Pennefather River July 17 - 18 2019
  Another day at the lagoon. We slept in a bit. But then the birds are always going to be awake before us.
  Shortly after this pic the blue hulled vessel steamed off towards the horizon. We think we can see a second ship beyond it, more like a military vessel than a fishing boat. Perhaps imagining things. We weren't watching closely.
  The tide is on its way out, more of the spit is exposed. Room for more terns.
  Even the crocs are feeling friendly this morning.
  We figured that as the tide went out the birds would have access to the mud flats. We'd planned a dawn start, but that didn't happen.

By the time we walked the couple of km to the end of the track the flats were fairly deserted.

Our solitary stork was waiting.

  I walked across part of the flats. Not as muddy as they seemed, they drain quite rapidly.

Then looked back. The end of the track is a couple of hundred meters beyond the corner.

This bit of creek drains almost completely, people can walk across to the main mud flat to fish.

  A couple of white ibises (or is it ibi?). There are about 30 or so close enough to recognise.

They bury their beaks to the hilt to find food.

  Ah, the reason I walked across the mud was to get close enough to identify these white birds.

Royal spoonbills. There's a group of about a hundred at the base of the mangroves. These are out on the mud.

Beyond them is a solitary white faced heron.

  Easy to see why stilts are called stilts. These are pied stilts. They were close to the spoonbills, but very different beaks, and smaller. There must be a wide variety of food in the mud.
  I pushed my luck a bit and got even closer. Still about 100m away. They are royal spoonbills because their bills are blue, which makes them different to yellow-billled.

I don't know the difference between a beak and a bill ......

  My indirect line hit a more muddy patch than the rest. As I reversed and tried firmer looking ground I was walking directly towards them.

So they flew away.

As birds do.

Followed by the stilts.

We are mystified as to the whereabouts of all the Brolgas we expected to see. How can 1,000 big birds disappear so easily.

  We retreat the 2km to camp.

Just before dusk we hear sounds of birds outside. A small flock of sunbirds. Yellow-breasted sunbirds. There are 118 species of sunbirds throughout the world. Only this one in Australia.

They apparently hover when feeding from flowers. Which probably explains the bird we saw on Thursday Island that we thought was a humming bird. It was yellow, so probably a sunbird.

A challenge of course to take a pic of one hovering.....

This is a female.

  And this is a male. With the extra very dark blue patch.

We also saw some with a small patch of white above the blue, which isn't mentioned in the bird book.

We often notice that it takes a couple of days for small birds to become used to the truck's presence and ignore it.

There were a couple of bluish birds that were too quick for me. And bee eaters.

  Having been thwarted in our endeavours yesterday afternoon we stirred ourselves before dawn. A half hour walk, hearing the cacophony becoming ever closer, we round the bend ...... and there they are. They must have woken earlier than us. The sun is just about to show itself over the trees.

This is just one small patch of Brolgas. We count a couple less than 100 in the pic. Our simple estimate is more than 1,000 spread across the flats.

Chocolate elephants are eaten one bite at a time. Picturing 1,000 Brolgas seems to be about 100 at a time.

  Some of them are on our side of the little creek, which leaves the sun in a reasonable direction for us to see more than silhouettes.

We can see the red of their heads. Saurus cranes (brolgas are cranes) are very similar but the red reaches down their necks. We haven't seen any.

  The spoonbills have stirred and are off to wherever they feed.

We've seen film, and found a few places in the world where there are large flocks of birds, but this is really a pleasant surprise to us. Numbers and variety of birds we haven't previously seen in one place. And easily accessible.

Our expectations of Pennefather were of somewhere to fish and vegetate, although we knew there would be some birds congregated in wetlands during northern Australia's dry season.

  Difficult to describe. Every which way we look there are Brolgas.

There's constant movement, they follow the tide out and along the edge of the mud. Advancing a retreating, two steps forward and one back. Feeding most of the time.

  They also become restless and every so often a few detach themselves and fly to greener pastures.

We find a few feathers along the high tide mark. One side of the central spine is longer than the other.

We can imagine the leading edge of the feathers at the end of their wings being the shorter side.


We wonder why other campers kept telling us of magpie geese when we are seeing brolgas.

There's a forest of birds in the far distance.

Apparently a large flock of brolgas is a company. A flock of geese is ... a flock. We think these are all brolgas.

When we arrived this morning we thought the noise we had heard each morning came from the brolgas. Watching them we could associate noise and movement and direction. But something in the back of our heads says we probably also heard geese, though further away. Perhaps they sound similar to our untrained ears.


  We saw some other half-hearted attempts at dancing that brolgas are known for. Nothing seemed choreographed. Mostly just individuals chasing others or moving out of the way.


  We aren't sure who is ignoring who.

Male and female look very much the same to us.

  To change the angle a bit I followed the edge of the mangroves for about 100m as the tide went out. Standing still and trying to look inconspicuous without disturbing them seemed to work. For a while the brolgas were walking towards me, but then casually changed direction a little.

After a couple of hours we retreat to camp. The sun is high in the sky, we have a last look.

There's more than 100 brolgas in this pic. This area of mudflat, the closest to us,  has become steadily depleted as we watched small groups fly off.

For us its one of those once in a lifetime days that occasionally arrive and may or may not ever happen again. Though of course we'll keep trying.

Pennefather River July 19 - 20 2019

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