It takes one moment

It is no secret that I go out at night spotlighting quite often – this year I am up to 55 nights (somewhat sad I am keeping track) and while I do have some epic nights there are other nights where not much seems to happen at all. It is these nights where the owls aren’t calling and eyeshine is not coming that you need to keep your attention up as it only takes one moment to make the effort all worth while! Last Saturday night Scott Baker, Owen Lishmund and I decided on a rather late whim to head up to the Euroa district to look for Squirrel Glider and Brush-tailed Phascogale, camp out and then head back after some birding in the morning. The weather forecast was rather poor but it did seem we had a window. John Harris of Wildlife Experiences had let me know a couple of places to try around Euroa for Squirrel Glider which was our starting point. We zipped up the highway and arrived just on dusk in some excellent looking remnant habitat along a road easement which looked perfect with plenty of hollows in the older box trees. A mixed group of Hooded Robins and Jacky Winters and a Triller showed this might be worth more attention in the daylight sometime. We cracked a beer and waited for true dark but were assaulted by wave after wave of mosquitoes which was a theme for the whole night.

On dark we wandered up and down the easement spotlighting picking up many Ring-tailed Possums and a couple of gliders which turned out to be Sugars. There were plenty of frogs calling as well as many microbats which were probably feasting on the mosquitoes which in turn were feasting on us. We tried a few different areas but had no luck with either of our two target species. It was pushing midnight so we decided to run across to Whroo to camp the night. We were west of Pranjip when the moment came. There was a streak on the road – “#@!$ a Phascogale!” as I swerved and drove over the top of it. We pulled up and I was dreading that I had hit it but fortunately there was nothing on the road. A quick bit of spotlighting and we found a lovely Brush-tailed Phascogale propped in a tree looking down on us. A mad scramble for cameras and I managed a couple of frames before it fled – not as sharp as I would like but it will do! We were pretty stoked as we rolled into the Whroo campground which was also infested with clouds of mosquito. Unfortunately the bad weather hit in earnest in the morning so after poking around a bit we headed for home.

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 2

Up at dawn from our Nullarbor roadside stop campsite and the flies were already annoying! We stopped at some cliffs and did a brief seawatch with a number of Short-tailed Shearwaters seen which is getting close to their westerly limit. I was quite surprised how green the Nullarbor was and while it is said to be treeless, plenty of shrubs were taller than me. We crossed the WA border and despite having driven over an hour it was still before 6am so we went down to the old Eucla telegraph station. A very nice and placid Carpet Python was an excellent distraction and despite the strong winds and sand we added Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. Back at Eucla we fuelled up on coffee and a bacon and egg breakfast and headed towards Cocklebiddy. Earlier this year Bernie O’Keefe had posted an excellent trip report of his trip for Naretha Bluebonnet so we relied on this quite heavily – thanks BoK!

This is snek!

This is snek!

At the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse we fueled up and got the details of Arubiddy Station and made a call to let them know we would be travelling through to Rawlinna. This is a polite thing to do – do not say you are there for birdwatching and certainly do not visit the homestead to ask for permission – a simple phonecall is all that is required. The site we were looking for was around 100km north and the road was so bad that it would take 3-4 hours. Just north of the roadhouse we found an Inland Dotterel so already the jaunt was off to a good start. There were plenty of gates and the road got worse as we headed north of Arubiddy Station but there were nice distractions with Nullarbor Bearded Dragon being new to both of us, plenty of Western Grey and Red Kangaroos and eventually a single female Nullarbor Quail-thrush walked across the road. Clearly they are in far lower density in this section of the Nullarbor than around the roadhouse. Around 82km north of Cocklebiddy we found a very active wombat burrow system and could even hear and smell the animals in the burrows. The plain up to this stage had been largely treeless but we could see a line of trees in the distance and right on the 100km mark we turned west and came across the tank where Bernie and others had recently seen the parrots. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to travel here although we had stopped quite a lot for various distractions.

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

The infamous? tank

The infamous? tank

Others had recently driven up to the tank and literally twitched the Bluebonnets from the car but they were not around when we arrived. We got out and wandered around but it was pretty grim with plenty of sheep and flies and not much else. Eventually we met back at the car and sat down to see what would come in to the water. Some Zebra Finches was a good start and a Hobby cruised through a few times stirring things up. It was quite interesting to see a couple of Magpie-larks nesting here – clearly the small patch of mud and water was enough to sustain them. With not much doing we settled back with lunch and then a cup of coffee trusting that the birds would need to come in to drink. The coffee was needed as I had been drifting off but there is nothing like two blue-tailed parrots flying in to wake you up! An excellent pair of Naretha Bluebonnet had slipped in to a tree to wait to drink seemingly much quieter than their Eastern cousins. We maneuvered around and managed to get excellent views and even a few pics of the pair which didn’t seem too fussed by our presence. They were very quiet throughout the encounter and eventually left on their own accord after having a good drink. It would have been good to spend more time to see if more had come in but we were on a bit of a schedule and it was hardly the most inviting campsite so we headed back towards Cocklebiddy – very happy with both main targets out of the way. On the way back I was very happy to get excellent views of Australian Pratincole – a bird I had not seen for quite a while. It seemed to be a quicker run back and we arrived in Cocklebiddy just after dark and decided to get a room as we were both rather knackered and needed a shower.

