Bettongs and Antechinus – a Pelagic Weekend in Tassie

Last weekend I was back down to Tasmania again for another double header pelagic trip out of Eaglehawk Neck. With the bitterly cold temperatures hopes were high that we would get some good seabirds. I flew into Hobart early on Friday picking up Max Breckenridge and a hire car. We checked out wader sites around Orielton where we found some Double-banded Plovers which was new for my Tassie list. Later we did the Weilangta Forest Drive and looped around to Gould’s Lagoon – birding was quiet but we saw a few nice things. After picking up Rohan we headed up Mount Wellington to look for Long-tailed Mouse – very much speculative but Rohan had a thermal camera so was worth a shot. No luck with the mouse but we did have a very nice Dusky Antechinus propped in a tree. The Tasmanian Dusky Antechinus is mooted as a split so it was good to see. I have also never seen a Dusky Antechinus in a tree in Victoria so interesting behaviour. An Eastern Barred Bandicoot near the summit was a nice addition and the mammal list was starting to tick along.

Dusky Antechinus

Dusky Antechinus

Up early and onto the boat for what ended up being a very quiet day at sea which was quiet surprising considering there was a bit of swell and a cold southerly blowing. Despite 6 layers including 3 fleeces it was very cold! Highlights of the day included a Northern Royal and three New Zealand Wandering Albatross. A very pleasant day at sea but low species numbers and diversity. After a good steak at the Lufra we headed out to search for the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus which has recently been split from the main form. This is notoriously difficult to find with only a couple of specimens caught during extensive study effort. Despite this we were bullish and armed with the thermal camera and site locations we had a good crack. No antechinus but we did find several Little Pygmy-possums. After finding them last year and earlier this year there would seem to be a very good population on this peninsula. It was only 2 degrees outside but these tiny little mammals were still active! A lost flash had us searching and getting to bed later than expected but that is standard disruption for a night spotlighting on the Tasman peninsula!

Little Pygmy-possum

Little Pygmy-possum

It was freezing the next morning and I did not want to get out of bed…. Still once on the water hopes were again high that we would do better than yesterday. Early on the signs were good as we got a Providence Petrel at the first stop. But it was a false dawn as things became very quiet during the day. Probably the same Northern Royal Albatross from the previous day livened things up briefly but again diversity and numbers were very low for an Eaglehawk pelagic. With a late flight out of Hobart we had a few hours to chase something so decided on Gravelly Ridge which is about thirty minutes north of the airport. We arrived just on dark and almost immediately got onto a Morepork which was a new bird for Max. We only had an hour or so but made the most of it with about six Eastern Bettong seen in the park itself. These are certainly a candidate for the cutest mammal in Australia. One small group comprised two adults and a young animal. The dry forest with decent cover in this location seems perfect for bettongs.

Eastern Bettong

Eastern Bettong

We had commented that the edge farmland habitat around the park looked perfect for Eastern Quoll and sure enough we had a lovely dark adult animal crossing the road on the way out. We abandoned the car and piled out after it and while it showed some interest in our squeaking it disappeared into the night. Any night you see a quoll is a successful night! Back to the airport in plenty of time for a delayed flight. Thanks to Max and Rohan for being excellent pelagic/spotlighting companions and to Angus McNab for some great intel.

See quoll - abandon car!

See quoll – abandon car!

Cheating a bit - here's a dark Eastern Quoll from earlier in the year

Cheating a bit – here’s a dark Eastern Quoll from earlier in the year

Elephant Seal – a sometimes visitor to Victoria

Last weekend much to my surprise the monthly BirdLife Portland Pelagic managed to get out despite rather grim weather predictions earlier in the week. We saw a few nice things on the way down including Grey (white) Goshawk and Restless Flycatcher at the Cobden STW. After a very good steak at Macs and a few beers at Rob’s we decided the signs were good for the trip. The trip started very well with a pre-dawn Wilson’s Storm-petrel in the harbour itself! Things were pretty quiet on the way out with a few small pods of Common Dolphin and good numbers of Fairy Prion being the highlight. At the first stop on the shelf we quickly had a couple of whalebirds – Antarctic and Slender-billed Prion which probably remained the birds of the day. At each of the stops there were plenty of birds and it was one of those days your felt anything could turn up. A late highlight was a Brown Skua which after cruising around the bat for a bit chased and killed a Fairy Prion which was a rather savage reminder of where these birds fit in the food chain. Two NZ and a true Wanderer were other obvious highlights – LIST A couple of the White-fronted Terns provided some excitement with one bird in particular showing a strong trailing edge.

