LITCHFIELD STATE PARK - Nov. 23rd...
While Litchfield National Park is dwarfed in comparison to Kakadu, we found it more than made up for it in variety of wildlife, spectacular scenery, variety of habitat and lack of people. We felt for the most part that we had the entire park to ourselves for hours at a time and while Kakadu was anything but crowded (when compared to National Parks in the US for example) we literally didn't see another human being for the first three hours we were in the park!
We had gotten back to Darwin around 9:00 PM and checked into a new hotel (I wish I had kept the same one - Sky City for what it's worth which was first rate!) and had some problems as apparently the room we booked a few months earlier was in a wing that was now under construction and being renovated so we had to "downgrade" to another room. They said they were sorry but I asked why were weren't notified about the change in condition or why the room still cost the same even though it was a downgrade (I later did get a token refund) and they just never could quite answer that question... What the downgrade meant was that there was no elevator and no central air conditioning on the side of the hotel that we were going to be staying on and we were on the third floor... The corridors were steaming hot, it was about as far away from the entrance as you could get and the swamp cooler in the room barely kept the temperature in the mid 80's but then who's complaining, we weren't staying that long in the room anyway... So, long story short, we were back up and out the door very early, around 4:30 A.M. just as the sun was starting to impact the horizon and by 6:00 AM I was at the entrance to Litchfield National Park.
There is a large field of Magnetic Termite mounds not too far inside the park entrance, it's a very eerie sight to be honest, to me it looked like a large field of tombstones. We were able to photograph this small group of Antelopine Wallaroo feeding in the early morning dew while we checked out the sight. The day was quite overcast at the start, remnants from large thunderstorms that had hit the area last night. There was a lot of bird activity as well including a number of Red-winged Parrots and Little Corellas but they were impossible to photograph in the back-lit morning sky.
There were also a large number of "regular" termite mounds in the area. The one below was massive, at least 20 feet tall and probably 60 feet in circumference.
The next series of events was certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me! I really wanted to get a shot of a Frilled Lizard with its frill extended, so far I had not even come close and I was pretty sure that it was going to take some unusual circumstances to come up with the shot but as things would have it, I was about to get my chance!
I spotted a nice sized "Frilly" scampering across the road as we were driving through the park and I quickly pulled off on the shoulder and gave pursit, as was usually the case the lizard did what comes natural and scampered up the first good sized tree it came across but for whatever reason, it felt comfortable just being on the tree and didn't bother climbing to the top and out of sight like they normally do. So, I took advantage of the situation and employed a tactic that I have used many times at home to capture much smaller lizards that use trees as shelter. Lizards will usually keep 180 degrees away from the perceived danger so they always have the tree between them and their potential predator, what I did was to take my camera in my left hand and move it around the tree from the opposite direction and as expected, the lizard moved to position itself away from the danger (again, why it didn't climb up I will never know) and basically right into my waiting hand giving me the opportunity to grab him, much to his displeasure...
So after taking a few gratuitous, "I got the lizard" shots, I returned him to a rock where he continued to display his frill and stand his ground much to my delight allowing me to take an inordinate amount of photographs...
Frilled Lizard with tourist...
The "frill" serves a pretty obvious purpose I think. It makes the lizard look much larger and formidable that it really is. I was amazed actually of how frail the lizard felt in my hands and although it was constantly hissing and puffing itself up it never actually tried to bite me. I would assume that if I had stuck my finger in it's mouth it would have obliged but I think that the display is enough to ward off many potential predators.
I was surprised at the amount of orange I saw in most of the Frillies that I encountered on this trip, probably has to do with seasonality and breeding but the ones I had seen on previous trips in Queensland were much duller that the ones I found in the Northern Territory (we ended up finding 5 of these all together - this was the only one that we were able to get to display).
Just some more shots of one of the most spectacular lizards in the world...
One of the things I really liked about Litchfield was that there were quick transitions between ecosystems and a lot more accessible terrain then we found at Kakadu (not to say there probably isn't there but we were only there for 2 days...). We explored this riparian area, looking for Water Monitors but came up empty.
