Ton up on a brief Cairns wildlife adventure

At the start of the year I set a goal of trying to see 100 mammal species in Australia for the year. By December I had crawled my way to 89 and with work busy and a hectic schedule it was looking unlikely that I would make it. I managed to find a small window and booked flights to Cairns for a few nights up on the Atherton Tablelands where a suite of a number of new types possum and other local mammal specialties should get me there with a bit of luck. I flew out of Melbourne Saturday morning and landed in Cairns just after lunch. My headtorch had gone walkabout so I had to head into the CBD for a replacement where it is almost impossible to miss the several camps of Spectacled Flying-fox. There was a shortage of head torches but I eventually found one and headed off to the Botanic Gardens where Spotted Whistling Ducks had been reported recently. They were not there but good numbers of Radjah Shelduck and a Black Bittern were nice for a Southerner and got the bird list kick started. From here I headed up the coast getting Agile Wallaby on the northern outskirts before stopping briefly at Rex Lookout but the tide was too high to go exploring for bats in the crevices below. It was then onto Julatten and one of my favourite birdwatching areas in Kingfisher Park and Mount Lewis. I had never been here towards the wet season so very quickly picked up my first new bird of the trip in Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, a spectacular bird that migrates from New Guinea to nest during the wet season. It proved common on the ground of Kingfisher Park. A quick wander round the grounds to get my ear in then I got prepared for a long evening of spotlighting.

Litoria infrafrenata

Litoria infrafrenata

I had an excellent meal at the Highlander Tavern watching swiftlets wheel overhead and a Bush-hen call from the vegetation below before heading up Mount Lewis. It was starting to rain and there were good numbers of frogs out including Litoria infrafrenata, jungguy and serrata. About halfway up a Papuan Frogmouth was disturbed from its roadside perch. Up at the clearing on top of the mountain the cloud had come right in and the wind was up so observation was difficult. With a bit of effort I was able to find four Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum and a single Green Ring-tailed Possum which were both new for me. Conditions were not really improving so I worked my way back down the mountain seeing a couple of Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots on the way.

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

I spent the next few hours spotlighting in and around Kingfisher Park doing quite well. I started with Fawn-footed Melomys and Bush Rat at the feeders and Northern Brown Bandicoot nearby before finding a couple of Eastern Blossom Bats in the orchard which are easily observed under red light. Red-legged Pademelon and both bandicoots were readily encountered as I walked around and around the grounds. Eventually I found a nice Striped Possum in the canopy which was quite noisy as it moved around – I had seen this species last time I was here and was happy to see again although it was too high for photos. The highlight of the night (and possibly the trip) was a Diadem Leaf-nosed Bat which I found hunting from a perch near the toilets. It hated white light but would sit quite happily under red-light allowing for binocular observation. It would wiggle its head in a circle before leaving the perch to hunt and returning – a very cool animal. I was staying in the bunkhouse which I had to myself eventually retiring sometime after midnight.

Litoria serrata

Litoria serrata

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

I woke early and headed up Mount Lewis with a couple of birds in my sights. Andrew from KF Park had told me the small cutting half way up the mountain was currently good for Blue-faced parrot-finch and so it proved with one seen almost as soon as I left the car. It immediately flew so I sat down to wait. Within five minutes a good half dozen of the birds came in to feed on the seeding grasses giving great binocular views. A much wanted tick and every bit as impressive as they look in the books. Further up the mountain I parked at the main clearing and took the forest walk. There were plenty of nice birds including wet tropic endemics like Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill and the Riflebird. Further up Tooth-billed Bowerbird and heaps of Chowchilla were good to reconnect with. I eventually wandered past the dam and perhaps 500 meters further on I had an exquisite male Golden Bowerbird land so close to me that my camera could not focus. It sat and regarded me for perhaps 15 seconds before flying away. This was another lifer for me and now my new favourite Australian bird! I was quite stoked as I headed back to the car with three amazing iconic new birds in less than 24 hours.

