FOGG DAM to KAKADU - Nov. 20th...
As the sun was rising at 4:30 AM or so we were getting prepared to check out of the Darwin hotel and begin our first trek into the Australian bush. Today's plan was to drive more or less directly to a place called Fogg Dam and then on to our lodging in Kakadu National Park where we would spend the next two nights. By 5:30 A.M. we were checked out loaded and on our way down the Stuart Highway to our first destination.
Fogg Dam is located about an hour and a half's drive out of Darwin, it was originally planned as a very large rice plantation encompassing some 750,000 acres. The program was started in 1956 but by 1961 the program had failed for a variety of reasons and the area was permanently set aside as a preserve for wildlife, specifically birds (The large population of Magpie Geese that inhabit the area were at one time blamed for the demise of the program but the actual reason for failure was poor water control and quality, poor selection of rice varieties, transportation issues and decentralized management).
We arrived in the general area of Fogg Dam, near Humpty Doo (gotta love those Aussie names as well) around 7:30 A.M. The sky was a bit overcast but hinted at clearing as we neared the entrance to the dam. We were greeted by several screeching sentinels, a small flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos perched in a dead tree just off the road.
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Also nearby was the first of many Whistling Kites that we would observe over the next few days. We also caught an extended glimpse of a spectacular bird that lives in the area, the Pheasant Coucal. It's a Cuckoo of large proportions and spectacular plumage. Unfortunately on this day we were not able to get any clear photos however it was one of three that I saw on the trip and we did get some great photos of one, later in the trip.
Of all of the Australian Cockatoos that I have encountered, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos seem to be the most skittish. They often do not allow close approach and will fly off to the next perch on the first hint that you are trying to get close to them. I was able to capture this one in flight as he took off to parts unknown...
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
The dam is a large area of lowland that was flooded for rice production, creating a sort of perfect habitat for water birds. One of the most commonly seem were these Pied Herons which congregated along the shallow waterways in search of a quick meal.
This is generally what the habitat looks like, large expanses of grasses lined with dense forest.
Fogg Dam area
Dragons were extremely common. This one took an unusual perch on the guide wires of a small observation station that was set up along the side of the road. I believe this is a Northern Water Dragon.
Northern Water Dragon
There are five species of white egrets commonly seen in Australia, the Great Egret, the Intermediate Egret, the Little Egret, the Cattle Egret and the Easter or Pacific Reef Egret (which has a blue phase and a white phase). They are relatively easy to distinguish when they are all together, comparing neck size, bill size and coloration and a few other factors makes ID possible. Trouble comes when you have one by itself, then, at least for me I have to go back to the field guides. The most commonly encountered Egret at Fogg dam was the Great Egret as pictured below.
We saw a number of different finch species here as well, the most common were the brilliantly colored Crimson Finch.
Another dragon, probably Gilbert's...
Dragon - Gilbert's?
This is one of the Grassbirds that many birders come to Australia to see. This is called the Tawny Grassbird.
Green Pygmy-geese are some of the worlds smallest waterfowl. They are quite interesting with clawed, webbed feet, similar to the Wood Ducks in North America and are very striking in the right light. Here is one of thousands of pairs we observed in the area.
Another bird with a story behind it is the Comb-crested Jacana. Jacanas are interesting for a couple of reasons. First, for their size, they have the largest feet in the bird world, their specialized toes are elongated to allow them to walk on the tops of the varies plans and objects floating on the surface. It is common to see them effortlessly walking across lily pads searching for food. Second and probably what they are most famous for is the female Jacanas habit of dumping her kids on her mate. As soon as the female lays her eggs in a flimsy nest build on top of vegetation, she goes on her way, looking for another mate, leaving her previous mate behind to raise the young. Luckily the young are born rather well developed and do not need an extreme amount of care!
This was a rather dramatic moment for us as we were parked along the road that runs over the dam. There was a small group of fish that were constantly jumping out of the water and we were speculating on what predator was causing them to boil up when this Darter emerged with one of the fish firmly speared on it's long, sharp beak! We watched as it gradually positioned the fish to be swallowed...
Australian Darters are members of the Cormorant family and are also referred to as snake birds or snake-necked birds due to their long, thin neck.
This bird is a Restless Flycatcher that allowed my to approach rather closely as it was watching for prey to fly by.
Another reason to love Australia is that you see birds like this walking across the road... These spectacular storks are locally called Jabiru, the commonly accepted name for them however is Black-necked Stork. Either way, they are quite impressive birds! You can easily tell the difference between a male and female by their eyes, the female has yellow eyes (like the one below), the males eyes are black.
Black-necked Stork (Jabiru)
Once blamed for the unsuccessful try at turning the area into a rice plantation due to their foraging activities, the Magpie Goose is extremely abundant in the region.
