The Spotted Bower Bird

Bowerbirds are small, rather slim birds approximately 30cms long, closely related to birds of paradise.They’re unremarkably blackish-brown, apart from a lilac, retracting crest at the nape of the neck of a mature, bower owning, male. The lilac crest is vivid in colour, but only when he chooses to display it. They’re predominantly an eastern states bird, but we’ve seen quite a few in and around Katherine.

The lilac crest displayed on a male Spotted Bowerbird.
The lilac crest displayed on a male Spotted Bowerbird.

They’re well known for their complex mimicry vocalisations, including mimicking a dog barking, or the noise of a bird of prey should they feel threatened.

The male bowerbirds use twigs to weave a courtship tunnel (or bower). At both entrances to the bower he builds an intricate, colour co-ordinated, display court. Some of these bower sites may be retained by successive generations for upwards of 20 years.

Twigs used to build an intricate bower approximately 400 cms in length.
Twigs used to build an intricate bower approximately 40 cms in length.

There are several different species of Bowerbirds, and each builds their display courts in their own colours.

The richly coloured, yellow Regent Bowerbirds decorate their avenues with snail shells, berries, pebbles and leaves in colours of red-black and yellow-brown. Satin Bowerbirds decorate with blue coloured objects, and Spotted Bowerbirds construct neat piles using white, silver/grey and pale green objects.

Very close to where we’re camped we’re fortunate enough to have a Spotted Bowerbird busily tending his bower and court. He’s fascinating.

If you look closely at the objects in the mounds you’ll see lots of white and silvery grey pebbles, pieces of silver paper, white snail shells, broken pieces of green glass, a few nuts and bolts (most of which have green heads on bolts), and there’s even a 20 cent coin. There’s green leaves and small wild green lemons and green baby mangos.

Note the green heads on the bolts, and the 20cent coin near the left of the courtyard.
Note the green heads on the bolts, and the 20cent coin near the left of the courtyard.
Shiny pieces of crumpled aluminium foil.
Shiny pieces of crumpled aluminium foil.
A clothes peg, and piece of broken glass carefully chosen to colour co-ordinate
A clothes peg, and piece of broken glass carefully chosen to colour co-ordinate
Even the small wild lemons are chosen according to their colour.
Even the small wild lemons are chosen according to their colour.

I’ve raided my sewing box and have placed some small pearly buttons, some green buttons, and a few other pieces of shiny beads etc nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if these pieces take his fancy and end up in his display.

He’s managing to attract a few females to his bower using his special courtship style. This involves walking in wide circles with a raised head, open beak, cocked tail and drooped wings. He often uses props during his display carrying either brightly coloured leaves, pieces of fruit, or items from his courtyard.

He’s a joy to watch, but I’m not so sure he’s finding it such a joy to have us watching him. We’re distracting from both his house keeping, and his courtship. Sometimes nature provides entertainment for which there is no man-made equal.

What a pleasure.

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Dunmarra Road House – worth a stopover

We left Mt Isa and headed for Katherine with two stops on the way. The first was uneventful at Barkley Homestead. The second at Dunmarra Road House had us socialising with some special locals.

I’m not sure what it is about cows and us. A lot of our more special memories from this road trip involve bovine creatures. We had read that Dunmarra has a few resident water buffalo, and if you’re lucky enough you may see one or two wandering between the caravans.

However, the water buffalo seemed to make a beeline for Paul ‘the cow whisperer’, and stayed nearby all afternoon and well into the evening.

Check out the span of those horns.
Check out the span of those horns.
Sharing an apple.
Sharing an apple.
I thought she was going to come inside.
I thought she was going to come inside.
Enjoying a head scratch.
Enjoying a head scratch.
We thought she was going to join us for a beer with the neighbours.
We thought she was going to join us for a beer with the neighbours.
But no, she just wanted another scratch.
But no, she just wanted another scratch.

There were two others that we managed to get close to as well, but these two were the most photogenic. We had a lovely time at Dunmarra. What a pleasure!

