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.
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!