A Walking Tour of Darwin

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July 17th 2018
Published: July 17th 2018
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I had a day on my own for today, back to wandering around
aimlessly, or rather with the one sole aim of finding animals. I covered over
20ks today so it's a good thing I like walking. I like doing this, wandering
around on my own is good fun. Not when it's costing me an average of 150 to 200
dollars (Australian) per day though which is I think is the absolute best cast
scenario if I did a long trip in Australia on my own. That's the main reason
I'm sponging off, I mean catching up with, family while in Australia and doing
my wandering about on my own in Asia on the cheap (though I don't think my time
in Singapore will be all that much cheaper.

Anyway, I headed off on my own in the morning to have a
first look for Chestnut Rail. Buffalo Creek, the site I tried the other day
which is supposed to be the best for them, is not accessible without a car, but
the finding birds book also mentions another site to try if you miss them there
(Stuart Park Mangroves) which is accessible along a rather unpleasant walk down
a massive highway. So I walked down there first, timing my visit perfectly with
being along one of the two main roads into Darwin at the morning rush hour. The
other thing about being on my own of course is that if I want to spend 10 hours
staring at some mangroves I can do that. I didn't do that though because
there's no access into to mangroves and the ones by the road are too scrubby
and secondary. So once it becane obvious that the only thing I was going to
accomplish was getting killed by a car, I abandoned the rail and walked up to
the Botanic Gardens.

Since owls are imaginary, I didn't actually expect to find
any, but there were Rufous Owls in both of the last two ebird checklists from
the gardens and even a picture with one so I decided to give their existence
the benefit of the doubt and really go for it today.

I walked around the gardens for quite a few hours looking up
at trees. There were many, many large bunches of brown shaped l leaves which
were all trying their best to look exactly like owls.

Because there were no owls I went to look at the orchid and
bromeliad house and I do particularly like those types of plants especially a
big display of a diverse range of species. They had one of those weird ground
orchid things like we're extremely common all around the Crocker Range but
there was no label on that one so I still don't know what it is.

A big display of hundreds of species of orchids and
bromeliads is all well and good and there were lots of unusual looking flowers
but they're not rufous owls so I went back to look in the owl trees again. To
my extreme surprise, one of the bunches of leaves suddenly materialised into a
sleeping rufous owl! It was quite literally the darkest, most well hidden and
furthest off the path and least photographable spot possible. Once I had found
in with the binoculars and tried to manoeuvre to a better spot, I completely
lost the owl and struggled to refind it back in the spot that I originally saw
it. Even yesterday's Barking Owl was in a better spot than this (I managed
pictures of that at least). It wasn't in the trees that it was supposed to be
in either. Day roosting owls are the one bird that you expect to sit
conveniently in the spot that the book says. Stupid owls. Why can't they just
sit in the trees the books tell them to? That would make it much easier.
There's supposed to be a pair of Rufous Owls so I thought I would try and find
one in a spot that I could actually photograph but that's far too much to ask

I really need to stop converting prices of things into
ringgit. I had lunch at the café in the Botanic Gardens and AU$12 for poached
eggs on toast isn't actually that expensive for a touristy spot in a city, but
more than RM35 for two eggs and a bit of toast seems obscene. I decided that I
didn't fancy getting run over by a car while trying to look in the wrong sort
of mangroves and not seeing a Chestnut Rail just because that's what my book
tells me to, so I did what my other book told me to and went to a possible
seawatch site instead. I can think for myself, honest.

I've already seen two of the resident dolphin species, but
there was one more still to try for as well as dugongs and the possibility of
some common pelagics so I thought it was worth a few hours at least. It was
several Kms further on though which is not particularly pleasant in the heat
and full sun. At least it's mostly flat though!

This was the correct decision. The walk up to the seawatch
site was along a path along the back of a large sandy beach. The sort that's
dotted with tourists rather than with birds. It's still the same bay all along
though so I was keeping a look out for dolphins and dugongs and enjoying the
slight shade of a row of casuarina trees between the path and the beach. Then
suddenly a man ten metres back (as in, where I had walked right past minutes
ago) called out, pointed up at on of the trees and said: owls. What? Owls?
There's no way owls would roost in those sparsely leafed trees right out in the
open sun.

These were not owls. These were much better than owls. Right
there in the open in the fork of a casuarina trees right by the path there sat
three Tawny Frogmouths! Finally! After 18 years of visiting Australia every
couple of years for my whole life I had finally found some wild Frogmouths. I
know they're supposed to be common in Australia and are hardly a speciality
that makes birders flock to Darwin. But those three frogmouths just sitting
there perfectly still and blending in incredibly well with casuarina bark,
colour and pattern and all, easily jumped into the top ten birds of the
Northern Territory trip. Probably in the top twenty for these last two months
of the whole trip. An amazing bird. I kind of wish I had spotted them on my own
rather than, you know, walking right past them, but they're fantastic.

Sometimes there are common birds that you just keep on
missing and then when you finally see them it's almost embarrassing to admit
they're a lifer, but frogmouths are just so amazing. I don't think they're
quite as common in the South West as they are in the rest of Australia either,
but they are present so that's just an excuse for my inability to find birds.

The tide was going out which is supposed to be best for
spotting dugongs, but sitting in a hut looking out at the sea is boring so I
decided to just walk along. It's all the same sea that I'm looking out at
anyway. There is a path that goes all the way up the coast eventually getting
to the Casuarina Coastal Reserve and Buffalo Creek which is where the mangroves
that I had visited are. There are rocks along the back of the beach too and
Beach Stone Curlews occur. So I just decided to walk along until I couldn't be
bothered going any further (bearing in mind I was walking directly away from my
accommodation the whole time) then turn back.

