A daytime Falsistrellus

The Eastern Falsistrellus (Falsistrellus tasmaniensis) is a large microbat that inhabits the tall wet forest of SE Australia and Tasmania. It is a bat I often encounter in my nighttime sojourns to Bunyip SP and the Central Highlands and can be seen patrolling up and down forest roads hunting prey. Since I acquired a decent bat detector I have had good recordings and observations of this species in Bunyip State Park, Yarra, Latrobe and Tarago State Forests and on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania (I will be writing more about the dark art of bat detecting soon). It is quite a distinctive bat in flight, larger than other local microbats with long wings and has a distinctive call sitting at around 35 kHz. It often flies consistent loops through the forest so by using the bat detector to hear them coming you can get good views through binoculars using a headlamp for illumination.

Eastern Falsistrellus recording from the Tasman Peninsula, Tas

Eastern Falsistrellus recording from the Tasman Peninsula, Tas

I was recently returning with the family from an excellent week at Depot Beach in NSW and we decided to come slightly inland and drive down the Monaro Highway through Bombala to Cann River. After raiding the bakery at Bombala we headed to the nearby platypus reserve for a break and leg stretch. While sitting down at the picnic table I noticed a weird bird flush from the tree above – it took a moment to realise it was actually a largish microbat. The bat perched in a nearby eucalypt and I took a number of photos to hopefully help with ID. After getting its bearings it again flew back to the spout it had been flushed from but was not comfortable there and eventually flew over 100 meters to another larger hole in a larger eucalypt and disappeared. It did all this while a Brown Goshawk was circling overhead. Looking on the back of the camera I thought it was one of the Broad-nosed Bat’s – perhaps Greater or Eastern but upon returning to Melbourne and posting to various forums and experts it was confirmed to be an Eastern Falsistrellus – my favourite microbat now photographed 🙂

Eastern Falsistrellus - Bombala, NSW

Eastern Falsistrellus – Bombala, NSW

Eastern Falsistrellus - Bombala, NSW

Eastern Falsistrellus – Bombala, NSW

Eastern Falsistrellus - Bombala, NSW

Eastern Falsistrellus – Bombala, NSW

Of Mice and Men – a week in the desert

Back in September Rohan Clarke and I hit the road again with a rather loose itinerary. We were to spend a week getting up to Alice Springs searching for critters then I would fly back and Rohan’s family would fly in for a family holiday. We hadn’t done nearly enough research but had a basic idea that we would run up to Coober Pedy and then slow down checking out such places as Oodnadatta, Mount Dare and Old Andado for some cool members of the rodent and dasyurid family as well as some of the key birds and anything else we could find. We left after work on a Tuesday and drove up to Mildura where the mammal list was kicked off with such luminaries as House Mouse and Fox – a few Barn Owls were slightly better. We didn’t dally much, stopping for supplies in Port Augusta but keen to kill some kilometers.

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

The second night we stopped and camped down a side road off the highway north of Pimba. Some nice birds around with the highlight being Ground Cuckoo-shrike. Later that night we had the first test drive of a car mounted thermal camera which had almost immediate success with a roosting Bourke’s Parrot! We had a number of small mammal hits including a lovely Bolam’s Mouse – a new Pseudomys for me and the first lifer of the trip! Next morning we were up early running up to Coober Pedy through scads of Budgies. At the well known cairn site south of the town we quickly had great views of Thick-billed Grasswren – lifer! But after several hours of searching we had no luck with Chestnut-breasted Whiteface and had to kick on. A quick stop for ice at Coober Pedy and we headed out onto the featureless expanse of the gibber plains. At the first change in scenery at a dry river crossing we stopped and got onto a couple of Gibberbirds – second lifer of the day!

Gibber

Gibber

Once we got off the featureless plains we had some excellent birding with plentiful Thick-billed Grasswrens, Bourkes Parrots, Cinnamon Quail-thrush and Rufous Fieldwren. That evening we did about 40 km of spotlighting through gibber and clay plains seeing many small mammals on the thermal camera but frustratingly could only get onto a couple – Fat-tailed Dunnart and Desert Short-tailed Mouse. The mouse was my second new rodent of the trip and a very interesting animal that would almost go to sleep when pinned in the spotlight!

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

The next morning we were up early finding more Thick-billed Grasswrens – they seemed to be in every single area of saltbush as well as more Bourke’s Parrots. We rolled into Oodnadatta and I thought the sign said “dirtiest town in Australia” – well at least they embrace it! (it actually said driest town in Aus) After a late breakfast we kicked on into Witjira National Park where Cinnamon Quail-thrush was probably the most common bird! We had a well needed soak at Dalhousie Springs in the lovely warm water where Freckled and Pink-eared Ducks were nice additions. Dinner was at Opossum Waterhole where the first dingo of the trip kept an eye on us. Plenty of raptors around the “waterhole” which had dried down to about the size of a billiard table. After dark we had about 20 Barn Owls come into drink as well as a couple of Spotted Nightjars flitting round. Many bats cruising around – will have to see what the bat detector comes back with. We spotlit from here to Mount Dare arriving sometime after 11pm with the pub still open! A highlight was spotlighting a couple of Bustard in flight but we didn’t have much success with only the odd rodent type detected.