Here is a male Jabiru or Black-necked Stork, note the black eyes...
Black-necked Stork (Jabiru)
Black-necked Stork (Jabiru)
This little bird is called a Golden-headed Cisticola.
Radjah Shelducks were also quite common in the ponds and pools around the dam.
Here's another Crimson Finch eating some seeds from one of the tall grasses that permeate the area.
One of my target species to observe and photograph on this trip was the Brolga, a member of the Crane family and we sighted our first pair at Fogg Dam. They even did a bit of their famous dance for us as we photographed them. You can see the one in the foreground below spreading its wings and beginning to hop. They actually leap high in the air with their wings spread and then sort of hop around and run in a circle, they will also pick up sticks and other objects and throw them with their beak during this process.
Another Dragon. They were extremely common in this area, seemingly on just about every platform, post or log. I counted 20 of them on one large fallen tree. We also saw another Goanna, I believe it was a Water Monitor but I was not able to get close enough to it for a positive ID. It crossed the road about 100 yards ahead of us and appeared to go into or around a tree but when I got where I had seen it cross the road it was nowhere to be seen! You would think it would be hard for a 5-6 foot long lizard to hide but apparently not!
One of the sought-after birds of this region is the beautiful Rainbow Pitta, a forest floor dweller with a fairly particular habitat preference, although not rare, you have to know where to find them. We did! However photographing them is another story...
We actually found three Rainbow Pitta's in a brief 1/2 hour hike through the forest however they were quite shy and tended to stay in the shadows and at least 50 feet away. These were the absolute best shots we got of them as they flitted in and out of filtered sunlight and into the shade, foraging in the leaf litter.
This Yellow Oriole watched on as we continued to look for a Rainbow Pitta to photograph but time was moving quickly and there was a lot of ground to cover before dark so we pressed onward and headed back to the vehicle.
We left Fogg Dam around 1:30 PM, it was now quite warm and humid, the car registered 33C which is around 91F and the humidity was very high as we drove toward Kakadu National Park. At a roadside stop for gas the sound of Cicada's calling was absolutely deafening. I walked over to a tree and found one to take a picture of. Cicadas are in the world record book! They can produce sound approaching 120dB which is comparable to the loudest of rock concerts and approaching the threshold of pain for the human ear... Here is THE noisiest insect in the world!
At another roadside stop, I found a fairly substantial flock of Little Corellas. These Cockatoos are much smaller than their Sulphur-crested cousins but every bit as raucous in their calling and behavior. They didn't like me taking pictures of them and they really let me know with their screeches and fussing!
At the same stop, I was lucky enough to find an Agile Wallaby coming out for a late afternoon snack. Right after I took this picture, the sky literally went from bright sunshine to darkest dark in a matter of a minute or so. I had been watching an increasing large thunderstorm develop as we were driving toward Jabiru but it appeared to almost come out of nowhere. Thunder grew louder and lightning flashed across the shy as I made my way back to the car (Lynn had stayed behind to catch a quick nap) just as the skies opened up. What a gully washer! The rain came down with such intensity that there was no use even using the windshield wipers. I had to pull over as visibility was literally 0 from the heavy downpour. Lightning danced across the sky in every direction and it seemed that the intensity of the storm continued to increase to an even more fevered pitch! Then, just as quickly as it started, it was over. It went from a torrential downpour of seemingly biblical proportions to a few random drops of rain in a matter of a minute. Debris was everywhere across the road and small rivers were flowing where there as no water a moment before but you could even see sunlight in the far distance as the storm cell made its way across the mostly uninhabited landscape that was part of Kakadu...
We arrived in Jabiru around 5:00 in the afternoon. A small flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos were on the side of the road, mostly biting at their hands. I assume this is some sort of cleaning behavior, I have observed it with other Cockatoo species as well.
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
We ran into the second Frilled Lizard of the trip gazing skyward in the middle of the road on our way between Jabiru and Cooinda. He was quite intent to sit there, presumably looking for predators when in fact he should have been look to his left and right for large vehicles! I was able to convince him to find a more suitable spot for day dreaming before moving on...
As mentioned earlier, the skies had really opened up late in the afternoon and the result was quite a few of these little frogs bouncing across the highway as the skies grew dark. I grabbed this Rocket Frog in the parking area at our hotel and took a couple of quick shots. We checked in, booked our reservation for the Yellow Waters river cruise at 7:00 AM the next morning, grabbed a qucik bite and went to bed.
Striped Rocket Frog - Litoria nasuta
CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 3 - KAKADU NATIONAL PARK, YELLOW WATERS, PINE CREEK & Surrounding Areas - Nov. 21st & 22nd...