We were camped in the red dust and spinifex with travelling companions Ken and Noreen Price. The stars were brilliant, Alice was a couple of hundred kilometres away and the little dog kept calling: “Woof woof! Woof woof!”
We surmised the poor little bugger had been lost when someone pulled up on the track. Next night in an Alice Springs caravan park we were bemused to hear half a dozen of the same little dogs calling in the night.
Australia’s barking owl, always known to us as the woof woof bird, does its remarkable imitation of a dog over most of the land. Since we made its acquaintance we have been pleased to hear the familiar sound at dozens of campsites but our Kakadu experience was the best yet.
To tell the truth, we expected the charms of Kakadu’s venerated birdlife to be over-rated. With the exception of the woof woof owl, it met our expectations.
My brother Russell tells of a friend who paid the exorbitant fees to get into Kakadu and take a guided tour. The ranger hushed them as they crept along to see some rare specimen and then pointed triumphantly to a white bird. Old mate Kev reportedly burst out laughing, then shook his head: “It’s a bloody egret, for God’s sake. We’ve got thousands of them back home.”
We tried to keep an open mind because it was a dry time of the year and as the locals said “There’s been no f*@k#ng wet mate!” Birdlife was fairly ordinary until our last night when we went bush to the Four Mile Waterhole and camped on our own beside a pretty lagoon.
As darkness fell we heard the familiar “Woof! Woof!” in a tree close by. Tony investigated and called for me to bring the camera. In a low branch sat the owl, posing for pictures and calling to a couple of mates across the lagoon in a barking chorus.
Our woof woof played to the camera like Miranda Kerr (above), seemingly unfazed by the flash – unless, as Tony said, it was so blinded by the light that it couldn’t fly until we had stopp ed shooting for a while.
We returned to our sundowners and marked our first barking sighting in the trusty bird book. The accompanying information stated that the barking owl is one of the few that relies almost entirely on sight to catch its prey.
We didn’t worry about lost dogs any more but we did wonder guiltily if our friendly woof woof went squinting and hungry that night.