We’ve been in Katherine for more than a week now catching up with Kelv, and also our friends Bruce and Wendy. It’s been a busy time with lots happening. We look like having a spare day tomorrow,  so I’ll try and post again and bring you all up to date. There’s lots of news, and I promise – no more cows.

Mataranka Thermal Springs

We’re camped at Bitter Springs in Mataranka – history repeats, yes, we’ve been here before. That tells you how good it is, a repeat trip, and this time we’ve booked in for a week.

The campground is only a short walk from the natural springs, which are pleasantly warm at around 34 degrees. We’ve been starting each day with a walk to the springs, where we do two gentle lengths before walking back for breakfast. A length consists of slotting our thongs (flip flops) over the ends of a noodle (floatation device). Then into the water and let the current gently take us down stream to a bridge, climb out, and walk back to the start to do it all it again. The returning foot track is a bit stony underfoot, hence the thongs.

Gently does it.
Gently does it.
Happy and relaxed, a real pleasure.
Happy and relaxed, a real pleasure. His burkies on the ends of the noodle make him look like a contortionist.

There’s other springs here at Mataranka, but none have been left as natural as Bitter Springs. It’s a very popular place, so camping nearby allows us to take advantage of the early morning and/or late afternoon quiet times before and after the tourists all arrive and leave.

How gorgeous is this.
How gorgeous is this.
And this...
And this…

We could swim back to the start rather than walk, but swimming against the current, and worse, the crowds is too much like hard work, so we prefer to just drift. It’s forced relaxation.

Here he comes - note the sandals hanging on the ends of the noodle.
Here he comes – nearing the exit steps, where the crowds build up a bit.

The flora is gorgeous, and there’s no shortage of fauna to watch going about their daily business of doing what birds, spiders, turtles etc do. The Fly Catcher birds are a joy to watch as they flit down snatching small flies from the water’s surface. With luck there’s sometimes turtles to be seen resting on the nearby banks as we drift down beneath many  colourful spiders centred in their webs waiting for their next meal to get entangled.

We had a quick catch up with Kelv in Katherine the other night. He’s looking well and seems to be settling into his new job as 2IC at Mambuloo Mango Farm. The job comes with a brand new house – currently being built and nearing completion.  He seems nonchalant about having a house after so many years in his caravan, but I suspect he’s quite exciting and looking forward to it.

We’re still waiting for news that will dictate where to from here and could see us doing an about turn and heading back to Queensland and up to the Gulf of Carpentaria. If that happens,  I gather we’ll be there until the wet is due to start around November/December, at which time we’ll be heading back this way again on our way to WA. Hopefully we’ll get to have another catch up with Kelv again at that time, and get to see his new house.

Waiting for news is never much fun, but I couldn’t think of a better place to be waiting than at Bitter Springs. Despite the awful name, there’s nothing bitter about either the springs, or the experience of being here.

What a pleasure!

Outback Icon – Daly Waters Pub

We left Queensland earlier this week, and much earlier than was in the plan. This year Queensland is having an unseasonably wet ‘dry season’, thanks to La Nina,  and we found ourselves unable to do what we had been hoping to do. Sitting around in a caravan waiting for the rain to stop so as we could go snorkelling wasn’t in our plan, so we’ve upped wheels and headed for the warmer, dryer weather on offer in the NT – again! The northern Queensland coast and Tablelands will still be there for us to peruse at another time during a more favourable dry season.

We left Townsville last Monday. On our last trip up in this neck of the woods we missed out on seeing the iconic Daly Waters outback pub. We made sure we didn’t bi- pass it this time. Whilst no longer quite typical of the outback, it offers a very memorable outback experience.

Dusty main street into Daly Waters.
Dusty main street into Daly Waters.

There’s very little in the town. With a population of less than 50 people there’s no supermarkets or general stores. All they have virtually is a pub, a caravan park, and a small souvenir shop.

Outback souvenir shop.
Outback souvenir shop.
Loved the sign - sure beats neon.
Loved the sign – sure beats neon.

