It was on a late January spotlighting night with Chris Sanderson in the Yarra Ranges that I learnt of a lodge in the far north of NSW that “guaranteed” quoll for visitors. Spot-tailed Quoll has long been on my most wanted list so I was very keen to see one. Chris and Katrina gave glowing reports of watching quolls feeding outside the accommodation so I did a bit of further research on the Guestwick Eco Lodge http://www.guestwickecoresort.com.au/ and contacted Adrian to book a night. Around this I decided to plan my first ever mammal-centric twitching trip – while I still needed quite a few birds in the SE Queensland area I planned this trip to be mammal first. So flying into Brisbane the plan was Lamington first night, Guestwick the second and then a bit loose after that with two rock-wallabies on the agenda. Eventually I had the leave pass confirmed so flew into Brisbane on a Thursday afternoon. Flight was delayed so I copped Brisbane right on peak hour which was frustrating but it did mean that I hit the Logan area right on dusk as a huge Flying-fox camp moved out. Standing like a true dork on the side of the road I added Black Flying-fox to the year list as well as picking out a Grey-headed as many, many bats moved out to the surrounding suburbs. I finally escaped the traffic and headed up to the campground at Green Mountain picking up the excellent Hare and Fox on the way as well as many Cane Toads. Things were looking a bit bleak until I hit the edge of Lamington NP where I stopped at the first pull-in. Here I picked up a rather cranky Short-eared Brushtail Possum (technical tick!) and a number of Grey-headed Flying-foxes feeding above. Driving slowly up I rumbled a number of small mammals on and beside the road – the first being an antechinus which at the time I took to be Subtropical (read more on this later), a Fawn-footed Melomys (tick!) which gave great binocular views as it nibbled on something on the road and a Bush Rat which actually ambled off the road. Also very prevalent were a good number of Lechriodus fletcheri (Black-soled Frog) which was new for me.
I quickly setup my tent at the campground at Green Mountain, twice hearing a Sooty Owl bomb nearby and then loaded up ready for a long night of spotlighting ahead. Red-necked Pademelons were everywhere and I actually tripped over one as I headed up to the road to begin the action. I headed up past O’Reilly’s Guest House where many pademelons and a couple of Northern Brown Bandicoots fed on the lawn. I did the Tree top walk loop picking up Brown Antechinus, Long-nosed Bandicoot and more Bush Rats and a Fawn-footed Melomys. Red-legged Pademelon was quite easy to find in the rainforest itself and while shyer than its Red-necked cousin it was easy to get good looks. I heard a Sooty Owl a couple of times here but I suspect it might have been some punters at O’Reilly’s playing the call. The most common mammal by far was the Eastern Ring-tailed Possum which are quite rufous in this area and most rustles in the canopy were this. The animals here are allegedly more rufous but looked a lot like those in the Otways so perhaps its a wet forest thing.
I walked slowly down the road from the campsite spotlighting as I went. In a couple of places Noisy Pitta called in the darkness even though it was now pushing 11pm. On the aptly named Python Rock Track I was happy to find a carpet python in ambush position completely ignoring me. Sugar Gliders were calling in a number of places and I managed to spotlight a couple in the rainforest. There were many, many microbats of different sizes and colours which made me wish for a decent bat detector although the Black and Grey-headed Flying-foxes feeding in the canopy were easier. There were plenty of Black-soled and Great Barred Frogs which gave good photo opportunities although none were calling and a couple of Southern Leaf-tailed Geckos which was new for me. I eventually made it to Duck Creek Road despite the distractions and immediately heard a Marbled Frogmouth followed by a couple more. It took a bit of effort and wandering through the forest but I eventually got some decent views of them in the canopy although they really did not like the light on them. This was a new bird for me so I began the walk back to the tent with most reasonably possible targets under the belt jumping in to bed about 2am.
