John Pople
(We take up John’s account of his travels in Kakadu National Park - a famous world heritage park. It is the 27th. July, 1998.)

Whilst it was still dark, the honk of many Magpie Geese flying over could be heard and as the light of the new day began to spread across the sky, branches of trees hanging over my tent could be seen through the mosquito netting. Also against the light grey of the morning sky, large ‘V’ formations of Magpie Geese honking continuously could be seen flying to their daily feeding swamps. There were many other birds calling at this early hour, the loudest and nosiest being the Blue-winged Kookaburra. One bird book describes their call as a harsh, crackling scream - I think that just about sums it up.

Walking to the Border Store this morning a Partridge Pigeon (red face form) passed me walking in the opposite direction. Back at camp later I was to observe two more of these pigeon’s walking unconcernedly in and out of vacant campsites.

The 1.6 kilometre Monsoon rain forest trail was interesting. The first birds I noticed were two very plump looking Orange-footed Scrubfowl. They looked, in the semi-darkness of the rainforest floor, like two smaller versions of Guinea Fowl. A bit further along I saw one out in the open and as it flew laboriously up into a tree, it gave me a good opportunity to give it a clear "once over". They are megapodes and build a huge mound of soil and leaves up to 12m across and 3-5m high. The only colourful thing about them was their stout yellowy-orange legs. The rest of them was brown and grey with a prominent crest sticking out behind their head.

In the mangroves along the river’s edge I noticed a flycatcher moving about amongst the upper foliage. Although I watched it carefully for 5 minutes or so it did not seem to have the richer buff collar on the lower throat that the Broad-billed Flycatcher is said to have, so put it down as a female Leaden Flycatcher.

Again I heard "thrush like" bird calls but did not see the birds making them. Other birds ;in the area were Rainbow Bee-eaters, Red-collared Rainbow Lorikeets, Grey Fantails and I’m sure there were a dozen other varieties which I just did not see. The Rainbow Pitta and Little Kingfisher were supposed to be in there somewhere, perhaps I will catch up with them yet.

Tomorrow morning, God willing, I hope to go on a Park Ranger led walk through some of the sandstone outcrops of the western Arnhem land region. I may be fortunate enough to see the Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon and the White-throated Grass Wren. Two litres of water are required to be taken on the walk and having only been here a couple of days, I already understand why. Walking in tropical heat, even in mid-winter, is certainly very energy sapping and dehydration is a constant danger. The walk was a bit of a "fizzer" as far as birdwatching as there were 25 people in tow! The Ranger’s spiel on the geological history of the rock formations was straight from the evolutionists text book - did I expect otherwise? However, with the last mentioned aside, it was an otherwise enjoyable walk. In the afternoon, from about 3.00 to 5.30 p.m., I checked out the Ubvirr Aboriginal rock art sites. From the small amount of Aboriginal rock art that I have seen or any of their art works, these paintings on the walls of massive overhanging slabs of sandstone were quite impressive. They depicted everything from creation "dream-time", moral folk law and all of the fish and turtles used for food in this area. Also quite clearly depicted was the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) with its striped hindquarters. Before the Aborigines arrived in this land this country must have been teeming with a great variety of (now extinct) mega fauna - giant kangaroos, marsupial lions, large wombats and marsupial tigers. At Riversleigh in Queensland, paleontologists are digging up fossilised remains of most of these animals. Aborigines hunting and using fire to destroy the then known habitat and the introduction of the dingo would have put "paid" to many of these animals.

Of course we of European descent have an even worse record when it comes to the extinction of Australian flora and fauna thanks to our introduction of now feral predators such as the fox and the cat, and others such as the rabbit, goat and pig, and also the massive change to the land use. You know the story, and we have only been here a couple of hundred years, not a few thousand!

There is a smallish tree here -some type of Grevellia with similar looking leaves to a Silky Oak, but much more silvery in colour. They were flowering in profusion with beautiful golden-orange flowers covering them. They attracted many birds. A new bird for me that I found feeding on them was the White-lined Honeyeater.

Upon meeting and talking to one of the Park Rangers at Ubinn later today, I found that I had missed a family of Red-backed Button Quail that had just moved across one of the pathways.

I decided the next day to do a sandstone walk just by myself. While I did not see the Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon there were other interesting sightings. First of all there were a little group of mud-skipper fish scuttling out of the water in a small shaded rock pool near the East Alligator River. Crocodiles were also seen. Several people have been taken and killed by crocs in Kakadu over the last few years. There are warnings everywhere about the danger of going close to the water’s edge. Passing another shallow waterhole in the shade I noticed a small flock of Crimson Finches flying down for a drink and a bit of a splash to cool off. There were also some Brown Honeyeaters doing the same thing and amongst them a solitary Bar-breasted Honeyeater. This was a first sighting of this bird for me, as was the viewing of a Yellow Oriole later in the evening in a section of monsoon rain forest I checked out. Rose-crowned Fruit Doves were calling, but I could not see them.

Friday 31st. July, ’98. I read and meditated on Ecclesiastes 11:7-9 this morning. "Sweet is the light of life and pleasant is it for the eyes to see the sun." Continuing Moffat’s translation, "if a man lives many years, let him have joy throughout them all."

On this last day of July I visited Marnukala wetlands on the highway from Jabiru to Darwin. It is a magnificent wetland waterbird habitat. Two observation "hides" have been set up, one larger enough to accommodate 80 to 100 people with good illustrated information on the walls. The other smaller hide allows a closer look at a more intensive patch of waterbirds. This is only one of the many similar wetland feeding grounds for waterbirds in the 20,000 square kilometre Kakadu National Park.

