Thursday, 4 August 2016

Some Top End wetland birds

The Northern Territory Top End has now had three below average wet seasons with the last (2016/17) being particularly poor. As a result, the Dry Season in 2017 is drier than normal and many wetlands are either dry or have much less water than normal for this time of year. I suspect the dry wet season has also impacted on the savannah woodlands with low numbers of flowering trees and therefore low numbers of birds in the woodlands.

We did a boat tour at both Yellow Waters (Cooinda in Kakadu NP) and in the Mary River NP at Corroboree Billabong. While there was still water at Yellow Waters the wetland birds seemed to be well down on our experience of the same tour we did there in 2007 which followed a big wet season.

Trying to take bird photos from a boat with large numbers of people on board and limited time is not ideal, and in future I think I would prefer to organise a small fishing boat with a professional fishing guide to take me out. On the plus side the tour boats are a regular feature and the local birds have adjusted to their presence and become very confiding in the case of some individual birds and some species. A smaller fishing boat may not achieve the same close approach as the tour boats? Never the less here are some wetland bird photos taken on two tour boat outings.

We have only seen small numbers of Magpie Geese which can sometimes be found in huge numbers. This is a male – note knob on head. Note also that they are not geese as their name implies.
Pied Herons are common. This one is a juvenile and just starting to develop the steel blue grey cap.

Wandering Whistling-Ducks can be found in small numbers and are much less common than the Plumed Whistling-Duck which can be seen in very large numbers.

Plumed Whistling-Ducks – if only they could be made to line up and pose for the camera!

Black-necked Stork or Jabiru (a name I much prefer) – one of our largest water birds.

The Comb-crested Jacana – one of the smallest wetland birds at Yellow Waters. They have the largest feet for body size of any bird in the world – an adaption to allow them to live on floating lily leaves and other aquatic vegetation.

The northern race (miles)of the Masked Lap-wing – note the much larger yellow facial wattles compared with the southern race birds.

This juvenile Striated Heron proved to be typical of the species – hard to pin down for a photo as is moved about in the deep shadows of the freshwater mangroves. It seems to be carrying some vegetable matter in its bill.

The bird then flew to some Pandanus on the other side of the river (East Alligator) – it was still carrying the vegetable matter.

My attempts to get a clear photo of the Striated Heron among the Pandanus did not improve – soon after this shot the bird disappeared and our boat moved on.

This juvenile Nankeen Night-Heron could be confused with a juvenile Striated Heron. This bird was standing out on open ground in the full mid morning sun – they normally shelter in shade during the day and are active at night as the name implies.

An adult Nankeen or Rufous Night-Heron.

Radjah Shelduck were common in small numbers.

A Great Egret. Cattle, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets are all common in the Top End. The egrets up here must contend with crocodiles as they stalk the wetlands for food – many egrets along with other wetland birds are taken by crocs.

This is a head shot of a large (approx. 4.7m) male salt water or estuarine crocodile. Crocs this size can pull cattle, water buffalo and pigs into the water and drown them. An egret would be a very small snack indeed for a croc this size.

This Intermediate Egret is in breeding plumage (not that evident in this photo). This bird was interacting with another bird in a possible courtship routine or it was in competition with another male? The activity seemed to result in the raised head and neck feathers.

Not strictly a wetland bird the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is very common around Top End wetlands, billabongs, rivers and coastlines. The high productivity of wetlands up here can support very small Sea-Eagle territories compared with say the Gippsland Lakes.
Putting the frustrations of bird photography aside a tour of Top End wetlands in a boat such as the Yellow Waters’ tour is very enjoyable and highly recommended.

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