Pine Creek, Northern Territory, Australia

Pine Creek; an instant home

There are very few towns in the Northern Territory. Alice Springs in the middle and Darwin (and environs) in the north pretty much fill the bill. However, there are smallish communities that are quite endearing; Tennant Creek, Katherine, Timber Creek, and Pine Creek are four. It is no wonder that they are pretty much all named after a water source; this is a part of the world where you’ll die quickly without water. We knew of Pine Creek from the “where to go birding” books and were looking forward to a visit; we stayed for three days in this small but entertaining town. We found a group of restored railroad cars that were turned into a mid-town motel. Very comfortable.
Pine Creek has a central parkland that has a museum, picnic tables, and water; everything a birder needs for a nice visit. The railway museum was always closed but many of the exhibits were out doors anyway. The picnic tables had locals and travelers at them pretty much all day but we often ate lunch in the car watching a group of Australian birds. But the water, several pools surrounded by lush vegetation, attracted us and a multitude of birds as well. The water is the big deal here. they actually water the central parkland strip each morning making it very attractive and surprisingly green in a land of (seasonal) browns.

The blog page on termites (see previous entry) was done with termite mounds from the Pine Creek area. The local cemetery was a birding destination and it turned out to have local color and termite mounds as well; trifecta for sure. It was also near the town’s sewage treatment plant (why do all the other places in the world have treatment plants in every small town – and we in the US continually complain about costs and rarely build them). The cemetery was dry and dusty with as many termite mounds as there were head stones. Three of the head stones were done with the deceased specifically in mind. Jim Honeton (immediately below) was obviously a miner or prospector. The second stone, for Shorty, is more explicit but less informative. Obviously Shorty was a beloved (or at least memorable) town character. 40,000 blow flies!!! Hmm; lack of bathing facilities, sloppy eating habits, ……. poor Shorty for whatever reason.

The aforementioned, and aforeblogged, termites were a Pine Creek hit. However, like most of the Top End, the most obvious insect was the Green Ant. Their softball-sized leaf nests were everywhere. The colony of ants can encompass a hundred small nests and number millions of ants. This is an obligatory tree-dwelling ant species. They predate insects of all sorts and “farm” honeydew insects for the sweet liquids they give off. In order to build their nests, a line of ants, shoulder to shoulder, will reach out and grab the edge of a leaf. In unison they will pull it inward creating a curl in the leaf like a breaking wave. They will then stitch it together with a stream of silk given off by larvae carried to the work site and “applied” to the folded leaf. It is a remarkable effort by dozens of members of the colony. If the leaf they want to fold is too far away to deal with, they will grab each other by the middle linking up in a long chain that finally reaches the desired leaf looking like a daisy chain of paper clips. 
There are hundreds of Green Ants in each of the scores of small nests that make up the much larger colony.
The Red-winged Parrot was a regular member of the avian group using the town’s central park lands. This species seemed to favor mangoes and spent a good deal of time peeling them.
Fran like thrashers (none in Australia), kingfishers, and cuckoos. The largest and strangest of the thirteen Australian cuckoos is the Pheasant Coucal. This bird is about 24″ in length (60cm). Aside from the intricate pattern it interested us with its terrestrial habits. We found this one in town but not in the wet park lands.
The tail of the Pheasant Coucal is truly pheasant-like.
The Rainbow Lorikeet has a Top End population that is called the Red-collared Lorikeet. The dark belly-band and orange-red collar are the characteristics that separate it from the more common Rainbow. Sprcies form (sometimes) from isolation and adaptation. Though the Red-collared and Rainbow Lorikeets look different they are obviously from the same original stock. perhaps over time they will differ enough to be seen as separate species; but not yet.
This rather dull looking bird belongs to a very special group of birds; it is a bower bird. The males of this group make bowers to impress and attract females. This male is inspecting his bower. The hundreds of twigs on the right side form a “U” shape. The male will bring shells, glass, and bits of metal to the front of the bower hoping to impress a female. The bird is smaller than a crow but a bit larger than a Blue Jay, so there is a great deal of time, effort, work, and energy represented by the woven mass of sticks. There are about ten species of bowerbird in Australia.
One of the highlight-birds of Pine Creek was the Hooded Parrot; above and below. This is a rare bird, listed as an uncommon endemic. Endemic meaning that it only occurs in Australia and in this case only in a few spots in the norther part of the Northern Territory. We found groups of 15 to 30 right in town and had the fun of showing them off to several other birders passing through the area. Getting back to termites for a moment, it should be noted that this species nests in holes in termites mounds. Though you often look for birds, parrots especially, in trees, we found the Hooded Parrots on the ground feeding like mice on the seed heads of a low-growing flower. The female is pale gray underneath and a soft green on top; she has no cap, yellow patch, or turquoise cheeks. The books call he a “dull olive” but she is nicer looking than that implies.

The last entry for Pine Creek is one of several roost tree where we found hundreds of Little Red Flying Foxes. These are large bats; some fruit and mostly nectar eaters. Most of the fruit bats in Australia are quite coastal. the Little Red is found furthest inland of them all. The others are Bare-backed, Black, Spectacled, Dusky, Grey-headed, Large-eared, and Torresian. Five of these species are not common in Australia and several species are much more common in neighboring Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

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