Our final weekend at Coomalie coincided with the annual fly-in weekend, during which a multitude of Australians and planes converge upon the airstrip to commemorate V-J day. The highlight of the weekend was a flight in a Russian Antonov biplane, closely tailed by a WWII Harvard.
After 9 weeks in the NT, Kathryn and I dropped off all of the students at the Darwin airport on Sunday, completing the field component of the IRES program. Kathryn and I will remain at Coomalie to wrap things up in August, while the students scatter for short excursions within Australia and back home. Payton headed to Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef, Erik stuck around in Darwin to fit in some more NT experiences, Greg headed to Sydney for some birding and sightseeing, Kat and Xander headed back with a long layover in Sydney (with time to get in to see the Opera House and take a ferry ride), and Vera was off to Melbourne to visit relatives. We’ll all reconnect in the fall over webinar meetings as we analyze and write up the data collected during the field season.
One of the Northern Territory’s most memorable natural experiences is Litchfield National Park, and luckily for us, Batchelor is the gateway to the park. We took several day trips to Litchfield over the course of the program, with wildlife viewing (including a short-eared rock-wallaby), excellent views of both cathedral and magnetic termite mounds, hiking through monsoon forest, and swimming at stunning waterfalls.
Fire is a defining force in the Northern Territory, with the habitat strongly shaped and adapted to frequent burns. Just a few days to the year after the large fire that swept through the field site last year (burning about half the site), we experienced a smaller fire on the outskirts of the property. The fire burned the territories of about 15 of our wrens, some of which we have resighted in nearby unburned habitat and some of which remain to be found. Richard’s fire breaks kept the majority of the site untouched. (Actually, the day that I was writing this blog post was over a week after the fire, but it just so happened that another fire came down from the hills on the west side of the property that night, affording some nice photos of the fire).
Hanging up our boots for a few hours, we headed into downtown Darwin for an afternoon on the town. With the sun still high in the sky, we headed to the Darwin Museum to view an eclectic mix of all things “Northern Territory”, including fine art, natural history, anthropology, and an extensive boat exhibit. From there, we headed along the coastline to Fannie Bay for a quick dip. The sailboat-spangled, mangrove-fringed waters shimmering aquamarine beneath the afternoon sky as we walked along the beach. As the sun slid lower, we waved the coast farewell and headed inland for the Darwin Botanical Gardens, a celebration of the array of flora that decorates the Northern Territory year round. We concluded our trip with some souvenir shopping and a bite to eat at a local pie shop. Our Darwin Day Trip was an exciting jaunt into the Northern Territory’s largest city that expanded our view of the NT’s character.