Naretha Bluebonnet

Naretha Bluebonnet

Hunting Bluebonnets

Hunting Bluebonnets

Up early again we headed west where the plain gave way slowly to stunted mallee and then into the Great Western Woodlands – this is an enormous largely contiguous area of mallee, heath and woodland and is a trip in itself just to explore. Our target for the evening was Jilbadgi Nature Reserve SW of Coolgardie which had interesting records of a number of dunnart and other species. It was a difficult park to access as mining companies had taken over and and blocked many of the access roads – welcome to Western Australia! Eventually we found a way in down south but it was getting late so we had a quick recce and found a place to camp. Jilbadgi is a very interesting area with extensive heath and mallee habitats. On dark there were many bats with 4 species confirmed by bat detector and spotlit – Gould’s and Chocolate Wattled Bats, Southern Forest Bat and White-stripaed Free-tailed Bat as well as a couple of unknowns. A very nice pair of Boobooks were quite confiding and called most of the night. We spent many hours using thermal cameras and had a number of hits but frustratingly could not get visuals on anything. At one stage we startled something large and hot which fled and on examination found a goanna with its head chewed off – probably a cat! Eventually and somewhat frustratingly we gave up. Up early in the morning and things began to look up straight away with Elegant Parrot and Black-eared Cuckoos flying around camp. One of my favourite birds – Southern Scrub-robin were everywhere and even gave me a quick display. We went and birded the recently burnt heath areas and found a number of hopping-mouse burrows which may explain the signals we were getting the night before. Here I got my third new bird of the trip with Western Fieldwrens calling and showing everywhere. Of interest was a pair of Southern Emu-wren which would have to be about as far inland as they get in Western Australia – this is a little known isolated population in this area. Another good area that needs further attention – maybe another time!

Freckled Sun-orchid - Jilbadgi NR

Freckled Sun-orchid – Jilbadgi NR

Road killed malleefowl

Road killed malleefowl

We had a long drive through the trashed wheatbelt area of SW Western Australia so looked for things we could break up the journey with. There is an isolated population of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby in the wheatbelt and a quick google gave us a couple of sites to try. We chose Mount Caroline Nature Reserve which was not too far off the main drag and drove to the information board and walked up the easement to the rocky hill. Very quickly we got glimpses of our first rock-wallabies at the site and with a bit of patience were rewarded with excellent views. Fox control in the area has had a very positive effect on population and this site is now used as a feeder population for other isolated sites. We spent a very nice couple of hours with the rock-wallabies with some nice birds and reptiles to help break it up.

Black-footed Rock-wallaby - Mount Caroline NR

Black-footed Rock-wallaby – Mount Caroline NR

We stayed the night on the outskirts of Perth and had a couple of drinks to celebrate the success of the trip. The next morning Rohan left on a plane for Broome and I hired a car to head south to hunt a few mammals. I drove straight down to the Perup area which is one of the best mammal watching areas in Australia. I had plenty of targets here and very quickly knocked off the first with Western Brush Wallaby on Northern Road. I was particularly keen to spot a Numbat so drove a number of roads and eventually on Pollard Road saw what I thought was a leaf rolling down the road but as it got closer I got binoculars on it and it was a NUMBAT!! it turned off the road and I got excellent views as it ran into a bunch of logs. I waited in the area over an hour but it did not reappear as it was late in the day and might have just decided to go to sleep. The Perup Guesthouse is currently closed but I walked in just before dark and saw little except some cool orchids. Right on dusk I had a Woylie prop nicely on the side of the road but camera was not ready so opportunity was missed. Soon after Western Ring-tailed Possum fell with three animals in melaleuca near the road west of the guesthouse entrance and then Tammar Wallaby with two animals near the intersection with Northern Road. Only 1 hour after sunset and 5 out of my 6 targets already down! I then began to drive roads and walk tracks as I was particularly keen to see a Chuditch (Western Quoll) Hours passed and I had no luck but I was determined to get one and eventually 100km of driving and 8km of spotlighting on foot I was rewarded with a CHUDITCH! on a bit of manky roadkill on Cordalup Road. Much smaller than I was expecting i think it must have been a young female. It fled into the bush but I squeaked and it eventually poked its head out but unfortunately the shitty corolla chose that moment to start beeping that they keys were still in the ignition and it fled again never to return. Never hire a corolla if wildlife watching – vision is shit and it beeps randomly for all sorts of reasons! I headed to where I was going to bush camp and rumbled a Western Pygmy-possum crossing the road. I thought I could catch it but misjudged its location only to see it climbing a tree above my head – I blame the fact it was 2am and I was completely knackered. I missed photos of most things but I will be back with more time!

