Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random Adventure #5 - Fogg Dam, via Darwin, Northern Territory

Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve#
The muggy tropical night enclosed me in its warm fist, immediately bonding the long-sleeved light shirt I wore to my sweaty glowing skin. A squadron of mosquitoes lined me up and zoomed in for the kill – until they reached the tropical strength DEET forcefield surrounding me and fell back, choking on the blood they'd sucked from other, less wary souls.

In reacting with human skin, Bushmans insect repellent displays many of the fine qualities of, say, paint stripper - but its ability to keep the insects at bay is legendary. Just as well, given any self-respecting biting, stinging or bloodsucking pest would easily have broached the negligible defence the extra layer my shirt offered.
Fogg Dam Waterlilies - by day!#
The torch's searchlight beam swung over the endless swamp catching the glow from scores of red eyes gleaming among the water lilies.
Happily, they were only freshwater crocodiles …
Nonetheless, I edged closer to Pilchard and inside the protective circle of light cast by the lead ranger's lantern.

As if that'd make any difference were a rogue saltie* to fling itself upon us from the water's edge, intent on malice! The skin-bubbling layer of Bushmans insect repellent probably wouldn't be much protection either.
Luckily given the dam's fresh water, a saltie was unlikely.  Statistically, anyway.
The access wall that bisects Fogg Dam, a conservation reserve 70km east of Northern Territory capital Darwin via Humpty Doo**, wasn't that far above the water level. And the water lilies, by day so beautiful – 'jesus' birds (aka Comb-crested Jacana) hopping from leaf to leaf – looked much more sinister by night when one's*** overactive imagination turned to the multiple menaces they could be masking!
Black-necked Stork, Fogg Dam, Northern Territory#
To everyone's disappointment (except mine), the ranger's discoveries so far had been pretty tame. A frog or two. Olive backed python. Probably nothing we couldn't have seen back in the caravan park. Even the night herons remained elusive.
The lead ranger kept searching. Keelback snake (Tropidonophis mairii) apparently common in the dam and unusual among snakes for the ability to shed its tail like a gecko when threatened, wasn't making an appearance either.
As a daytime destination, the twitcher's paradise that is Fogg Dam was MUCH more productive – at least from Pilchard's point of view. Attracting a vast array of birds, even during the mid-year dry season, sightings of many of the Territory's usual suspects including Black-necked Stork (aka Jabiru), Magpie Goose, Wandering and Plumed Whistling Duck, Australian Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, White-necked Heron, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Rufous banded Honeyeater, Little Kingfisher, Crimson Finch - are common, ensuring its status as internationally significant wetland. Strategically placed bird hides along the wall and on boardwalks and tracks around the dam allow twitchers to do their thing in shaded comfort.
Black-necked Stork - close up!#
And however bright and hot, a day time visit was successful from my perspective too. If there WAS anything lethal lurking under the lilies, at least I could see it coming. Just whose crazy idea was this park ranger-guided night time tour, anyway?!

