It will be a few months yet before we start to see the bright orange flowers and smell the musky nectar of Grevillea pteridifolia. When it flowers it sends a sugary pulse of energy through the bush. Nectar production is so intense the ground underneath a tree in flower becomes dotted with sticky drops of nectar. It’s a multi-species feast for parrots from the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) through a multitude of fig birds, friar birds, and honey-eaters. Even confirmed carnivores like crows and butcher birds join in. The trees are abuzz with all kinds of insects, but especially the stingless native bees. The tree is spindly and fairly shallow rooted. Feral Water-buffalo (Bubalis bubalis) will push the trees over to fill their stomachs with flowers and nectar. Sucking nectar from the flowers is also a treat for humans of North Australia.

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”.