The next morning, we were turned over to a different guide, a naturalized Australian from Germany, who took us to Kakadu National Park. He delivered to me the famous line, "We're not going to stop for every bird!!"
Yes, he drove right by a pair of Brolgas (the first I had ever seen), but he did stop for every Frilled Lizard. (It's tough being the only birder on a tour!)
This guide had been selected because he was an expert in Aborigine culture. He certainly demonstrated it during our tour of the cave paintings at Kakadu. As we stood back and awaited our turn, I could overhear the other guide giving a vague, almost belittling description of the artwork to his group. When our guide spoke, he spoke with detail, and the authority of someone who had actually discussed them with Aborigine people. He knew the Aborigine Dreamtime stories, and a great deal about the characters in their mythology, some of which are depicted in the cave art.
The next day, we set out for an Aborigine reserve a few hundred miles south, where we would be spending the next few days. Our guide was good friends with the tribe, and we would be camping on their land.
On the way, we stopped to take another boat trip, this time of the Katherine Gorge. The tour guide was under the impression that I wouldn't be impressed (since this wasn't the Grand Canyon ), but I really was. The scenery was marvelous, and I saw birds! An Olive-backed Oriole, a Blue-eyed Honeater, and a colony of Fairy Martins, nesting in a cave right off the river bank.
We arrived late in the evening, and were assigned to our cabins. Over the next three days, we spent the days exploring the outback by bus, and at night, sat around the campfire and were treated to Dreamtime stories (told by the guide as well as a tribe member) and dances by the young children. One evening, a young man returned from the city to give us a virtuoso performance on the didgeridoo.
One day, we also stopped at a watering hole for a swim. This felt so good after driving around all morning in 100 degree heat in a not-quite air conditioned bus. On this day, there were two guides along, our German guide, and a tribe member. Our guide suggested that we all take a swim, and then called to us that lunch was served. As we emerged from the water, the Aborigine stood there, staring at us, with a very suspicious-looking grin on his face.
Then he began to laugh outright. He kept saying something about crocodiles.
... that this watering hole was the home to 19 crocodiles.
We all thought he was joking, of course. There was nothing in the brochure about "swimming with crocs".
Then one of them surfaced...
Well, thank goodness they were fresh-water crocodiles, the kind that doesn't eat people. Later, when we hiked around the area, we looked straight down and sure enough, there were a dozen crocodiles, now floating in the very places we had been swimming. Our guide explained that when people show up, the crocs submerge, and can stay underwater for long periods of time. But, no, they don't eat people. That's the exclusive domain of the much larger saltwater crocodile.
On the final day of the tour, we were taken out into the bush and one of the tribal leaders showed us how to find food like bush carrots and bush potatoes. They tried for the second time to make me eat green ants (they always singled me out for this), but I refused once again. I wasn't that brave. Also, considering my luck so far, I didn't want to add intestinal problems to my list.
Because the reserve was far interior and more arid, we saw many more birds during those days: Galahs (Roseate Cockatoos), Great Bowerbirds, Blue-eyed Honeyeaters, beautiful turquoise Hooded Parrots, black-and-yellow Figbirds, and many others.
New South Wales
I would have around four days in the Sydney area, and I decided to first head for the Blue Mountains. After I mentioned this to a few people, they reminded me that a young, single, female backpacker had evidently been murdered up there. I was immune to such reactive nonsense by now. After all, I had sat within striking distance an adult saltwater crocodile! I had gone swimming with freshwater crocodiles. No mere human would ever frighten me again!
The Blue Mountains were gorgeous. I investigated a botanical gardens, and spotted quite a few birds there, including currawongs and Eastern Spinebills. Along the road back, I also found some Red-browed Waxbills and a New Holland Honeyeater .
South of Sydney, I noticed a pond in a municipal park that was covered with waterfowl, such as Gray Ducks, Maned Ducks and Eurasian Coots. Later, as I went to see the Captain Cook memorial, I was treated to a flock of Eastern Rosellas very near the parking lot. In other places, I saw Crimson Rosellas flying around in the flowering trees. They were so brilliantly colored, they're very hard to miss, even when trying to concentrate of driving!
I spent Christmas and a few extra days in Sydney with some new friends from the outback tour. By now, I was exhausted, and for all intents and purposes stopped birding. We went to see Olde Sydney Town, a historical recreation of the old prison colony, and a Reptile Park, where I got to see koalas, feed the wallabies, and view a big tank full of... American Alligators?
I flew back to LAX on New Year's eve. We were served champagne as the clock struck midnight over Fiji. Then we crossed the International Dateline, and it was 1995 again, and I arrived home just in time to celebrate New Year's Eve yet again.