A few recent sightings

Been a bit quiet on the posting front of late so thought I would put up a few recent sightings of note to try and get things moving again.

A couple of weeks ago I had a spare night so hit up Scott and we headed up the Hume looking for some furry critters and perhaps a frog or two. It has been raining heavily all day but the skies cleared as we arrived right on dusk in the Avenel district. We poked around a couple of farm dams before spotlighting along remnant roadside vegetation. This area has been largely cleared for farming but there are still mature trees along the roadside edges. Almost as soon as we started we spotlighting we found a Brush-tailed Phascogale – one of the main targets up here. It was down near the ground and ran up a small tree where it froze against the trunk and would not move allowing us some great photo opportunities.

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Moving on we found another couple of Phascogale and then the second main target for the night with a lovely Squirrel Glider down low feeding on sap. These gliders are endangered in Victoria with arguably less in the state than Leadbeater’s Possum. This animal allowed some good views and a quick photo or two before scooting up the tree. Victorian Squirrel Gliders have an amazingly bushy tail and are very distinctive.

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

Across the rest of the evening we found a couple more Phascogale and another Squirrel Glider. As it had been raining there were many, many Banjo Frogs up and about but nothing more interesting. A final excellent sighting was a Phascogale hunting along branches, snuffling into nooks and crevices looking for insects. All in all a good night!

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Last weekend I went down to Dandenong Valley Wetlands which is a bit of my local weekend patch – I got there for a walk and a bit of birdwatching. Saw over 60 species of birds with a highlight being a couple of Rufous Songlarks which were new for me for the site. It was a warm day so I saw a number of Lowland Copperheads, a couple of which gave some good photo opps as they went about their business. They were quite warm and a bit feisty when their tails were tweaked.

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

A close encounter with the Plains Wanderer

Over the past few years I have spent a number of nights waddling across the grasslands that comprise part of Terrick Terrick National Park with Scott Baker and others looking for Plains Wanderer and other threatened species of the area with little luck. At best it has been a good opportunity to have a few beers with mates and a bit of exercise – aside from a few button-quails and barn owls had rarely seen anything of note. The Plains Wanderer is a critically endangered bird that looks superficially like a quail but is more closely related to waders and is a monotypic member of its own family Pedionomidae. The Terricks for many years were considered a stronghold for the species but in recent years it has been largely absent. It seems to prefer a habitat just short of drought conditions with sparse rather than thick grass. A couple of months back I got a message from Owen Lishmund that he had found a Plains Wanderer in the Terricks but was unfortunately away so couldn’t race up – following that more people found more birds so was almost frothing at the bit when I finally got a chance to head up again with Scott Baker for a look.

We headed up late afternoon and of course dropped into Mitiamo Store for a couple of Jill’s famous steak sandwiches which I can highly recommend. Arriving at our chosen paddock a bit after dark we wolfed down the steak sandwich, cracked a can and headed out spotlighting. Within a few minutes I spotlit another member of the threatened community of the area – a Fat-tailed Dunnart. I have seen these in NSW, SA and the NT but was a first record in Victoria for me. These are little, savage members of the Dasyurid family that take a toll on local insects, arthropods and vertebrates. I really like how it stood up on hind legs like a little Quoll when checking me out before scampering down a hole. This was one of a dozen I saw for the night which was great considering I had seen a grand total of zero in previous nights up here – it seemed a good omen.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

After only twenty minutes and a couple of flushed Pipits, I put up a bird. I immediately knew from its long trailing legs it was a Plains Wanderer! It took a few moments to locate as it was so well camouflaged but I did a little dance as I realised it was a lovely young male bird. We spent a couple of minutes photographing before leaving it alone – it was sitting so still and reliant on its disguise I think i could easily have picked it up. I was pretty stoked and what an amazing, unique and tiny little bird! We continued on in this and another paddock and despite finding more dunnarts and a large number of dunnarts that was the only PW for the night – we walked over 20km for the night. Since then I have heard that other surveys in the same area have found more birds so hopefully there is an increase in Victoria. With the Plains Wanderer out of the way I now need to go and find a Scrubbird – my last endemic family in Aus.