Young exulans Wanderer

Young exulans Wanderer

On the way back in we checked Lawrence Rocks as usual without any real thought of seeing more than the impressive gannet colony and the usual loafing fur-seals. As I was scanning the seals I was rather stoked/surprised to see the somewhat chubby face of a young Southern Elephant Seal staring right back at me. I had joked to Rohan on Friday night that we would pick up an Elephant Seal on Lawrence Rocks and here it was. A very unexpected mammal tick and certainly the “real” bird of the day! These days the Southern Elephant Seal is an occasional visitor to Victorian shores with at best annual records. I had to run and get my camera so missed the best angles but still picked up some nice shots. This was a young male with his tiny little “trunk” visible in side on shots – a mere shadow of what he will become. This is now the 4th species of pinniped we have recorded on these rocks in the past 12 months following an Australian Sea-lion last year as well as the usual NZ and Aus Fur-seals. All in all a good day at sea!

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Soon.....

Soon…..

A mystery solved

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to Euroa with Scott and left with a bit of a mystery. I had seen small, agile and very fast mammals running round in the top of a eucalypt without getting good looks. By process of elimination on range and behaviour I thought they must be Feathertail Gliders but something in the back of my mind did not sit right. So I hit up Rohan Clarke for a bit of a jaunt up the Hume. We got out of Melbourne a bit later than expected getting onsite after 7pm. A scan of the relevant tree from last time with the thermal camera revealed nothing. We decided to walk the roadside reserve and quickly Rohan spotted some hot spots in the thermal camera. Flicking on the red light we observed an Antechinus type which on ranged is probably Yellow-footed. Further on he started to pick up many house mice including a number quite high in vegetation.

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

We meandered along for several hours and found three different Squirrel Gliders as well as more common things. The Squirrel Gliders were high in eucalypts feeding on sap and gave great views if a little high for good photos. I believe these three to be different individuals to the last visit so confirms a good population in this area and shows the value of these remnant roadside vegetation. Somewhat surprisingly there was very little bat activity compared to two week previously despite conditions being very similar.

Eventually I spotlit a small mammal high in a eucalypt and got a little excited. Some more observation showed further small, fast mammals in the tree. Unfortunately when we finally got a light on them they turned out to be house mice! They are not normally known to inhabit the high branches of a mature tree but here they were. After some double (and triple) checking we realised the mystery from last time was solved and headed for home. Not quite the result we were after but any night you see three endangered Victorian Squirrel Gliders is a good night!

The Squirrel Glider – an endangered Victorian

Late last year I spent an evening around Euroa looking for Squirrel Glider with Scott Baker and Owen Lishmund without success. The weather was looking pretty foul around Melbourne but a quick check of the weather forecast showed it likely much better north of the divide so I hit up Scott for another crack. I picked him up about 5pm and we headed up the Hume arriving onsite west of Euroa a bit before 7pm. This is an area of remnant roadside vegetation and easements with some excellent old growth box and other eucalypt species with a high density of hollows. Leaving the car we quickly saw a number of Ringtail and Brushtail possums as well as many microbats zipping around despite the cool weather. Scott had to return to the car to get more batteries when I spotlit a small mammal bolting back into a hollow. Further spotlighting of the tree showed a number of other small, very fast arboreal mammals which were very light shy. By process of elimination I believe they were Feathertail Gliders but unfortunately just could not get a good enough glimpse to confirm. About now the heavens opened up and I rather fatefully left the camera in the car.

We continued to wander along the easement seeing many more Ringtails and a rather cheeky Fox. Eventually Scott found a glider but it was just a Sugar. The smell and noise from nearby pig farms was slightly disturbing! We were about a kilometer from the car when Scott spotlit a noticeably larger and fluffier glider perched low down just off the track. This was unmistakably a Squirrel Glider with its large fluffy tail looking like near half its body volume. My previous sightings in Victoria have been in nestboxes which does not give perspective on the animal. It gave us excellent close walk away views with just one small problem – the cameras were a kilometer away in the car! Still it was a memorable experience as Squirrel Gliders are endangered in Victoria and probably have a smaller population here than the Leadbeater’s Possums I photographed last week! They are more common in Northern NSW into Queensland.