In the distance a light bobbed its way across the dam wall towards us.
'Must be Dr Mick****,' the ranger muttered. 'He might know where the snakes are.'
Bummer, I thought – and may have even said aloud. What kind of psychopath person 'knows where the snakes are', anyway?
A scientist at a major Aussie university, Dr Mick did night tours of Fogg Dam for fun. AND study, of course. As he drew nearer, he gave what can only be described as a Rebel Yell and plunged down the slippery slope to the water without warning.
'Got him!' he cried, rushing back to the group with a – yes, OMIGOD YES – a snake grasped in his hand. A water python! What was more disturbing – that the snake had been within a few metres of the group – and NO ONE NOTICED?? OR … that Dr Mick had fearlessly rushed down to the water's edge to pluck a snake from it's night hunt amongst the crocodiles, thereby risking the chance that this might make it ANGRY???
I'm such a girl.
Magpie Geese and White-necked Heron, Fogg Dam#
'Seen any keelbacks?' the lead ranger asked hopefully, perhaps conscious of the relative lack of verminous wildlife we'd seen up close so far.
'Yeah, I've got one here in my pocket,' Dr Mick replied. I laughed merrily. How cool! This guy personified the laconic Aussie sense of humour!! A perfect setting for it too – a mixed group of trusting tourists on a balmy Northern Territory evening led by a ranger onto a dam wall a couple of metres above water seething with crocodiles, snakes and who knew what else. Almost an Agatha Christiesque murder mystery plot!
But then he reached into his pocket and withdrew a – yes, OMIGOD YES – a snake grasped in his hand!
He wasn't joking.  Sadly.
Water lilies, Fogg Dam, Northern Territory#
As we 'admired' the strongly keeled scales (whatever in heck that means) of the fortunately non-venemous little critter the thought crossed my mind that perhaps this wasn't an example of the magic of the tropics expressed through coincidence. Maybe our encounter with Dr Mick was – dare I say – scripted??
After all, I've never seen anyone else catch a falling snake and put it in his pocket – before or since.
So to this day, several years after our June 2008 Fogg Dam adventure, the jury's still out!
And yep – you guessed it – one day we'll go back to find out for sure!
#All pix in this post by Pilchard
*Saltwater crocodile – much more dangerous and aggressive than its more benign freshwater cousin
** Yes, there really IS a town called 'Humpty Doo' AND it's got a bakery!
*** Yeah, MINE!
**** Not his real name
Want more info?
Yep, I'm sticking with the snake theme again for Our World Tuesday!  If you're not into snakes - or even if you are - head over there to see other wonders of the world!

45 comments:

  1. Hello Red:
    Well, Dr Mick sounds like the perfect party guest to us. After all, mostly people expect rabbits to be produced from hats....but snakes from pockets, now that is something else entirely. Still, we have come to realise that Australians know how to do things with style!

    Fogg Dam looks to be such an interesting place but we are certain that we should not have been brave enough for the night tours. The wonderful array of birdlife is fantastic, a twitcher's dream indeed!!

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  2. Great post!

    Happily, they were only freshwater crocodiles …

    I've done a little surfing in my time so sharks are no big concern but alligators just freak me totally out.

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  3. Hi there - you may be pleased to know that the mosquitoes from Fog Dam managed to find me down in Victoria recently! They were feasting as I took the hale bale shots in the post before the Bronzewing.

    Had not heard about the hoopoe - such a mystical bird, was one of those once in a life time birds for the UK when I was kid - I have never managed to see one!

    Cheers - Stewart M

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  4. Benign freshwater...I don't think so, just less of a chance.

    We saw an erect monitor there, which had me quite excited. Also a horse carcass, half in and half out of the water. What beast can kill a horse? Not a freshwater, methinks. We also saw a bird kind of disappear underwater before our eyes. Duck dived perhaps with a large splash, or maybe not.

    Pilchard is rather good with the camera too.

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  5. A photographers paradise - wonderful captures of the black-necked stork - Wow! to have legs that long. So pleased you had Mr fearless Professor with you!!

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  6. Another great post with all of the elements that make up the best adventures: Mozzies, salties, fearless and intrepid explorers, exotic lagoons, beautiful birds, and trouser snakes.

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  7. Hi,
    Great photo's, and I love the falling snake, pocket trick. :)I haven't heard about that one before, I think maybe a bit of a set up there. LOL.

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  8. What a nice place for holiday, mozzies the size of elephants and thick as inkle weavers, snakes in pockets and lurking crocks, couldn't think of a nicer place to go.
    Yep, that's Australia all over . . .

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  9. i have always dreamed of going to australia and reading your blog and looking at the photos make me yearn more to go to there.

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  10. Like Erwin, I have always wanted to go to Australia, but I'm afraid of flying and the flight Rome-Australia is about...24hrs!!! Beautiful pictures!!!

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  11. Saltwater crocodiles and keel-something snakes and mosquitoes that zoom.....at night yet.
    And my idea of adventure is sitting inside on a sofa watching "House Finches" with binoculars. Now this is done from the inside of a slider door.
    But yet, I may have had a go at it in my springier days.
    Better sightings on your next trip.:)

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  12. Wow, what a great photos in here, love looking the fresh water, lilies and the stork skinny long legs and reading your story and the adventures in this place.