From here I headed south and after a breakfast coffee ended up at Granite Gorge near Mareeba. I paid my ten dollars and duly ended up sitting getting a lap dance from a Mareeba Rock-wallaby. I was quite torn as many of the animals appear in poor health and such a setup would probably be banned in Victoria. Still it was very interesting to study them up close and when an adult male hopped on my lap I got an appreciation of just how small and light they are and how easily many of our rock-wallabies could be smashed by foxes. I really don’t know what should be done about this place but I have heard they are at least being fed macropod pellets now rather than random human food so perhaps a step in the right direction. I do know it is one I want to sanitize on my list in the future. I was now sitting on 99 mammals for the year so headed to Mareeba Wetlands where the lovely staff showed me the Large-footed Myotis roosting in the cafe building. There were perhaps twenty of them huddled in several locations which gave me my 100th mammal of the year. I celebrated with a nice pot of tea! Perhaps not the same as a Boxing Day hundred at the MCG but I was pretty chuffed with myself.

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Large-footed Myotis

Large-footed Myotis

From here I drove north and checked many culverts and drains from Mt Molloy to Mt Carbine and beyond but aside from sore knees found nothing much aside from a couple of geckos and frogs. Andrew and Carol (who are excellent and free with their knowledge) had told me about a roost flyout of Little Bent-winged Bat near Kingfisher Park so I sat out in the park in the passing showers and waited for dusk. Perhaps ten minutes before dark bats began to pour from a small spout in one of the large eucalypts and I was able to get excellent views under red light as many of the bats flew out and latched on to branches nearby. Straight after dark it began to rain heavily and did not really let up all evening. I did go out and get wet and saw some great frogs and eventually an awesome Giant White-tailed Rat which was checking out a fruiting tree. Eventually I decided to cut my losses and went to bed early (midnight) knowing I would have a late night tomorrow.

makes my knees sore to look at

makes my knees sore to look at

Mixophyes coggeri

Mixophyes coggeri

It was still raining so I must admit I slept in a bit before heading south. After coffee (of course) I checked out Tolga Scrub but the flying-fox roost was currently empty. At Nerada Tea Plantation the staff took one look at my binoculars and knew I was there for the tree-kangaroos. They were not in their usual spots and it started to rain heavily so I relaxed with a nice pot of the local brew until it cleared. Out near the carpark in the drizzle I found two Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo which gave good views as they chilled and did their daytime thing. My only other view of this species was years ago on Mount Lewis as one crossed the road so it was great to get relaxed viewing.

Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo

Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo

I visited many of the usual southern tablelands birding spots but it was very dry and quiet and eventually Herberton to add Little Red Flying-fox to the year list before heading to Chambers Wildlife Lodge near Lake Eacham to check in. I grilled them for sites for my remaining targets and was pleased to learn that Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum sometimes visit the grounds. They also have a feed station setup which nightly gets visited by Sugar Glider and apparently recently a Striped Possum mum and bub. After a quick walk around the grounds I headed out to mount Hypipamee for spotlighting on dusk. Here I had an excellent night with around a dozen Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – a weird looking possum as well as plenty of great frogs and a screaming tyto. The possum was new for me but was somewhat tinged by a tiny long-tailed grey mammal which I had briefly in the spotlight. Possibly a long-tailed pygmy-possum or a tree mouse but one that definitely got away.

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Back at Chambers I tried a couple of local spots for Herbert River Ringtail before sitting down and watching the feed station hoping for some Striped Possum photos. The Stripies did not come in this night but I had excellent views and photo opportunities for Sugar Gliders as the glided in. Once the lights went out here I went out spotlighting and eventually sometime after midnight I managed a Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum in what appeared to be someone’s front yard. I had excellent binocular views but unfortunately had left my camera back in my room so tried to take a picture with the iPhone – see below….. On the way back to bed I was kicking Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots out of the way.

Sugar Glider

Sugar Glider

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum..... Honest!!!

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum….. Honest!!!

