• Matt

Northern Kakadu, Northern Territory

Dates visited - August 2018

Traditional Owners of Country - Bininj in the North of Kakadu and Mungguy in the South of Kakadu. The Kakadu region is culturally diverse. The Aboriginal people in the region are from a number of different clans, often speaking different languages and in some cases upholding different traditions. Clans consist of two or more family groups sharing ownership of an area of land. Kakadu has about 19 clan groups.

Nearest major city - Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

Nearest town with full facilities, Jabiru, Northern Territory, Australia

Alternative Lodge accomodation - Kakadu Lodge Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel

Camping - Kakadu National Park campgrounds - comprehensive list of campsites in Kakadu

Our accomodation : Anbinik Kakadu Resort

Location - Anbinik Kakadu Resort is located in the town of Jabiru which is approximately a to 3 hour drive from Darwin.

Animals sighted - NOTE: Only animals positively identified have been included. these animals were sighted across all locations whilst visiting Northern Kakadu including Mamukala Wetlands, Cahills Crossing, East Alligator River, Guluyambi Cultural Cruise and Ubirr.

Birds sighted

Little Black Cormorant, Australasian Darter, Little Pied Cormorant, White-headed Stilt, Masked Lapwing, Comb-crested Jacana, Magpie Goose, Plumed Whistling-Duck, Radjah Shelduck, White-faced Heron, White-necked Heron, Pied Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Glossy Ibis, Jabiru (Black-necked Stork), Australasian Swamphen, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Whistling Kite, Brown Goshawk, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Red-collared Lorikeet, Red-winged Parrot, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Pallid Cuckoo, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Forest Kingfisher, Sacred Kingfisher, Red-backed Kingfisher, Azure Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Striated Pardalote, Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Banded Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, White-winged Triller, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Pied Butcherbird, Magpie-lark, Leaden Flycatcher, Paperbark Flycatcher, Northern Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, Mistletoebird, Masked Finch, Long-tailed Finch, Crimson Finch and Double-barred Finch.

Mammals sighted - Agile Wallaby

Reptiles sighted - Estuarine Crocodile (Saltwater Crocodile)

Trip Report

For our Northern Kakadu experience we decided to splurge and treat ourselves by staying at the Anbinik Kakadu Resort, where we booked a small bush bungalow which contained the highly sought after air-conditioning comfort which I must say was just pure relief from the outside temperatures.

We also organised some tours with Kakadu Cultural Tours which included the Arnhemlander and the Guluyabi Cultural Cruise tours. Both the accommodation and tours are owned and operated by the Djabulukgu Association.

My wife and I highly recommend this association and Kakadu Cultural Tours - they were extremely professional and their tours were very insightful, great fun and very educational - Personally, I think it is extremely important to support Aboriginal Traditional Land Owners businesses in these areas - after all who would know the country better than the traditional owners?

From our research we also knew the resort had a Thai Restaurant within its grounds and well even at the best of times… who can’t resist Thai food especially when you have been travelling and camping in the bush the previous few days - in our opinion the Thai food was excellent considering the isolated location. The restaurant is also open for breakfast serving traditional "Australian breakfasts".

In the afternoon my wife wanted to enjoy the air-conditioning and catch up on some reading, so I took the 30 minute drive west on the Arnhem Highway to Mamukala Wetlands in the hope of seeing either a Jabiru (I’m going to continue to call them Jabiru rather than Black-necked Stork - the name Jabiru is far more evocative to me than Black-necked Stork) or a Brolga - both species were high on my wish list for this trip.

On the way to the wetlands, I was able to sight and obtain some great images of Red-tailed Black- Cockatoos feeding on Eucalyptus fruits on the side of the Arnhem Highway.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo feeding on Eucalyptus fruit on the side of the Arnhem Highway

The wetlands were just beautiful and teaming with wildlife. On arrival as I was walking along the path through the beautiful Melaleuca trees, where hundreds of Corellas greeted me with their harsh vocalisations. On entering the well constructed bird hide I was pleased to see there was no-one else there - the viewing deck and surrounds were all mine - for now.