Red-collared Lorikeets were everywhere, noisy and brilliant just like their Rainbow cousins from down south... (thanks to Malcolm for pointing out the ID...)
I believe this is called a Two-spined Rainbow Skink, in the genus Carlia. Found him scurrying amongst the leaf litter along a trail.
Two-spined Rainbow Skink - Carlia amax
There were several areas with spectacular falls and pools, a lot of these areas are great for swimming, as long as their are no crocs in the area. I have an interesting story to tell later about that and about how good signs are... I would follow the Aussie rule of thumb which is to let the tourists enter the water first and just watch for a while before proceeding...
While we were hiking about the falls seen above I spotted this little marsupial sitting quietly on a rock not 30 feet from where I was standing. It never moved the entire time I photographed it. It's a type of Rock Wallaby called a Nabarlek.
Nabarlek - Rock Wallaby
We soon found out that he was not alone, there was about six of them foraging among the rocks and plants and his friends were not as why, they allowed very close approach as long as you were slow in your movements. Quite beautiful little animals!
Another Blue-winged Kookaburra allowed some close in shots while he was contemplating his next move. They were quite common here in Litchfield as well.
I ran into several of these small skinks down by a lagoon with lots of paperbark eucalyptus. They were quick to scamper for cover and made it difficult to get real clear shots of them. I believe this is a kind of Snake-eyed Skin, perhaps Cryptoblepharus carnabyi.
Snake-eyed Skink - Cryptoblepharus carnabi?
We had many encounters with Torresian Crows throughout the Northern Territory, here a small flock comments on my photographic skills, or lack thereof...
Looking out over Litchfield State Park, Northern Territory
Litchfield State Park, Northern Territory
This gorge was quite amazing, you can see full grown palm tress in the canyons far below, these cliffs are home to several endemic and endangered species of bats.
Another swimmin' hole...
This Agile Wallaby was content to sort through the tall grasses looking for the most tasty ones, I guess, we watched it for a couple of minutes amazed at the amount of dexterity it showed grabbing the grasses while feeding. These marsupials were very common throughout Litchfield.
This "swimming hole" was closed to the public due to the potential for a Salt Water Crocodile in the area. Most of the creeks, ponds and rivers at Litchfield are relatively safe as they do not directly connect into larger bodies of water that flow to the ocean and to where large concentrations of Salt-water Crocs may be hanging out. This particular location was the exception... We were really hoping to find a Fresh-water Crocodile here in Litchfield but unfortunately, that was one target species that escaped us on this trip... all the more reason to return I guess! It's very hard to grasp the size here, the pool is quite larger, probably a couple hundred meters across.
A large colony of Black Flying-fox Bats were "hanging out" around the falls. These bats are HUGE, noisy and interesting to observe.
I "rescued" this Mantis from certain death as it had gotten caught up in a spider web along the trail side. It didn't appear that the spider was really interested in it as it made no attempt to capture or subdue it but it was evident that the mantis was getting more and more tangled in a sticky mess so I was able to get a stick and free him... Probably to be eaten by the next bird flying by...
Of course, I wanted to get some shots of him as well which was the other reason for his liberation.
Praying Mantis, unkown sp.
We ran into a couple of Great Bowerbirds, trying to stay cool in the swealtering afternoon heat, you can see on here, panting.
In the late afternoon we drove a slight ways out of Litchfield State Park to a small lake that I had noted on the way in, called Rum Jungle. The name turned out to be much more intriguing than the actual place however there was some interesting wildlife there and a very "interesting" story to tell... As I mentioned earlier, many of the areas in the area are either marked as dangerous and no swimming due to either the presence or potential presence of Salt-water Crocodiles while others are marked OK to swim, presumably because of the lack thereof. This lake was clearly posted as a "safe" swimming hole and you could see plenty of evidence that it was used as such. I drove to the back of the lake and parked in a shady area to take a look around and I saw something quite interesting... VERY LARGE crocodile tracks, footprint, tail marks, etc. leading right into the lake! They were fresh, they were much too big to be from a fresh-water croc and they were quite large... Swimmers beware...
