Possum Magic

enter site 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.

get link 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

how to buy clomid online 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

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

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