Crappy shot of a Western Ring-tailed Possum - I need to go back!

Crappy shot of a Western Ring-tailed Possum – I need to go back!

Motorbike Frog

Motorbike Frog

I slept in the next morning and went to Manjimup for coffee and breakfast so missed my numbat leaving its log – I drove around for a few more hours without anything much aside from some nice orchids. I decided to make a run for Dryandra to see if I could ride my luck and hopefully pick up a Red-tailed Phascogale. Dryandra is a favourite birding spot of mine and saw plenty of nice birds before dusk and also checked out a brand new camping area Gnaala Mia which had nice facilities and a bit of heath in the campground itself. A Western Brush Wallaby before dusk was nice but after dark I had no luck with mammals of any sort. While spotlighting for phascogale in casaurina on Kawana Road I did hear a Masked Owl call a number of times but it would not move from its location. In the end no luck this night so I retired to the new campground which I had to myself! I had a couple of excellent hours birding in the morning before heading to the airport. All in all a cracking trip with 3 new birds, 10 new mammals, a pile of new reptiles and 2 new frogs! Thanks to Rohan for the company and Simone and Lucas for letting me go.

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 1

A few months ago Rohan Clarke and I hatched a cunning plan to target two birds we both still needed – Nullarbor Quail-thrush and Naretha Bluebonnet. Both these species were until recently considered subspecies of others but have been “split” into their own species. They also happen to be only found a long way from anywhere, on and around the Nullarbor Plain. So the plan was to relocate Rohan’s car to Perth so he can use it for a family holiday later in the year and we spend 6 days getting it there which would allow plenty of time for wildlife watching. While the two birds were the cornerstones of the trip we still managed to add a number of furry and scaly targets to the agenda as well.

Crinia riparia - Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

Crinia riparia – Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

We left Melbourne late on a Tuesday afternoon with a Hilux packed to the gunnels mostly for Rohan’s family trip following. We drove into the night and ended up in a rather crappy motel in Keith with only a few Eastern Grey Kangaroos getting the mammal list started. Up early we headed through Adelaide stopping at Telowie Gorge just south of Port Augusta. This is known site for Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby but being early afternoon it was far from an ideal time. About 1.5km up the gorge we startled a single rock-wallaby which gave great views – a new animal for me and one that Rohan had not seen for years. This would have to be one of the most attractive macropods in Australia and in the end we walked away with it watching us from up high on the cliffs. On the way down we found the very range restricted Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet which was a new frog for me (not surprisingly!) Add to this a nice suite of birds including Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and Little Woodswallow and the trip was off to a great start!

Telowie Gorge - Rock-wallaby habitat

Telowie Gorge – Rock-wallaby habitat

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby - Telowie Gorge

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby – Telowie Gorge

From here we picked up supplies (and beer) at Port Augusta and headed down to Whyalla Conservation Park where we found some great birds including Western Grasswren, Slender-billed Thornbill, Rufous Fieldwren and Red-backed Kingfisher – its been about 6 years since I was last here and was good to see the country in good condition. The destination for the night was Ironstone Hill Conservation Park which was selected a bit on spec as it was a known site for both Sandhill Grasswren and Sandhill Dunnart. It was a difficult park to find any information on so we explored along the north/south road during the remaining daylight marking out suitable areas of habitat. After dark we spent a number of hours spotlighting and using thermal cameras and were very lucky to pick up Southern(Mallee) Ningaui and Western Pygmy-possums. Detected as small hot spots in the thermal camera and then spotlit they were both new species for me! While we did not get the dunnart, the habitat looks very plausible and would probably require tagging along on an official survey trip to have any real chance. The next morning we birded triodia areas looking for grasswrens and while we did not find any it again would seem likely they still occur there. The birds and flora here are both very reminiscent of Gluepot and parts of the Victorian mallee. Pretty keen to revisit here in the future with more time.