It was raining heavily again in the morning so I cruised back to Cairns and onto a plane home – too short a trip but an excellent one with 17 new mammals for the year list and three new birds as well as excellent frogs. I really need to go back and photograph things with more time as well as clean up all the mammals I still need up that way. Thanks to Sim and Lucas for letting me go (and putting up with me this year) and Rohan Clarke for igniting the beast and getting us both on a non big year mammal medium year!

Summary of mammals seen below:

Short-beaked Echidna – One on side of road as I was descending Gilles into Cairns
Northern Brown Bandicoot – A couple at Kingfisher Park and one beside the road near Wongabell State Forest
Northern Long-nosed Bandicoot – Easy to see at Kingfisher Park and Chambers Lodge, also on Mt Lewis
Striped Possum – One seen on the first night in the canopy at Kingfisher Park. Apparently a mother and baby have been coming in at Chambers Lodge late most nights but not when I was there.
Sugar Glider – Quite a few came in to the feeding station at Chambers Lodge and were quite tame. Easy to spotlight in the surrounding forest too
Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – About a dozen seen from the carpark at Mt Hypipamee up to and along the main road a way and at the road works clearing about 3km up the road.
Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum – Four seen within 500m of the clearing on Mt Lewis including a mum and bub
Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum – thought I was going to dip but finally got one in someone’s driveway near Lake Eacham after midnight
Green Ring-tailed Possum – One spotlit on Mt Lewis and one seen during the day at Curtain Fig
Common Brush-tailed Possum – One during the day at Granite Gorge and several at Mt Hypipamee
Musky Rat-kangaroo – One only on Mt Lewis!
Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo – Two seen near the carpark at Nerada Tea Plantation. Staff are very helpful and the tea good.
Mareeba Rock-wallaby – I had a lap dance at Granite Gorge from a rock-wallaby – these animals are not in a good state – very sad. One I would like to sanitize on my list next visit.
Red-legged Pademelon – Common at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis and Southern Tablelands.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo – Two just north of Mareeba on side of the road
Agile Wallaby – Common from the outskirts of Cairns
Fawn-footed Melomys – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park. One spotlit at Chambers Lodge
Giant White-tailed Rat – One seen on second night at Kingfisher Park in the rain. Impressive animal.
Bush Rat – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park
Eastern Blossum-bat – Several in Orchard area at Kingfisher Park – easy to get good views under red light
Spectacled Flying-fox – Hard to miss as you drive into Cairns. Odd animals encountered while spotlighting each night
Little Red Flying-fox – Camp at Tolga Scrub seems abandoned. Big colony at Herberton
Diadem leaf-nosed Bat – Cracker of an animal and probably the highlight of the trip. I was able to watch the bat hunting from a perch under red light at Kingfisher Park. It would move its head in a circular motion before flying off and back to perch.
Little Bent-winged Bat – I watched the flyout of a roost of 50+ of these bats in Geraughty Park next to Kingfisher Park. Red light again helpful as they would fly out and often land in the surrounding trees. Andrew and Carol can point you to the right tree.
Large-footed Myotis – Easily seen in the visitors centre at Mareeba Wetlands – just ask the staff. Also found under a couple of bridges in the Yungaburra area.
Feral Cat – One seen on Mt Lewis and one at Mt Hypipamee
Also saw a long-tailed, small grey mammal with pale blue eyeshine run up a tree at Mt Hypipamee – one that got away. Plenty of bats got away too – with many different types seen while spotlighting. I had almost no luck at all checking culverts, bridges and picnic shelters for roosts this trip.

It takes one moment

It is no secret that I go out at night spotlighting quite often – this year I am up to 55 nights (somewhat sad I am keeping track) and while I do have some epic nights there are other nights where not much seems to happen at all. It is these nights where the owls aren’t calling and eyeshine is not coming that you need to keep your attention up as it only takes one moment to make the effort all worth while! Last Saturday night Scott Baker, Owen Lishmund and I decided on a rather late whim to head up to the Euroa district to look for Squirrel Glider and Brush-tailed Phascogale, camp out and then head back after some birding in the morning. The weather forecast was rather poor but it did seem we had a window. John Harris of Wildlife Experiences had let me know a couple of places to try around Euroa for Squirrel Glider which was our starting point. We zipped up the highway and arrived just on dusk in some excellent looking remnant habitat along a road easement which looked perfect with plenty of hollows in the older box trees. A mixed group of Hooded Robins and Jacky Winters and a Triller showed this might be worth more attention in the daylight sometime. We cracked a beer and waited for true dark but were assaulted by wave after wave of mosquitoes which was a theme for the whole night.