The view from the bird hide overlooking Mamukala Wetlands

I looked out over the wetland and settled into my view, I was able to identify 6 Comb-crested Jacana's, numerous Green Pygmy Goose, Plumed Whistling-Ducks, Purple Swamp Hens and Great and Intermediate Egrets.

There was an individaul Glossy Ibis, White-faced Heron, Sacred Kingfisher and a very active Paperbark Flycatcher. Looking out over the wetland with my binoculars I was also able to sight White-necked Herons and Magpie Goose but no sign of the Jabiru or Brolga.

After an hour or so of relaxing bird watching from the hide, I decided to walk the 3km loop trail that starts from the hide and ends at the carpark. I came across some fantastic birds on this walk including Crimson, Double-Barred and Long-tailed Finches as well as Rufous Whistler, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Pallid Cuckoo, Rainbow Bee-eater, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Forest Kingfisher, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Northern Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Leaden Flycatcher, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher and White winged Triller.

Long-tailed Finches hanging out on the loop trail from the Mamukala Wetlands bird hide

A female Leaden Flycatcher on her favourite branch

The highlight of the walk, and where the walk turns back to make its loop back to the car park, is another viewing area of the wetlands. On arrival at this location, there were hundreds of waterbirds - the activity and noise was incredible. See below videos.

The dominant species (both in numbers and noise - vocalisations) were certainly the Plumed Whistling-Ducks but other species were also present including White-headed Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel, Masked Lapwing, Magpie Goose, Green Pygmy-goose, Radjah Shelduck, White-faced Heron, White-necked Heron, Pied Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret and Glossy Ibis. But once again no sign of the Jabiru or Brolga. It was getting quite dark by this time so I quickly made the walk back to the car and made my way back to Anbinink for some of that delicious Thai food.

The next day I decided to get back out to Mamukala Wetlands bright and early in the hope of seeing my first Jabiru or Brolga. I arrived just after sunrise and as soon as I opened my car door I was met by a wonderfully friendly White-winged Tiriller.

Good morning! A White-winged Triller greets me as I arrive at the Mamukala Wetlands carpark

There wasn’t much happening at the bird hide so I immediately started the loop track again. I came across similar birds as seen on the walk the previous day, I then arrived at the viewing area of the wetland with once again a similar chorus greeted me from the same birds as yesterdays sightings.

A Brown Goshawk was in the vicinity resulting in the majority of smaller birds being spooked and going into hiding. I stayed at this location for a while, watching and listening to the waterbirds come and go, watching their behaviours, scanning the area to see if there were any species that looked different that stood out, but unfortunately, once again… no Jabiru or Brolga… Just being here and experiencing this wildlife spectacle in this moment was truly amazing, but I have to admit there was a small part of me that was feeling a little disappointed - I still hadn’t seen either of those two iconic birds I was hoping for!

I located and had photographed the Brown Goshawk that spooked the smaller birds, and being that it was still in the vicinity I decided it was time to make my way back to the car, it was also starting to become quite warm and the smell of smoke was thick in the air… at the last moment before the billabong disappeared from view, for some reason I turned around once more, for a final glance and what did I see? A beautiful male Jabiru coming into land! Awesome, lucky I turned around, so carefully I went to investigate. He was at least 20metres out in the Billabong and I gradually made my way closer and closer.

A perfect landing! Look at the wingspan on this iconic bird of the Top-End - the Jabiru or Black-necked Stork

I made sure I kept my wits about me - ensuring I always knew what was in and around my immediate surroundings, staying away from the waters edge and keeping a good eye out for Crocodiles. I was watching this bird in the shallows for a good 10 minutes or so, it was clear that he was hunting - I was staying low and as still as possible and the other birds didn’t seem to be disturbed by my presence, eventually success for the Jabiru, he caught a large fish and carried it around for a little while - almost showing it off - happy with himself he started to dance, hop around and take short excited flights - Look what I have! fantastic behavior to witness first hand!

Success! Look what I just caught! Catch of the day?

