sugarcane field and two Bush Thick-knees on the village green as we drove through Daintree just as night fell. I could also hear them calling in the night after we went to bed

There were no more birds that evening, but food is the most important shred experience when we travel and we did Julaymba Restaurant at the Daintree Ecolodge made our all-time top three meals (the others being fresh-caught bass in the Start Bay Inn at Slapton Ley in Devon) and an amazing Japanese izakaya (inn) in Otaru, Hokkaido who name I've long forgotten. The chef makes extraordinary use of organic/biodynamic local produce and bush tucker including wild herbs and spices, emu, kangaroo, wild-caught barramundi, and the green ants I sampled in Kakadu to add a citrus zest the desert.

Next morning I walked down to the jetty where I was pleased to pick up my lifer Black Butcherbird in a fog-shrouded tree and a nicely confiding male Olive-backed Sunbird, in a hibiscus bush. 80-odd Rainbow Lorikeets were congregated noisily in the centre of the village and Rainbow Bee-eaters made forays from a large tree above the junction with Stewart Creek Road. This road is famous as a birding site and in the hour or so remaining I picked up my first Macleay's Honeyeater - a largish and streaky honeyeater feeding in the mid-storey of a flowering tree and my first Spectacled Monarchs, who pushed in beautifully from the forest above the road. An Australian Darter was on the creek and two Blue-winged Kookaburras hunted from wires and fence-posts. Other Honeyeaters here included Dusky, Yellow-spotted and the smaller Graceful Honeyeater, while other additions included a pair of copulating Wonga Pigeons and a flyover group of five hefty Topknot Pigeons. Other bits and pieces included a couple of Spangled Drongos, four Tree Martins hunting over the meadows hard up against the ridge, ten each of Australasian Swiftlet and White-breasted Woodswallow, a couple of Yellow Oriole, the usual smattering of Australian Figbird (although the pic below was one from Darwin) and in the trees by the river, a small group of the range-restricted Large-billed Gerygone.

This was not a bad haul before breakfast. And breakfast at Red Mill House most definitely should not to be missed! A meal with local ingredients and with passion added to the warmest of hospitality and a room that easily passed muster with my ever demanding wife. adding to the enjoyment were a couple of Radjah Shelducks searching for grain scattered on the lawn and trying to resist the furious defence of the Orange-footed Scrubfowls who clearly considered the lawn their own turf.

In the afternoon we headed across the Daintree river deep into the forest, which was attractive principally for offering an opportunity to see the best bird of the region - Cassowary. We didn't get a sniff on the way to or around the Daintree Discovery Centre. We had some compensation in the form of a group of ten Double-eyed Fig Parrots that came into the top of the tree growing up against the treetop tower and showed superbly as they fed on small red berries. The only other birds were a couple of Graceful Honeyeaters on the forest floor and a helpfully curious Leaden Flycatcher.

Cheers
Mike
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