Southern Ningaui

Southern Ningaui

Western Pygmy-possum

Western Pygmy-possum

From here we stopped in briefly at Secret Rocks before heading through Ceduna and out to Yumbarra Conservation Park. I have fond memories of this park as nearly 6 years ago in 48 degree heat I managed to track down my first and only Scarlet-chested Parrot and had been wanting to get back ever since. We spent the late afternoon birding but it was very quiet with only Black-eared Cuckoo and Western Yellow Robins being standouts. That evening we had dinner at one of the rockholes and picked out Goulds and Chocolate Wattled Bat and a couple of other unidentified ones with the bat detector. We spent several hours spotlighting but saw not much of consequence. I was a bit flat as the site was not living up to the awesome reputation I had given it but that all changed in the morning. Up early we quickly found a quite showy pair of Copperback Quail-thrush, Shy Heathwren and best of all a very confiding female Scarlet-chested Parrot! Two visits here for two Scarlet-chested parrots – cant ask for more than that! Leaving the park we had a very cool Dwarf Bearded Dragon which in a matter of a minute completely changed colour from a yellow to a dark grey.

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush - Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush – Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot - Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot – Yumbarra CP

From here we headed west eventually passing north of the Goyder line and past wheat fields and onto the Nullarbor proper. At one stage we passed paddock after paddock of Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat burrows but in the middle of the day there was no point stopping. From here we entered the little mentioned Great Eastern Woodlands, an extensive area of mallee and woodland which must be good for birding at the right time of year. We stopped at the Head of the Bight but unfortunately the whales had left 2 weeks earlier. Still we found a new reptile in Peninsula Dragon which was quite attractive. We were now well into the Nullarbor proper with Rufous Fieldwren, Slender-billed Thornbill, White-winged Fairy-wren and the ubiquitous Australian Pipit the common birds. A quick stop at the famous Nullarbor Road House for fuel and a cool drink and we headed out to hunt for Quail-thrush.

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

It has been well known for a long time that the area directly north of the Nullarbor Road House is an excellent area for the Nullarbor Quail-thrush (not surprisingly) so we headed out along Cave Road and pretty quickly found a couple of Quail-thrush – tick for both of us! While it was easy to get good binocular views, photographs were more difficult. Over the next few hours we saw at least 17 separate birds but photo opps remained elusive. As we looped around we saw many wombat burrows so after dinner at the roadhouse we saw out with a beer and a scope and eventually had excellent views of a Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat sitting outside its burrow! Yet another new mammal for me and one Rohan had not seen for a long time. Eventually it got dark so we drove around with thermal cameras for a couple of hours but surprisingly found nothing but rabbits. From here we drove an hour west and camped by the road with tomorrow targeted for Western Australia and the Naretha Bluebonnet! – to be continued in Part 2!

Nullabor Quail-thrush - record shot at best

Nullabor Quail-thrush – record shot at best

Scoping wombats - beer in hand!

Scoping wombats – beer in hand!

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork) in Victoria

For many years it has been suspected that some birds of the Tasmanian race leucopsis of boobook type owl migrated to Victoria over winter. This member of the boobook clan tends to differ from their mainland counterparts by being smaller, darker with more speckling on back and crown, spotted underparts rather than streaked and most noticeably have fantastic “phonebook” yellow irises as opposed to the dull yellow to olive of mainland birds. Over the years there have been good numbers of dead birds and the odd live bird including Cape Bridgewater in 1993 and Hamilton 2013 which were seen by a number of people but there has never been any definitive evidence if this being more than aberrant birds making their way across the strait. Twice I have found beachcast boobooks at Wilsons Prom but at the time did not think much of it so did not collect or otherwise document the specimens. Local commentary from Tasmanian birders indicate that boobook types remain throughout the winter so at best a subset would migrate. Indeed I have seen (and heard) boobook types on territory in Tasmania a number of times during July through September over the years. To add some grist the mill, the IOC taxonomy (used by most Australian birders) split leucopsis from the mainland Boobook types and placed it with the New Zealand species – Ninox novaeseelandiae – which of course has made it of increased interest to birders. In Tasmania the Boobook type is capricious – often heard but less often seen – I have most often seen it on the road or roadside perch while driving or more commonly have heard it calling in the area. It was not until October 2015 when Andrew Franks posted a series of pictures taken after dark at the Cape Liptrap lighthouse of good numbers of Tasmanian Boobook that it was realised there was a significant number of birds staging for return at this location. This means that the odd birds recorded over previous years were not vagrant or aberrant but but part of a larger cohort migrating across Bass Strait.

Tassie Boobook at Cape Liptrap from 2015 - note the vibrant yellow iris

Tassie Boobook at Cape Liptrap from 2015 – note the vibrant yellow iris

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

The moment I saw Andrew Frank’s photographs in 2015 I arranged to go down with Paul Dodd and Ruth Woodrow where we were rewarded with at least 8 birds in the immediate area of the Cape Liptrap lighthouse which allowed close approach – I honestly believe I could have touched a bird if I had tried. The birds were largely silent but interestingly we did hear a couple of calls but I could not comment on the difference to standard Southern Boobook calls. The number of predatory birds in such a small area could not be sustained and within a week or two they were gone having answered a few questions but leaving a number more. Earlier this year Rohan Clarke and I were wandering around the Central Highlands near Marysville when we rumbled a Tasmanian Boobook on the road which provided a rare inland record of this bird. Over the past few months I have been increasingly looking forward to getting back down to Cape Liptrap in October to see if the congregation is indeed an annual event.

