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Top End of the NT - Kakadu, Matarinka & Tennant Cr

Author: Carl from pahrump (More Trip Reviews by Carl from pahrump)
Date of Trip: September 2006

Sept & Oct are the Burning Season on the Aborigine calendar. That is followed by the Raining Season (could start any day now), then the Monsoon Season, the Flooding Season, the Green Season (starting in early May), and finally the Tourist Season (Ju, Jy and Aug when the temperatures are mild and it Never Never rains).

jabiruAs we headed back to Matarinka we turned off on a side road to see if we could find any birds. We found a nice Jabiru in a creek (14.637S 132.686E). As we approached an Aborigine settlement we saw a sign that said taking alcohol past this point on the road was punishable by a $1000 fine or 6 months in jail, subsequent offenses were punishable by $2000 fine or 12 months in jail. Liquor is a significant problem for Aborigines (they can't metabolize it). They take their Blue Laws seriously here!

We spend a lot of our afternoons watching the Red Goshawk nest. The Mum sits over the 2 chicks all day with her wings drooping to shield the babies from the blazing sun. In the late afternoon Dad brings in a fresh kill for dinner. The Mum plucks the dead bird and pulls off little bites for the chicks to eat. She alternates feeding the chicks. Later the chicks climb on the side of the nest and flap their white Downy-covered wings. This is the third time this pair of Goshawks has nested here.

For our late afternoon walk-about we went back to Elsey NP. In the swamps we found a White-faced Heron and a Common Bronzewing. Down by the Roper River we found a Flowerpecker basking in the sun. As we drove back to the cabin we saw an awesome desert sunset. When we got home the tree by our cabin exploded in a cloud of 200 Rainbow Bee-eater - a very dramatic conclusion to our time in the Top End.

We left at 6am on Oct 6 driving south into the Red Center of Australia. We were birding as we drove, which meant we often turn around to go back and check-out some bird we saw in a tree or bush.

In the first 2 hours of prime bird watching time we only drove 85 Km, but we saw a mob of Wedge-tailed Eagles eating a carcass on the road. Our first clue they were Eagles was when we almost ran over one. Wedge-tails are really slow getting off the ground! Later, we saw some sitting on the side of the road with their big square jaws.

There are a lot of WWII historic sites on this section of the Stuart Highway. We stopped at most of them -- they get you back in the bush away from the road for good bird watching. However, it appears many people use them as bathrooms.

We stopped for Br at Daily Waters about 10 am; having driven 164 Km. My wife got an egg and bacon sandwich. I had a hamburger with cheese and the Lot minus eggs but with pineapple. As we slowly drove south we saw 4 new raptors including the Brown Falcon, Nankeen Australian Kestrel, Swamp Harrier, and Spotted Harrier. We also saw flocks of Diamond Doves & Cockatiels, several Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters, a Rufous Whistler, Rufous Songlark, and Red-backed Kingfisher. We saw 45 birds today. We alternated driving 70mph and stopping to see birds in the afternoon. We got behind a Road-Train, which was having trouble with the cross winds, so we just stopped and let him get far away from us. We covered the 540 Km and arrived at the Three Ways Roadhouse at 4:30 pm (19.437S 134.208E). We were knacked! We had the Black Russian Beef Roast special at the Roadhouse for Dn. The roast was marinated in Red Wine and Black Pepper, and served with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, cauliflower & cheese, and pumpkin (squash). Really good beef!

The days are getting longer now as we move south and east. We were out at 5:50am on Oct 7 and it was already light. We drove down to the Mary Ann Lake and Dam for birding (19.610S 134.210E). The sky was clear but the wind was pesky - so were the flies. We donned our Burpkas (fly and mossy-quail nets) over out birding hats to keep the flies out of our eyes and ears.

There were heaps of birds around the lake. We saw a White-plumbed Honeyeater and Flowerpecker in the trees by the car park. We saw Australian Pratincoles and Black-fronted Dotterels on the lakeshore. There were Pacific Black Ducks and cormorants in the water. We saw a Great Egret with a neck that looked like it belonged on a giraffe.

Around 9am we headed into Tennant Creek -- or what used to be the "Gold Heart of the NT". The last active gold mine closed here in 2005. The receptionist at the Visitor Center suggested we try birding at the old Telegraph Repeater Station and the Pebbles rock formation.

There were no birds at the Telegraph Station (19.556S 134.229E), just something that looked like Bunny Tail Grass, and lots of blazing sun.

We drove the 5 Km over a washboard dirt road to the Pebbles (19.533S 134.180E). This is Aborigine land. They recently fenced off the park to keep people out. We didn't mind, as it was too hot and windy for us to do much walking. We did see a tiny yellow Weebill in a tree by the car park. Birding from the car we saw several Zebra Finches -- they have a distinctive black and white Zebra-striped tail.

Back at our tiny "deluxe room" you could hang meat. Great A/C!!!

We went back to the Telegraph Station for part of our evening walk-about. We didn't hear a peep. In 1870 a Biology Professor described this area as: "We were up before sunrise and traveled on over the usual uninteresting country, dodging ant hill all the way, seeing nothing but stunted scrub, telegraph line and the horizon until late in the afternoon when we reached the telegraph station at Tennant Creek, the most forlorn and hopeless looking place imaginable". Nothing much has changed around here, except now you have to watch out for 174 ft long Truck-Trains (what you could call an "84-Wheeler".

At Mary Ann Lake we saw courting Willie-wagtails and an Intermediate Egret. There was a mob of Black and Whistling Kites circling the lake with several other raptors we couldn't identify

Dinner tonight was lamb roast. After dinner we saw an Australian Magpie. We had seen it a few times before, but couldn't figure out what it was. It is striking when you see it takeoff with a large black back and equally large white tail area.

Later we saw the full Moon rising in time to reflect the red glow of the setting sun. Very romantic!

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