On dark we wandered up and down the easement spotlighting picking up many Ring-tailed Possums and a couple of gliders which turned out to be Sugars. There were plenty of frogs calling as well as many microbats which were probably feasting on the mosquitoes which in turn were feasting on us. We tried a few different areas but had no luck with either of our two target species. It was pushing midnight so we decided to run across to Whroo to camp the night. We were west of Pranjip when the moment came. There was a streak on the road – “#@!$ a Phascogale!” as I swerved and drove over the top of it. We pulled up and I was dreading that I had hit it but fortunately there was nothing on the road. A quick bit of spotlighting and we found a lovely Brush-tailed Phascogale propped in a tree looking down on us. A mad scramble for cameras and I managed a couple of frames before it fled – not as sharp as I would like but it will do! We were pretty stoked as we rolled into the Whroo campground which was also infested with clouds of mosquito. Unfortunately the bad weather hit in earnest in the morning so after poking around a bit we headed for home.

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 2

Up at dawn from our Nullarbor roadside stop campsite and the flies were already annoying! We stopped at some cliffs and did a brief seawatch with a number of Short-tailed Shearwaters seen which is getting close to their westerly limit. I was quite surprised how green the Nullarbor was and while it is said to be treeless, plenty of shrubs were taller than me. We crossed the WA border and despite having driven over an hour it was still before 6am so we went down to the old Eucla telegraph station. A very nice and placid Carpet Python was an excellent distraction and despite the strong winds and sand we added Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. Back at Eucla we fuelled up on coffee and a bacon and egg breakfast and headed towards Cocklebiddy. Earlier this year Bernie O’Keefe had posted an excellent trip report of his trip for Naretha Bluebonnet so we relied on this quite heavily – thanks BoK!

This is snek!

This is snek!

At the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse we fueled up and got the details of Arubiddy Station and made a call to let them know we would be travelling through to Rawlinna. This is a polite thing to do – do not say you are there for birdwatching and certainly do not visit the homestead to ask for permission – a simple phonecall is all that is required. The site we were looking for was around 100km north and the road was so bad that it would take 3-4 hours. Just north of the roadhouse we found an Inland Dotterel so already the jaunt was off to a good start. There were plenty of gates and the road got worse as we headed north of Arubiddy Station but there were nice distractions with Nullarbor Bearded Dragon being new to both of us, plenty of Western Grey and Red Kangaroos and eventually a single female Nullarbor Quail-thrush walked across the road. Clearly they are in far lower density in this section of the Nullarbor than around the roadhouse. Around 82km north of Cocklebiddy we found a very active wombat burrow system and could even hear and smell the animals in the burrows. The plain up to this stage had been largely treeless but we could see a line of trees in the distance and right on the 100km mark we turned west and came across the tank where Bernie and others had recently seen the parrots. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to travel here although we had stopped quite a lot for various distractions.