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  13. What a beautiful place. The waterlilies look so pretty...
    You have narrated the place with a clear voice, I feel I have visited it.
    Thanks for sharing:)

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  14. Awww, we used to love visiting Fog Dam during our Darwin years (end of 1994 to early 1996).

    And yes, we'd chuckle at Humpty Doo but quieten down when we realised that we'd spent three months in Fannie Bay....

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  15. Glad you finally made it to South Florida but you are using funny terms like Crocodile and Gecko. All the rest of this might as well be my back yard.

    If you ever do make it over we will teach you about Gators and Anole lizards. By the way - the Rebel Yell is 100% USA but feel free to borrow it. Great for sporting events or snake catching anywhere in the world.

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  16. Swamps scare me, but at the same time, they fascinate me too! Just look at all those various flora and fauna!

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  17. Bonza photos by Pilchard. I see Crocodile Dundee is alive and well and now has new talent as a magician conjuring up trouser snakes :-).

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  18. I always feel as though I've had a little vacation when I finish reading your blogs. Thanks. I needed that!

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  19. @Jayne & Lance - Haha! But not everyone would appreciate this Aussie style - so maybe a party guest for people you don't like very much?!? One day I may be brave enough to get my money's worth and actually TOUCH the snake!
    @Beach Bum - What do you mean, sharks are no real concern?!?! Better get rid of THAT attitude before you try surfing downunder!!
    @JBar - Thanx, I'll let Pilchard know!
    @Stewart M - Sadly, it's a good year for mozzies this year!! Here's the hoopoe in OZ URL if you're interested ... http://bird-o.com/2011/11/11/another-first-eurasian-hoopoe-in-broome/
    @Andrew - The dam almost needs an underwater CCTV type cam so you know what's going on down there! Sadly, no erect monitors for us though ...

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  20. @Dianne - HHHMMMmmm... I'm not so sure about Mr Fearless! Black-necked stork is the only OZ stork - it's always so cool to see them!
    @FruitCake - Hahaha! Very Pandora in the Congo of me, I now see!! But you're too kind to point out that these elements are also common to a classic melodrama!!!
    @Magsx2 - I guess there are some who hang around swamps by night by choice ... maybe it's just us to whom it seems unlikely??!!
    @Arija - it's only now, reading your comment that I realise how appealing I've made it sound!!
    @Erwin - Well, make it happen then, mate!! Visiting here for the virtual tour is the next best thing though!!

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  21. @Francesca - HHHMMMmmm... yes, I see your point!! But a 24 hour nap just means you'll be fresh for all the adventure when you get here!!!
    @Manzanita - Ah, c'mon! Your youthful adventures would've put mine to shame, I'm sure!!
    @Romina - Why, thank you!! Drop in anytime for more!!
    @Arti - then my work is done!! Have a wonderful day!!
    @Kath - HAhahaha!! Yeah, that'd shut ANYONE up!! I mention Humpty Doo because it's almost unique in the NT - not many bakeries anywhere else!!

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  22. @SFlaGuy - Maybe so, Billy Idol notwithstanding ... but I'll bet you a Yankee dollar THIS Rebel Yeller could out-yell almost anyone!! Furthermore, as the exact sound of the yell has been lost in the mists of time it's unlikely the Aussie yeller was influenced by his US counterparts!!
    @Aleah - those of us who know swamps to be potentially full of nasties are right to be afraid. VERY afraid!!
    @Windsmoke - hahaha!! Was THAT what scared the other wildlife away?!?!
    @Diane - Ah, I hope it was a good one!!

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  23. Dr Mick looks a bit like Steve Irwin. He is very brave.
    A few weeks ago I had an Australian visitor who showed her photos to me. In one of them there was a snake, a python. She said :"Yes, that's our house snake, for he always comes to stay with us in winter."He doesn't bother us".
    I never liked snakes. When I lived in Indonesia I was downright afraid of them.
    Well thank you for your visit and comment.

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  24. I think you're a wonderful writer. I very much enjoyed your night-time trek at Fogg Dam.