As I could not peg the tent out properly on the packed gravel tent sites I woke up early a little bit dusty with the damp tent on my face. I immediately remembered why I love Lamington with excellent birds flitting through the campsite area continually. I put aside a couple of hours for birding doing the Tree Top walk again and my favourite Python Rock track picking up some nice birds including Albert’s Lyrebird and Paradise Riflebird but I had to remember this was a mammal trip and not a birding trip so had to move on. Again I saw a couple of Antechinus which were very brown and quite long tailed – typical Brown type. When I returned at the end of the trip I asked on the Facebook Mammal Watching Forum about antechinus at Lamington as I was sure i had seen two species with typical Brown types around O’Reillys and what I thought were less-brown and shorter tailed animals down the mountain. However I (and others) were to be disappointed with Angus McNab confirming that genetic work shows there are only Brown Antechinus at Lamington (plus a couple of non Brown types). I had been told that Pretty-faced (Whip-tailed) Wallabies were found on the way down on the grassy slopes towards Canungra and I managed to find three sitting nicely for a couple of photographs.
For most of the Friday I was dealing with calls from work while I worked my way towards the Guestwick Ecolodge over the border in NSW. Near Beaudesert I stopped to inspect a poor road-killed Boobook owl and was fortunate to have a Yellow-footed Antechinus watching me. I eventually arrived at Guestwick mid afternoon and was met by the very hospitable Adrian and his wife Karen. I had been warned that the quolls had not been seen for a few days but was still keen to visit and put in a good effort. Was a great place with excellent, comfortable accommodation and abundant wildlife nearby. Red-necked Wallabies fed within meters of the cabin and King Parrots were within touching distance. I was here for the quolls and Adrian did everything humanly possible to get them in with a road-killed hare wired up and lamb shanks and chicken necks outside the accommodation. University researchers had recently collared the resident male but he had returned since a number of times so I was hopeful. Adrian even setup a trail camera that would flash if it detected movement from a quoll on the hare. After having a good wander and getting to know the local inhabitants I had a relaxing beer and awaited darkness.
As it got dark the Brush-tailed possums were the first to appear, looting the bird feeders and some cut up fruit put out for the bettongs. After half an hour there was no sign of quoll or bettong and a fierce electrical storm hit dumping large amounts of rain in a short period. At this stage I was worried I was heading for a double dip! Eventually the rain started to clear and I saw my first Rufous Bettong – over the course of the night I saw at least eight individuals and they are now on my patted list after very slowly crawling up to one. Excellent stuff! There were no signs of quolls and no flashes from the camera so I spent many hours exploring the property. There were a number of frogs around including Ornate Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum ornatum), Red-eyed Treefrog (Litoria chloris) and Stony-creek Frog (Litoria wilcoxii). Wandering around the property I also saw Echidna, Bush Rat, Sugar Glider, Eastern Grey Kangaroo and around 3am a female Powerful Owl called incessantly from across the hill. But unfortunately no quoll despite spotlighting from 7pm til 12:30 am and then getting up every hour after that.
In the morning I slept in so I missed the Glossy Blacks that visited the yard but I did eventually get up and have another wander around the property before heading off. Adrian was very apologetic about the quolls and offered me the next night with no charge but as I said, no promises with wildlife! I will be back to this excellent property though, quolls or not, Lucas would love it. From here I headed north to a site near Oakey to search for Plum-headed Finch – Doctor’s Creek Reserve. Not having more information than the site name, I parked the car and walked down the power easement to the creek line where I pretty quickly saw two Plum-headed Finches flush and fly away into the distance! I was quite torn as I know they were PHF and I got ok binocular views but it was hardly a satisfying experience. I should not have worried though as I soon found more birds which gave good views, TICK! This site seemed to be a pretty good birding spot with White-throated Gerygone calling and a number of other nice birds around but I could not stay and had to move on. I had read David Andrew’s new Mammal Finding Guide which mentioned there was a Little Red Flying-Fox colony at Kearney’s Springs Historical Park in Toowoomba and as I needed this for the year list I diverted there. When I got there I could only find Black Flying-Fox and eventually a few Grey-headeds but no Reds… and then I read the council signs which also suggested these were the only two species here. This was a couple of hours diversion but at least I got to visit Super Rooster for a chicken fix. From Toowoomba I headed north to Lake Perseverance which is well known for being a good spot for Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby. Despite it being mid afternoon and quite hot I was quickly able to spot a couple of animals on the dam wall. This seems to be the kind of place it would be worth coming back after dark as the wallabies would likely be feeding on the lawns. Still it was a decent twitch and I could not be too fussy. From here I went to the nearby Cressbrook Dam which is supposed to be good for Red Deer but all I found were Eastern Greys. I dropped back in at Perseverance on the way back out and got good views of a Rock-wallaby foraging in the creekline below.