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Scott and I eventually camped in the park and did a bit of birding and herping in the morning before having a bacon and egg roll at Jill’s in Mitiamo and heading home – a very successful night!

A Victorian Record of Heleioporus australiacus

Just before the new year dawned Rohan Clarke and I slipped out of Melbourne and headed east into Gippsland for a quick overnight jaunt. We had a couple of targets – Figbird for Rohan’s Vic list and a bit of a long bow looking for the Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) in State Forest around the Mitchell River. First stop was Lake Guyatt where a nice list of fifty odd species got things moving including a calling Pacific Koel. From here we headed to Metung birding anywhere that looked likely picking up local rarities like White-browed Woodswallow, Brown Songlark and Blue-billed Duck. Metung was a bit of a bust with no Figbird or interesting pigeons to be seen so we decided to head towards the evening site of State Forest north of Bairnsdale.

Typical habitat – State Forest

We spent the afternoon birding and doing some recce for likely sites for the evening. In addition to the frog we were also keen to look for large forest owls and there seemed to be plenty of decent habitat with mature hollow bearing trees. There was of course plenty of evidence of logging as we were in unprotected State Forest – in some places the logging had gone well into stream systems but I guess in Gippsland its a case of out of site and out of mind. We did get some nice birds including Dollarbird, Leaden Flycatcher, Brush Cuckoo and a favourite of mine – the Gippsland race of Yellow-tufted Honeyeater which was common.

Looking down into the Mitchell River Gorge

There was a fair bit of thunder activity around and it was quite humid but no rain which we thought we would need for the frog to come up. The Giant Burrowing Frog spends most of the year buried underground and is thought to only come up to hunt briefly after rain and only calls a few nights a year. Rohan had looked for this frog on and off for over 20 years so was particularly keen – me…. I am keen to see anything! We ducked into Mitchell River National Park for a bit where Cicadabirds and Brown Gerygones called from down in the gully. Eventually we found a good place on a creek to wait for dark while having an ale or two. On dusk we had plenty of bats flitting around as well as a pair of Hobby which seemed to be out looking for a late meal.

A good place for a beer

A White-throated Nightjar, Greater and Yellow-bellied Gliders, many bats and a cacophony of frogs seemed to kick the night off well! I thought i could smell large forest owls the habitat looked that good! In the distance lightning flashed and there was a rumble of thunder so the portents seemed perfect! Over the next few hours we tried many sites including walking up and down drainage lines without a peep from an owl or a hint of the frog. There were many Sugar Gliders and perhaps 7 bats were recorded on the detector with the highlight being a probable Southern Bent-winged Bat. Eventually is was well past midnight and we had reached the end of the run we had sketched out without any real success. We decided to loop around and try one more drainage line which had been relatively recently burnt before looking for somewhere to make camp. It was past 1am and I decided to leave my camera in the car as we clearly we had no chance. We were perhaps 150 meters from the car when Rohan shouted “I’ve #@!$ing got one!” Shining my torch in his direction I immediately saw strong eyeshine on the ground and ran across to see an amazing fat frog up sitting in a hunting stance! A Giant Burrowing Frog! I had to run back to the car to grab my camera!

Giant Burrowing Frog – Heleioporus australiacus

This would have to be one of the most impressive frogs I have seen and would be conservatively about the size of my fist. The impressive nuptial spines on its forelimbs showed this was a male. Rohan was ecstatic – this frog goes years between reports in Victoria and for a time was thought possibly extinct in the state! We did not touch the frog and let it do its thing. You can see from the dirt on its head that it had recently emerged from underground and even though it was not raining it was clearly humid enough. We searched the surrounding area but did not find any others. It seems likely that the low intensity fire in the area perhaps 6 months earlier made it easier to detect the frog. What had been a decent if slightly disappointing evening was suddenly awesome!


Giant Burrowing Frog – Heleioporus australiacus
Check the spines on the forelimbs!

