Comb-crested Jacana

Comb-crested Jacana, Kakadu Nat'l. Park, Australia

Comb-crested Jacana, Kakadu Nat’l. Park, Australia

This bright and brilliant bird can walk on water.  They have special large feet (and claws) that distribute their weight allowing them to effortlessly walk on floating vegetation.

 

There are eight species of jacana in the world, the comb-crested jacana occurs primarily in Australia, the Philippines, and surrounding islands.  Jacanas inhabit the world’s tropical zones.

 

Kakadu overview

Kakadu NP, jacanas and ducks

Feeding on aquatic insects and invertebrates, the bird rarely visits the shore.  I have watched the Australian and African jacanas for long periods, and never saw them on land, always in water.

 

Irediparra gallinacea meander on the floating leaves and lily pads, stopping to feed, making their way across the water’s surface.  They can fly and swim, but prefer to walk.

 

While in Africa we saw a juvenile jacana–a very curious-looking youngster with over-sized feet, wavering precariously and not as confident of each step as the nearby adults.

 

Photo by Djambalawa. Northern Territory, Australia. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The Australian jacana, the comb-crested, is one of the most beautiful species, with a bright red wattle covering the forehead and forecrown.

 

More info here.

 

We spent five days in Kakadu National Park on the north side of Australia.  It was 110 degrees F. (43 C.) every day we were there, so we spent a lot of time near the rivers and were often greeted by the jacana, also known as lily trotter.

 

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu

They also build their precarious nests on the floating vegetation.  The eggs are camouflaged with lines.  Only males incubate while the females find a new male to mate with.

 

Water’s surface is nowhere for a baby to live, so the chicks are born well-developed and soon leave the nest.

 

Most of us are accustomed to seeing wading birds either with their feet submerged or in muck.

 

How unusual and refreshing it was to see this bird gracefully traveling atop the lily pads.

 

Crocodile, Kakadu

Crocodile, Kakadu

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

https://i1.wp.com/www.oiseaux.net/maps/images/jacana.a.crete.png

Comb-crested Jacana range map. Courtesy of http://www.oiseaux.net

 

Rock Art in Australia

Long-necked turtle, Kakadu

Long-necked turtle, Kakadu

The oldest tradition of art in the world, Australian indigenous rock drawings offer an incredible glimpse into an ancient world.

 

We visited two sites called Ubirr and Nourlangie (aka Burrunguy) located in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia.

 

Distant view of rock formations, Kakadu

Distant view of rock formations, Kakadu

Here we saw hand drawings of animals and humans; visual accounts of their tools, hunting, birthing, ceremonies, and other activities of their time.

 

The sites are huge cliffs of rock that served as shelters for the indigenous Australians, the aboriginals.  Hunting was paramount to them, so a majority of the drawings are animals:  long-necked turtle, many kinds of fish, ringtail possum, wallaby, and many more.

 

Rock art fish, Kakadu

Rock art fish, Kakadu

By drawing the animals they hunted, it placed them in touch with the animal spirit.  Aboriginals then and now have a deep passion for stories of spirits, the spirit world, sorcery, and magic.

 

I find petroglyphs fascinating.  Every site, every country, has its own unique picture of the world.

 

Kangaroo, Kakadu

Kangaroo, Kakadu

As an American in Australia, I could never get enough of kangaroos.  I love watching kangaroos bound across the landscape.

 

Studying the wallaby (kangaroo) petroglyphs offered an extra thrill, because there is no other place in the world with kangaroo rock drawings.

 

Ochre pits, Australia. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The aboriginals produced the colors by mining a rock with iron oxide called ochre.  Then they ground it into a powder and mixed it with a fluid (saliva or blood).  They also painted their bodies, shields, bark, wood, and other items.

 

Nourlangie Rock. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Carbon dating the ochre has helped identify the various ages of the drawings.  Some sites date back 40,000 years, others less.

 

Most of the Ubirr art is approximately 2,000 years old.  More info here.  Kakadu info here.

 

Studying art, tracing the artist’s movements and interpretations, is different in a museum, because the art is on display.  The artist had a separate studio or room where they created.

 

In rock art, you are standing in the same spot where the artist created.  You feel the sun’s heat, hear the whistling wind, stand in the same rock shadow.

 

If you can block out the lively voices of the day, you can float back…find yourself with the aboriginal artist of 2,000 years ago.

