Some July pelagic and Sooty Owl action

This is mostly to share a few pics and experiences from a couple of outings through July which didn’t quite translate into their own posts. I started with my second trip down to Tasmania for another pelagic weekend with an extra night tacked on for some spotlighting and then followed up with a few nights out in Bunyip State Park (for a change). I headed down to Tasmania early in July a day early with intention of exploring around Mt Field for quolls and perhaps the outside chance of a devil. As we flew into Hobart I started to question my decision as it was one of the more rough flights I have had in a while and as we came in I could see the tops of the sea being blown away in the high winds. Still upon landing I picked up a car and headed out to Mt Field and my nearby AirBnB accommodation choice. I stopped in and bought a 24 hour pass only to be told after the purchase that the park was closed past the entrance area due to weather conditions – pretty typical Tassie tourist experience really…. Still my first AirBnB experience was great as I dumped my stuff in a real traditional BnB before heading out for a long nights spotlighting. As I headed out on dusk I saw my first Eastern-barred Bandicoot which I thought was a good sign but then the rain started to set in. The area around the entrance to Mt Field is generally considered good for Eastern Quoll but I had no luck despite a number of hours searching at various times of the night. There were lots of large standing areas of water which I began to notice had started to move – the river had broken its banks so I had to retreat. I spent another couple of hours driving out towards Lake Pedder and again back the other way but after my second encounter with the local constabulary I was advised to go to bed due to various landslides and water over the road events. During the couple of hours of driving around I saw nothing more exciting than numerous pademelons and Bennett’s wallabies.

A bit of water at Mt Field

A bit of water at Mt Field



The next morning Mt Field was now completely closed so I drove out to Lake Pedder for a bit of tourist action at the dam wall. I was quite shocked to see how extensively areas of swamp and buttongrass had been burnt in recent fires. Eventually I headed back to Hobart to pick up Dean and Rohan for the weekend pelagic action. On the way down to Eaglehawk Neck we did a bit of spotlighting along some side roads before dropping off bags and heading down to Fortescue Bay. On this occasion we saw little aside from the usual pademelons and brushtails and heard only a distant Morepork or two. Still we were back at a decent hour for the pelagic the next day. Unfortunately I had not had the requisite steak and beer before the pelagic so the auguries were not good for the following day.

Kelp Gull

Kelp Gull

We headed out from Eaglehawk Neck on the Pauletta heading past the Hippolytes where both Fur-seals were seen. It was a pretty good day really with highlights including a young Salvin’s Albatross, Grey Petrel, Soft-plumaged, Grey and White-headed Petrels and both Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions. Great albatrosses were only a few Southern Royals and a single Gibson’s type Wanderer. A good haul but nothing compared to the excellent pelagics of the proceeding few months out of Eaglehawk Neck. Still it was a very good day at sea and a couple of Humpback Whales rounded out the list – I think we are sometimes spoilt from this port.

Grey Petrel

Grey Petrel

Gibson's Albatross

Gibson’s Albatross

Salvin's Albatross

Salvin’s Albatross

After the pelagic we had a quick wind down and a pot of Cascade and headed to the famous tree at Port Arthur to see if the Masked Owls were around but tonight they were either having a lie-in or residing elsewhere. After a local pub meal Rohan and I headed out to Lime Bay Conservation area where we rumbled a couple of Long-nosed Potoroo. The target here was Masked Owl and we had an immediate strong call response then nothing…. seems to be quite typical behaviour in Tasmania in our limited experience. We added a nice Southern Brown Bandicoot to the trip list before again heading into bed at a reasonable hour – we must be getting old. Still we were back down at the dock early for another pelagic on the Pauletta with the conditions quite benign as we headed out followed by a horde of hungry gulls. This day was much quieter than the previous with highlights being the good numbers of White-headed Petrel and a nominate Great-winged Petrel among the recently split Grey-faced Petrels. Tried not to be too disappointed as we headed back in as there will always be next time!