Still buzzing we eventually found a place to roll out the swags sometime well after 2 am. I must admit I slept through the dawn chorus but we got up and went into Bairnsdale for celebratory egg and bacon roll and coffee. We spent a couple of hours kicking round Macleods Morass for nearly 80 species with perhaps five Lewins Rail and many hundreds of Hardhead flying in sounding like jet engines highlights! Back in Melbourne a little less than 30 hours from leaving – any thoughts of dipping on the Figbird dismissed by an awesome sighting of a mega Victorian frog! The records had been lodged with relevant authorities – hopefully the State Forest it persists in can receive appropriate protection!

Possum Magic

Last weekend I swung into the city to pick up Nik Haass and his lovely wife Raja before meeting up with Rohan Clarke for a night of looking for mammals in the Toolangi State Forest. As I have said previously it is not my favourite area of forest due to the pressures of excess logging but armed with spotlights, thermal cameras and a bat detector (and of course Rohan’s excellent local knowledge) we were pretty confident of seeing and hearing some cool stuff. This area of forest is largely unprotected and is still heavily logged despite being the western most habitat of the Critically Endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

We started off in an area near Sylvia Creek Road and almost immediately Rohan found a Leadbeater’s Possum which was new for Nik and Raja. The views were fleeting as were a couple of others seen briefly soon after. They didn’t respond to pishing at all during the night perhpas due to the lack of moon and the threat of predators. There were a number of bats flitting around so I faffed around with the bat detector a bit quickly picking up a couple of Vespadelus species and Chocolate Wattled Bat.

Leadbeater's Possum - Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Toolangi State Forest

As usual when something cool turns up I was taking a nature break and after a quick jog up the road found that Rohan has found a lovely little tubby Eastern Pygmy Possum low down in road side foliage. Despite missing a good chunk of its tail this animal was in good condition with its little fat rolls seen well. It gave walk away views and we picked it up again on the walk back down the road which showed the thermal camera was not missing much.

Eastern Pygmy-possum

Eastern Pygmy-possum

Eastern Pygmy-possum

Eastern Pygmy-possum

From here we moved on trying a number of spots picking up mere glimpses of Leadbeater’s Possum in the thermal camera as well as plenty of Bobuck and a couple of Greater Glider. I wandered off with the bat detector and picked up an Eastern Falsistrellus doing loops which is an impressively large microbat of the wet forests of SE Australia. It would be new for Nik and Raja so we drove down to the spot and sat and waited and sure enough it was soon picked up on the detector and then spotlit giving decent views. We also detected a Long-eared Bat sp which looped around before ducking into foliage and was lost. Disappointingly we heard no Sooty Owls for the night but there were plenty of Boobooks and the odd Tawny and Owlet-nightjar calling as well as a couple of late night cuckoos.

Eastern Falsistrellus - showing its distinctive frequency around 35 kHz

Eastern Falsistrellus – showing its distinctive frequency around 35 kHz

About now the batteries in the hand held thermal camera were running low so Rohan mounted the car unit and we went for a drive picking up plenty of Bobucks and the odd ringtail and roosting bird. Eventually late in the evening we disturbed a wombat off the road which seemed to flush a small mammal upwards which glowed in the thermal camera. A bit of stumbling round and it was found to be a Feather-tailed Glider which decided freezing was its best defence and allowed a few photos of its feet and tail but not much else. It eventually decided it was time to flee and we got fantastic views of it moving adeptly through the thick lower story until we lost it. Analysis of the photos later appear to confirm that it is a Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider but would welcome comment on the pics below.

Narrow-toed? Feather-tailed Glider

Narrow-toed? Feather-tailed Glider

Narrow-toed? Feather-tailed Glider

Narrow-toed? Feather-tailed Glider

Toes

Toes

Tail tip

Tail tip

Toes

Toes

To wrap things up nicely we heard Yellow-bellied Gliders on the way out and while we stopped and looked for them and heard their gurgling call a number of times we couldn’t get an eye on them. All in all an excellent night with some 8 species of glider and possum seen between the party. It is such a shame that the remnants of this forest are not better protected and it seems a shame that logging seems to continue at a pace before its seemingly inevitable cessation in the Central Highlands around Melbourne – #GFNP

All in all an excellent night!