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

On the 14th of October Jeff Davies picked up Scott Baker and I and we headed down to Cape Liptrap with high expectations. A near full moon lit the sky as we arrived after dodging wombats, wallabies and a whole crew of fox kits on the road in. We were a full week earlier than my visit last year and I was a bit worried we would be early but within 60 seconds of leaving the carpark we saw our first Morepork type owl in the distance which was the first of many. The owls this year were much more skittish which we put down to the full moon or the fact we were a week earlier and they had not settled. In the two and a half hours we were there we estimated at least 8 owls but there may well have been more. It was great to confirm that last years records were not a once off and again this is supporting evidence that reasonable numbers of these birds migrate to the mainland every year. Eventually we managed a few record shots before jumping in the car and heading home. During the night Jeff had heard a bird call and Scott and I had seen birds huting insects. The next part of this puzzle will be to check other likely headlands at this time of year and see if there is a similar congregation of tasmanian boobook types. If anyone has any comment on the topic – anecdotal or otherwise I would be keen to hear.

Tasmanian Boobook - Cape Liptrap 2016 - harder to approach than last year

Tasmanian Boobook – Cape Liptrap 2016 – harder to approach than last year

A few days in Snowy River Country

I was supposed to head to Gluepot for a family nature based weekend with Rohan and our two five year olds – Lucas and Aidan but the biblical level storms put paid to that idea. Instead we looked at the weather maps and headed to the one area within range that seemed to be dodging the worst of it – East Gippsland. It had been years since either of us had been to the Snowy River area so we decided to camp at McKillops Bridge and explore with the boys. This area of the Snowy River National Park is near the few extant populations of Brush-tailed Rock wallaby in Victoria and has had a spate of recent quoll sightings. We left late afternoon on a Thursday and cruised down to my parents place at Seaspray where all was quiet. We got up early and hit the beach before have a quick drive through Giffard FFR then on to Bairnsdale for supplies. After stocking up we drove to Cabbage Tree reserve for a quick visit. This area has had a lot of water lately and was quite soggy with plenty of mosquitoes around but there were few nice birds around including Scarlet Honeyeater, Rose Robin and Bassian Thrush. From here we ran up through Orbost up towards Bonang and on to McKillops Bridge through some excellent country with plenty of Red-necked and Swamp Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos as well as a few emus. After setting up camp we had a quick spotlight around the camp which was pretty quiet aside from Common Brush-tailed Possums and Rabbits. After the boys went to bed we sat around with the bat detector for a while but could not pick up anything aside from a distant Owlet-Nightjar.

Pine clad ridges

Pine clad ridges

Up early again and we headed to the Little River Gorge to try and have a look for rock wallabies along what is supposed to be one of the more dangerous gazetted roads in Victoria with very steep drop offs and narrow roads. We didn’t find any rock wallabies but Spotted Quail-thrush were plentiful and the views spectacular. We drove down to where the Little River meets the Snowy River for a bit of a paddle. The vegetation in the area is quite dry with an interesting mix of White Cypress Pine, Kurrajong and various eucalypts and the avifauna reflected this with Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters being the dominant honeyeaters in camp. In the evening we got down to the river on dusk with the bat detector and had plenty of bats flying round. Rohan got a good number of recordings but at this stage only Gould’s Wattled Bat and Vespadelus types could be confidently picked out. Further up the road we found a great little dam with 4 species of frog calling including my first Uperoleia toadlet – Uperoleia laevigata. The boys crashed out after this so we spotlit some distance up the road with 8 or 9 Sambar being a lowlight.

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

There were Turquoise Parrots around the camp the next morning adding to an improving birdlist for the area. We needed fuel so drove backroads to Bombala checking culverts and under bridges and generally stopping anywhere that looked decent. Bombala is renowned for its platypus but we were there in the middle of the day so no luck this time although a couple of large Cunningham’s Skinks was a highlight. From here we cruised back through the Bendoc area which has some excellent forest which needs further exploring at some stage. We stopped at a river diversion tunnel for a bit of a splash and look around and here we had our first snakes of the trip – Lowland Copperheads. Back at camp we again headed down to the river before dusk and I was able to get excellent binocular views of Gould’s Wattled Bat, Forest Bat sp and Long-eared Bat sp zipping around before dark. We also picked up some interesting calls that will require further analysis as we spotlit along the road and back at the frog pond.