Cape Petrel

Cape Petrel

Northern Giant-petrel

Northern Giant-petrel

White-headed Petrel

White-headed Petrel

Rohan and I are having a very non-competitive mammal year so we decided to head out to Gravelly Ridge Conservation Area to look for Eastern Bettongs before our flights home. This looks quite a good block of dry type woodland as we arrived on dusk into a horde of pademelons and wallabies. As we setup camera gear on dusk I waddled away from the car while scoffing dinner and almost immediately rumbled a bettong which I figured was a good sign. This was not quite the case as over the next hour or two we had only average views of a couple of further animals as we drive around. Still this area needs further investigation with more time! Alas around this time a tragic event occurred….. a European Hare skipped majestically across the road slaying Rohan’s bogey for the year – I was looking forward to him having to go spotlighting around the WTP to catch it up. A quick zip back to the airport only to be told our flights were inevitably delayed. While the weekend was slightly disappointing we still had a great time and saw plenty of good things.

Southern Royal Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Following the return from Tassie I headed out to Bunyip State Park for a change. The first visit was with Jonathan Newman, a British birder who is north of 7500 world species. After a couple of hours of silence and worsening weather conditions we managed to nail a nice Sooty Owl which flew in for a few photos and ended up giving walk away views. The following weekend I headed back on my own to an area I suspected Sooty Owls might be nesting and kicked back with a beer and a burger in the half hour leading up to dusk. Well before dusk two owls screamed and then bombed from what I think were separate hollows in an area of tall manna gums. On dark they popped out of the hollows and then spent the next hour in a trill duet which rivals any electronic synth pop band – some one should sample that shit! At one stage a male Powerful Owl called reasonably nearby which shut them up for a minute or so until they started up again. I eventually drove away with them still trilling and found another couple of owls including one in a completely new area. Clearly a good time of year to be out and listening!

Sooty Owl - Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl – Bunyip State Park

My 100th Aussie mammal – New Holland Mouse

A couple of years ago I saw a Blue Whale surface beside the boat on a Portland pelagic and decided it was time to start a mammal list. I have put a bit of effort this year into finding new mammals and a recent tally put me on 99 identified species. I was fortunate enough on the weekend to be able to tag along while Phoebe Burns from Melbourne University and Museum Victoria checked traps for the endangered (in Victoria) New Holland Mouse at Wilson’s Promontory National Park. I am particularly interested in this species as it used to occur at a favourite childhood haunt Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve before becoming extinct sometime in the 80’s. In Victoria the species is in considerable trouble with the only known extant populations now in the Yanakie Isthmus area of Wilson’s Prom, Providence Ponds and some parts of the Gippsland Lakes.

New Holland Mouse habitat

New Holland Mouse habitat

I was up at 5am from my sister’s holiday house at Phillip Island trekking across to Yanakie where I met up with Rohan Clarke. At 7:30 am we met up with Phoebe and her assistant Jenne and drove in to her research sites on the isthmus. Despite being a life long regular visitor to the Prom, this was one area I had never really explored so it was interesting to see the areas of long unburnt ti-tree habitat. It was a very successful morning with Phoebe finding nine New Holland Mice and a few Bush Rats in her traps. The New Holland Mouse is a very charismatic animal and was often quite chilled after release, several times running between legs as they ran off to their holes. This was my first Pseudomys and I am looking forward to seeing more of this genus of Australian native rodents. Phoebe is studying this population for her PhD and took measurements of each of the captured animals with her research important for the continued survival of this species in Victoria. A few hog deer on the way out showed that the recent culling effort has had little effect on the population.

New Holland Mouse hole

New Holland Mouse hole

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

Later in the day I dropped in at Cape Liptrap to look for whales but all I saw was a few fur-seals. A lyrebird crossing the road near the Cape was very unusual as the habitat is very strange and the species does not occur at nearby Wilsons Prom. Eventually I got my Humpback as a few were showing well off the Cape Woolamai beach back at Phillip Island. All in all a very successful day!