The bucket list – a Wallaby and a Wombat – part 2

After such an awesome night seeing Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat and Spectacled Hare-wallabies anything after might have seemed a let down but we were off to try and see something almost as awesome. Rohan and I had permission to go to Taunton National Park and look for Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby. This tiny wallaby had been thought extinct up until 1973 when a fencing contractor reported them on a property near Dingo in central Queensland. Although they once stretched from Victoria all the way up to Queensland they were a victim of change of land use and foxes. Taunton National Park is the only remaining wild population although they have been reintroduced to several areas including Scotia which now houses a couple of thousand animals. We arrived in Taunton NP in the evening with many macropods seen on the way in including large numbers of Black-striped Wallaby which I had only seen once before.

Taunton National Park

Taunton National Park

Right on 5pm we were given a brief induction by the ranger and were given a couple of hours to go and look for Bridleds. We also heard about the extensive work being done to protect the species with feral cats and drought being of particular concern. We were losing the night as we got into the right area and there amongst the hordes of Black-stripeds was a lovely little Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby! Surely one of the best looking of macropods with a lovely bold pattern – some of the independent young animals were little bigger than a large rabbit! We saw quite a few during a brief drive around where we arrived on the edge of an excellent wetland right on dark. We had heard from the ranger that the Bridleds like to get right in the water to feed on lillies and other water plants so we split up in different directions to go and witness this behaviour. In addition to many Black-striped and Bridled Nail-tailed Wallabies there were a few Rufous Bettong which allowed close approach. Eventually we had to leave but a tiny little independent Bridled gave a great view on the way out. It is easy to see how they would be an easy snack for a cat or fox. Again we were very privileged to have the opportunity!

Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby

Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby

Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby

Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby

Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby

Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby

We decided to spend the night at nearby Blackdown Tablelands National Park where we did some further spotlighting and looking for large forest owls. Not much luck on that front with only a couple of Sugar Gliders and a Tawny Frogmouth of note. Up early and unfortunately it was time to head south. Greg Roberts had recently posted in his blog a site for Herbert’s Rock-wallaby near Eidsvold so we headed in that direction. I have mixed feelings about this species having dipped previously and nearly giving myself heatstroke at another site. We rolled into Eidsvold around lunchtime and we didn’t even make it to nearby Tolderodden Conservation Park before seeing a couple of Herbert’s Rock-wallabies on private land from the car. After lunch we went for a wander in the park seeing several more of this pretty little wallaby. Rohan also saw Pretty-faced Wallaby but I dipped on that. We spent some more time back on the road looking at the rock-wallabies on the nearby private property which seemed to know there was a fence between us.

Carlia schmeltzii

Carlia schmeltzii

Herbert's Rock-wallaby

Herbert’s Rock-wallaby

The day was getting on so we decided to make a run for Lake Perseverance near Toowoomba where I had seen Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby a couple of years ago. We arrived after dark with the highlight being an Army Chinook making several low passes over the dam. We stayed the night at the nearby Cressbrook Dam camping area which had excellent facilities including warm showers. A Rufous Bettong and a few Brush-tailed Possums stalked around in the evening. The area is known for its feral population of Red Deer and we saw many on the way out in the morning. Back at the Lake Perseverance dam wall we saw at least a dozen Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby which gave great views. From here it was south to the border where we decided on spending an evening spotlighting in Girraween National Park which is an area known as a hotspot for South Queensland rarities with many species not getting much further north.

Shooting Red Deer :)

Shooting Red Deer 🙂

Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby

Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby

Girraween National Park sits nestled right on the border with New South Wales and has one of the few populations of Common Wombat in Queensland as well as a few Spot-tailed Quolls so these were the main targets for the night. Its an area of granite outcrops and drier woodland bordered by rough paddocks so I must say it does look good for quolls! Elliot Leach had again given us some excellent gen on local birding hotspots and we started racking up a great list with Turquoise Parrot, Diamond Firetail and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren being highlights. Spent some time chasing the local subspecies of Superb Lyrebird but despite hearing a few I did not get a glimpse this time. The common macropods were Red-necked Wallaby, Common Wallaroo and Eastern Grey Kangaroo. We spent a long evening spotlighting and using the bat detector with many bats in evidence despite it being very cold. Standouts included Southern Greater Glider, Brown Antechinus and Eastern Horseshoe Bat amongst around 7 bat species. Despite a lot of effort we did not turn up a wombat or a quoll. In the morning there was a coating of ice on the tents and a quick check showed us at over 1000 meters of altitude. We birded a couple of hours before heading south. Further good birds like Glossy Black-cockatoo, Red-browed Treecreeper, Fuscous Honeyeater and Eastern Rosella were good from a Queensland list perspective.