Everything was going well until all of a sudden, my phone
died. I was able to ascertain that the reason was due to the battery suddenly
dropping from 21% to 2% and the cable that I had with me to charge from the
powerbank was not working properly. I did get a fuzzy screen with lines on it
at one point so I was rather worried that I had managed to break a second phone
on this trip (avid readers will recall that I broke the first phone in a rainstorm
at Bukit Fraser about seven weeks ago now) but I managed to get the phone to
turn on, show me 1% charge remaining and then instantly turn off again. I’ve
become rather reliant on my phone. Every possible bit of information is stored
on my phone, all documents and tickets or bookings of any kind of on the phone.
All my navigation is through the phone too, as are my books and entertainment
things like that, and since my watch broke at Mount Kinabalu it’s been my only
source of the time too! I was tempted to go back to the accommodation to plug
it in to the wall socket, but I was a good 4km away so if I went back I wouldn’t
get out again and I didn’t want to spend my last day in Darwin sitting on the
internet. I knew roughly where I was going in the city at this point and how to
get back without maps, I had the key code to the house memorized and I could
just tell the time by looking at the tides and the exact angle of the sun. Who
needs a phone? (Except of course I have no idea how to tell the time from the
tides and the sun beyond ‘day’ ‘nearly the end of day’ and ‘not day anymore).

Basically, you’ve just read a paragraph where all I do is
moan and overdramatise my phone running out of charge. Why anyone still reads
this rubbish is beyond me.

So I kept walking for what I can very accurately quantity as
‘some’ amount of time which was less than a day. Then I turned around and
walked back. And I did all that walking and navigating without google maps. I
expect I shall get a Duke of Edinburgh Award now. And a Victoria Cross. You
know, for bravery of soldiering on why I wasn’t able to google anything as soon
as it popped into my head.

I walked along scanning the bay for dugongs the whole time
but no luck. Unlike dolphins, dugongs don’t splash about at the surface so you’d
have to be lucky to spot one. There was a sign by the path about how dugongs graze
on the seagrass beds just of shore as well as describing the creation story of
the local aboriginal group, over which someone had scratched ‘ha ha, bullshit story’.
Obviously a keen intellectual.

As I was walking back, I noticed that the Northern Territory
Museum was just nearby and the sign said free entry so I went in. It’s not a particularly
big museum, but is rather nice and I was impressed by it. It’s all about the Northern
Territory, about 60% natural history stuff and 40% cultural stuff including a
big display about cyclone Tracy. The natural history displays were really good
though, very well done and very interesting. Well worth a visit for an hour and
a half maybe. I don’t know how long I was in there. Without my phone I couldn’t
photograph any displays really because I use that to photograph things like
that and just have a 70-300mm lens on my camera but oh well, it doesn’t matter.
I also finally got all the targets that I had missed like the Chestnut Rail,
Beach Stone Curlew and Cockatiel. They were taxidermied but beggars can’t be
choosers. Really nice views of the Chestnut Rail though, for such a shy bird it
wasn’t at all bothered about the bright lights in the display case and just
standing there mid-stride the whole time. That’s the advantage of taxidermy
specimens, you always get walkaway views. Even the Black Wallaroo didn’t run
away. It didn’t look particularly healthy though. Although I will say that the
standard of taxidermy was much higher than in most museums, I think a lot of
the specimens are relatively new.

I looked at the frogmouths on the way back of course because
they’re awesome and I tried to find the rufous owl roosting again but couldn’t
find it because owls suck. I genuinely could not re-find the roost of that owl
even though I knew exactly which massive tree it was in and I had seen it early
in the day. Everyone knows that frogmouths are way better than owls anyway.

I got back to the accommodation a bit after five-ish as it turned
out. I was really very tired indeed from all that walking today, probably over
20kms when considering the back and fourth around the botanic gardens, so apart
from going out a bit later for some dinner that was it for the day.

So a poor view of an owl, a fantastic view of some
frogmouths, a nice coastal walk and a lovely little museum. A nice little day
to stick on at the end of this leg of the trip. Tomorrow morning: off to
Cairns! I’ve got almost exactly the same length of time in Cairns as I had in
Darwin with a very similar logistical set up because most of the time in
Cairns, apart from 24 hours at the end, I will be with my parents and my
brother who are doing Cairns as a side-trip in and out of Perth which they are visiting
for the usual visit to Perth-based relatives which takes place every two years.
I’m basically still on the way to Perth right now. Everything I’ve done so far
was just a short stop off on the way really and I’m in Perth for two weeks
after Cairns. Naturally, I’ve got a month long stop over in Asia on the return to
Warsaw too, but I’m getting ahead of myself now. I actually originally intended
to have 6 days on my own in Cairns at the end rather than one, but the cost of
accommodation and food and (especially if you want to go anywhere interesting) transport
in Australia while I could be staying in Perth for free means I’ve cut Cairns
slightly but I should still see most things and I have actually been to Cairns
before for a short five day visit two years ago.

Oh, and one thing that hasn’t made it into the blog prior to
this but seems fitting now is the unofficial official tourism slogan for the Northern
Territory which isn’t actually from the tourism department but is effectively
the official slogan and I’ve seen it quite a few times on signs on highways and
also as car stickers and that sort of thing, and I saw it a few more times
today: C U in the NT.

New birds:

Rufous Owl

Tawny Frogmouth


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