Oyala Thumotang National Park - Mango Lagoon and Chong Swamp July 27 - 30 2019
  Booking campsites works well when descriptions are good, or better still if visited previously. But booking a campsite site unseen is a bit hit and miss.

Second Coen Campsite was a bit more inviting than Vardons, but nevertheless could have been anywhere.

I didn't have a satellite image this time. We had a map which showed "Turtle Lagoon". The national park map has a camping area at "Mango Lagoon".

To cut a long story short, they are the same thing, and from our limited observation it has neither turtles nor mangoes, though perhaps likely to have turtles - not seeing them doesn't mean they aren't there. It doesn't help that it is marked on our maps about 100m west of where we found it.

Just as Archer Bend National Park became Mungkan Kandju National Park which became Oyala Thumotang National Park.

Armed with gps and camera we set forth (walking) from Second Coen Campsite towards the lagoon.

On the way we saw a male Shining Flycatcher.

  And then a female.
  The lagoon is a bit wider than some. We hear lots of birds, but see few.
  The Spangled Drongo appeared briefly.
  Having found the lagoon we walked along the west bank until we found the vehicle track into First Cohen Campsite. We met a few fellow travellers and exchanged "bird stories".

We returned along the vehicle track and turned left, past the three Mango Lagoon Campsites on the east bank of the lagoon.

From the end of the lagoon across country again, passing an old fence in disrepair. Did we mention there are still lots of cattle in the park, leftover from the days when it was a station.

  We happened on a small lagoon. About 150m south east of Second Coen campsite.

Water lilies suggest a different depth to the lagoon, and possibly different birdlife.

  We watched for a while. A couple of Forest Kingfishers caught our attention. One of them caught an insect.
  We think the lilies quite beautiful.
  Later in the day, as part of reconciling map and reality, and confirming Turtles and Mangoes are one, I followed the river between the two Coen campsites.

In this small patch the paperbarks made it look to me like a dark foreboding tunnel.

I disturbed one croc along the way.

Similar to the Wenlock, the main channel for the Coen River is cut deep into the plain, while the many lagoons and watercourse for floods and at a higher level.

In order to confirm that Turtle and Mango Lagoons are the same I cut across country, perpendicular to the river, until I met the lagoon. By chance I met it opposite camp site 2, which is about the middle. Repeat after me ... there is only one lagoon.

  It must be a Grey Fantail, there are two white spots.

I watched it for a short while, it must have thought I would disturb its prey.

I've seen few fantails in Australia, they remind me of wonderful times spent in the bush of New Zealand's Southern Alps.

The fantail was joined by a yellow robin and some very shy wrens.

  As we move camp (again) from Second Coen to Chong Swamp we detour via Pandanus Lagoon (day use).

There's a fence around it, presumably to stop cattle and pigs.

We are tempted to walk around, but walk a little way and return to the truck - we forgot the water, and the ...........

We notice a few discarded turtle shells outside the fence.

  So to Chong Swamp.

Greeted by an Egret enjoying the lilies.

The patch of lilies is almost a km across, covering most of the swamp.

  Next to where we camp there's a family of Lotusbirds.

They are small, but with the most outrageously long toes to allow them to walk across the lilies.

When I look back at pictures of China there's a pic of a Chinese Lotusbird among Lotus flowers. Different species, but same long toes.

  Even the youngsters have long toes.

Fascinated, I feel its time to experiment with taking movies with the still camera. I should also experiment with the "burst" function that allows a string of pics to be taken rapidly then select the best. Which sounds much easier than trying to catch the moment and discover its out of focus or it disappeared before the shutter was pressed.

I also thought about time lapse pictures of the lilies as they open and close with the sun. But of course I don't have a tripod..... bah humbug.

But anyway, just in case, here's a link to 40Mb / 12 seconds of long toes on lilies.

  On the far side of the swamp we see a family of four Sarus Cranes.

Like Brolgas, but they arrived in Australia around 1966 and very much less common than Brolgas. The red stretching down their necks is the only real clue.

  The lilies remind us of Lake Li Yong in China where we sampled the delights of Lotus Flowers and saw the Chinese Lotusbird. Chong Swamp is a fraction of the size of the lake, though that shouldn't make any difference to the flavour, just to how many there are.

We wonder if lilies have similar food value. More research for when we have internet next.

  You guessed.

We decided to circumnavigate the swamp. We estimate about 3km around.

We had no idea if this was at all possible. The swamp is not marked on our maps.

Our first attempt was clockwise and we reached about half way round.

The edges have been thoroughly turned over by pigs. They like the soft edges, they've followed the edge as the water has dried.

This was one of a group of three. We've since seen several more.

  Return to camp to lick our wounds there is a Golden Backed Honeyeater sampling the delights of the calistemon growing next to the truck.

We simply had to watch the tree and wait. A feeling that birds visiting the flowers was almost inevitable. Either a minor victory for logic or a random encounter ...

  The Lotusbirds moved away from the edge, into the lilies, as the sun lowered.

Apparently when disturbed they hide by submerging all of themselves except their nostrils. We didn't see that, but we did hear them making high pitched short (like sonar pings) whistles, as they flew a short distance deeper into the lilies.