Emu

Emu

In the morning we packed up and headed for home. Unfortunately soon out of the camp area we came through an area that was affected by strong winds the night before with about 10 medium trees across the road. After a lot of cursing and swearing and effort we managed to clear a path and continue on, spending time exploring creeks and admiring the view. The road into Suggan Buggan was blocked so we went as far as we could before turning for home. Finally we found a bat roosting under a bridge – a very cool Lesser Long-eared Bat which posed for some photos. While it is a very common and widespread bat across Australia this is the first time I have seen one up close. A bit later on a nice Highland Copperhead gave some excitement as it got a little bit cranky at us watching it. From here it was onwards to home and planning the next adventure. The boys had a ball and are looking forward to going again.

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lucas and a Litoria

Lucas and a Litoria

Catching the spotted one

With Simone away in the USA for a couple of weeks I booked a few nights away in Tasmania for a bit of a boy’s getaway. Of course I had a slightly ulterior motive as I still really wanted to see a quoll – I had already spent a few nights in likely areas this year without success so booked a couple of places to hopefully maximize success. Lucas is rather obsessed by carnivores of all shapes and sizes so I had no complaints from him on the plan. The basic plan was to fly into Launceston with a night in the Bridport/Scottsdale area followed by two nights at the Mountain Valley Wilderness Lodge at Loongana on the recommendation of mate Stephen Kaye. The days would be filled with whatever was needed to entertain a very curious five year old. We were up early for an 8:30 am flight and landed in Launceston in near constant drizzle which soon started to clear. We headed first to Cataract Gorge to stretch our legs and here Lucas got his first Tassie endemic with Green Rosellas feeding on the lawn. Also here is a supposedly tickable population of Peafowl – they may have been here for years but they fail my two guys in a ute with shotguns wiping them out in a weekend test. Still its a nice area for a walk and was interesting to see the affects of recent flooding earlier this year – the volume of water through the Gorge must have been incredible!

Dodgy Peafowl at Cataract Gorge

Dodgy Peafowl at Cataract Gorge

After picking up a few supplies we had a pleasant drive across to Scottsdale. I was very happy en-route to hear Lucas tell me “This forest looks great for Masked Owl!” – the boy is learning! At Scottsdale we dropped in to the tourist information centre where Lucas was given an excellent poster on Tasmanian wildlife and sites to see it – tourism in Tasmania is an odd beast but this was one thing they do well. The lady here said that the ponds at the free camping area were good for Platypus so despite it being the middle of the day we wandered down for a look. No luck this time but certainly worth another look at dawn or dusk. We drove the back route C832 to Bridport as reconnaissance for spotlighting later this evening as a number of trip reports on Jon Hall’s seminal website mammalwatching.com mention this as good for Eastern Quoll and Tasmanian Bettong. The habitat on this road looked a perfect mix of woodland, plantation and agricultural land with the requisite huge amount of roadkill. We saw a number of wombats out and about during the day as well as a huge Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle which Lucas was keen to see. Then of course it was a stint at the beach where I unsuccessfully tried to rustle up a vagrant penguin in the rocks while Lucas played in the sand. I had booked an AirBnB option again which was a very nice property with good areas of bush and apparently regularly have platypus in their dams. Lucas and I poked around in the bush where we found our first Echidna although there was no sign of the other monotreme in the dams, probably still too early. We went to the bowling club for an early dinner where I had one of the best steaks I have had in a long while and Lucas had a mountain of flathead tails and chips. Right on dusk we headed out and Lucas promptly fell immediately asleep – it had been a long day. I ended up driving and spotlighting many back roads and paddocks over the next four and a half hours. During this time I saw many, many, many Tasmanian Pademelons and Brush-tailed Possums, at one stage I could spotlight 14 individual possums outside one window of the car. There were also reasonable numbers of Bennett’s Wallabies and Common Wombat and in one place a few Forester Kangaroos. The highlights had to be two Tasmanian Bettong on the edge of a paddock on the C832 which were extremely distinctive after having looked at several bazillion pademelons and wallabies over the proceeding hours and a Morepork which flew in briefly to my bad imitation of its call. But there was no quoll of any type to be had on this evening!

Nice beach at Bridport

Nice beach at Bridport

Up early we headed west stopping anywhere that looked worthwhile. We dropped into Narawntapu National Park late in the morning mostly cause I could say I had been there and for Lucas to play on the beach. We visited the ranger station and paid our dues before walking out to the birdless bird hide and then went to Bakers Beach. Despite it being the middle of the day we saw Forester Kangaroo, Tasmanian Pademelon, Common Wombat and Bennett’s Wallaby – would be good to come back and explore some of the more remote areas after dark. Four Eastern Curlew on the point at Bakers Beach were my first in Tassie – there may have been more there but I did not want to disturb them. After a long session of beach play we headed on and up into the hills towards Loongana. About halfway from Ulverstone I saw my first quoll! Unfortunately it was an ex-quoll having been hit by a car – a beautiful spotted-tailed quoll rather flat (and smelly) beside the road. We decided that the silver lining was that it showed we were coming into good quoll habitat!