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Eastern Horseshoe Bat

Eastern Horseshoe Bat

From here it was the long haul home with the occasional birding stop. We stayed the last night at Forbes and due to there being a bit of rain about we went to nearby Gum Swamp in the hope the Giant Banjo Frog – Limnodynastes interioris was out. We ended up seeing plenty of the attractive looking frog and there were many bats zipping around with a half dozen species recorded. The weather was becoming foul so it was pretty much straight back to Melbourne the next day. A very successful trip with 2 new birds, 8 new mammals, 10 new reptiles and a new frog! Thanks to Rohan for the invite, those who gave information and Lucas and Simmy for letting me go! Looking forward to the next trip.

Limnodynastes interioris

Limnodynastes interioris

Limnodynastes interioris

Limnodynastes interioris

The bucket list – a Wallaby and a Wombat – part 1

It was getting to that time of year again – time for Rohan Clarke and I to head somewhere to see something amazing. This year I was to fly into Mackay and meet up with him after he had an excellent 3 week holiday with the family while they would fly back to Melbourne and we would drive the car home (while diverting to some interesting sites of course) We had joked last year that we should combine a trip for Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat and Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby and through academic contacts of Rohan’s things had fallen into place. Permission had been granted to enter Epping Forest National Park to trial thermal camera gear as a survey method – this is the only place that the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat remains in the wild. In addition we also had permission to go to Taunton National Park – this is where the Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby was “rediscovered” in 1973 when a fencing contractor reported seeing these tiny macropods when they had been considered extinct for 40 years. Around these two cornerstones and a few other targets we planned a trip back to Melbourne.

Despite a few delays in Brisbane I flew into Mackay and landed around 4:30 pm picking up a hire car for the evening – this was my first time back in Mackay since an epic family holiday back in 1982 – I am sure it hadn’t changed a bit! I was checking into my motel while a Red-whiskered Bulbul called outside – a Queensland plastic rarity which was somewhat amusing. Rohan had permission to spend his last night with the family spotlighting (thanks Kate) so we had a cunning plan to go look for Water Mouse (aka False Water Rat) at a site south of Mackay. Needless to say after several hours bashing through mangroves and surrounding grassy swamp areas we dipped. We did find a number of Melomys but were unsure of species. Birds were better with two species of nightjar and a Grass Owl on the way out.

I was up early and headed to the Botanic Garden for an excellent couple of hours of birding. It was great to catch up with birds I had not seen for a couple of years – things like Cotton Pygmy-geese, Jacanas and Yellow Honeyeaters showed I wasn’t in Melbourne anymore. Also of interest was a Platypus snuffling around which I was quite surprised to see here in the middle of town in a coastal location. I returned the car and met up with Rohan and after a quick supermarket shop for supplies we headed out towards Eungella. A Pacific Baza perched beside the road giving excellent views was a nice start – this is a species I had only seen a couple of times previously. I had two realistic bird targets for the trip with the first being White-browed Robin. We stopped at the first likely bit of habitat on the Pioneer River and after a bit of poking round we found a lovely couple of pairs of White-browed Robin in a strip of riparian vegetation between the river and the cane. After spending a bit of time with these it is clear it is my new second favourite robin – after Southern Scrub-robin of course.

White-browed Robin

White-browed Robin

From here is was up to the township of Eungella perched on the plateau of the Clarke Range west of Mackay. There is a bird around here called the Eungella Honeyeater which is probably the only Australian species formally described in my lifetime (1983) and restricted to a small area of upland rainforest and surrounds. This range restricted species can be difficult at times to connect with but Elliot Leach had given us his best spot which paid off as soon as we rolled down the hill the appropriate distance! While we made lunch we saw a number of Eungella Honeyeaters calling and returning too and from some flowering in some tall trees. Lifer number two of the trip and thankyou Elliot!! I would have loved to have stayed and explored but time was short and we rolled on to Broken River which must be the easiest place in Australia to see Platypus.

