Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Papuan Frogmouth at LotusBird Lodge (Photo by Narca)

On our southward journey back down the Cape York Peninsula, we take a long side-loop from Musgrave, stopping first at LotusBird Lodge, where Sue shows us a Papuan Frogmouth in her yard and gives us great tips on where to find several very local bird species. We also ask about crocodiles.

Australia has two species of crocodiles, the Freshwater (Freshie) and the Saltwater (Saltie). Salties grow much larger, and both can occur in the same river system, although they aren't very good at sharing.

Sue responds to our question: "Oh––well, there's Stumpy. We just saw him a few days ago. He's a Freshie, and he had a run-in with a Saltie, and lost his left hand. But it's all healed over. That's why we call him Stumpy."

We follow Sue's directions to a spot along 5-Mile Creek. The drive is challenging, especially considering that this is basically flat country. Alan and Jim elect to bird near the car, while Noel and I head upstream in search of Stumpy––cautiously. By now we've heard many tales of tourists becoming lunch for a Saltie. We pass scrape marks left in the sand by sunning crocodiles. I see one six-footer drop from the far bank into a big pool and swim at the surface straight towards us, before disappearing into the depths with a rolling dive. At the very next pool, we find Stumpy.

If you were hiking here, would you see Stumpy? (Photo by Narca)

Stumpy has hauled out and is sunning. His eye is bright, and he doesn't move as we carefully walk *just a little* closer. His healed foreleg is plain to see. But it's odd that he's letting us approach.

We circle around and see that Stumpy has much bigger problems than two humans sharing his riverbank. He has obviously had another encounter with a Saltie (perhaps the one in the pool just downstream), and has lost his entire right foreleg, and has a deep gash in his hindleg. With wounds so grievous, it is hard to see how he can survive.

Stumpy, a Freshwater Crocodile (Photo by Narca)

Noel and I return to the lower pool and sit on the bank, at a very respectful distance, and wait, hoping that the Saltie will reappear. We are silent. The sleepy afternoon seems deeply peaceful. The incessant sound of cicadas lulls us. A big goanna rustles leaves on the far bank. Double-barred Finches come in to drink. Yet beneath that seeming peace hangs an ominous threat, lurking below the surface, out of sight yet palpable, a shadow cast in our minds by the hidden Saltwater Crocodile. The moment is complex and deep.

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