An ex-quoll

An ex-quoll

We arrived at the accommodation at Loongana and met Len who gave us a tour. Len was excellent with Lucas answering the incessant questions that only a five year old can dream up. Apparently we were the first guests after a few months closed over winter so he was not sure how we would go with the animals that evening although he had been seeing and hearing devils. We had a bit of an explore before Len took us down to show Lucas his first platypus which fed happily in one of the many pools on the river. Apparently platypus number are down a bit following the floods earlier in the year but with a bit of effort I would think you could get many excellent sightings on this stretch of river. Approaching dark Len wired up some chicken frames and we sat down to watch from the comfort of the cabin with an open fire roaring and a nice cool local beer. Almost immediately I saw a quoll-like creature out of the corner of my eye approaching the bait but unfortunately it was just a tortoise-shell coloured feral cat! Over both nights we were regularly visited by three different cats which hopefully will have a conversation with the end of Len’s rifle barrel in the near future. It wasn’t long after true dark when all the pademelons bolted and in strolled a magnificent Spotted-tailed Quoll which sniffed around a bit before grabbing three bits of chicken and bolting – this was a large animal which I assume is a male. The whole experience took about 45 seconds but Lucas and I were stoked – our first quoll and there were many high fives. About 30 minutes later I spotted the quoll looping around the road again so I gave Lucas the red-light and when it came in to grab more chicken I was able to snag a few photos. The excitement of the day was too much for Lucas who crashed out soon after.

Spotted-tailed Quoll scoffing some chicken

Spotted-tailed Quoll scoffing some chicken

Despite it being early I too was struggling to keep awake with the comfortable couch and warm open fire making it hard to keep my eyes open. A couple of the largest Brush-tailed Possums I have ever seen came in and started chowing down on copious amounts of chicken. A diet of regular protein made them quite impressive animals and when the feral cats again came around they just stood up on their back legs and spread their arms as if to say “come at me”. But even these had to give way and bolt up onto the roof when a dog like critter waddled in – a Tasmanian Devil! There were actually two animals with a large mottled adult coming well into the light and a smaller all dark animal sitting back in the shadows only visible in the red light of my torch. Unfortunately the adult had a very visible facial tumour as many animals at this site apparently do. This insidious disease has now apparently spread across almost the whole state with the Tarkine and Arthur River now infected. Both animals were extremely skittish with the adult grabbing some chicken before bolting off. Twenty minutes later it came back again briefly and I was able to snap a couple of quick shots. Unfortunately around 10:30 pm I am rather embarrassed to say that my watch ended in a snoring heap only to wake up hours later with the meat all gone, fire out, cold and shivering and a sore neck – still it was well worth it!!!

Tasmanian Devil with obvious early stage facial tumour

Tasmanian Devil with obvious early stage facial tumour

We slept in a bit before getting up for a bit of a walk around the property and then heading off to Tasmazia – a crazy maze and miniature village in the middle of no where in Tasmania which Lucas loved. One thing that was apparent was that Flame Robins were back with a vengeance with many hundreds seen in paddocks as we drove around. A visit to Leven Canyon on the way back got Lucas his first Pink Robin with a nice male sitting on an open branch. We picked up a couple of bits of “fresh” roadkill for tonight’s stake out which may or may not have voided the rental agreement on the hire car. Another visit to the river and dinner and we settled down to watch over our staked out roadkill which was supplemented with some extra chicken.

Just a couple of pademelons sleeping in the boot

Just a couple of pademelons sleeping in the boot

It was a quieter start to the night with Lucas crashing out early – I was determined not to suffer the same fate as the previous night so had a number of coffees to keep me going. The feral cats were much bolder than the previous night and would not even react to a tap on the window while stealing chicken. I was sitting stretched out with feet against the window and was surprised when a different quoll to the previous night sauntered in and sniffed at my feet through the glass! A mad grab for camera only startled it and it fled – this was a clearly smaller animal than the previous night. It wasn’t long before the quoll was back sniffing around the carcasses before grabbing a couple of bits of chicken and fleeing. It came back one more time before midnight and me crashing out. I set my alarm for 2am and found that the pademelon corpses had been moved and gnawed at and all the chicken gone which made me suspect devils which was confirmed the next morning. There was no further activity that night.

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Lucas and I left early vowing to return soon – apparently there are caves here that we need to explore! We headed up to Cradle Mountain but we didn’t really have enough time to do it justice so we headed to the excellent breeding facility devils@cradle which has displays and captive breeding programs for the three large marsupial carnivores in Tasmania – Spotted-tailed and Eastern Quolls and Tasmanian Devil. This facility is well worth a visit if you are in the area with all three species seen closeup with good commentary from clearly passionate keepers. Unfortunately we had to then track back to Launceston and a flight home but we are already planning our next trip back for Eastern Quoll and to get Lucas a wild Tassie Devil. Lucas and I can highly recommend the Wilderness Lodges at Loongana for an excellent wildlife experience and were both stoked to see our first wild quolls.