We walked back to the car and drove around to the other end of the easement hoping that the Squirrel Glider was still in the same tree but without success. A search of the area could not relocate it. Still nearby we had a Brush-tailed Phascogale run down a tree propping nicely for excellent binocular views. Unfortunately it was too high and obscured for good photos. Still another threatened Victorian mammal – the night well a success.

Brush-tailed Phascogale - just a record shot of a cool animal

Brush-tailed Phascogale – just a record shot of a cool animal

We tried a few other areas and eventually found a second Squirrel Glider – this one a bit smaller but it sat well for photographs, if a bit far away. This area is clearly a stronghold for the species in Victoria and clearly demonstrates the importance of the remnant roadside and easement vegetation. Eventually we called it a night and headed back to Melbourne arriving just after midnight – all in all a very successful night. The tail on the Squirrel Glider is something else – I think I have a new one to add to the favourite list!

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

Revisiting old friends – Leadbeater’s Possum in the Central Highlands

Still coming down from the buzz of seeing my first Letter-winged Kite, I decided it was time to head back into the Central Highlands to look for Leadbeater’s Possum and other furry targets. I hadn’t had a chance to get out to see Leadbeater’s Possum this year so I decided it was definitely time to rectify that. Dan Ashdown (one of the discovers of the Letter-winged Kite earlier in the week) met me at the station and we headed east. We poked around Tarago State Forest and Reservoir not seeing particularly much but were stopped in our tracks as yet again this area of forest was closed due to a car rally!! So we drove a few other areas with the highlights being large numbers of Lyrebirds running off the sides of the roads.

It was starting to get dark so headed in to Powelltown to pick up a burger which we took back up the hill, sitting on the edge of a devastated logging coupe where a juvenile Sooty Owl screamed incessantly from across the valley. Rohan Clarke caught up with us and at our second stop we came across a few Leadies which gave good views but would not stop for pics. There were a couple of bats flitting around here with Gould’s Wattled Bat and Eastern Falsistrellus (which I still need a confirmed sighting of!) picked up on the bat detector. Over the next few stops we steadily picked up more Leadbeater’s Possum and other cool stuff like Bobucks, Sugar Gliders, Agile Antechinus and Bush Rat. The Leadies were quite reactive and gave a good show of their diagnostic squirrel like movement and a couple of them even propped for a happy snap or two. Eventually we found the only Greater Glider for the evening sitting in a mountain ash. A distant Boobook caused some confusion until we got better views – it was variously called Greater Glider, Sooty and Powerful Owl until we got our act together!

Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater’s Possum

We ended the night at a very recently cleared and burnt logging coupe right in the middle of the area that supports high densities of the Critically Endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. The devastation in these areas is absolute with the so called “habitat trees” that are left behind killed and blackened by the followup high intensity burning of the coupes. We need a Great Forest National Park to protect this area, the animals that live here, to protect our water supplies and to as the best carbon store in the world. To continue to clearfell this area is criminal. Somewhat deflated we headed home, dodging wombats and swamp wallabies.

Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater’s Possum

A Letter-winged Kite in Victoria

I was bumming around at home on a particularly wet and uninviting ANZAC day when I got a message from Owen Lishmund. “GOT #@!$ING LETTER-WINGED KITE IN NORTHERN VICTORIA!!!!” A quick check and Owen confirmed with a great picture that he and Dan Ashdown had found a Letter-winged Kite at The Meadows near the Terricks. Despite in being afternoon I was straight in the car (thanks Simone!) and heading north, picking up Scott Baker on the way. It was 1977 when the last Letter-winged Kite irruption hit Victoria and despite the odd claim since one would normally have to go much further north up the Strezlecki Track or into the Channel country to see one. Unfortunately on the way up I was a little over zealous and had an expensive stop with the local constabulary. This coupled with Collingwood starting to lose in the footy did not bode well!

Moat 1 - Tim 0

Moat 1 – Tim 0

Eventually after skating along some very sticky, muddy roads we arrived on site. We were very encouraged to see good numbers of Elanus kites, kestrels and other birds of prey around. After crossing the moat in very bad style Scott and I started picking through the 6 or so Black-Shouldered Kites looking for something a bit different. About this time a car pulled up and Matt, Owen and Dan got out and started madly pointing at a bush at a kite we had probably walked past. Scott and I waddled back over and sure enough there it was! Letter-winged Kite! This was a lifer for me and gave me the set of resident diurnal raptors! Queue high-fives! About this time Adam and Brad turned up and we followed the Kite around getting crippling views and a few photos. It was great to see the very distinctive flight pattern and the grey crown and large size made this a young female bird. It was noticeably larger when beside a Black-shouldered Kite. One of the better afternoons in a long time! It did not even matter that Collingwood’s season is long gone. Big thanks to Dan and Owen for finding the bird and getting the news out so quickly!