They are also called Lily Trotters. Which for some strange reason conjours up images of the ancient Irish art of Bog Trotting - though for us crossing this swamp would be more like wading through mud than gliding gracefully across the top.

  Following day we try the circumnavigation anti-clockwise.

There is no reason why this should be more successful, but it ultimately is.

We heard the noise of the Sarus Crane family arriving near our truck around 6am. We started walking around 8:30, the disturbed cranes flew off. But we had discovered the south-east edge of the swamp. We think we periodically hear more cranes further away during the day.


  A quick greeting from a Blue-winged Kookaburra. We had caught the movement of a small bird, and by chance saw the kookaburra before it saw us. We usually don't see things until they move, and then its usually too late.
  Hidden on the edge of the swamp is our truck. We saw it even though it didn't move, it helps to know where something is. We think a better view from the windows than from a tent at ground level.
  At last. Some evidence of how water may enter the swamp. A short creek, flowing fast enough to carry sand. Dry at this time of year.

The only evidence we find, the swamp must be predominantly rain filled. We suspect in the wet season it may overflow to the north through a wide shallow path. It doesn't seem to be part of the river system though presumably if the river rises faster than the swamp there's a flow into the swamp.

We can see the edges have dried as the water level has fallen in the swamp. We suspect the water lilies may limit evaporation so the swamp may be shallow but stays wet throughout the year.

  We take a wider path than yesterday, for a while losing sight of the water. We encounter a lagoon, and of course wonder if it feeds the swamp, and therefore we should cross, or whether it is totally unrelated and we should not cross.

We cross. But have chosen poorly. So after a couple of hundred meters we cross back.  Of course if I'd taken the compass as well as the gps I would have perhaps better known the orientation of the lagoon. Looked at later on the map its obvious we should not have crossed.

Perhaps I should mention that although they are sometimes up to a km long, for example we couldn't have crossed Mango Lagoon, the thinner lagoons are like strings of beads. Fortunately with this lagoon we find several spots where animals have crossed between the beads without becoming stuck in thick gooey clayey mud.

Having crossed back we head for a point somewhere between the centre of the swamp and the truck.

All good, we find the edge of the swamp and follow it to our camp. We took a wider circuit than we needed to, about 3.8km round. But now we know it can be circumnavigated. We have no idea why that bit of knowledge is important.

  Back in the safety of our camp we could get close enough to see the Lotusbirds in the lilies. They are nearer the size of chickens than hens.

The experiments with movies demonstrated that I was totally incapable of holding the camera steady. The background was a bit jittery. Though I did film enough to allow me to count 4 toes.

  So I went for a walk, while Ali practiced some Mandolin. Enjoying the extra freedom that the hand-held gps provides in an area with no formal paths.

And took a pic of a Wallaroo. Though what makes it a Wallaroo instead of a Wallaby or a Kangaroo I am uncertain.

We've seen several. Usually bounding away into the distance, hearing the thump thump, rather than seen, mostly hidden by trees.

Really, the only reason we think Wallaroo is because the info board at the park entrance said there were Wallaroos in the park.

It does seem coloured differently to other marsupials we've seen. We see them most often in open woodland rather than near the water.

  Before we moved to Chong Swamp we met people who told us there was a Jabiru (black-necked stork) in residence.

We haven't seen it yet. But we have seen a White-Necked Heron, far away on the far side of the swamp.


  It seems all of the birds we spend so much time listening to and hopefully seeing are "common" in the bird book. They are far from common to us.

After a couple of days of listening to what we thought was a flock of several birds I finally caught some movement and the camera was pointing in the right direction. My muscles still ache from holding it still while the confounded zoom jammed with "switch camera off then on" message. Once lost I feared I had no chance of finding the bird with naked eye.

Its a Yellow Oriole. Singing to the world. Ignoring my presence. Alternately two different calls all mixed up to our untutored ears. I think I hear similar calls from some distance away. Like many of the birds we have seen during this trip their range is northern Australia, and sometimes just Cape York.

There were also wrens to keep me occupied, but dare I say "we've seen those previously" - not really, they still enchant us. Even being selective these web pages seem to become bigger.

I had time for 30 seconds of movie, with sound. 70Mb is too much for this page, but here's a link to the full size video. The equivalent of 1200mm zoom with a 35mm camera - almost had to bend the light round all the foliage and pretend the branches were moving rather than the camera - a tripod is definitely on the shopping list.

  During yesterday's trip around the swamp we thought we saw a couple of ducks. But just fleeting, different flight and shape, but whatever they were they disappeared into the lilies.

Today, on a short stroll along the edge of the swamp four flew in to join the Lotusbirds. A bit bigger, different wing beats, different landing ..... and they float.

There were two pairs of Green Pygmy Geese.

The Lotusbirds don't seem to mind other birds near. They also weren't disturbed when a darter surfaced among them. Its just us they are all cautious of.

  And as usually happens when we stop a few days, the wildlife becomes gradually used to the mobile bird hide. And we think we become better at recognising the patterns among the wildlife.

We watched through the open window as the Wallaroo grazed on the greener grass near the edge of the swamp. Though still at the limit of the camera.

We are also joined by some cockatoos foraging in the ground churned over by the pigs.

Lakefield National Park - Annie River July 31 - August 2 2019

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