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

Birding around Bangalore

And now for something a little different – I have spent the past week or more in India for work. Last Saturday I managed to get a day away from the meetings to get a day out birding with Bopanna from Bangalore Birding – http://www.bangalorebirding.com/. I had used him last year for another day out to Nandi Hills, Hoskote Lake and Valley School and found him excellent with great skills and a very easy going personality. This year the plan was to head south for birding on the edge of the Cauvery River Wildlife Sanctuary to fill in a few species missed last year. Bopanna picked me up at 6 am and we headed out into Bangalore traffic which was even starting to get heavy at this hour.

Indian Jungle Crow

Indian Jungle Crow

About an hour south of Bangalore we stopped for coffee and then at a couple of wetlands where breeding plumaged Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas were highlights as well as plenty of the usual wetland suspects. Eventually we turned off the main road and headed towards the sanctuary and the good birding really began. A quick stop in a paddock found good numbers of Jungle Bush Quail which were quite vocal and sat up nicely on rocks with an estimate of 15-20 birds in the immediate area. Cauvery WLS is a large area of more than 100,000 hectares but access to most is restricted so we birded in the buffer areas. In an area of dry forest I picked up my most wanted local target Blue-faced Malkoha as well as other nice birds including Brown-capped and Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Large Cuckooshrike, Small Minivet and Common Woodshrike. I always love Woodpeckers of any sort as they don’t occur back home and was even better to pick up a new one.

Jungle Bush Quail

Jungle Bush Quail

Brown-capped Woodpecker

Brown-capped Woodpecker

At a small village on a tributary of the Cauvery River we noticed a brand new bridge which we sat on and waited for the Lesser Fish Eagle which Bopanna assured me was reliable here. Sure enough right on cue the magnificent bird flew in and perched giving great views until some crows flushed it and it soared up the river over our head! This bridge was an excellent vantage point with other birds such as Crested Treeswift, Indian Grey Hornbill, various Kingfishers, White-browed Wagtail and Purple Heron giving good shows. A wild pig and some Bonnet Macaques got the mammal list ticking along.

Lesser Fish Eagle

Lesser Fish Eagle

From here we followed the road over the bridge into an excellent area of forest. Apparently roads like this are often restricted access but as this one led to a temple it was still open. Crossing the road was a nice Ruddy Mongoose which was a new mammal for me. We spent several hours in this area with many more nice birds seen. Highlights for me included a nesting pair of White-rumped Shama – was surprised to see they were cavity nesters, three soaring Short-toed Eagles, Black-hooded Oriole, Bay-backed Shrike, Black-naped Monarch and Yellow-eyed Babbler among many others. The forest looked so good I would not have been surprised to see a leopard cross the road or us to encounter some elephants which are apparently in this reserve in good numbers but unfortunately no luck on this day. Buried in the forest near the shrine was a small village whose inhabitants apparently get by harvesting elephant dung and subsistence farming. I could have happily spent several days just exploring this section but we moved on for lunch.

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

White-rumped Shama at nest

White-rumped Shama at nest

We had a good lunch at hotel on the Cauvery River where it seems that Indians and tourists make a good habit of drowning on a regular basis. The signs were quite morbid detailing the deaths and statistics with hundreds drowned in the last 20 years. There was some nice wildlife watching here with a mugger crocodile feasting on a dead dear as well as Wooly-necked Stork, Darter and a brace of Cormorants nesting in a large tree. After lunch we returned to the previous area of forest where I had a bit of a wander along a nearly dry creek. As we started to head back to Bangalore a pair of Barred Button-quails crossed the road giving great views of both male and female.

Barred Button-quail

Barred Button-quail

Wild cow encountered on foot

Wild cow encountered on foot

We meandered back to Bangalore stopping for anything that looked interesting. I was particularly happy to get better views of a couple of Pied (Jacobin) Cuckoos which sat on a wire. We ended up hitting right on 100 species for the day and I managed about 12 new ones which was great. I look forward to going out with Bopanna next time I am in Bangalore, hopefully for longer this time with a trip into the Western Ghats on the cards. Unfortunately the rest of my trip was consumed with work and with the hotel locations I did not even get a chance to get away again for more birding.

Ebird Checklist for Cauvery WLS

Silk worm cocoons

Silk worm cocoons

Pied Cuckoo

Pied Cuckoo

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

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