Our first day in Humpty Doo we took a deep breath and enjoyed the riot of bird life visible from the outdoor kitchen. This place has a definite tropical feel that lulls you into taking your time, walking barefoot, siestas and lazy afternoons. They call it “steady steady.” And, of course, food on the barbie.
Our second day we went out bush on the Hardies 4WD track in the Mary River National Park in search of jabiru, raptors, wallabies, billabongs, adventure–and crocs.
Saltwater crocodiles, known as salties, are enormous predators–the world’s largest reptile in fact–growing up to 7 meters long. Like many predators in the world, they were hunted to near extinction in many areas, until they became a protected species in Australia in 1974. The Mary River in the Top End boasts some of the highest concentrations of salties, with up to 20 crocs per square km. And even crocs are diverse–Johnson freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnsoni), known as freshies, are also found here.
Our first stop was at Mary River Billabong, where we spotted this rainbow bee-eater (Merops ornatus) (photo Randy Serraglio) hawking insects over the water.
We kept a safe distance from the shore. When your tour guides that have lived here for 15-20 years hang back, you know you better follow suit.
We saw lots of kapok trees (Cochlospermum fraseri) with beautiful yellow flowers that are edible raw, quite tasty, and high in Vitamin C. The tree loses all its leaves before it flowers. Typically crocs nest when the tree is fruiting. One of our hosts, Shayote, was shocked to see some of the trees in fruit already, and wondered whether it had to do with the unusually warm weather earlier in the year.
Vast areas we drove through had been burned recently by the park rangers to clean out invasive grasses that have taken over the understory since cattle became more widespread. Mary River National Park is jointly managed by the Traditional Owners and the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. The Limilngan and Uwynmil are the Traditional Owners of the Park. According to the Park Joint Management Plan this means:
“making decisions together and sharing knowledge through open communication. The joint management partners believe in the long-term environmental and human outcomes gained by forging a strong, cooperative joint management arrangement for Mary River National Park.”
We traveled all day without seeing other people on the 4WD track, despite the local school holidays, but we spotted heaps of bird species, and hundreds of wallabies.
We stopped for lunch at a billabong in the shade, and kept a watchful eye out on the water’s edge and brush nearby, thinking of nesting crocs, then tooled along to a remote boat put-in on the Mary River. There was no sign of crocs upon arrival, but we were not disappointed. We scanned the river with binocs for a bit and had a couple of debates about whether the leaf of a lotus lily was the snout of croc, or not.
We stood around chatting, about “tinnies” (small metal fishing boats used here), outboard motors, and people getting chomped by crocs. I went back to the clearing to have another look and glassed up something about 30 feet out that looked like another leaf, bang! Croc eyes looking straight at me. I pointed it out to Mark just in time for it to slip under the water. “Right, he’s spotted us. Everyone in the Cruiser. Time to go.” That was our first sighting of 15+ crocs.
On the return trip we took a careful gander at a river crossing and spotted this 12 foot freshie sunning on the rocks with about 6 others of various sizes.
Up next: more on bird and snake life at Fogg Dam, at trip to Adelaide River area to check out hot springs, and how climate change is affecting Northern Territory National Parks and communities.