Kimberley Wildlife 2020 – Part 2 of 4 – Windjana Gorge – Freshwater Crocodile.

Jukun, Bunuba Country

If the crocodile findeth a man by the brim of the water, or by the cliff, he slayeth him if he may, and then weepeth upon him and swalloweth him up at the last – Bartholomew Anglicus

Continued from Kimberley Wildlife 2020 – Part 1 of 4 – Heading North – Rothschild Rock Wallaby

Broome – 3 nights 17th – 19th August.

Broome Japanese Cemetary.

Kimberley Wildlife

The drive North had been a long one, with five thousand kilometres already covered, but it was worth it to be back in Broome and the Kimberley. Due to the covid situation a different Kimberley from the trip in 2018 – Kimberley Adventures to Bachsten Creek and the Mitchell Plateau

Indigenous communities and land were off limits to protect these vunerable populations from the pandemic, in addition many businesses had not opened for the season due to a lack of workers and both interstate, international visitors. Broome however was very busy and filled with Perthites exchanging the cold Winter for the tropical North of the state.

I had allowed three nights in Broome to recuperate after the long drive North, the first two nights camped at the very crowded Cable Beach Caravan Park, then after arrival of my partner Lorenz the third night in a motel. Excellent friends of mine Gordon and Gerald were in town and accordingly we indulged in long early morning walks along Cable Beach.

During one such walk we came across a venomous but docile Yellow-bellied Sea Snake at the tides edge. This reptile had clearly been in an altercation with another marine creature, for a set of bite marks on the body were clearly visible.

Yellow-bellied Sea Snake.

Kimberley Wildlife

Both nights at the caravan park I spotlighted around the immediate Cable Beach area. Black Flying Foxes were common feeding in the trees of the caravan park, indeed their squabbles were heard long into the night. The Northern subspecies of the Brushtail Possum was reasonably common with five animals seen in a few hours over two nights. This subspecies (arnhemensis) of Australia’s “top end” is a smaller possum, short-haired, rufous buff in colour with a sparsely furred blackish tail.

Northern Brushtail Possum.

Kimberley Wildlife

Once Lorenz had flown in we set about making last minute preparations for 8 days camping on the Gibb River Road (GRR.) The first 3 nights at Windjana Gorge, followed by 3 nights at Mount Hart, the final 2 nights at Silent Grove Campsite/ Bell Gorge. The leg would then culminate in Broome for 3 nights before our separate journeys back to Perth.

Thursday morning was an early start for the two and a half hour drive from Broome to Derby, where we stopped for fuel before setting off on the GRR. The 144km drive from Derby to Windjana Gorge is currently sealed nearly the entire length, the few unsealed parts had been recently graded, in fact all the roads travelled in the Western Kimberley on this trip were in excellent condition, the exception being the road from Silent Grove to Bell Gorge (more on this later.)

Windjana Gorge – 3 nights – 20th – 22nd August.

Kimberley Wildlife

A late morning arrival at Windjana Campsite was met with searing temperatures, these were to be a feature of the three days. Although the hot temperatures between 10 and 3, translated to very pleasant evening and nightime temperatures. Despite the baking heat we took a short walk into the gorge to find abundant Freshwater Crocodiles soaking up the sun on the surface of the main pool and surrounding sandbanks.

Freshwater Crocodiles – Windjana Gorge.

Map to show location of Windjana Gorge Campground.

Once camp was set up it was late afternoon, and with temperatures dipping we returned to the gorge with camp chairs, to watch the amazing spectacle of the setting sun lighting up the gorge walls. On the descent into the gorge we disturbed a beautiful Short-eared Rock Wallaby which propped nicely on a rock.

Short-eared Rock Wallaby.

KImberley Wildlife

Alone in the gorge for sunset, it was amazing to have it to ourselves. Sat surrounded by 100m sheer rock walls was like sitting in an amphitheatre. The late afternoon silence interrupted only by Nankeen Kestrel chicks begging from a nest high up in the gorge wall or the occasional flocks of noisy Corellas flying up the gorge to roost.

The following morning I took the 7km return Gorge Walk thats follows the Lennard River through Windjana Gorge. At this early hour I had the gorge to myself and the birdcall eminating from the riparian vegetation was stupendous.

Rock Wallabies darted off to the safety of the gorge walls on the approach on my footsteps, whilst the morning sun on the higher reaches of the gorge was magnificent. Previously in 2018 I had found a roosting colony of Black Flying Foxes but disappointedly this colony had now dispersed.

Early Morning Light at Windjana Gorge.

Kimberley Wildlife

This day was the hottest of the entire trip with temperatures nudging 41C by early afternoon, it was fortunate we had allocated a rest day as activity was impossible in the heat. Relief came after 3pm, when once again we sat in the gorge for the late afternoon kaleidoscope of colours created by the setting sun. Thirsty Agile Wallabies were plentiful drinking from the pools in the gorge.