Final destination for the day was the main Dandabah campground at Bunya Mountains National Park where I had booked a site. I arrived just before dark and quickly set up the tent before heading to the “bat house” which is the largest known maternal roost for Chocolate Wattled Bat in Australia. I got excellent views of the animals leaving under red light but even that seemed to bother them a bit so I left to their own devices and headed out into the rainforest. Great Barred Frogs (Mixophyses fasciolatus) were calling all night and were everywhere on the paths – after the third one jumped into me I stopped freaking out (much). My main target here was Black-striped Wallaby and after about an hour of spotlighting I found one which gave unsatisfactory views. I continued to search but was rudely interrupted by a pair of Sooty Owls trilling their heads off above me for a good 20 minutes. I eventually found more Black-striped Wallabies with the area around the Tim Shea Falls beings best – they were much shyer than the much more common Red-necked Wallaby and quite distinctive looking with a different gait. Quite happy I headed back to the campground to enjoy a quiet birthday beer and update my records.
I could not be kept in camp however with a nearby calling Sooty Owl again calling me out for another couple of hours spotlighting. This time I added Long-nosed Bandicoot to the day list as well as getting some nice pics of Short-eared Brushtail Possum before escaping to bed a little later than intended. I was rather unimpressed by a rather nasty looking spider beside the tent which had me checking bedding and the like as I had left the tent partly open. In the morning I did a bit of birding down some of the rainforest paths picking up some nice rainforest species. From here I had a bit of a conundrum – do I go and chase a nice suite of birds I need around Rainbow Beach or do I go after the next Petrogale up the coast – the Herbert’s Rock-wallaby. Of course I chose the rock-wallaby and headed a few hours away to a site in the Andrew’s Mammal Finding Guide – the Auburn River National Park. Unfortunately when I arrived at the Auburn River NP it was already after lunch time and the temperature was mid 30’s and humidity high. The guide mentioned a lookout that was good for looking for the wallabies but this was overgrown so I had to venture down into the gorge. I loaded up on a heap of water and there was plenty of water in the gorge but over the next few hours of searching I pushed myself a bit far and ended up with something close to heatstroke. In three hours or so of searching I didn’t even find any rock-wallaby scat so they are probably not in particularly high numbers at this location and certainly searching during the heat of the day was quite foolish! When I finally got back to the car I had a celebratory chunder for the dip and then spent the next half hour trying to cool down.
I decided to cut my losses on the rock-wallaby and made a beeline for the Cooloola National Park on the coast arriving just on dusk at the famous T&T powerline site. I heard at least six Ground Parrot calling at this location and shortly after true dark I was rewarded with brief but excellent views of a Grass Owl which I squeaked in. I had heard that playback was useless at this location due to many years of overplaying but did find my poor squeaking imitation of a dying rodent worked well enough although the owl fled as soon as I put light on it. Over the next half an hour I had several more brief views and heard it trilling a number of times. It was very depressing to see the numbers of Cane Toads at this site…. On the way out I flushed a couple of White-throated Nightjar from the road. I camped at Inskip Point and was murdered by sandflies in the morning. I spent half an hour looking for BBBQ but only found old platelets before I had to make a beeline for Tin Can Bay. Tin Can Bay gives an opportunity every morning to see Australian Hump-backed Dolphins being fed at Barnacles Dolphin Centre – http://www.barnaclesdolphins.com.au/ and today was no exception with four dolphins visiting. It is quite a good experience and only costs $5 which in turn gives you $2 off a better than average coffee so well worth a visit. It is only moderately touristy and the volunteers know what they are talking about and it gives you a good chance to get close to an otherwise somewhat difficult species to see. In the nearby mangroves I was also able to fill a rather embarrassing hole in my bird list, finally picking up Mangrove Honeyeater which tried to land on my head when I pished – good times.
About now I was quite stuffed from the previous days exertions and several nights of little sleep so I headed slowly back to Brisbane birding at a couple of sites without seeing anything spectacular. I ended up heading to the lounge early to enjoy a beer or three while updating notes and entering ebird records. In the end the damage was 14 new mammals for the year list and 4 new birds for the life list! Pretty good going! I will be back for that quoll and that rock-wallaby however! Thanks to Lucas and Sim for letting me escape.