There is so much wildlife in Australia’s Northern Territory, that even a highway becomes a wildlife watching destination. This part of our epic Australian road trip had the most abundant wildlife watching opportunities.
Driving from Kakadu to Darwin on Arnhem Highway we saw more birds and reptiles than you would see in a month in the drier parts of Australia. The countryside surrounding the highway could well be a National Park.
And there are plenty of eco-lodges along the way that offer various wildlife watching opportunities. We stayed at Mary River Wilderness Retreat and at Eden at Fogg Dam B&B and both were fantastic properties, well set up for wildlife watching.
Mary River cruise
Part of Mary River National Park, Mary River is a great place to see Freshwater crocodiles and Azure kingfishers, as well as Great-billed heron and Australia’s biggest eagle – White-bellied Sea-eagle.
Mary River Wilderness Retreat operates boat cruises and it is also possible to hire a smaller boat for a few hours and explore the river at your own pace. We did both and saw the Freshwater crocs, Saltwater crocs, eagles, kingfishers, and plenty of more common birds, that we have already seen elsewhere on this trip.
Wildlife at Mary River Lodge
In the afternoon, just before the boat cruise, I watched a group of Agile wallabies grazing on the lawn in front of our tent. And as I watched them, two young males decided to practice their boxing skills giving me a few good photo opportunities.
Wildlife watching on Arnhem Highway
Driving along Arnhem Highway the following day we came across a small wetland on the side of the road that was absolutely teaming with birdlife. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a few Jabirus there. We spent days searching for them in Kakadu and there they were – scraping in the mud on the side of the road!
Apart from the magnificent Jabirus, there were Pied herons, Great and Intermediate egrets, Gull-billed terns, and a few Magpie geese on a nearby tree.
We also saw our first Water Buffalo along the highway. These giant bovids were introduced to Australia between 1824 and 1849 and became a feral species, wreaking havoc to Kakadu wetlands and other areas. The only predators big enough to snatch a water buffalo are the saltwater crocodiles that shere the wetland habitat with the buffalo.
Wildlife of Fogg Damm
Fogg Dam is one of those places that you get excited about during the planning stage of your trip and it still ends up exceeding all of your expectations when you finally visit it.
The dam was created to turn the surrounding area into rice paddies. The project that was later abandoned and now the resulting wetlands provide much-needed refuge for an astonishing variety of wildlife.
Today, Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve is a protected wetland that attracts a ride range of local and migratory water birds. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded at Fogg Dam, including Jabiru, jacana, pygmy geese, brolga and ibis.
By the time we arrived at Fogg Dam we were already quite spoiled by the abundant wildlife watching opportunities that the Northern Territory has to offer, but what we saw at the dam was a true wildlife spectacle.
Dozens of Little, Intermediate and Great egrets, Pied herons, Glossy ibis, Royal spoonbill, Little black and Little pied cormorants, Raja shell ducks, Comb-crested jacanas, Australian darters and Jabiru storks were feeding in the shallows. Egrets and herons were still spotting their impressive breeding plumage.
With so many birds feeding within a small area the tension was high and territorial disputes were frequently erupting. Egrets were the most feisty feeders and mainly quarrelled with their conspecifics. Some of the conflicts required the help of an independent referee, such as a Pied heron.
Most birds however played nicely – there seemed to be a lot of food to go around.
Fogg Dam at Night
Once the darkness falls Fogg Dam metamorphoses into a different world, dominated by snakes and rodents. The reserve supports a large population of Dusky rats, that are hunted by equally large populations of Water pythons and Olive pythons. There are also the magnificent Northern Death Adders – one of Australia’s most venomous snakes.
Fogg Dam is rumoured to be supporting the highest biomass of any place on earth. The rats are difficult to see, we haven’t seen any in the three nights we spent spotlighting at the Dam. The pythons, on the other hand, are difficult to avoid, as they reign unchallenged over Fogg Dam’s night scene.
During the wet season, Saltwater crocodiles move into the Fogg Dam area from Adelaide river. Their eye-shine is so big, that it discourages you from leaving the safety of your vehicle on the dam wall.
The bird scene of the night is dominated by Barking owls and Nankeen night herons with a few occasional Large-tailed nightjars and Tawny frogmouths.
The best place to stay around Fogg Dam is Eden at Fogg Dam B&B. The owners are friendly and knowledgeable about local wildlife and the property around the guesthouse supports an astounding variety of bird species.
Without trying too hard, we saw quite a few species on an exploratory walk in the morning, including the following species:
- Yellow oriole,
- Rose-crowned fruit dove
- Bar-shouldered dove
- Sulphur-crested cockatoo
- Red-winged parrot
- Forest kingfisher
- Rainbow bee-eater
- Blue-faced honeyeater
- White-gaped honeyeater
- White-throated honeyeater
- Brown honeyeater
- Rufus-banded honeyeater
- Rufus whistler
- Lemon-belied flycatcher
- Broad-billed flycatcher
- Shining flycatcher
- Willie wagtail
- White-winged triller
- Varied triller
- Double-barred finch
- Grey-crowned babbler
- Orange-footed guan