 

Ubirr rock art site. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (unless otherwise noted)

Yellow River Water Cruise, Australia

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu

Two different days we cruised Australia’s South Alligator River in a pontoon boat.  Crocodiles were prevalent,  and there were hundreds of wading birds and raptors to enjoy and photograph as we slowly floated the river.

 

Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, not far from Darwin, covers over 7,600 square miles (19,000 km).    With approximately 280 bird species and 60 mammal species, wildlife activity is rich.  Aboriginal heritage is rich, too, their home for 40,000 years.   Read more about Kakadu here.

 

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu

You have to make a commitment to visit Kakadu:  a 4.5 hour flight from Sydney plus a 3 hour drive from Darwin.  It is well worth it.

 

Of our five September days in Kakadu, by noon every day it was 110 degrees (F).  This kind of weather slows down even the most enthusiastic birders!  Experiencing the extreme heat, we rearranged our plans and spent every afternoon in the lodge swimming pool under the shade sails.

 

Crocodile, Kakadu

Crocodile, Kakadu

Wildlife don’t venture out during these hot spells either, so the sunrise and sunset cruises were the birdiest time of the day (at only 80-90 degrees)…and thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Kakadu

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Kakadu

Crocodile, Kakadu

Crocodile, Kakadu

 

 

Comb-crested Jacana, Kakadu

Comb-crested Jacana, Kakadu

Australasian Darter

Australasian Darter (female)

Australasian Darter (female)

This bird inhabits much of Australia as well as other countries in the vicinity of Australia.  As a member of the Anhinga family, it is also related to other darters in America and Africa.

 

On a pontoon boat cruising down the Yellow River in Kakadu National Park, we spotted this female wrestling with her catch of the day.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

What a Croc

Crocodile, Kakadu Nat'l Park, Australia

Crocodile, Kakadu Nat’l Park, Australia

On our second adventure to Australia we went to the Northern Territory or “Top End” to explore Kakadu National Park.  On a sunrise pontoon boat trip through the Yellow Water wetlands, we found this crocodile resting in the sun.  That day it was in the 100s (Fahrenheit) and none of us were moving too fast.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

The Cockatoo in Kakadu

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo

We spent a week in the “Top End” (the Northern Territory) of Australia and had a really fun time in Kakadu National Park.  While we enjoyed incredible river cruises and hikes, some of our best times were every night in a bus parking lot. 

 

On this vast expanse of nearly 8,000 square miles, we were staying at the only lodge inside the park (Gagudju Lodge Cooinda).  Towns, establishments, and human dwellings were few and far between.  During the midday it was so incredibly hot, even the birds stayed hidden.  Of our five days in the Park, all were in the high 90s by 9:30 a.m., and by noon it was over 110 degrees (F.).  We adjusted to this (quickly) by leaving as close to dawn as possible, birding in the shade (sometimes from the air conditioned car), and returning to the room before noon.  Most afternoons were spent at the swimming pool with a regular trip to the gift shop for ice cream bars. 

 

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos

Every night after dinner, after it had cooled down to the 80s, we walked around outside looking for you-know-what.  We made friends with two college students who approached us one night.  They thought we might be “twitchers” (birders) and had some good birds to show us.  I’m not sure how they knew we were birders, perhaps because we were wandering around fully clothed in stifling heat (mosquitoes were fierce), our necks and chests covered with binoculars and cameras.  To the rest of the campers inside their mosquito nets enjoying “coldies,” I suppose we were quite a sight.  And yet nobody cared, so Australia.  

 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

One night after the students had moved on to their next destination, my partner and I became familiar with a bus parking lot adjacent to the campground.  There were few buses in the lot and it was a great place for birding because it was surrounded by empty fields of scraggly grass and scrub brush.  Honeyeaters were attracted to the red spiky flowers of the bottle-brush trees.  It was a virtual wasteland to most folks, who were barbequing sausages on their portable grills and getting rowdier as the night grew on.  To us it was an oasis of honeyeaters, imperial pigeons, songbirds, and cockatoos and we looked forward to it at the end of each hot and sweaty day. 

 

We’d been enjoying cockatoos already on this trip, some were red-tailed blacks, some were the sulphur-crested.  Cockatoos are great fun for people who live outside of Australia because they’re big (about 20 inches in length) and beautiful and fairly easy to identify.  No more tiny white eyebrows on a skulking brown bird.  I’m talking about a riot of colors on parrots the size of a cat who are vocal and raucous.  They’re smart birds, quirky, and are known to aggravate residents for the crop and property damage they do.  But for us non-residents they are great fun.

