Day 7 - May 8, 2014 - Naturalist Island and Hunter River, Kimberley
By Mark Watson, General Naturalist
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 35ºC
Pressure: 1013 hPa
Wind: 5 knots
After a delicious breakfast I collected my gear and walked outside ready for our two hour Zodiac expedition up the Hunter River and Porosus Creek. I gave a quick briefing on what we were hoping to see and we headed off towards the rusty red ranges of the Kimberley coast with eyes wide open in anticipation of finding some spectacular wildlife.
It did not take long before I spotted something swimming in the distance and as I got closer I could see it was a small crocodile heading towards the mangroves. As we slowed down we were surprised to see it stop and swim slowly towards the zodiac and then stop only meters away. I could not believe that after only ten minutes out we had spotted our first croc, and for it to be just floating in the water only meters away. It was as interested in us as we were with it -I then explained how they hunt and are able survive in this ancient land.
We then headed out past a large rocky out-crop named Indian Head. It towered overhead and its cool shadow covered us. While we sat there marvelling at its structure a small pod of snubfin dolphins cruised past, chasing a school of small garfish just meters away, totally oblivious of us.
As the sun started to rise, the heat of the morning started to hit us as we made our way into a small alley of mangroves where two more crocodiles were spotted. One, a large male about three and a half metres long, was sitting on a beach with its mouth agape looking very menacing indeed. I could not believe the amount of wildlife around in this harsh land, as we spotted six crocodiles in total, twelve different species of birds, fiddler crabs, mudskippers and one big eagle ray that nearly jumped into the boat. I found it hard to believe that two and a half hours could go by so quickly and before I knew it, we headed back to Silver Discover for a well-earned drink.
We meet the first groups of guests back from their Mitchell Falls helicopter flights. They were full of descriptions of the spectacular scenery seen from the air, the falls themselves, and the excitement of flying in helicopters with no doors. We heard some guests even managed the "Mitchell Falls Marathon" – photographing the Falls from all three lookouts and having a freshwater plunge.
I was keenly anticipating the afternoon cruises up the Hunter River and Porosus Creek as it was likely to produce another wildlife show and I was not disappointed. The first fleet of seven Zodiacs set off and soon stopped to watch Manta Rays feeding in the shallow fast-flowing currents wrapping around Naturalists Island. Although the water was murky we could clearly see the contrasting black back and white belly as the mantas somersaulted on the spot, sieving small animals from near the water surface. Wow -this was good.
Next it was crocodile time with a nice croc cruising in the shallow water near a large mud bank unconcerned by our presence. Another was basking on a small mud island with its mouth open to regulate its temperature. I manoeuvred the zodiac closer for photographs. The croc watched us with its yellow eye and twitched a leg to show it was not a statue.
During the second cruise another crocodile allowed us to watch it fish along the water's edge and we got close enough for dramatic pictures, without us getting grounded on the soft mud. I nosed the Zodiac close to a mud back so we could watch mudskippers in action. These amazing fish take water into gill pouches and then walk, using their leg-like front fins, onto the exposed mud to feed and display colourful fins. This is truly a fish out of water that belongs that way.
Birds were not prolific but were highlighted by six Buff-banded Rails, a Great-billed Heron and three Mangrove Herons. These are the largest and smallest of the Australian herons. By now the sun was lowering and the cliffs surrounding us were glowing. The combination of iron-rich sandstone and the bushfire smoke helped the sun turn the cliffs first bright orange and then red. I love this time of day.
As I pointed the Zodiac towards Silver Discoverer, highlighted against a yellow sky, I felt privileged to have experienced another day in the remote and spectacular Kimberley.
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