Eungella Honeyeater

Eungella Honeyeater

Platypus

Platypus

Carlia rhomboidalis

Carlia rhomboidalis

From here we spent some time in Crediton State Forest doing some birding and recce for spotlighting later in the evening. A highlight was the range restricted Peppered-belly broad-tailed gecko (quite a mouthful – but a lovely gecko) After a good meal we did some bat detecting down by a creek picking up Eastern Forest Bat and Little Bentwing Bat. Further up the road we spotlit a number of Central Greater Gliders (Lifer) as well as some very vocal Yellow-bellied Gliders and a Sooty Owl – a pretty good start to the evening! Back to Broken River and Rohan picked up a tiny thermal speck in the top of the canopy which after much contortion was found to be a Broad-toed Feather-tailed Glider (Lifer) which was pretty cool. We found it again as we walked back up the road which showed the thermal camera was probably not missing anything!

Peppered-belly broad-tailed gecko

Peppered-belly broad-tailed gecko

Broad-toed Feather-tailed Glider

Broad-toed Feather-tailed Glider

From here we moved out through drier areas towards Eungella Dam – during this drive we saw good numbers of Central Greater Glider in habitat that seems unusual including a couple of animals cavorting on the ground in a cow paddock!!! The trees were low and no Southern Greater Glider would be seen dead in such second class habitat! Also of interest were a couple of Rufous Bettong and Sugar Glider as well as a Boobook with an unidentifed Rat prey. When we reached the dam area we parked and went for a walk where we found several Squirrel Gliders in a flowering tree which were clearly larger and bulkier than the Sugar seen earlier. Jono Dashper had said this was a great site for Unadorned Rock-wallaby (Lifer) and so it proved with perhaps half a dozen seen including a mother and joey. They certainly lived up to the Unadorned name…..

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

Central Greater Glider

Central Greater Glider

Unadorned Rock-wallaby

Unadorned Rock-wallaby

Up early we birded around Eungella Dam seeing some nice wetland species as well as an interesting mix of dry and wetter country birds. At one stop we found an unfortunate Squirrel Glider deceased on a barbed wire fence – these must take a terrible toll in this glider rich area. We had vague info that the area towards Nebo was good for Spectacled Hare-wallaby so headed in that direction. A nice group of Squatter Pigeons was a highlight as it was the first time I have seen the southern subspecies. We spent the night spotlighting and thermal camera around Homevale National Park which was an interesting blend of dry woodland and escarpment country only about 20km as the crow flies from Eungella. Hearing Lewin’s and Scarlet Honeyeater calling in seemingly dry country was quite unusual. Highlights of the evening were three Rufous Bettong, a small pack of Dingo and several Barking Owl as well as Spotted Nightjar, Squirrel Glider and a good number of microbats around the camp.

Squirrel Glider - unfortunately killed on barbed wire

Squirrel Glider – unfortunately killed on barbed wire

Squatter Pigeon

Squatter Pigeon

Barking Owl

Barking Owl

Today was a big day – we were heading to Epping Forest National Park to hopefully see one of the most endangered species in Australia. On the way to Nebo we found recently harvested fields full of 100’s of Brolga and Bustard as well as large flocks of Red-winged Parrot which glowed in the morning sun. A bit further on we flushed a large flock of finches off the side of the road which proved to be Plum-headed Finches – a species I had only seen once previously. We stopped and it proved to be a great location with a conservative estimate of 500 Plum-heads as well as other nice species like Black and Black-chinned Honeyeater, Squatter Pigeon and Little Woodswallow. At Clermont we stopped for lunch and supplies before birding a bit at Hood’s Lagoon which was a nice stop. From here it was onto Epping Forest National Park where we were greeted by the current caretakers – Sandra and Charlotte. Epping Forest National Park was the last place in the world where Northern hairy-nosed wombat occurrs in the wild and was as low as 30 animals in the 1970s. Numbers have increased to more than 200 at Epping and there is a second introduced population but it is still very much endangered. Access to the park is restricted and Rohan had organised through academic contacts over a number of months. There is a fence around the park to keep dingos out and wombats in but it is not a true predator proof fence – cats and foxes would have no problem passing through and indeed we saw several cats and more prints during our visit. The speed limit in Epping is 20 km/h during the day and 5 km/h during the night and it never seems too slow.