They serve meals all day, with a basic menu, small, fresh and well cooked, good honest food. We shared a fish (barramundi) burger for lunch, and both had the famous Beef and Barra barbecue for dinner.

Every area of the pub has something covering the walls - over the bar it's women's bras.
Every area of the pub has something covering the walls – over the bar it’s women’s bras.
Tin roofed open air dining shed.
Tin roofed open air dining shed.
For my overseas readers - Dunnies is Aussie for toilet, Sheilas is Aussie for female.
For my overseas readers – Dunnies is Aussie for toilet, Sheilas is Aussie for female.

Each night they have entertainment. Tonight they had a country and western singer for happy hour (5 – 6pm cheap drinks hour). He sang until 7.30pm and then was followed by an an old rock’n roll singer who was still singing the same rock ‘n roll songs he was probably singing in the 50s when they first released. These songs were even to old for Paul and I to relate to – in fact they made us feel quite young. We hadn’t heard of most of them, but the grey nomads there that were ten years or so older than us were rockin’ away and enjoying the memories of music from a by gone era.

Loved this photo - outback stage with water tower and gum trees in the background.
Loved this photo – outback stage with water tower and gum trees in the background.

We’re now camped at Mataranka Springs, just south of Katherine. What a magical little place this is. I’ll post some photos soon.

Where to from here – well somethings in the pipeline that may see us doing an about turn and heading back to Queensland,  this time near Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria. I’ll know more tonight.

In the meantime though – Mataranka, what a pleasure!

Edith Falls, and possible work

We’re currently staying in Katherine again after spending two lovely nights at Edith Falls in Nitmiluk National Park. Edith Falls is a place worth visiting. It’s beautiful, and we would have liked to stay much longer.

After we arrived and set up camp we did the 2.6 km circular walk up to the water hole and falls in the top pool. The walk was a lot harder than we were prepared for. One half of the walk was relatively easy in our sandals, but the other half would have been easier in our hiking boots, and Paul’s ankle reminded him of that the next day. Once at the top though, and after much grumbling on my part in getting up there, the difficulty of the walk was soon forgotten. The pool and falls were glorious.

We spent about an hour up there swimming and playing under the falls. The water was a perfect temperature, cool enough to be refreshing but not too cold to get into. Then we came down to the bottom swimming hole and falls, and again went for a lovely refreshing swim to cool off after having walked down in the heat of the day.

Swimming hole at Edith Falls.
Swimming hole at Edith Falls.

The camp ground there is better than a lot of caravan parks. Grassed areas, lots of room, solar heated showers, flush toilets, and drinking water. There’s no power of course, and we can’t connect our caravan to the water by hose. None of that mattered to us though, as our water tanks were full, and we have sufficient power in the van to meet our needs providing the sun’s shining. In the dry season in the Northern Territory it never rains, so the sun is always shining at this time of year.

We didn’t have internet or phone coverage there though, which meant we needed to go into Katherine for a short trip to get our phone messages. Normally it’s not a problem being out of range, but as I’d applied for a position as a station cook at a place in South Australia, I thought we’d better check to see if anything was happening.

It turned out I was in with a small chance, so we moved camp back to Katherine so as to be easy to contact. Three days have now gone by and we’ve heard nothing, so that ones looking slim. Not all is lost though, as I’ve since put in another application at a station that’s wanting to employ a partnership, a cook and a bore runner. I’ve contacted them by phone and followed up with our resumes.

Either is really a slim chance as whilst I’ve had loads of experience that more than qualifies me for cooking for 20+ hungry station hands, none of it is recent, so current references are’t in abundance. We’re arranged to meet the managers of the NT/Qld station at the end of the month, so fingers crossed.

Kakadu/Kakadon’t

Territorians don’t seem to think much of their tourist icon, Kakadu and have given it the nick name of Kakadon’t. We thought perhaps they were exaggerating, so we spent five nights there so as to give it a fair go. However, after the five nights we tended to share their sentiments.