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

The infamous? tank

The infamous? tank

Others had recently driven up to the tank and literally twitched the Bluebonnets from the car but they were not around when we arrived. We got out and wandered around but it was pretty grim with plenty of sheep and flies and not much else. Eventually we met back at the car and sat down to see what would come in to the water. Some Zebra Finches was a good start and a Hobby cruised through a few times stirring things up. It was quite interesting to see a couple of Magpie-larks nesting here – clearly the small patch of mud and water was enough to sustain them. With not much doing we settled back with lunch and then a cup of coffee trusting that the birds would need to come in to drink. The coffee was needed as I had been drifting off but there is nothing like two blue-tailed parrots flying in to wake you up! An excellent pair of Naretha Bluebonnet had slipped in to a tree to wait to drink seemingly much quieter than their Eastern cousins. We maneuvered around and managed to get excellent views and even a few pics of the pair which didn’t seem too fussed by our presence. They were very quiet throughout the encounter and eventually left on their own accord after having a good drink. It would have been good to spend more time to see if more had come in but we were on a bit of a schedule and it was hardly the most inviting campsite so we headed back towards Cocklebiddy – very happy with both main targets out of the way. On the way back I was very happy to get excellent views of Australian Pratincole – a bird I had not seen for quite a while. It seemed to be a quicker run back and we arrived in Cocklebiddy just after dark and decided to get a room as we were both rather knackered and needed a shower.

Naretha Bluebonnet

Naretha Bluebonnet

Hunting Bluebonnets

Hunting Bluebonnets

Up early again we headed west where the plain gave way slowly to stunted mallee and then into the Great Western Woodlands – this is an enormous largely contiguous area of mallee, heath and woodland and is a trip in itself just to explore. Our target for the evening was Jilbadgi Nature Reserve SW of Coolgardie which had interesting records of a number of dunnart and other species. It was a difficult park to access as mining companies had taken over and and blocked many of the access roads – welcome to Western Australia! Eventually we found a way in down south but it was getting late so we had a quick recce and found a place to camp. Jilbadgi is a very interesting area with extensive heath and mallee habitats. On dark there were many bats with 4 species confirmed by bat detector and spotlit – Gould’s and Chocolate Wattled Bats, Southern Forest Bat and White-stripaed Free-tailed Bat as well as a couple of unknowns. A very nice pair of Boobooks were quite confiding and called most of the night. We spent many hours using thermal cameras and had a number of hits but frustratingly could not get visuals on anything. At one stage we startled something large and hot which fled and on examination found a goanna with its head chewed off – probably a cat! Eventually and somewhat frustratingly we gave up. Up early in the morning and things began to look up straight away with Elegant Parrot and Black-eared Cuckoos flying around camp. One of my favourite birds – Southern Scrub-robin were everywhere and even gave me a quick display. We went and birded the recently burnt heath areas and found a number of hopping-mouse burrows which may explain the signals we were getting the night before. Here I got my third new bird of the trip with Western Fieldwrens calling and showing everywhere. Of interest was a pair of Southern Emu-wren which would have to be about as far inland as they get in Western Australia – this is a little known isolated population in this area. Another good area that needs further attention – maybe another time!

Freckled Sun-orchid - Jilbadgi NR

Freckled Sun-orchid – Jilbadgi NR

Road killed malleefowl

Road killed malleefowl

We had a long drive through the trashed wheatbelt area of SW Western Australia so looked for things we could break up the journey with. There is an isolated population of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby in the wheatbelt and a quick google gave us a couple of sites to try. We chose Mount Caroline Nature Reserve which was not too far off the main drag and drove to the information board and walked up the easement to the rocky hill. Very quickly we got glimpses of our first rock-wallabies at the site and with a bit of patience were rewarded with excellent views. Fox control in the area has had a very positive effect on population and this site is now used as a feeder population for other isolated sites. We spent a very nice couple of hours with the rock-wallabies with some nice birds and reptiles to help break it up.

