There are 300 species of birds in the Northern Territory, and birdwatching tours are popular. In fact, it was the local birdwatching festival week. And so I chose to do a birding tour, with NT Bird Specialists, in a sandstone area called Kubara.
The bird on the NT Bird Specialists card is the ridiculously conspicuous male of a species called the Gouldian Finch, in its red-faced variant (others have black or yellow faces). Here’s another photo of the same variant. The female has similar colours but in pastel shades.
The birdwatching tour followed the course of a walk called the Kubara Pools Walk. It began early in the morning, before dawn. The moon went down at around 6 am, almost exactly the same time that the sun came up.
I took a photo of the trail sign, just before dawn.
And then the sun started to come up.
The sun shone weakly at first.
There were thousands of bats roosting in the trees: our birdwatching tour was a batwatching tour, at first.
Gradually, the sun got brighter.
Note the typical cliff scenery, and sandstone outcrops.
There was a crocodile safety sign next to the trail. You see such signs everywhere in this part of Australia.
Plus another one advising of the dangers of heatstroke.
One thing that struck me was how, even at the end of the dry season, the place was still pretty green. Of course, this part of Australia isn’t one of the really deserty bits.
We saw some kingfishers in the trees.
I made a video of some scenes on the tour: here it is.
On Sunday, I went on another Jabiru-area tour, around the Angbanbang Billabong and up to the nearby Burrungkuy Rock Art Site.
Here is a sign describing the loop walk around the billabong.
Another sign welcome us into the country.
This sign describes how the outcrop known as Burrungkuy is often mistakenly referred to as Nourlangie.
Another crocodile safety sign, plus a buffalo safety sign!
This billboard describes the outcrop.
Here’s the Angbangbang waterhole, which is full of birds.
And another view, with the sun behind.
Here’s a view of the sacred outcrop, over the plains.
And a closer view of the same.
A sign explaining some of the cultural significance of the outcrop.
The people would also hide from the thunderstorms of the Kunumeleng or Gunumeleng season, the pre-monsoon season that Europeans, who otherwise only distinguish between wet and dry seasons, call the ‘build-up’.
Here is a sign that points to a lookout.
Here’s a platform under the rocks, from which it is possible to view the rock art in the area, which dates back thousands of years.
Looking out over the plains:
Another sign describing the cultural significance of a part of the outcrop.
And here are some photos of the rock art and attending explanatory signs:
Here is another striking image.
And a sign describing the site layout immediately in front of the Burrungkuy outcrop.
This sign describes the Barrk Walk, which is a little more intrepid.
Once again, I made a video of some scenes on this tour. The guide was John Reid, the custodian for the site, who also described the native plants and what they were used for. There were seventy people: this tour was really popular.
I have another video on YouTube, in which Mr Reid talks about aspects of the site for almost eight minutes: it is a good background reference.
Ubirr is another sacred site with ancient rock art, which I visited after taking another boat cruise on the East Alligator River, one of the ones the old-time explorer named after declaring it prudent not to camp too close to the water’s edge in these parts.
This was the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise, for which I saw signs in several places.
These included the Manyibarra Border Store, which dates back to at least 1952, to judge by the black and white photos of the store and of old-time aboriginal stockmen outside. The border in question is that of Kakadu National Park and the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve (I don’t know if they still call it that precisely), which was created in 1931 and still exists. The premises also include an arts centre.
Here’s a sign at the local boat ramp describing how somebody was once snatched and eaten there by a crocodile, as a reminder to hurry up when loading and unloading trailer boats. I think it would cause me to fumble with the trailer all the more and probably drop the car keys as well, as they do in the movies.
This is the boat we went on, which you are able to board quite safely as it is a bit bigger.
Here is a sign describing the places you can visit locally, including Ubirr.
And here’s another lovely local flower: looks a bit like a hibiscus.
This is a selfie of me on the boat.
I saw rocks that the aborigines caught fish from, at a safe height from the crocodiles. The river is tidal in this area and at high tide, a lot of fish also tend to congregate at a spot called Cahill’s Crossing, which is thus notorious for being especially heavily invested with estuarine crocodiles — also known as saltwater crocodiles, the world’s largest living reptile and the most dangerous kind of crocodile in Australia — at that time.
Though estuarine crocodiles are fearsome once grown, their infants suffer many hazards. The nests are guarded by the female estuarine crocodile, but once the hatchlings take to the water they become a favourite food for larger creatures, including herons and egrets, which stab the little crocodiles with their bills and then wolf them down.
In the mating season, the males fight for the attention of the females, even to the point of biting each other’s legs off to show who is the meanest. Crocodiles around the world usually survive these encounters and rarely succumb to infection despite living in filthy water. Scientists are trying to find out why, as a further instrument in our own fight against disease.
It’s also funny to think that when two guys get into a fight over a woman in a bar, this is exactly what prehistoric reptiles do. So much for evolution and the ‘higher thought’.
At Ubirr, where some of us went next, there was a sign called ‘Caring for Ubirr’ that said you should not bring alcohol as it is disrespectful to such a site of pilgrimage. More pragmatically, the sign also notes that as Ubirr is rough and rocky and high up in the hills, you might fall over and get hurt if you do not keep a clear head!
A lot of the guides were fairly elderly, and when they died their faces were blanked out or removed, possibly in line with a widespread aboriginal custom not to show images of deceased people (although some of the people shown in the old photos at the Border Store must have been deceased as well). In any case, this made me wonder whether there will be enough people to carry on the tradition in the future.
Here’s a view of the plains from Ubirr.
And the rock art at Ubirr.
This is an interestingly wonky railing, which looks as if it is made from a woody vine.
This sign describes some aboriginal art in what has been called the ‘X-Ray style’ of much of this sort of artwork, describing not only the external appearance of things but also their insides.
I have put together a video of this day’s excursions on the East Alligator River and to Ubirr, as well.
Now, there is a lot more to see to the east of Darwin, including the rest of the Mary River National Park and the Djukbinj National Park, which isn’t even on the map with which this post began. Plus, there is more to see in Kakadu National Park itself, including waterfalls and gorges. For information on all the sites, see northernterritory.com.
In my next post, I will describe how began making my way southwest along the Kakadu Highway and down toward Katherine, and the things I saw along the way there.
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