I’m not saying we didn’t find a couple of things there interesting, because we did. We stayed at the caravan park attached to Kakadu Lodge. It was just on the outskirts of the township of Jabiru, and was an above average sort of caravan park with a lovely lagoon pool, and pleasant enough facilities. From reading reviews of all the caravan parks in the area, I think they all have a reasonable standard, and are all reasonably priced (less than $50 a night for a powered site). The pool was too cold for me to get into, but we’ve found that with all the swimming pools in the Territory. They’re all concrete and covered with shades, and absolutely freezing!

The township of Jabiru was a surprise. We’d expected mainly just a general store, but it is a proper, tidy little township with quite a few streets, a Foodlands, a news agency, and several other small shops. It has a population of around 1700. Beware though of the bakery, it sells some dangerously, delicious goodies!!!!

There’s a lot of tourist sites to see in the park, and each of them is approximately an 80 km round trip from Jabiru to visit. The first day we went to Uburr. Uburr is a sacred site with a lots of rock art and a relatively easy climb to the top where you see 360 degree views of the escarpment. It was a place used for a scene of breathtaking beauty in the movie Crocodile Dundee. It is stunning, and was worth the 80 km round trip from Jabiru.

We did several other trips to various spots of around the same distance though, and to us, none of them were particularly memorable. We chose to do the cultural boat trip on the East Alligator River in preference to the yellow water cruise on a billabong. If we’d not seen Crocs before it may have been an interesting cruise. But we have seen lots of crocs before, and that seemed to be the main focus of the boat trip. We had clarified that this wouldn’t be the case before booking it, so were quite disappointed. We were taken across to disembark in Arnemland, and while there our guide showed us how to throw a spear. It was one of those ‘whipdee do’, type of trips, that’s easily forgotten. Perhaps the yellow water trip may have been better.

We also visited a bird hide, and a billabong that’s supposedly the most picturesque in the park. They were both ok but nothing memorable, and nothing that justified the car mileage to visit them. So, Kakadu, or Kakadon’t whatever you want to call it. I’m pleased we’ve seen it, but I wouldn’t go there again.

Northern Territory in Detail

LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK (about 2 weeks ago)
Another wonder around 130 kms from Darwin is Litchfield National Park. Firstly we went to Florence Falls, and had a swim.

Beautiful Florence Falls, powerful enough to knock sunglasses off your head.
Beautiful Florence Falls, powerful enough to knock sunglasses off your head.
Kelv and me overlooking Florence Falls in Litchfield.
Kelv and me overlooking Florence Falls in Litchfield.

Here Kelv went under the water fall on the right with his sunglasses on. The power of the water knocked them clean off his head. We seconded the assistance of a couple who had water goggles on, and once located it was simply a matter of finding someone else with enough strength to dive down far enough to retrieve them. It was a joint effort by several strangers, but I get the feeling they all felt as elated as we did when the sun glasses were successfully retrieved.

Next we went onto Buley Rockhole, a series of small waterfalls that provide the perfect swimming spot, or as we found out the perfect place for the best water spa massage ever.

Perusing a possible spa.
Perusing a possible spa.
Decision made, Paul decides it's worth trying out.
Decision made, Paul decides it’s worth trying out.
Yep, pretty damned good.
Yep, pretty damned good.
Paul getting pounded, but not for long. I edged my way over and pushed him and out.
Paul getting pounded, but not for long. I edged my way over and pushed him and out.

On our exit from the park we called into the area full of magnetic termite mounds. Apparently, the termites detect the magnetic pull of the earth and build their mounds in a north south direction, with the slimmest sections catching the hot north sun. It’s an eerie looking place, resembling a graveyard full of head stones. Nature provides so many more fascinating spectacles than man ever could. This is just one more of them.

Not a graveyard - magnetic termite mounds.
Not a graveyard – magnetic termite mounds.