Big Country

Big Country

Woke up early at Mount Dare and what a place! There were tonnes of water dependent birds like Budgies and Zebra Finches as well as plenty of raptors including a very open pair of Black Falcons. We were packing up when Rohan shouted “Flock Bronzewing!” and sure enough a male flew in and did a few laps around the campsite – beautiful bird and another lifer! We ended up having at least three birds kicking around until we set off exploring. We did a fair bit of recce for spotlighting that evening an eventually headed over the border into the dune country of the western Simpson Desert. At the first really decent cane grass covered dune we stopped and almost immediately found a group of Eyrean Grasswren – lifer number 2 for the morning! We spent a lot of time exploring the area and saw plenty of Grasswrens but getting a photo was another matter. A Black-breasted Buzzard circled above us a time. We headed back to Mount Dare for a pub meal watching Collared Sparrowhawks chase Zebra Finches while we waited for dark.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

After dark we almost immediately started to have success with first a House Mouse near the settlement then Fat-tailed Dunnart and Desert Short-tailed Mouse soon after. But what we were really after soon fell with Plain’s Mouse seen well sitting outside their burrows. This was a new rodent for both Rohan and myself. It is a large Pseudomys the size of a small hamster and was very charismatic – definite highlight of the trip. We found they were in colonies and would find small clusters of them. We were poking around one of the colonies when a Tyto owl flew over us looking rather long legged. Did not think much of it until a bit later we found it sitting on the road before flushing off looking rather dark for a Barn Owl but still we didn’t quite twig. It wasn’t til we followed it and spotlit it sitting on the plain that we realised it was a beautiful dark-faced female Grass Owl! This is quite a mega bird for South Australia and was clearly here hunting the various rodent types around. We tried for quite a while to get photos and while getting some great views of it in flight could not get a pic. Still a very, very successful night!

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Plains Mouse

Plains Mouse

Up early we headed back into dune country to again get acquainted with Eyrean Grasswrens – I walked across 4 different cane grass covered dunes systems and each had a family of grasswrens, there must be huge numbers across the Simpson. After a late breakfast and another coffee we cruised up to Old Andado stopping along the way wherever birding looked half decent. At Old Andado the caretaker regaled us with tales of shooting out engine blocks of itinerant city folk as we had a look around the old homestead. From here we went up to the Mac Clark Reserve which was something of a bucket list item for me – for some reason I had always wanted to visit this stand of waddy wood acacia – probably because it is a well known site for Letter-winged Kite! We had a good explore but could not dig up a kite but found a great spot for dinner by an old tank. After dark things really hotted up with Sandy Inland Mouse (tick!), Spinifex Hopping-mouse (tick!) and Plains Mouse falling quickly. The Hopping-mouse and Plains Mice were particularly common on the plains around Mac Clark.

One off the bucket list

One off the bucket list

Sandy Inland Mouse

Sandy Inland Mouse

Despite the many distractions we decided to spotlight the whole way back to Old Andado. Sometime after midnight I started dropping in and out of sleep while Rohan was a trooper and kept on scanning. At 2am we stopped for a very good signal which happened to be two Kultarr mating!! One of my most wanted to see species and we had two of them mating! It was quite a violent affair with the female looking rather disheveled when the male abandoned her and bolted off! Great experience capping off a very successful night!

Kultarr mating!

Kultarr mating!

Woke up late the next morning and decided to have a rather quiet day around the homestead to recharge the batteries. It was sometime around lunchtime I decided to have a quiet toilet break when Rohan yells out “GREY FALCON!!” – so in a seen reminiscent of a Carry On movie I run out of the toilet with pants falling around my ankles to get my second ever and best to date views of one of the best birds in Australia! It banked around a few times before disappearing not to be seen again. The caretaker was less impressed and seemed to be eyeing off our engine block for a bit of target practice. Later he relented and let us know a good bit of dune country to start our spotlighting while he headed off to Mount Dare to get on the piss. We headed out there late afternoon picking up some more Eyrean Grasswrens while waiting for dark.

Some evening stops were ok

Some evening stops were ok

A rather sexy gecko

A rather sexy gecko

We had a very successful night spotlighting with probably 100+ Spinifex Hopping-mouse, Kultarr, Fat-tailed Dunnart and other interesting stuff including a number of geckos and a very fat feral cat. Up early we headed out to Kulgera via Finke stopping anywhere we saw birds. At Erldunda we had the first mobile reception in about 5 days which was put to good use gripping off a few people. For the last night we headed out west of Erldunda to a dried salt lake surrounded by samphire, chenopod and mature spinifex – what looked like perfect habitat for a certain bird popping up in recent times. While we didn’t have luck with that bird we did see some cool stuff with highlights including Desert Mouse (tick!) and a probably ningaui in the spinifex that we couldn’t quite get onto. A very enjoyable night of bashing spinifex followed by drinking beer and telling a few tales under the stars.

The master at work

The master at work

Desert Mouse

Desert Mouse

The next day we cruised back to Alice Springs arriving a bit after lunchtime. We did check out the caves south of town for bats but they were pretty trashed and full of rubbish and burnt stuff. Checked into a cabin at the Big4 and hit the pub after a shower and a swim. The next day I had a relaxed time around Alice drinking coffee at the Botanic Gardens and catching up with Mark Carter. Black-footed Rock-wallaby eating pancakes and a Euro rounded out the trip list. Thanks to Rohan for an awesome trip and to Simone and Lucas for letting me go! Seven new mammals and four new birds plus change made for a very successful jaunt!

Mammalwatching.com trip report

All birds are listed in eBird

Little Button-quail - about the only bird pic I took all trip!

Little Button-quail – about the only bird pic I took all trip!

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