Black-footed Rock-wallaby - Mount Caroline NR

Black-footed Rock-wallaby – Mount Caroline NR

We stayed the night on the outskirts of Perth and had a couple of drinks to celebrate the success of the trip. The next morning Rohan left on a plane for Broome and I hired a car to head south to hunt a few mammals. I drove straight down to the Perup area which is one of the best mammal watching areas in Australia. I had plenty of targets here and very quickly knocked off the first with Western Brush Wallaby on Northern Road. I was particularly keen to spot a Numbat so drove a number of roads and eventually on Pollard Road saw what I thought was a leaf rolling down the road but as it got closer I got binoculars on it and it was a NUMBAT!! it turned off the road and I got excellent views as it ran into a bunch of logs. I waited in the area over an hour but it did not reappear as it was late in the day and might have just decided to go to sleep. The Perup Guesthouse is currently closed but I walked in just before dark and saw little except some cool orchids. Right on dusk I had a Woylie prop nicely on the side of the road but camera was not ready so opportunity was missed. Soon after Western Ring-tailed Possum fell with three animals in melaleuca near the road west of the guesthouse entrance and then Tammar Wallaby with two animals near the intersection with Northern Road. Only 1 hour after sunset and 5 out of my 6 targets already down! I then began to drive roads and walk tracks as I was particularly keen to see a Chuditch (Western Quoll) Hours passed and I had no luck but I was determined to get one and eventually 100km of driving and 8km of spotlighting on foot I was rewarded with a CHUDITCH! on a bit of manky roadkill on Cordalup Road. Much smaller than I was expecting i think it must have been a young female. It fled into the bush but I squeaked and it eventually poked its head out but unfortunately the shitty corolla chose that moment to start beeping that they keys were still in the ignition and it fled again never to return. Never hire a corolla if wildlife watching – vision is shit and it beeps randomly for all sorts of reasons! I headed to where I was going to bush camp and rumbled a Western Pygmy-possum crossing the road. I thought I could catch it but misjudged its location only to see it climbing a tree above my head – I blame the fact it was 2am and I was completely knackered. I missed photos of most things but I will be back with more time!

Crappy shot of a Western Ring-tailed Possum - I need to go back!

Crappy shot of a Western Ring-tailed Possum – I need to go back!

Motorbike Frog

Motorbike Frog

I slept in the next morning and went to Manjimup for coffee and breakfast so missed my numbat leaving its log – I drove around for a few more hours without anything much aside from some nice orchids. I decided to make a run for Dryandra to see if I could ride my luck and hopefully pick up a Red-tailed Phascogale. Dryandra is a favourite birding spot of mine and saw plenty of nice birds before dusk and also checked out a brand new camping area Gnaala Mia which had nice facilities and a bit of heath in the campground itself. A Western Brush Wallaby before dusk was nice but after dark I had no luck with mammals of any sort. While spotlighting for phascogale in casaurina on Kawana Road I did hear a Masked Owl call a number of times but it would not move from its location. In the end no luck this night so I retired to the new campground which I had to myself! I had a couple of excellent hours birding in the morning before heading to the airport. All in all a cracking trip with 3 new birds, 10 new mammals, a pile of new reptiles and 2 new frogs! Thanks to Rohan for the company and Simone and Lucas for letting me go.

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 1

A few months ago Rohan Clarke and I hatched a cunning plan to target two birds we both still needed – Nullarbor Quail-thrush and Naretha Bluebonnet. Both these species were until recently considered subspecies of others but have been “split” into their own species. They also happen to be only found a long way from anywhere, on and around the Nullarbor Plain. So the plan was to relocate Rohan’s car to Perth so he can use it for a family holiday later in the year and we spend 6 days getting it there which would allow plenty of time for wildlife watching. While the two birds were the cornerstones of the trip we still managed to add a number of furry and scaly targets to the agenda as well.

Crinia riparia - Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

Crinia riparia – Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

We left Melbourne late on a Tuesday afternoon with a Hilux packed to the gunnels mostly for Rohan’s family trip following. We drove into the night and ended up in a rather crappy motel in Keith with only a few Eastern Grey Kangaroos getting the mammal list started. Up early we headed through Adelaide stopping at Telowie Gorge just south of Port Augusta. This is known site for Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby but being early afternoon it was far from an ideal time. About 1.5km up the gorge we startled a single rock-wallaby which gave great views – a new animal for me and one that Rohan had not seen for years. This would have to be one of the most attractive macropods in Australia and in the end we walked away with it watching us from up high on the cliffs. On the way down we found the very range restricted Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet which was a new frog for me (not surprisingly!) Add to this a nice suite of birds including Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and Little Woodswallow and the trip was off to a great start!