The caretakers were amazing with their hospitality and insisted on cooking as dinner. We had a nice evening drive and were very privileged to see our first Northern hairy-nosed wombat sitting outside their burrow in the evening sun. The wombat bolted back into its hole but soon emerged to give us another view. We were stoked and returned for a celebratory drink and an excellent dinner. The caretakers at Epping are all volunteers and do an amazing job checking the fences, looking for signs of predators and protecting the park.

Wombat!

Wombat!

Bucket List number 1

Bucket List number 1

After dinner we headed out for a long night of using the thermal camera and spotlighting. There were many wallabies and kangaroos which were somewhat distracting but at least showed the thermal camera was working. The grass was high but the car-mounted thermal camera cut right through it which showed the value of it as a survey tool. A small signal proved to be a Spectacled Hare-wallaby which was a new very cool macropod for me. It allowed reasonably close views but was a bit skittish but I was happy to get some distant photos. A bit later on we were able to get extremely close to another Hare-wallaby which decided that hunkering down in some grass was good camouflage even when we wandered up right next to it – no wonder they get smashed by foxes in range. It took a while but eventually we picked up a wombat in the thermal and then I was shocked to see one waddle across the middle of the screen not five meters from the car! They were very skittish though and not tolerant of white light at all. Red light was somewhat better but they would still bolt to a hole if they heard or smelt us (several days without a shower and I was probably quite stinky) It was an amazing night – probably saw eight wombats (including a couple thermal only) and at least that many hare-wallabies as well as plenty of other critters and a few night birds.

Spectacled Hare-wallaby

Spectacled Hare-wallaby

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

In the morning we birded a bit and checked out some impressive wombat burrows before we had to head off. A young Black-breasted Buzzard took a bit too much thinking to work out but I blame to lack of sleep. I think it is fair to say we were both somewhat in awe of the experience and very privileged. I did accidentally leave my boots in Epping but I think that was a fair price to pay for such an amazing experience!!

Wombat burrow

Wombat burrow

Westland Petrel – another cracker of a weekend in Tassie

Late in April I headed down for another double-header Eaglehawk Neck pelagic weekend with two boat trips and the usual associated night time misadventures. Earlier in the year I had racked up my 700th Aussie bird species with Black-bellied Storm-petrel on another one of these weekends. April-May are good months for a couple of my last few semi-regular South-East Australian species in Southern Fulmar and Westland Petrel so with a good forecast was keen to get out. Rohan Clarke picked me up from the airport Friday afternoon and we headed down to the Lufra. The whole Tasman Peninsula was packed out for a massive tuna fishing competition and there was many a bourbon and coke being consumed in the car park. The night was young so we teamed up with Gus and Elliot for a bit of spotlighting through the suburban limits of Eaglehawk Neck. We started off with the usual Pademelon’s, Brushtails and Bennett’s Wallabies before graduating to Eastern-barred Bandicoot and then a nice Tassie Morepork showing well. I was of course taking a nature break when Rohan picked up a Pygmy-possum in the thermal camera which turned out to be a lovely Eastern Pygmy-possum – a Tassie first for me. It gave good views as it crept back into cover in someone’s front yard. A bit further on a roosting Sea-eagle rounded out a very good evening of suburban spotlighting.

Up early and onto the Pauletta we headed out into very calm conditions cruising past the Hippolytes and then deviating to a group of albatross. Around here the deckhand Hugh started tossing out a bit of berley which got a number of the albatross following us for much of the day. We were at about 250 fathoms when Gus spotted a large pale shearwater way back in the wake which was initially called as a Buller’s. Boat stopped and the bird started to fly in while many of us grabbed cameras. It was only when it landed on the water that we realised it was in fact a Great Shearwater – a mega more often found in the Atlantic Ocean. I had seen previously during the influx in April 2011 but a very good bird to connect with again. It flew off and we continued to the shelf, all in a bit of a shock.