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Masked Owl is best owl

I have been terrible at blog posts this year. Every time I get started on a post I get distracted and never get back to it. And it is not for lack of good material! This year I have had some great experiences including Shepherd’s Beaked Whale, Eastern Quolls and more than my fair share of owls. So in the interest of getting back into the blogging business for 2017 I will start with a few Masked Owl seen in East Gippsland during January. As is my want during the Christmas break I had headed down to the Marlo area for a spot of owling with Jono Dashper and Owen Lishmund. During the daylight hours we had some pretty good birding with species like Ground Parrot at Marlo and Conran, scads of Emu-wrens, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters off the Cape and the usual suite of wet forest specialists. I particularly like heading east and encountering Black-faced Monarchs in every gully because to me they hint at a more tropical flavour further north – one of my favourite birds and we saw and heard plenty on this trip.

Eventually we found our way to my favourite owling site near Conran where yet again the Crescent Honeyeaters “egypted” on dusk before the White-throated Nightjars fired up. A Masked Owl screamed but it was soon drowned out by a lovely pair of Sooty Owl trilling which gave good if distant views. Something rather special about seeing two Sooties in the one binocular view in the fading light…. We potted around the area finding a number of frogs including some nice Paracrinia haswelli before heading further afield. Ducking down some dirt tracks we found a nice open area of heathland where right on midnight we had a rather lovely Masked Owl come and visit, cackling around our heads like a demented seagull. This was a lovely pale bird which looked like a ghost hovering well above us at the limit of the torch beam. It did not perch but was a nice lifer for Jono and Owen. Further up the track we encountered another individual which gave us great views as it perched reasonably close by.

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

We continued on and somewhere well north of Bemm River we encountered a third Masked Owl. This individual is not done justice my bad pictures but in the binocular view had a gorgeous grey tone on its facial disk like no other I had seen before. Unfortunately it did not get close enough for good pics but I will be back. Sooty Owls and Yellow-bellied Gliders at Cabbage Tree and a fat Long-nosed Bandicoot rounded out an excellent night.

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

A night out in the Watagans

With the year winding down we headed to Newcastle for Christmas with my brother in-law and his family. We left on the afternoon of the 23rd spending the night in Cootamundra although the wattles weren’t flowering. The highlight of the trip up was good numbers of Superb Parrot from Cootamundra through to past Yass. In Newcastle we stayed at Warabrook backing on to a nice wetland which was quiet but has excellent potential. After a good Christmas day I had a leave pass for a night out spotlighting so I chose the Watagans inland from Newcastle. My main hope was to see a Parma Wallaby which is an elusive macropod endemic to New South Wales and the Watagans are the most southerly location they are found so that was the cornerstone for the evening.

I did not really know what to expect aside from the fact that there were a few atlas records of Parma Wallaby on the southern end of the Watagans Forest Road so I decided to spotlight this road. Arrived about an hour before dusk so drove slowly along the road looking for likely gullies and clearings. On dusk I spent some time at the Hunter Lookout which is good for Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby but I had no luck. Driving south along the road a Southern Long-nosed Bandicoot was a good start. At the second stop a Sooty Owl called continually with both bomb and trill calls. Here I met the first of three different groups out herping for the night – something the Watagans is famous for.

Moving along I saw plenty of macropods but all seemed to be pademelon or red-necked wallaby. Soon i managed to stir up a number of Yellow-bellied Gliders while getting average views of two Sooty Owls. The Sooties were very vocal but were not much more than eyeshine in the distance. Still it meant that I had seen Sooty Owl every month for 2016. Yellow-bellied Glider is also a threatened species in NSW so good to see (and hear). It was already starting to get late when I almost drove over a snake on the road. Getting out I found a very nice elapid – a Golden-crowned Snake. This was new for me and it was quite chilled. Eventually near the headquarters I saw what might have been my target but views were too poor and no photo taken. I will need to go back to the Watagans – great are and much more to see. The highlight for the rest of the trip was a new mammal for the yearlist – Indo-pacific Bottlenosed Dolphin in Newcastle harbour. Already planning a trip next year to get the Parma!

Golden-crowned Snake

Golden-crowned Snake