Telowie Gorge - Rock-wallaby habitat

Telowie Gorge – Rock-wallaby habitat

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby - Telowie Gorge

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby – Telowie Gorge

From here we picked up supplies (and beer) at Port Augusta and headed down to Whyalla Conservation Park where we found some great birds including Western Grasswren, Slender-billed Thornbill, Rufous Fieldwren and Red-backed Kingfisher – its been about 6 years since I was last here and was good to see the country in good condition. The destination for the night was Ironstone Hill Conservation Park which was selected a bit on spec as it was a known site for both Sandhill Grasswren and Sandhill Dunnart. It was a difficult park to find any information on so we explored along the north/south road during the remaining daylight marking out suitable areas of habitat. After dark we spent a number of hours spotlighting and using thermal cameras and were very lucky to pick up Southern(Mallee) Ningaui and Western Pygmy-possums. Detected as small hot spots in the thermal camera and then spotlit they were both new species for me! While we did not get the dunnart, the habitat looks very plausible and would probably require tagging along on an official survey trip to have any real chance. The next morning we birded triodia areas looking for grasswrens and while we did not find any it again would seem likely they still occur there. The birds and flora here are both very reminiscent of Gluepot and parts of the Victorian mallee. Pretty keen to revisit here in the future with more time.

Southern Ningaui

Southern Ningaui

Western Pygmy-possum

Western Pygmy-possum

From here we stopped in briefly at Secret Rocks before heading through Ceduna and out to Yumbarra Conservation Park. I have fond memories of this park as nearly 6 years ago in 48 degree heat I managed to track down my first and only Scarlet-chested Parrot and had been wanting to get back ever since. We spent the late afternoon birding but it was very quiet with only Black-eared Cuckoo and Western Yellow Robins being standouts. That evening we had dinner at one of the rockholes and picked out Goulds and Chocolate Wattled Bat and a couple of other unidentified ones with the bat detector. We spent several hours spotlighting but saw not much of consequence. I was a bit flat as the site was not living up to the awesome reputation I had given it but that all changed in the morning. Up early we quickly found a quite showy pair of Copperback Quail-thrush, Shy Heathwren and best of all a very confiding female Scarlet-chested Parrot! Two visits here for two Scarlet-chested parrots – cant ask for more than that! Leaving the park we had a very cool Dwarf Bearded Dragon which in a matter of a minute completely changed colour from a yellow to a dark grey.

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush - Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush – Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot - Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot – Yumbarra CP

From here we headed west eventually passing north of the Goyder line and past wheat fields and onto the Nullarbor proper. At one stage we passed paddock after paddock of Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat burrows but in the middle of the day there was no point stopping. From here we entered the little mentioned Great Eastern Woodlands, an extensive area of mallee and woodland which must be good for birding at the right time of year. We stopped at the Head of the Bight but unfortunately the whales had left 2 weeks earlier. Still we found a new reptile in Peninsula Dragon which was quite attractive. We were now well into the Nullarbor proper with Rufous Fieldwren, Slender-billed Thornbill, White-winged Fairy-wren and the ubiquitous Australian Pipit the common birds. A quick stop at the famous Nullarbor Road House for fuel and a cool drink and we headed out to hunt for Quail-thrush.

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

It has been well known for a long time that the area directly north of the Nullarbor Road House is an excellent area for the Nullarbor Quail-thrush (not surprisingly) so we headed out along Cave Road and pretty quickly found a couple of Quail-thrush – tick for both of us! While it was easy to get good binocular views, photographs were more difficult. Over the next few hours we saw at least 17 separate birds but photo opps remained elusive. As we looped around we saw many wombat burrows so after dinner at the roadhouse we saw out with a beer and a scope and eventually had excellent views of a Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat sitting outside its burrow! Yet another new mammal for me and one Rohan had not seen for a long time. Eventually it got dark so we drove around with thermal cameras for a couple of hours but surprisingly found nothing but rabbits. From here we drove an hour west and camped by the road with tomorrow targeted for Western Australia and the Naretha Bluebonnet! – to be continued in Part 2!