Looking out across Marnukala waterland it looked as though thousands of the spike rush plants had sprouted white heads; the thin white necks of thousands of Great and Intermediate Egrets could be seen amongst the rushes. Blue and Creamy coloured waterlilies covered nearly every clear patch of water. Trotting gamely over the lily leaves were possibly hundreds of Comb-crested Jacanas, looking quite sprightly with their red comb, black breastband, brown bodies white belly and neck with yellow trimmings. Green Pygmy Geese were plentiful although their plumage seemed somewhat darkish in colour. Perhaps the breeding season brightens them up! Looking out from the main observation hide using binoculars I saw flocks of Wandering Whistling Duck. They congregated in flocks of 10,000 to 15,000 birds. Occasionally a Swamp Harrier would spook some of them into flight and they would lift fifty or so metres off the water with a loud whistling "roar". They really were spectacular "mobs" of birds and they were not the only ones. Magpie Geese were scattered everywhere - I calculated 5,000 plus. There are an estimated 2.5 million of them concentrated in Kakadu in the dry season. Pelicans were also in mobs of thousands and Whistling Kites and Black Kites in the hundreds. Whiskered Terns were criss crossing all over the reed beds, occasionally plunging into the water to snatch up a small fish. The water is full of small minnow type native fish, not to mention other aquatic life of all descriptions, including crocodiles.

A 3 kilometre walk along the mangrove fringed edges of Narnukala produced quite a few more varieties of birds. Some new ones for me that I saw among the many birds there were Jabiru, Northern Fantail, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Rufous-banded Honeyeater and White-lined Honeyeater. There were also White-winged Trillers, Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Little Friar-birds, Lemon-bellied Flycatchers, Restless Flycatchers, Leaden Flycatchers, Willie Wagtails, and in the hundreds Magpie larks, Darters, Forest Kingfishers, Little Shrike-Thrush, Brown Quail, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, etc.

There is certainly a smorgasbord of wildlife here. God has created a world of spectacular and infinite variety. We should tap into the sheer joy and beauty of it more often than we do. I feel so privileged to be here right now.

Still searching for the Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeons. According to the local Ranger there are "heaps" of them about, particularly on the nearby sandstone escarpment walk. I have done that walk 3 or 4 times at various times of the day. Just to hear one call, or even find a shed feather on the ground would be an encouragement. I plan, God willing, to stay here ‘till about Friday 7 th. so there is still hope of a sighting.

It is easy to get discouraged sometimes. Particularly when you are on your own without any Christian fellowship. Well, the Lord encouraged me from His Word this morning: "He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out from the bog and the mire, and set my feet on a hard, firm path and steadied me as I walked along." (Psalm 40:2) Being encouraged along the way I just sort of let things happen as they will today. I had planned a big day - endeavouring to see as much of this vast 20,000 square kilometre park as possible. But there are certain restraints in one’s life so I settled for a couple of local walks.

I headed off in the ute for the "sandstone" walking track. Travelling fairly slowly along this stretch, what should come waddling up the side of the road toward me, nothing but a fat little Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeon! He looked rather comical in that his legs were completely obscured by his front breast feathers; you could just see this waddling movement as he came forward along the road-side. I stopped and had a good look at him. Chestnut patches in the wing were visible on the lower edges of the primaries. Eventually another car came slowly around the corner and the pigeon took off into the woodlands with very loud clapping of wings. So I happily "chalked" that one up.

Back at camp I could hear this little bird making a very monotonous "see-see-see" call or chirp as it foraged in the upper foliage of some Darwin Woolly-butt trees. It was a plain brownish Honeyeater - I decided it must be the Dusky Honeyeater. To be honest, I would rather view a Scarlet Honeyeater foraging amongst creamy white-blossoms. But then I thought, God does have His Sparrows as well as His Peacocks and this applies not only to honeyeaters but to us His children as well. And each one of us are equally precious in His sight.

Friday 7th - was a quiet day. I discovered a pair of Northern Rosellas flying about the camp on my return from a walk that evening. I went for a visit to Oenpelli and a horror light plane trip where I was really travel sick. It was only a ten minute trip, but was 9 minutes too long for me. As I headed back to camp I stopped at one lagoon for a breather and a sip of water. There was a flock of Green Pygmy-Geese here and among other water birds a lone Pied Hereon. That last bird was the redeeming feature of the day for me.

Monday 10th August - travelled to Maguk. It is approximately 120 km along the Kakadu Highway and about 60 km’s from the Mary River Roadhouse. I have taken one long walk up to the source of a creek hoping to spot the White-throated Grasswren, but my timing was not the best. I arrived back at the carpark about three exhausted hours later. It was mostly a lovely shady walk. following the creek bed to the top of the range. The most interesting sighting along the track was passing under or through a very shady nook where hundreds of large brown, black and white butterflies had congregated en masse. It reminded me of the video I have seen of the mass congregating of the Wanderer Butterfly around certain specific trees where they rested during their migration from North to South America. Observed a pair of Little Woodswallow flying overhead and resting in trees near camp. This evening I saw 20 to 30 more of them over a rocky escarpment.

Wednesday 12th August - today I caught up with the Shining Flycatcher - a male only. He was whistling away, sitting atop a pandanus palm that was overhanging the crystal clear waters of the creek.

Thursday 13th August - It is evening and I am sitting here in my million star motel. I often contemplate about the Mighty God who is holding all of this together. I find it very encouraging and satisfying to know that I know the Author of the Book He has written and also the immense pleasure of observing the works of His hand in His beautiful creation, day by day.

(We continue John’s interesting account of his trip in Part III. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us John)

This report was published in The Christian Bird Observer’s Magazine, April 1999