Northern Territory in Detail

BERRY SPRINGS

Berry Springs - lovely place to swim
Berry Springs – lovely place to swim

I feel like I’ve skimmed over so much that deserves more detail in this amazing Northern Territory. So, I’m going to try and recap some of the places we’ve visited and give each place the justifiable rap it deserves.

Darwin, I think I’ve covered. Apologies for not get the promised photo of the masses on Mindil Beach at sunset on market night. We forgot to take our camera the second time we went.

Now I’ll try and re-cap our visits to Berry Springs. What a place. It’s around 50 kms south of Darwin. It’s not a place to venture into during the wet season, in fact none of the natural swimming holes are, but more on that later. During the dry season Berry Springs is one of the more trusted of the water holes that even the locals use. Apparently, there are fresh water crocs there, but as freshies are rather timid creatures and not man eaters, they generally make themselves scarce.

We visited this place twice, and enjoyed a marvellous swim there. It’s a place you could easily spend a day at, either taking your own picnic lunch or there are food vans and a kiosk there. The water is pleasantly warm at around 30 degrees and crystal clear, and there are steps and hand rails for entering the water. The banks are surrounded by monsoonal forest palms and trees, so rather a stunning ambience . Floating around the different pools there was very relaxing. A must see and do place for anyone visiting the NT, and preferably plan on spending the better part of a day there. It’s not hard to do.

In the wet season though, most swimming holes are a ‘no go’ as the waters rise. Crocodiles are increasing in numbers now. They nearly became extinct in the 1960s and so became protected. Add to that the fact that the Cane Toad has severely diminished one of the crocodiles only predators – the goanna. Yes, you read that correctly, the little goanna. It loves crocodile eggs. So now crocodile numbers are well and truly on the rise. As they’re territorial, increasing numbers means they need to move further and further upstream to establish their own territory. So they’re now being found in places seldom seen before.

In the wet season as smaller pools get joined up with each other to form larger pools, the crocodiles move into swimming holes, and the swimming holes get closed to the public until the dry season returns. At the beginning of the dry, salties in swimming holes are trapped and transported to other places, before once again the swimming hole is declared reasonably safe for humans to venture into. There’s never any guarantees though, and some locals won’t chance swimming anywhere except a back yard pool even in the dry.

Leaving Darwin for Kakadu

We’ve had a quick look at the job opportunities in Darwin and nothing has tweaked our interest. There’s a few jobs similar to those we left behind, but we’d both rather be doing something new, and preferably only of a seasonal length.

We’ve been in Darwin for long enough now to have had a good look around, and we’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen. It’s an expensive place though, and even though it’s a small city, it’s still a city, and cities aren’t really where we want to be. So, tomorrow we’re moving on to have a look at Kadadu, then on to Mataranka. From there, who knows where the wind or whims will take us. Probably on to Northern Qld, if nothing else takes our fancy. What a good feeling that is – nothing written in concrete, just where ever we choose on the day…..

We’ve had such a good time catching up with Kelv. He’s been showing us around, and in turn, we’ve also been dragging him off to places he hadn’t seen. He’s been patiently (but I suspect reluctantly sometimes) tolerating our tourism choices, but at the same time he’s also enjoying seeing some things he wouldn’t normally be choosing to look at.

On our way back from Litchfield National Park one day we called at the Mango Farm where he’d been working for a bit of photo shoot for his resume. He looks very much at home driving a tractor. Suspect he’s found his niche in life in farm work. It was interesting while there to look around the farm too, and get an idea of how seasonal pickers live and work on a Mango farm.

Vistiting Kelv's mango farm
Vistiting Kelv’s mango farm

On one of days in Darwin we visited Burnett House, an old Queenslander type, national trust house on the water front at Myilly Point. It’s an amazing piece of architectural design so suited to the tropics, and it survived both the bombing in world war two, and Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Both didn’t leave it completely unscathed, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired whilst keeping it’s original design in tact. It’s one of those houses that makes you realise how far removed we’re now living from sensible and sustainable environmental living. If ever you come to Darwin, please put this house on your list of ‘must do things’. It’s inspiring.