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

We had a very nice, pleasant day at the shelf with some excellent birds including a couple of confiding Providence Petrels and a number of great albatross including Southern Royal, Wandering and Gibson’s. There were good numbers of White-chinned Petrel throughout the day and I spent a lot of time checking them again and again for Westland. A very good day in glassy very flat conditions which made us wish for a little more wind or swell.

Providence Petrel - shit shot but finally have in pixels

Providence Petrel – shit shot but finally have in pixels

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Eventually it was time to head in and we were all slightly flat – there had been plenty of birds all day and of course the early morning mega but something seemed to be missing. As we crossed over the shelf and into offshore waters both Rohan and I immediately picked up on an incoming Procellaria with a darkened billtip and started taking photos. The bird clearly had a different flight jizz to White-chinned being slightly heavier and build yet lighter in flight. The billtip was confusing being black on one side yet worn and light on the other. Examination on the back of cameras had us pretty certain it was a Westland Petrel yet not 100% sure. The bird stuck around for a number of passes allowing many pics to be taken. Later on the computer it was clear this was a Westland Petrel and a very well wanted lifer confirmed.

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel - the bad side

Westland Petrel – the bad side

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

We headed down the peninsula for a good pub meal and a celebratory lifer beer (or two) before heading out for a few hours spotlighting. We headed out the Taranna Forest Drive where we had plenty of the usual suspects as well as several Morepork’s showing and giving a good call repertoire. The highlight of the night was yet another Little Pygmy-possum no more than the size of my thumb picked up in the thermal camera frozen against a thin trunk. Two Pygmy-possum species in a weekend is pretty special.

Up early again and out on the Pauletta where there was slightly more wind and swell than the previous day but conditions were still very benign. It was still another excellent day at sea with an even more diverse species list than the previous day. An early Westland Petrel got things going, one of perhaps four we had for the day. At our deepest berley point we had an excellent flyby of a Cook’s Petrel which a very late record for this species off Eaglehawk Neck. Other pelagic highlights included both Royals, two Wandering types and the usual suite of species. At one stage we had many hundreds of Common Dolphins passing by the boat in a large mega herd which was very cool. On the way back in we had a couple of flybys of another Great Shearwater! probably the same bird as yesterday but who knows? Probably the only disappointment for the weekend was the lack of large cetaceans despite perfect spotting conditions – we later found out that tuna boats had seen both Orcas and a very large Blue Whale which we must have just missed.

After a coffee it was back to the airport and the flight home. Already looking forward to the next weekend down here!

Ebird lists: DAY 1 and DAY 2

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Short-tailed Shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Buller's Albatross

Buller’s Albatross

Parasuta flagellum – a new snake

Last weekend Lucas and I had a spare day and he was pretty keen to head to the Western Treatment Plant as we hadn’t been there for ages. As we arrived it started pouring with rain and that was a theme for the visit – moments of brilliant sunshine followed by pouring rain. We first headed out to Kirk Point where a late pale Arctic Jaeger provided some interest. I think the main reason Lucas likes the WTP is he gets to sit in the front as we drive around and today was no exception. Nothing particularly exciting on the bird front but we set ourselves a modest target of 60 species for the visit.

Whistling Kite

Whistling Kite

Eventually with not much activity we started to head out but stopped in an area with plenty of rocks and rubbish scattered around. Lucas is always up for a good flip so we went for a wander to see what we could find. Plenty of centipedes, crickets and roaches as well as the odd unidentified nest which i assumed were house mice although they did not smell. Eventually I flipped a cracked and broken bit of masonry and found a snake! Looking at the dark crown and tiny size I immediately assumed it was a juvenile Eastern Brown Snake. Unfortunately it slipped down a crack in the ground before I could snag a photo so we moved on. We soon found another somewhat larger specimen which allowed a couple of photos before it to found a crack to disappear. I wasn’t entirely sure of ID so sent a few text pics to some wiser heads who confirmed the snakes were in fact Little Whip Snakes – Parasuta flagellum – which was a new snake for Lucas and I. We were pretty stoked so celebrated with some junk food on the way home after also meeting out 60 bird species target.

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum