– Mary River NT


Discovering the Mary River NT


Map of Mary River
Map showing location of Mary River and Darwin, NT.

Right: Inset map showing location of Darwin and the NT, Australia.map australia

The Mary River should probably not be called a “river” compared to others in the south of the continent. During the Dry Season it consists of a series of various billabongs (waterholes), lagoons, paperbark and monsoon forests, meandering across wide, flat floodplains filled with wildlife. In the Wet Season it turns into wide expanses of water as the river floods across the plains, which allows the famed barramundi to range far and wide to feed and spawn.

On a historical note, this is the river that explorer John McDouall Stuart followed on his last expedition to cross the continent.. He actually made 6 expeditions into the vast interior of Australia but it wasn’t until the last one which took him 9 months to travel from Adelaide in South Australia. His route basically followed the river system north, passing near the present day Bark Hut Inn on the Arnhem Highway to Point Stuart on the coast where he planted the Union Jack flag on 24th July 1862. He became quite ill during the expedition and never fully recovered his health. He died in 1866 in England.

stuart routeLeft: Map tracing the route taken by John McDouall Stuart. (Image from NT Parks and Wildlife Information on Point Stuart Coastal Reserve).

The Mary River National Park is located 150km east of Darwin. The river itself extends about 120km inland,, however there’s no defined mouth to the river, rather a couple of creeks through mangroves giving access to the sea.

Together with my wife Delma, her sister Diane and her husband Mark, and good friends Neil and Marg Gleeson we hired a houseboat for a short expedition of a few days in early September 2013.

What follows are some of the photos taken of the wildlife from the houseboat.

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The Jabiru is a tall wading bird that belongs to the stork family with a distinctive iridescent head and neck, and red legs. It lives mostly in wetlands foraging on small prey. Males and females only differ by the colour of the eye (female/yellow, male/brown). They mate for life and have strong family bonds. With no voice-box they communicate by clapping their bills. The saltwater crocodile has been resident in the Top End for 100 million years, and believed to have existed as long ago as 250 million years ago. They are a fearsome predator and fatal attacks on humans, while not common are not rare either. They can grow to 7 metres, weigh over 1 tonne and can live up to 70 years. The average big saltie will usually be up to 5 metres or so. The average density of crocs in the NT is about 5 per km. In the Mary River system it’s about 20 per km.
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This little croc isn’t too worried by us. But you could be looking at a murky pond of water and not see one – yet they can see you, hear you and smell you. And they can explode out of the water at lightning speed. A Cormorant quickly breaks the surface nearby to gulp some air, then dives again hunting for fish.
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Lily pads help to keep the temperature of the water down and also prevent algae blooms by blocking sunlight. They also provide excellent habitats for marine invertebrates. A clump of pandanus in the late afternoon sun. This is a very useful plant. The fruit can be eaten provided it is prepared carefully and can be used as a dental floss. The leaves can be used for food flavouring, drinks and in some medicinals. They can be used to make all sorts of thatched items ranging from baskets to canoe sails and roofs.
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The late afternoon sun sets over the Corroboree billabong. Pandanus mirrored in the still water in the early morning.
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A flock of Magpie Geese. These are widely distributed across the north of Australia and along the East Coast. The can live in noisy flocks sometimes up to a few thousand birds. They mate for life and the male constructs the nest, but he may have two females. Science considers it a “living fossil” and is distantly related to 150 species of ducks, geese and swans. A group of Pied Cormorants.
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A pair of White Bellied Sea Eagles. Immature birds are mottled pale brown and take 5 years to mature. They’re not actually true eagles but giant kites. They can grow up to a wingspan of 2.2m A water lily flower. Closely related to the lotus flower from which the ancient Egyptians created the first known perfumes.
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A glimpse of the flood plains lining the river. The rainy season can dump 2m or more over coastal areas and these areas become like inland seas. An Intermediate Egret belongs to the heron family of birds. They average about 90cm tall, and not to be confused with the Little Egret and Great Egret. It’s more attractive during the breeding season when it grows striking white plumage.
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A pair of Rajah Shelducks aka Burdekin ducks. They form long term bonds and usually seen as lone pairs (like this) or in small flocks. Lily pads can completely choke up the billabongs during the Dry Season but they are killed back during the Wet Season when flood waters cover them.
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A small colony of Black Flying Fox aka fruit bats roosting in the tree centre photo. It’s among the largest bats in the world and native to Australia, PNG and Indonesia. They’re noisy and potentially fatal to humans through transmitted disease. There’s always some fool who doesn’t know the meaning of courtesy to others on the water.
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Another more sedate method of being on the water for a day’s outing. Corroborree billabong is a popular place both for sight-seeing and fishing.
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A Little Egret hunts around the lily pads. The Brolga belong to the crane family of birds and can grow up to 1.3m and a wingspan of up to 2.4m. They’re usually seen as a pair or small family group but can gather into large flocks during the non-breeding season – but even then they tend to stay together as a family unit. They bond for life and are well known for their ritualised dancing.
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A Comb Crested Jacana is commonly seen walking on top of the lily pads, spreading it’s weight by use of long toes. The females are a little larger than the males. They feed on seeds and aquatic insects. The males tend to the young. A sea eagle’s nest built of twigs.



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