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  25. Again you have some amazing pis here - feel like I went on a little trip with you! Loved it. sandie

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  26. @Reader Wil - Brave? Or perhaps foolhardy??!! I too had a house snake when living O/S - could hear it slithering around in the ceiling!! Wouldn't want one now, though!!
    @George - Welcome, and thanx!! Come back ANYTIME with comments like that!!
    @Chatty Crone - Virtual travel gives you the benefits of travel without the danger!

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  27. Great story, I loved reading it and seeing the photos. Crocodiles worry me, but we have poisonous snakes, mountain lions, and bears where I live, and I've seen all three in the wild.

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  28. In the words of Indiana Jones, "Snakes?? I hate snakes..."

    yikes!

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  29. Your post sure warms me up and has me curious about your part of the world.

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  30. "Only freshwater crocodiles" And

    "yeah I've got one in my pocket" are the best lines ever.

    I don't think you were duped. I think that was just a fine example of a fair dinkum Aussie wildlife nut:)

    Sounds like a fun trip apart from the mossies. The fabulous birds are well worth going for even if you do have to put up with a few creepy reptiles!

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  31. @Al - OK, you win! But crocs are probably on a par with either mountain lions or bears - not both!
    @Jen - you & me both, girlfriend!!! I LOATHE them! But you can't live in OZ and pretend they don't exist ...
    @Sandy C - Thanx! Drop by anytime for a sunshine fix!
    @Annabel - Yeah, the snake in the pocket still makes us laugh!! I don't think it was staged either - just one of those wonderful coincidences that make travelling so fantastic!!

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  32. You tell a good Aussie tale. You had my skin creeping with the thought of a squadron of mossies, crocodiles and slimy snakes. Ugh I would rather be tucked in a safe bed rather than trotting around a tropical wet land at night.

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  33. I'd be right with you Red. Ready to give you a shove into the saltie's mouth...that Bushman deet would make it spew! I use Skin-so-soft Bugguard and keeps mozzies, tsetse flies and mopani bees away. Can't lie down though, strange the ants seem to love it in Namibia.

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  34. @diane b - I made it sound worse than it was because I'm a drama queen!!!
    @Jim - chivalry isn't dead, I see!! And who knows what would have happened had I laid down covered in DEET??!!

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  35. This is so beautiful.
    Could tell that to your Outback and to your Victoria lighthouse posts as well.

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  36. Ah the sweaty sogginess of Darwin! It reminds me of Memphis, except we have way more crime and gangs and prostitutes.

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  37. I have been away far too long from reading your amazing log. Great adventure indeed and makes my urban encounter with a python seem rather tame.
    I must get "out west" one day.

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  38. @Carola - Thank you!! The only thing they've all got in common is their wild Aussie beauty!
    @Memphis Steve - Maybe if you teletransported the crime gangs & ho's to the swamp ... ??!!
    @Nikki - Always a pleasure to see you! Encounters with snakes are NEVER dull! And 'Go west, young (wo)man' is a great piece of advice for Aussie travel!!

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  39. Snakes and mosquitos - I must go there!

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  40. We have wood storks in Florida. Yours are prettier!

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  41. great photos! i can imagine my photos if i am there. haha!

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  42. Haven't been to the Northern Territory yet. But the thought of getting up close with snakes, crocs, spiders, mosquitos - irresistible. Really! Well... perhaps not the mozzies.

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  43. What a wonderful wetland. There must be hundreds of birds sometimes.. Very nice pictures!
    Thanks again for showing me Australia!

    Greetings from Switzerland
    Have a nice weekend
    Yvonne and Raphael

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  44. @John in France - and the crocodiles round it off nicely!!!
    @Sallie - These are the only storks native to OZ - they're magnificent!!
    @Gladys - Thanx! I'll tell Pilchard!! I'm not so good at photographing the dangerous bits!!!
    @Sophie - Bet you can't wait!!! It's not THAT bad - I'm just a drama queen!
    @Yvonne & Raphael - This seems like a long, long way from Switzerland!! In the wet season there are THOUSANDS of birds there!

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