Cradle Mountain is usually covered in cloud

Cradle Mountain is usually covered in cloud

The ubiquitous Tasmanian Pademelon

The ubiquitous Tasmanian Pademelon

An adequate night out

With Simone safely shipped off to Paris, Lucas and I headed down to Seaspray for a few nights with Mum and Dad at the holiday house.The water levels at Seaspray were as low as I have ever seen them and aside from an impressive 500+ Banded Stilt there were no waders of note. I did spend an afternoon and then a few hours spotlighting in Giffard FFR and surrounding areas of Mullungdung State Forest as I had heard tasty rumours of Masked Owl and i was keen to check the swamps for Uperoleia tyleri which had been photographed a couple of years back. However the swamps were bone dry and the forest largely silent after dark with many foxes and three cats being a concern – the only nighttime observation of note were 14 separate wombats (all alive for a change) and the only frog calling was Crinia signifera.

Red-bellied black snake

Red-bellied black snake

After a couple of excellent mornings at the beach with Lucas I had a leave pass so decided to duck off a mere three hours up the coast to Cape Conran for a touch of spotlighting. On the way I stopped at an old favourite, Fairy Dell and while it was in the heat of the day I still had some nice birds including Leaden Flycatcher and Black-faced Monarch. A further brief stop at Cabbage Tree walk added Scarlet Honeyeater and Brush Cuckoo as well as the more usual suspects. I didn’t do any targeted daylight birding in Cape Conran Coastal Park but still managed some nice birds including a couple of Turquoise Parrots on Cabbage Tree Road and a nice pair of very vocal Beautiful Firetails. A work mate was staying at Conran Camp Ground so I dropped in for a few beers and an excellent evening meal. I set off a bit before dusk to drive to my “secret spot” arriving as the Crescent Honeyeaters were Egypting themselves to sleep. The Crescents were still calling as the White-throated Nightjars arced up, bubbling away in the distance – I did have a brief flyby but I had more impressive targets on my mind. Pretty soon a Sooty Owl called and a large female owl landed quite a way back. I could tell she was agitated as she kept looking around and was not really interested in my squeaking and would not come closer for photos. The reason for the agitation became apparent as two Masked Owl called from either side of the location, first hissing and then cackling repeatedly. The Masked Owl that I decided was male flew in cackling and the Sooty Owl immediately decamped, flying off into the night screaming her displeasure – for the remainder of the time I was here she remained perhaps 150 meters away screaming every few minutes – this is a call I rarely hear closer to Melbourne so I assume it is threat related.

Sooty Owl - taken last year in same location

Sooty Owl – taken last year in same location

High above my head I had a second Masked Owl cackling away and I was able to spotlight what I assume was the female circling high above like a seagull. She seemed to be darker than the first bird and eventually she had enough and flew somewhere up the hill where she continued to hiss intermittently for the next half hour. Which left me with the male – he was in for the long haul and continued to cackle repeatedly – any noise would set him off – even me explaining to him what a pretty boy he was and he would cackle repeatedly. I had a good half hour with this magnificent owl as he occasionally changed perches but all the while cackling to me as I first squeaked and then just started talking to him. Eventually I said enough was enough so I bid him adieu – he continued to cackle at me as I got into the car and drove further afield.

Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

I drove to another site a few kilometers away towards Orbost and lay back on the bonnet of the car and listened for a time until I heard a distant scream. A quick call and I very quickly had two Masked Owl cackling and circling well above my head. They eventually settled well away and continued to hiss but with the scrub being rather thick and already having good shots I moved on. I was also on the lookout for frogs and as I was driving along I heard Litoria nudidigita calling from a roadside wetland so pulled over for a poke around. Almost immediately I heard what I believe to be a Uperoleia calling – here it is likely to be the very rare and range restricted martini which I was very keen to see and photograph. A quick switch to macro lens and I started to poke around – I was sure I could hear two frogs calling. Unfortunately I quickly ended up in the water and despite the heat of the recent days it was dark, dank and very cold and around scrotum deep. The calls of the frog are quite ventriloquil and were calling from deep inside thick vegetation and eventually I had to admit defeat although I will return better prepared and with backup.

I continued to pot around and eventually looped back to the Cabbage Tree Walk where a Boobook and Sooty Owl were calling incessantly. By now the moon was well up and it was past 2 am so I rolled out the swag, quite satisfied that I had had an adequate night.

Masked Owl says goodnight

Masked Owl says goodnight