Marrakai Track, NT
February 18, 2012
What do a middle-aged Darwin couple do to celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary?
Go birding of course!
Yesterday Mike and I left home around 6am so we could bird the Marrakai track as early as possible. Normally a little early for me but it is a beautiful drive out there and the day was quite pleasant after the usual humidity of the top end in February.
Around 7:30am we turned off the Arnhem Highway and onto the unsealed track. Although called a track it is really quite well maintained and accessible except after heavy rain. We drove along stopping regularly to get out and walk to see what was around. The prolific, but nonetheless beautiful, Red-collared Lorikeets were first to be spotted and as if not to be outdone, the flash of iridescent green and red drew our attention to half a dozen Red Wing Parrots flying overhead. Several White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes put in their appearance also.
There was not a lot more to be seen for a while but the sounds of birdlife were there. A Striated Pardalote teased us with its call, as did the busy White-gaped Honey eaters. Then there was the unmistakable sound of the Blue-winged Kookaburra with its laugh sounding almost a half-hearted attempt compared to its relatives in the south, and the Brush Cuckoos which we heard almost the whole trip but they managed to keep their location hidden from our sight.
A few Little Corellas were seen overhead and we watched the awkward fly/scramble of a Pheasant Coucal as it moved a little higher up the tree at the sight of us. One Little Friarbird was spotted,
Far off in the distance a lone Brown Falcon sat high in a tree as if surveying the land below, perhaps thinking about his next meal (Thanks for your great eyes Mike, I would have missed him). A little further along a Broad-leaved Melaleuca was in blossom making this a great spot to stop and observe for a while. The honeyeaters particularly liked this area and we spotted White-throated Honeyeaters and three Helmeted Friarbirds their head knobs clearly visible – definitely not the prettiest of birds but then who am I to judge, I am sure he has his admirers somewhere! Also in this area we heard several Red-backed Fairy-wrens but only managed to spot one female, but they are always a great sight regardless of number. Several Masked Finch were busy in the trees across the road and the sound and sight of Bar-shouldered Doves greeted us at many locations
The habitat along the track changes from time to time. Areas of woodland give way to patches of floodplain, making the bird species inhabiting them change also. So it was not surprising to come across Straw-necked Ibis, Little Egret, Pacific Black Duck and Magpie Geese enjoying the water, the latter hurriedly and noisily leaving as we passed by in the car.
We stopped at a gravel pit or open clearing for some morning tea and went for a walk around but found the coffee and muslea bars were about the most exciting thing in that area. Moving on to the dense woodland again we were pleased to see several groups of Antilopine Wallaroo and Agile Wallaby. Not a lot of other wildlife was seen, but that was ok – we were out there primarily to see the birds and the number of those increased as the day moved on.
Willie Wagtails and Brown Honeyeaters made regular appearances on the track and about 6 Whistling Kite were observed at different locations, appearing to be lazily circling the thermals overhead. An unexpected sighting was a Nankeen Night-Heron moving off after being disturbed by our vehicle. We also observed a young Brown Goshawk, and a Spotted Harrier working an area of sky parallel to the track. The melodious sound that could only belong to the Pied Butcherbird was in the air as we observed the first of three Weebills, of two Forest Kingfishers and of two Golden-headed Cisticolas.
We pulled up at the Margaret River for lunch. Because of the wet season the road across the river was closed but we were able to walk along the bank and find a shady spot to settle back and relax in the shade (but far enough away from the river in case of crocs). The breeze off the water was refreshing and Mike found a spot for us to stop looking right at a Buff-sided Robin – a first for me! He (or she) seemed oblivious to our presence and sat happily on the branch, joined occasionally by an Azure Kingfisher and a female Shining Flycatcher. The Sacred Kingfisher even put in an appearance. Sometimes you know how to pick the best refreshment spots Mike!
After lunch we made our way back along the track to bird another location, but not without the track yielding even more species, the White-gaped Honeyeater, Torresian Crow, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Magpie Lark, Lemon-belled Flycatcher and the iridescent Dollarbird.