Such grace from such a large bird

I was able to capture multiple images - some of which I am extremley proud of. I was then distracted by something in my peripheral vision, I turned to see what it was and when I turned back to view the Jabiru there was no sight of the beautiful bird, in a couple of seconds it had disappeared completely… how could a bird that large disappear so easily - I scanned the sky looking for the bird without success. It was the end of a magical wildlife experience!

I was obviously stoked!

That afternoon my wife and I drove the 40 kilometres from Jabiru to the Upstream Boat Ramp along the Arnhem Highway/Oenpelli Road where we had booked in on the 3pm Kakadu Cultural Tours Guluyambi Cultural boat tour on the East Alligator River (the northern boundary of Kakadu National Park - on the other side of this river is Arnhem Land - one of the largest Aboriginal owned reserves in Australia - 97,000 square kilometres).

On this cruise we saw a serious amount of Esturine crocodiles and I mean a serious amount, in a 2016 survey Northern Territory Parks found 578 Crocodiles over a 57km stretch, that works out to be more than 6 crocs per kilometre and that density rises dramatically at one of the most popular places to look for Crocodiles in the Top End - Cahills Crossing (the main road crossing point from Kakadu National Park to Arnhem Land).

This is my territory! One of the larger Estuarine Crocodiles (Saltwater Crocodiles) we encountered on the Guluyambi Cultural boat tour on the East Alligator River

The Crocodile numbers rise dramatically at this crossing due to the high concentration of

Barramundi fish that form on either side of the road waiting for the tides to change so they can continue on their individual swimming journey up and downstream - if the fish stay here too long they take a serious risk becoming a delicious snack for one of the many Crocodiles patrolling these waters. I had no idea how much tidal movement takes place over that road - up to 3.5 to 4 metres per day! Incredible! Check out youtube if you want to watch videos of the crossing - its incredible - there have been some and continue to be some serious close calls and unfortunately people have killed by Salt Water Crocodiles at this location. My understanding is that park authorities are extremely concerned with peoples behaviour (not always tourists but equally locals) at this location. We then went up stream where - you guessed it - we encountered plenty more Salt Water Crocodiles of all sizes - and boy did we get up close and personal to them! close enough that you could almost reach out and touch them... I don't think you would want to get any closer than that right? What an experience! As part of the Guluyambi Cultural boat tour we were also able to disembark from the boat and set foot on Arnhem Land soil at a beautiful location where we viewed some Aboriginal rock art work and were given an insight into Aboriginal culture and mythology as well as demonstrations of traditional hunting and gathering techniques from our Aboriginal guides. Once again our Kakadu Cultural Tours guides were absolutely fantastic.

After our Guluyambi Cultural cruise we then drove the short distance to Ubirr to check out the famous Aboriginal Art work galleries and to watch the equally world famous sunset at Nadab Lookout over the floodplains of the East Alligator River.

Wow! It did not disappoint - another experience we will never forget, I especially wanted to see the Thylaceine art work in the main art gallery - knowing that this carnivorous Marsupial has been extinct on mainland Australia from anywhere between 2,000 - 3,000 years obviously means this piece of artwork is at least that old, maybe even older - Incredible right? In all honesty the entire main gallery was overwhelming - I genuinely didn’t think it was going to be that large and contain that many pieces of artwork as well as being that detailed - but I guess thats what thousands of years of history, culture and calling this location home would create.

Thylaceine art work in the main art gallery at Ubirr. Estimates have this art work at between 2,000 to 3,000 years old!

Mabuyu hunting figure at Ubirr

I could also see why Aboriginals called these rock shelters home for thousands of years - certainly an escape from the brutal sun as well as providing shelter, but it is also a fantastic vantage point to look across the East Alligator Nardab floodplains across the landscape and see the abundant wildlife and potential for food - which of course looking at the art galleries, the majority of the paintings are of animals they hunted. I remember as a kid watching Mick Dundee in Crocodile Dundee standing on this escarpment swinging his bull roarer and wondering where was this magical "never never" Well here I was...

A beautiful sunset looking out of the East Alligator River floodplains at Ubirr - A magic place

Looking out over the "never never" towards Arnhem Land - What a view

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