That night in the parking lot we saw a strange thing, couldn’t figure it out at first.  There was a water pipe about four feet high, T-shaped, and it had two outlets.  It looked like something a fire department would hook up to their hose, though it wasn’t what we in the U.S. identify as a typical fire hydrant.  Curiously, walking the top of it was a sulphur-crested cockatoo; walking back and forth, and back and forth.

 

As we watched further we saw that he would bend his head down and open his big beak, sip a few droplets that had gathered from the dripping pipe.  Then he would straighten up, straight-backed and militaristic, waddle eight paces to the other end, bend over, take a drink.  The “cocky” was systematic and regimented in this process, drinking the drips of clean fresh water over and over and over again. He was mesmerizing to watch and I always thought something different would happen, but it never did.

 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

After each day of fish eagles and crocodiles, mosquitoes galore, and searing temperatures not really appropriate for humans, we came back to the bus parking lot.  And there he was, our friend the Cockatoo of Kakadu getting his nightly drink from the drippy fire hydrant.  Cockatoos in the wild live 20-40 years.  I like to think he’s still there enjoying his drink while the campers enjoy theirs. 

 

Somewhere Under the Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

We were at an outdoor café in Sydney that was completely hemmed in by tall buildings and tourists; it seemed impossible for a wild bird to be within five miles of this busy urban setting.  And then a rainbow lorikeet swooped in and snatched up a sugar packet from our bistro table.  We watched in comical disbelief as the bird flew up to an electrical wire overhead and skillfully emptied the sugar into his opportunistic mouth. 

 

A medium-sized parrot, the rainbow lorikeet has typical parrot features:  a thick, rounded beak and a full spectrum of neon colors.  While most parrots have strong beaks for cracking open nuts, the rainbow lorikeet’s special apparatus is its tongue.  Their scientific genus name of Trichoglossus means “hair-tongued.”  The bird’s tongue has hair-like tufts called papillae that draw up nectar by capillary attraction.  You see the bird in Australian flowering gum trees performing all kinds of aerial tricks to access food. 

 

With a diet consisting primarily of pollen and nectar, it is reliant on blossoms (and fruit) for nourishment.  Because flowering seasons and the production of nectar and pollen varies from year to year, the rainbow lorikeet nomadically moves around following the flowering plants and trees.  They frequent backyard feeders and urban gardens, as well as rainforests and woodlands, and yes, even human cafés. 

 

In 2010 we went to the northern coast of Australia to spend five days in Kakadu National Park, a place we had learned about from an Australian guide ten years earlier.  To get to this remote park we had to fly into the city of Darwin and then drive three hours across barren land.  Before and after the Kakadu adventure we stayed in Darwin. 

 

Rainbow-LorikeetSo one night we got back to our downtown Darwin hotel after a sweltering day of exploring in 110 degrees (F.).  It was 7:00 pm and dark as we walked beneath a leafy tree on our way to a restaurant.  But this tree, whoa, it was so incredibly loud with screeching that we couldn’t even hear each other speaking!  Being birders we had been wearing binoculars, scopes, cameras and every conceivable optic known to humankind all day long, but here we were under a tree loaded with raucous birds and all we had were our wallets. 

 

We thought they were rainbow lorikeets but it was so dark we couldn’t see well, and of course it was so loud we could not even discuss it.  We walked across the street to the souvenir store to consult the friendly talkative cashier with whom we were now familiar.  Yes, he said, those were definitely rainbow lorikeets.  Every night at 7pm, he said, flocks and flocks of the birds fly into that one tree to roost for the night. 

 

Rainbow-Lorikeets-in-treeThe next day was more exploring, more heat, more fun, and more mosquitoes.  And we had one last night in Darwin before it was time to depart.  This night, however, dinner was crackers and cheese in the room, with no plans to go out.  We had enjoyed a long, hot day out in the field and tomorrow we took off at 4 am, so reading and relaxing in the air-conditioned room sounded absolutely dreamy. 

 

But, as it goes in travel, there was something really cool out there in the world that we knew we were missing.  Reading and sleeping…well, we could do that when we got home.  That tall sidewalk tree filled with screaming lorikeets, we would never see it again.  We went down before 7 to watch them coming in, and sure enough, there they were, hundreds of rainbow lorikeets:  vying for roosting positions, doing their acrobatics, and screeching away like there was no tomorrow.