Pine Creek: The Birds and the Bats


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Oceania » Australia » Northern Territory » Pine Creek
July 13th 2018
Published: July 13th 2018
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We started the morning by heading back to Nourlangie Rock for the third time this trip, but this time getting there early in the morning with one goal: Black Wallaroo. I had found out that the best way to see these, was to make sure you are the first person down the path in the morning and apparently they are generally easy enough to see if you are the first person down the track. That’s what I had heard anyway. I walked down the path slowly, looking carefully at the base of the escarpment and in rocky areas because Black Wallaroos are actually a generally nocturnal species, coming down to the base of the escarpment to feed before sheltering in caves or under ledges during the day, but I knew people do see them here. It took quite a while, and two hours later I thought it was too hot by now and they would have all gone to sleep for the day. This part of the blog is where I was expecting to write about how Black Wallaroos are dumb anyway and who even wants to see an incredibly unusual looking and highly range and habitat restricted macropod?



But then as I was scanning the rocks at about 8:30 on a rather unused bushwalk up in the rocky outcrop areas, I heard something behind me and moving rapidly towards the rocks and I got a glimpse of at least one, but judging by the sound possibly even two Black Wallaroos moving up towards the escarpment. Yes! This was the last chance on the trip, and I’m so pleased to have got the species. I think they’re actually quite easy at Nourlangie Rock and I’ve seen pictures of them even right by the main tourist paths to the art site. You can’t spotlight here though because it’s a sacred site and closed from sunrise and sunset. The Black Wallaroos seem to be out in the daylight here though.

It occurred to me at this point that I had not seen any birds at all this whole time. None. I was too focused on looking for the wallaroo, but that happens sometimes. At least I saw the bloody thing in the end!

After that, we headed on to our one-night stop at Pine Creek. This is a smallish outback town just outside Kakadu but on the main Darwin-Katherine-Alice Springs-South Australia Road but is quite a popular stop for both birders and mammalwatchers for some specific target species. The town does have a real outback feel to it, and we’re staying in a motel behind the pub which should give you an idea of the sort of place it is. After lunch at Pine Creek, we headed out for the bird target. In the middle of the town is a small park called Lake Park which is a small patch of green consisting of ponds with trees around it. There was one species I really wanted here: Hooded Parrot. It’s supposed to be reliable roosting in the trees. Hooded Parrots are a bird I have wanted to see for a long time. I first remember seeing one in Paignton Zoo in the desert house when I was a small child and it’s a really vivid memory. I remember thinking how bizarre and striking that shade of turquoise is, surely it wouldn’t be possible to see a wild one?

We walked around the park for a while in the midday heat. It was quite birdy, with heaps of super-cool Grey-crowned Babblers which are a really, really nice bird. Also amazing was a Great Bowerbird actively maintaining an active bower, organizing the sticks and collecting white bits of rock, shells and plastic to decorate the bower with. Wonderful to watch. Loads of entertaining Blue-faced Honeyeaters too and a big colony of Black Flying Foxes. It took about half an hour, carefully scanning the trees for the roosting parrots. I never saw any in the trees, but as I was watching a group of babblers, a pair of Hooded Parrots alighted on the dry lawn next to them! Wonderful! They are actually rather inconspicuous until you’ve seen them, then once you get a closer look you can see the ridiculous, almost artificial looking colour. The weird thing is that they are primarily green which is a typical parroty colour, but they’re about the least natural shade of green I can possibly imagine. Wonderful Stuff.

Next, we drove to the other birding site in Pine Creek, just 3km outside town, which is the sewage treatment plant and neighbouring cemetery. This is set back from the town in the bushland, which here is very open woodland with lots of tinder dry grassland a huge termite mounds. The cemetery didn’t have all that many birds in it, lots of Magpie-larks and a Red-backed Kingfisher. There was a dead, almost just skeletal, Tawny Frogmouth though which is interesting. I really want to see a (wild) frogmouth. Despite being present throughout the places I was at in Malaysia and being supposedly common in Australia I have still never seen any at all.

The sewage treatment works was another story though. The whole area is incredibly dry, apart from the small ponds in town and these ponds for the sewage treatment plants. There were lots of ducks and waders around the ponds including a big family of Radjah Shelducks and hundreds of whistling ducks which were all crowded together under the shade of the pump house. There were lots of waders too, the dotterels being especially fun. Near the treatment plant was an area of relatively lush vegetation which attracted various small birds and small birds of prey. Lots of nice species. The species I really wanted though was a Gouldian Finch. These are supposed to be more reliable here than at most places, but they’re an incredibly tough bird to find and just requires loads of luck, but unfortunately I didn’t get any Gouldians. Oh well, I’ve got two more days in places where they are theoretically possibly. They’re just highly nomadic and very rare. It was blisteringly hot here though and unlike in the rainforest where you’ve got humidity and shade, the sun was just beating down.

As the evening approached, I had my final wildlife location of the day, and one that I was really excited for. Just 1km south of Pine Creek, and easy walk down a small road, is a place called Kohinoor Adit. A mineshaft leading to an abandoned gold mine. It’s not well advertised or anything, in fact I would have had no idea about it if it wasn’t for my ‘Finding Australian Mammals’ book, but about 1km South down Chinatown Road you come to two mineshaft entries on your right facing the road. You may have guessed what this is about from the title, but Kohinoor Adit and the complex of mineshafts here is home to the world’s largest known colony of, wait for it, Ghost Bats! I’ll say it again, Ghost Bats!

We were there waiting outside the cave entrances about half an hour before dark and there were a few birds and wallaroos around, but it wasn’t until after sunset that the bats started to emerge. There wasn’t a big bat exodus or anything, just one or two bats at a time coming out of the two entrances and spreading around the nearby forest until there were several dozen bats at a time in the forest directly outside the cave. But wow! Ghost bats really are amazing. They really are huge for a microbat, and they look, well, ghostly. It really is the ideal description of these almost angelic big white microbats with their vampire-bat-looking face and just wow. Definitely the most amazing bat species I’ve ever seen and one of my top mammals. Who says microbats are boring?! These were stunning. There are a few other species in the cave too and there were some flying around, but the Ghost Bats were by far the most numerous and wonderful.

The actual bat ‘exodus’ finished at about 7:30 and then after that there were just lots of Ghost Bats (and higher than usual number of microbats generally) flying around in the forest. After this point, I walked my aunt back to the accommodation because she had wanted to come with me to look at the bats but was ready to walk back by sunset before any bats had come out and was not comfortable walking back in the dark, but I wanted to see the bats some more so I walked back out to the cave. It really is just outside of town, only just over 1km each way. This is why I don’t like spotlighting with other non-mammalwatchers though, generally you have to be a bit mad to enjoy spotlighting like I do! Even general nature type people don’t tend to enjoy long periods of time spotlighting. I really love being out in nature in the dark though. On my second outing back to watch the bats some more, as well as lots of wallaroos I did get a particularly exciting mammal: a dingo! Seeing a large carnivore, especially on your own at night, is always exhilarating. Though dingoes don’t feel dangerous at all.

But Ghost Bats and Wallaroos and Hooded Parrots! How good is that?



Birds:

Pied Butcherbird

Hooded Parrot

Black Falcon

Masked Woodswallow

Little Curlew

Red-kneed Dotterel

Pink-eared Duck

Australasian Grebe

Black-fronted Dotterel

Hardhead

Hoary-headed Grebe

Black-faced Woodswallow

Nankeen Kestrel

Brown Falcon



Mammals:

Black Wallaroo

Ghost Bat

Northern Cave Bat


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