Lorenz being a truly excellent cook, dinner was a hearty affair. After the previous early night it was time to strike out to find the nightime inhabitants of Windjana. The calls of Boobook Owls had been incessant during the previous night so I wasn’t surprised to encounter two Boobooks on the spotlight.

Boobook Owl.

Kimberley Wildlife

At the base of the cliffs the area adjacent to Windjana Campsite is littered with fallen limestone boulders from the Napier Range. Exploration of a small cave formed by a collection of these boulders revealed a huge gecko.

The Northern Knob-tailed Gecko immediately brought to mind the creature Gollum from the JRR Tolkien Lord of the Rings trilogy. I had no idea that terrestrial geckos attained such a large size!

Northern Knob-tailed Gecko.

Kimberley Wildlife

The still gorge waters at night displayed the scale of the Crocodilian inhabitants, and fifty sets of silent yellow reptilian eyes reflected on the water, an awesome spectacle. Hawking over the skies of the gorge were a multitude of bats, and using the thermal imager Northern Cave Bats were located eminating from a fissure in the gorge wall.

Northern Cave Bat.

Kimberley Wildlife

Other Kimberley Wildlife seen on the spotlight were numerous Agile Wallabies and Short-eared Rock Wallabies.

The last day at Windjana Gorge a visit to nearby Tunnel Creek was deliberately timed to coincide with the hottest part of the day. Tunnel Creek is famous as the hideout used by the inspirational Aboriginal leader Jandamarra and was the scene of his final stand on the 1st April 1897.

The water worn tunnel runs for 750m beneath the limesone of the Napier Range and although containing several permanent pools it is possible to transit the entire length of the cave, sharing the water with the resident Freshwater Crocodiles.

Tunnel Creek.

Kimberley Wildlife

Lorenz was understandably apprehensive about close encounters with crocodiles, so I gave assurance that on a previous visit to Tunnel Creek the only sign of saurian presence was a set of eyes in the far reaches of the cave. To make a complete liar out of me, as we scrambled down to the cave entrance, there was a Freshwater Crocodile laying across a rock at the cave entrance.

Freshwater Crocodile.

Kimberley Wildlife

Continuing into the depths of the cave a special birthday treat in was in store. Curled up on a sandy bank was a gnarled old Olive Python. The Olive Python being one of Australia’s largest snakes attaining lengths of five metres. They are a non-venomous snake killing their prey instead by constriction.

Olive Python.

Kimberley Wildlife

Midway along the length of the cave a roof collapse meant natural light spilled into the cave. Nearby was a colony of roosting Black Flying Foxes or fruit bats. These megabats are the largest of the bat species found at Tunnel Creek and disperse upto 50km each night searching for flowering / fruiting trees.

Roof Collapse Tunnel Creek.

Kimberley Wildlife

Black Flying Fox roosting on a stalactite.

Kimberley Wildlife

Another species of bat found at Tunnel Creek is the Common Sheathtail Bat. This species usually roost singly, typically clinging to the cave wall rather than the roof, in the typical posture seen below.

Common Sheathtail Bat.

Kimberley Wildlife

At the end of the tunnel you emerge blinking into a beautiful tree lined creek. Exploring around the cave entrance we found indigenous rock art, and basking on the creek bank were two Merten’s Water Monitors.

Indigenous Rock Art.

Kimberley Wildlife

At this beautiful spot we sat on a boulder for a rest. As we took it all in we were joined by an eagle-eyed couple I had met spotlighting the previous night. These guys had managed to find what I had failed to find in two visits to Tunnel Creek, the Ghost Bat colony.

Ghost Bats are Australia’s largest microbat and are voracious predators of insects, geckoes, frogs, small birds, mammals and other bats. This colony was very high up in the roof of the cave (20 metrers above) and numbered around thirty bats. It was possible to view them well using red light but under white light they readily dispersed. This mammal had long been on my most wanted list I was most grateful for the tip.

Ghost Bat Colony.

Kimberley Wildlife

The worst of the heat was over by the time we made the 35km return journey to Windjana Campsite, and so once again a magical few hours were spent late afternoon in the gorge enjoying sunset. The day had one last treat in store when on the descent into the gorge when we encountered a Short-eared Rock Wallaby with a joey in pouch.

Kimberley Wildlife

It had been an amazing three days at Winjana Gorge / Tunnel Creek and even better than I had remembered it, tomorrow we were to drive the 100km to Mount Hart Station for the next leg of the trip – Kimberley Wildlife 2020 – Part 3 of 4 – Mount Hart Station – Northern Quoll


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