Pizzey and Knight describe the Paperbark Flycatcher (Myagra nana) as a smaller and glossier version of the Restless Flycatcher (Myagra inquieta). It’s found across North Australia from Western Australia to western Cape York. This bird had built its gorgeous neat cup nest of paperbark and spider web on a branch overhanging the artificial lake in the mining town of Jabiru, in Kakadu National Park.

The Comb-crested Jacana

The Comb-crested Jacana, aka Lotus Bird (Irediparra gallinacea) walks with ease on single floating lily pads thanks to a delicate build and the longest toes on the wetland billabongs. The bird in the top photo is a mature adult with a striking-red comb while below is a younger bird, out of its immature plumage, but still a young adult, with a smaller, paler comb. The bird below is in an artificial lake in the mining town of Jabiru. The lake has been infiltrated by a smallish (1.2m) saltwater crocodile from the neighbouring Kakadu National Park. I watched the Jacana moving bravely (or foolishly) around near the crocodile for quite a while but it seems the crocodile had drawn the conclusion that the bird was keeping one eye open for it and was ready to fly swiftly away from danger. The Jacana usually lays 4 eggs and incubates these in a nest of floating vegetation.

The Plumed Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna eytoni) and the Wandering Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna arcuata) are waterbirds commonly seen in Kakadu National Park, in mixed flocks of dozens to thousands. The Plumed Whistling-duck is seasonally migratory and favours the Deep North in the wet season and south eastern locations in the winter and spring seasons. The Wandering Whistling-duck is also found in the Philippines, PNG, Indonesia and Pacific Islands. A more erect posture, pink spotted bill and the distinctive yellow plumes on the PWD distinguish it easily. These birds were photographed in the artificial lake in Jabiru, Kakadu National Park.In Kundedjnyenghmi language the PWD is known as Mabarladjidji and the WWD as Djilikuybirr.

There are six crow species in Australia but only this one across the north. The Torresian Crow (Corvus orru) is perched on a road sign on the Arnhem Highway inside Kakadu National Park. 130kph = 80 mph and is the speed limit on most of our non urban highways. We once had NO speed limit on those roads but 130 is still higher than in the five states.

Beauty and the beast. Cattle egrets (Ardea ibis) hanging out with their big ugly mate on the floodplains beside Yellow Waters in Kakadu. Pizzey and Knight tell us that the cattle egret colonised the Northern Territory (probably from Indonesia) sometime in the 1940s as part of a worldwide expansion of range. Today they are found throughout most of Australia including Tasmania but not usually in the driest parts of the inland. They have however been recorded in Alice Springs. The gorgeous flush of colour in plumage comes with onset of breeding season. They do like hanging out with cattle and, in the Top End, with the water buffalo (Bubalis bubalis) introduced with the earliest European settlements in the north, early in the 1800s. By the 1970s the feral buffalo population had trashed the seasonal wetlands of Kakadu and other parts of the North. A big campaign to eradicate tuberculosis and brucellosis in buffalo and cattle saw a huge reduction in numbers and in Kakadu a wonderful recovery on the flood plains. For Aboriginal people, buffalo had become a very important source of protein and thus the focus of a land management dilemma… how do you achieve a balance between the negative effects of buffalo on country and the value of a prime wild food source to a people with few jobs available where they live and very low incomes? Indigenous land management groups are grappling with that problem and searching for a “best fit solution”.

When Mandy Muir pointed out these Sarus cranes (Grus antigone) [top two photos] on the plains at Yellow Waters in Kakadu this time last year, I didn’t realise quite how lucky I was to see and photograph them in our part of the Deep North. Professor Stephen Garnett from Charles Darwin University tells me that this was the first time they had been noted in the Top End. Only three birds were seen and they have since departed. Sarus cranes have been sighted in years past down near Borroloola and reported once from the Ord River in Western Australia. Their stronghold is North Queensland and the Gulf Country. Amazingly, they are believed to have been present in Australia for perhaps 10,000 years but were only first recorded officially in 1968. Since they were first noticed their numbers seems to have been growing and it’s believed there are around 5,000 birds now. They benefit from some kinds of farming but other crops like sugar cane are bad news for them. Habitat loss in Thailand and the Phillipines has seen the sub-species in both places become extinct. A population of about 700 is being studied in northern Cambodia. This population is regarded as “steady” but nevertheless vulnerable to threats from changes in land use. India has been paying special attention to their Sarus crane population and Professor Garnett reports that there are about 10,000 birds doing quite well there. Superficially, the Sarus looks like the more common and widespread Brolga (Grus rubicundus) [bottom photograph] but on closer inspection there is plenty to distinguish between them. Brolgas have dark legs and Sarus crane legs are pinkish to reddish. The Sarus has more red on its head and neck, with the red extending down the neck a little. A size difference is also noticeable amongst adults, as the Sarus is about 10% bigger than the Brolga. The Sarus has a lighter beak to that of the Brolga. Given the fate of the Sarus in Thailand and the Phillippines, we need to pay more attention to make sure we don’t overlook these cranes again…as settler society did in Australia until 1968.

The Australasian darter, Anhinga Novaehollandiae is a handsome hunter of fish found through Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia.
This one was photographed from the boat on Gagadju Yellow Waters Cruise in Kakadu National Park, in Australia’s Northern Territory. The boat takes visitors up close to a huge range of birds, water buffalo and saltwater crocodiles.
Our trip was made all the better by the terrific informed commentary by traditional landowner Mandy Muir.
Yellow Waters Cruise is owned by the local Aboriginal people and won the Qantas award for best major tour in 2012. A well-deserved award.