Mamukala Wetlands, Sep 2021

[A stop on the Darwin and Kakadu Trip, Aug-Sep 2021 trip]

Mamukala Wetlands is a birdlife haven 34km west of the township of Jabiru in Kakadu National Park. It features one of the best bird hides you’ll find anywhere, a perfect place to plonk and watch and photograph wetland birds. If you tire of that, there is a 3km loop walk where you can find many other types of bird.

We arrived around 7:15am and the (spacious) car park at that time was largely deserted. There was plenty of intriguing bird noise in the trees around there, but we didn’t linger too long, instead taking the short (about 150m or so) path to the observation platform.

From the hide we saw hundreds of Magpie Geese (apparently they like to forage for water chestnuts here), hundreds of Wandering Whistling Ducks, and hundreds of Green Pygmy-Geese. If you’re getting the vibe that there’s a lot of birds to see on this wetland, you’re right!

The hide isn’t super-conveniently positioned for early morning birding, with the light coming through from the left that leaves half of each birds facing you in shadow or close to it. But the hide makes up for that by being large, clean, with enormous viewing openings, and huge information panels along the back walls. It really is a tremendous observation facility.

The best photo I got here was of a Darter; shots of the Green Pygmy-Geese weren’t coming out well, so we resolved to do the 3km walk and return to the bird hide when the sun was higher up.

We also saw Lemon-Bellied Flycatcher, Paperbark Flycatcher and what was probably a Leaden Flycatcher female as we walked the short path back to the car park, and an Arafura Fantail also made a rather rock star-ish appearance as well. The area behind the bird hide is definitely worth lingering at.

Onto the walk, which featured Pandanus Palms and other vegetation on largely sandy ground. Quite dry, but plenty of water nearby, meant that there were many birds here – most obviously, honeyeaters. A few Bar-Breasted Honeyeaters were a highlight, as we had only seen this species once or twice before, and never very well.

Rufous-Banded Honeyeaters were also about, in numbers – we counted 26 all up in the course of the loop walk. Red-Backed Fairywren, Forest Kingfisher, Crimson Finch were all seen too, as well as a wild dog which may or may not have been a Dingo. The trail here is not fenced or anything, and the surrounding terrain does invite a little off-path exploration when an interesting bird is seen.

At this point we had only gone a few hundred metres, and had spent the best part of 40 minutes watching, photographing and checklisting these many birds. However, a treat was in store for us, as we found a group of finches that looked a little different to the more common Crimsons or Long-Tailed – their bright yellow beaks marked them out as Masked Finches, which we had never seen before!

Excitement ensued as we observed this group of half a dozen finches hopping about through the twiggy bushes, trying hard not to scare them but also trying to get close enough for a good look. It’s always a bit more difficult with these smaller birds.

A better look was had at the Long-Tailed Finches, making the fourth species of finch we’d seen here (as a couple of Double-Barreds were also present). You’ve got to love a location that has four finch species to enjoy!

If there was any doubt we were in the tropics (the mounting morning heat notwithstanding), a good indicator was a tree chock full of green ant nests.

We had been hearing Pheasant Coucal a couple of times by now and finally got a good look at one. We counted three in total, which seemed surprising in some ways as a large Pheasant Coucal wasn’t the kind of bird we thought would be particularly populous here.

The birding became a little less intense as we rounded the furthest part of the loop walk, possibly because here the track is farther from the water and its attendant vegetation. One could traipse closer to the edge of the wetland, at the risk of crocodiles.

As we rounded the south end of the loop a Whistling Kite that had been seen flying was now found perched nearly above the trail, and then further round still there were more open views across the wetlands than had been available up till then. Here it became apparent that there were a lot of birds out there, with many Purple Swamphens, Plumed Whistling Ducks (in the hundreds), a few Pied Herons and Egrets in the foreground, and what must have been thousands upon thousands of Magpie Geese further away. Amazing stuff.

We returned briefly to the bird hide where a few more people had now turned up to enjoy the view. It was mid-morning by then and quite warm even in the shade, so any breeze that wafted in was very welcome as we tried to finish our visit with some good photos of the closer birds, mainly egrets and Green Pygmy-Geese; Comb-Crested Jacanas and others were still about, but a little far away.

Summary

We were impressed by our visit to this wetlands. Signage and general maintenance were top notch. The bird hide is an excellent observation point (even though unfortunately not oriented best for morning-sun-behind photography), and the loop walk provided many treasures of the avian variety. It is quite an extensive wetland system, so it is a shame there are not more ways to explore it than a bird hide and a short walk, but I guess that is the nature of this habitat – it is difficult to build proper paths through. It is not like, say, Fogg Dam which has a road going straight through the middle of the wetlands. eBird does show a hotspot for a “Mamukala Hunting Track” to the south-west, but there is no information about that place that I can find.

eBird:
Hotspots: Mamukala Billabong (207 species), Mamukala Walk (136 species)
Nearby: South Alligator River boatramp (170 species), South Alligator Floodplain Culvert (158 species)
Checklists for our visit: Mamukala Billabong (11 species), Mamukala Walk (41 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Amazing bird hide
+ Many many water birds
+ Good 3km loop walk to find other birds
– Hard to get close to the majority of the water birds
– More access – walks or observation platforms – would be good

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