Wetlands to Rocks: Kakadu Day Three

Published: July 12th 2018
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We started with an early morning drive before sunrise to get to a large wetland called Yellow Waters for a sunrise boat cruise. My aunt wasn’t very keen on the drive because she doesn’t want to drive at night, but this had already been planning and booked in advance. I wasn’t complaining though, it gave me a good chance to look for some nocturnal things and there were quite a few Agile Wallabies by the side of the road, one in the middle of the road, as well as a Northern Brown Bandicoot by the side of the road.

The cruise at Yellow Waters is quite well known and one of the must-do things for tourists generally at Kakadu. It is also a good opportunity to get great views of wetland birds, mostly common species, but some nice ones and the birds generally let the boat get quite close. The sunrise was absolutely amazing over the wetlands and looking out over a vast marshy floodplain as the sun rose with a buffalo and two brolgas was a really amazing site. There were heaps of pygmy geese and whistling ducks and various common wetland birds like that, lots of Jabirus (Black-necked Storks) too and a few brolgas. I also spotted a gorgeous Little Kingfisher which the guide was very impressed at. He assumed I had seen an Azure at first and wouldn’t call it a Little as I had until he saw it himself. He said it’s been five months since his last Little. Great bird. Speaking of the guide, that was rather a highlight. He was a member of the family of traditional landowners of the area, and went on for a while about how he owned everything including multi-millions of dollars of tourist infrastructure, and how he could pick lotus flowers but no one else could. But he was quite entertaining and knew all the local things and I find that it’s much nicer to hear about aboriginal names and traditional practices of someone of aboriginal descent rather than some random guide. He did get really annoyed at people asking him questions which he had already answered in his commentary, almost actually mocking people who asked stupid questions. Which was entertaining for me as I was not at the brunt of any of this and that I was spotting (and correctly identifying) things which he liked, but it’s maybe not the best thing for tourists. He also really hated it when anyone pointed out and animal that he had just pointed out to everyone.

Lots of huge crocs around too, as you would expect which was nice. The guide also gave me some tips for the two main species I still wanted: Rock Wallaby and Black Wallaroo. It was a two hour cruise on the wetland, just a couple of generally incidental new birds, but it was an interesting and worthwhile thing to do (though it is $100 per person). The cruise also included a big proper buffet breakfast afterwards, and there were some Great Bowerbirds in the trees around the breakfast place; I’m surprised it took so long to see that species! I certainly made the most of the included unlimited breakfast buffet and probably ate over a thousand calories. Had I been on my own, I totally would have snuck out some food in a Tupperware pot that I had on me anyway. This budget backpacking in Malaysia has really made me a cheapskate! After breakfast, we decided to try one of the wallaby/wallaroo tips which is also a place where I hoped to get a few of the last birds endemic to this region and we went to the fairly popular aboriginal art site of Ubirr to look at some trails in an area near to this. We did look at the art too though, which was cool, especially a 4000+ year old painting of a mainland thylacine that was in the area prior to dingoes. And there was an amazing view from a viewpoint on top of a rocky outcrop looking out over woodland and grassland and the Alligator River and its floodplain. My aunt decided to rest a bit at a picnic area in the shade which was the sensible option while I went out in the midday heat to work the trails and the main road as hard as possible to get the last few birds I wanted. This was largely successful, although very hard work and slow in the heat, and I found the White-throated Grasswren as well as various other nice species like fairy wrens and Little Woodswallow. There were loads of Double-barred and Crimson Finches which were really amazing, such lovely little birds, and a few other finches here and there too though not the Gouldian which is a top (but tricky and very rare) target that I’ve been keeping my eyes open for. Most exciting though, was at about 4PM while I was watching a big group of Double-barred Finches I heard a sound of something moving behind me. So I turned around and looking right at me from the vegetation at the bottom of the rocks was an absolutely gorgeously patterned Short-eared Rock-wallaby. It started at me for a little while and I grabbed some quite pictures before it bounded off along the base of the rocks and then away in between the rocks. An absolutely stunning animal; amazingly shaped and patterned and that tail with the fluffy black tip held slightly up as it hopped away. Such a neat little mammal! And such a lucky sighting too! No Black Wallaroos here, but I’m very pleased with the rock wallaby.

We stayed around there until as late in the evening as we could while still allowing enough time to drive back and get back at the hotel before sunset. Because it’s near the big tourist site of Ubirr where the art is, there’s actually a restaurant here which – almost surreally in the middle of Kakadu National Park, an hour away from cell phone reception – specialises in Thai food with a Thai guy running it.

I did a bit of spotlighting in the evening, just around the same woodland that I did the night before last. Heaps of Cane Toads of course, and I did manage to get a close enough view of a microbat to get a solid ID. There aren’t actually many microbats in range at all, not even a dozen, quite a few of which are distinctive, so the number of small brown microbats is really very small and most that can be seen well in flight are identifiable, unlike in Malaysia where most of them were totally unidentifiable without having them in the hand.

Tomorrow we leave Kakadu, after trying one more spot in the morning where I think I’ve got a good chance of Black Wallaroo, especially as we should get there pretty early and hopefully be the first people down the paths in the morning. This will also be my last chance at them as they don’t occur anywhere else that we’re visiting. Then we go to the town of Pine Creek for one night, where a few tricky birds and one tricky mammal are theoretically very reliable. Fingers crossed!

New birds:

Nankeen Night Heron

Little Kingfisher

Pheasant Coucal

Chestnut-breasted Mannikin

Brush Cuckoo

Great Bowerbird

Little Woodswallow

Grey Shrike-thrush

Red-backed Kingfisher

Red-backed Fairy-wren

White-throated Grasswren

Variegated (Purple-backed) Fairy-wren (doesn’t and won’t affect year list but is a lifer if split – will check taxonomy later)

Collared Sparrowhawk

Brown Honeyeater

Masked Finch


Northern Brown Bandicoot

Short-eared Rock Wallaby

Common Sheathtail Bat

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 27


12th July 2018

Sounds great William
You and At. Patty are enjoying the time of your life William. Thanks for the blogs!

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