A few birds and butterflies from Rum Jungle Lake area...
Australian Magpie Lark
We drove back into Litchfield National Park and took a few more photographs of birds, etc. and I decided to go back to a couple of promising areas to try to track down a Water Monitor which was one of the target species for me in this area however again we came up empty.
I took a quick dip in one of the the small swimming holes in the area to cool off, it was quite steamy this afternoon with temps in the high 30's and very high humidity.
We ran into this dragon scaling the side of a tree, I have not been able to positively identify it, I was thinking that it's possibly Diporiphora arnhemica but if anyone out there has an idea please email me!
These cool looking Partridge Pigeons were feeding along the side of the road as dusk began to settle in.
Out of nowhere, as we were driving a small group of Dingo's suddenly appeared, crossing the road right in front of us. Three of the group crossed the road but the forth one decided better and headed the other direction. It was interesting to watch the reaction as the other three members of the pack called out with their coyote-like howls as the missing member disappeared into the brush.
I usually don't show a lot of DOR animals on these posts but this one was of interest in that it's the golden version of the Common Tree Snake, a common, harmless snake that takes on many different color variations. All of the other ones I have seen have been some shade of green but this one, as you can see was quite yellow-gold in color, unfortunately, it didn't make it across the road.
Common Tree Snake - Dendrelaphis punctulata
As soon as the sun was down animals started to move. We saw many Kangaroos and a few smaller marsupials scurrying for cover in our headlights and we found several live specimens of this reptile, the Burton's Snake-lizard. This is not a snake but a lizard, and a very interesting one at that.
Burton's Snake-Lizard - Lialis burtonis
Burton's Snake-Lizard - Lialis burtonis
Another highlight came as we were slowly making our way back toward Darwin after a full day at Litchfield. We had left the park and were heading back toward the Stuart Highway when I saw this in front of me...
Olive Python - Liasis olivaceus
PHYTHON! I yelled, startling Lynn out of a light sleep. I got out of the car to first move it off the road and looked up to see headlights, moving quickly toward me from the opposite direction. I grabbed the Python by the tail which immediately initiated a negative reaction as the Python struck at me and them tried to flee, unfortunately heading right into the path of the oncoming vehicle. I made a quick decision and this time grabbed the snake a bit higher up the tail and sort of drug/flung it onto the shoulder just as the truck sped past with two "gentlemen" screaming a variety of profanities at me as they slowed down. I thought they were going to stop for a moment but they continued on accelerating back up to the ridiculous speed they were driving. I have noted from previous trips to Australia that you have to be very careful road cruising and stay very aware of what's coming in both directions or you'll find yourself splattered across the road... In any event, all's well that ends well. The Python had decided to hide under our car so I had to move it forward a little bit, got some good shots and then caught him and transported him safely off the road. After the initial bad reaction he did not appear to be aggressive at all but I still took great caution in catching him. They are not poisonous but they do have very large, curved, sharp teeth that can do an awful lot of damage if they get hold of you.
Olive Python - Liasis olivaceus
I had thrown a shirt over his head so I could get a good hold on him, I estimated him to be approximately 6 feet long, not even half of the size they can reach when fully grown.
Tourist and snake...
So, after letting the snake go well below the road in a forested area we started to drive again, for about 100 feet... ANOTHER Python was about to cross the road, this one was smaller, perhaps four feet in length and now with my vast experience of moving Pythons off the road in Australia I made quite work of this one, getting it safely heading in the right direction and way off the road.
We also found a couple more Burton's Snake Lizards and a DOR Keelback snake in the same general area. A large thunderstorm was approaching as we made our way back to Darwin, arriving rather late back at the hotel around 11:30 PM. We had a 6:00 AM flight to Alice Springs so it was going to be a short night. Spectacular lightning was lighting up the sky all around Darwin as we tried to drift off to sleep...
CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART 5 - The Red Center - Uluru (Ayers Rock), Alice Springs and Surrounding areas - Nov. 25th & 26th...