Nullabor Quail-thrush - record shot at best

Nullabor Quail-thrush – record shot at best

Scoping wombats - beer in hand!

Scoping wombats – beer in hand!

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork) in Victoria

For many years it has been suspected that some birds of the Tasmanian race leucopsis of boobook type owl migrated to Victoria over winter. This member of the boobook clan tends to differ from their mainland counterparts by being smaller, darker with more speckling on back and crown, spotted underparts rather than streaked and most noticeably have fantastic “phonebook” yellow irises as opposed to the dull yellow to olive of mainland birds. Over the years there have been good numbers of dead birds and the odd live bird including Cape Bridgewater in 1993 and Hamilton 2013 which were seen by a number of people but there has never been any definitive evidence if this being more than aberrant birds making their way across the strait. Twice I have found beachcast boobooks at Wilsons Prom but at the time did not think much of it so did not collect or otherwise document the specimens. Local commentary from Tasmanian birders indicate that boobook types remain throughout the winter so at best a subset would migrate. Indeed I have seen (and heard) boobook types on territory in Tasmania a number of times during July through September over the years. To add some grist the mill, the IOC taxonomy (used by most Australian birders) split leucopsis from the mainland Boobook types and placed it with the New Zealand species – Ninox novaeseelandiae – which of course has made it of increased interest to birders. In Tasmania the Boobook type is capricious – often heard but less often seen – I have most often seen it on the road or roadside perch while driving or more commonly have heard it calling in the area. It was not until October 2015 when Andrew Franks posted a series of pictures taken after dark at the Cape Liptrap lighthouse of good numbers of Tasmanian Boobook that it was realised there was a significant number of birds staging for return at this location. This means that the odd birds recorded over previous years were not vagrant or aberrant but but part of a larger cohort migrating across Bass Strait.

Tassie Boobook at Cape Liptrap from 2015 - note the vibrant yellow iris

Tassie Boobook at Cape Liptrap from 2015 – note the vibrant yellow iris

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

The moment I saw Andrew Frank’s photographs in 2015 I arranged to go down with Paul Dodd and Ruth Woodrow where we were rewarded with at least 8 birds in the immediate area of the Cape Liptrap lighthouse which allowed close approach – I honestly believe I could have touched a bird if I had tried. The birds were largely silent but interestingly we did hear a couple of calls but I could not comment on the difference to standard Southern Boobook calls. The number of predatory birds in such a small area could not be sustained and within a week or two they were gone having answered a few questions but leaving a number more. Earlier this year Rohan Clarke and I were wandering around the Central Highlands near Marysville when we rumbled a Tasmanian Boobook on the road which provided a rare inland record of this bird. Over the past few months I have been increasingly looking forward to getting back down to Cape Liptrap in October to see if the congregation is indeed an annual event.

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

On the 14th of October Jeff Davies picked up Scott Baker and I and we headed down to Cape Liptrap with high expectations. A near full moon lit the sky as we arrived after dodging wombats, wallabies and a whole crew of fox kits on the road in. We were a full week earlier than my visit last year and I was a bit worried we would be early but within 60 seconds of leaving the carpark we saw our first Morepork type owl in the distance which was the first of many. The owls this year were much more skittish which we put down to the full moon or the fact we were a week earlier and they had not settled. In the two and a half hours we were there we estimated at least 8 owls but there may well have been more. It was great to confirm that last years records were not a once off and again this is supporting evidence that reasonable numbers of these birds migrate to the mainland every year. Eventually we managed a few record shots before jumping in the car and heading home. During the night Jeff had heard a bird call and Scott and I had seen birds huting insects. The next part of this puzzle will be to check other likely headlands at this time of year and see if there is a similar congregation of tasmanian boobook types. If anyone has any comment on the topic – anecdotal or otherwise I would be keen to hear.

Tasmanian Boobook - Cape Liptrap 2016 - harder to approach than last year

Tasmanian Boobook – Cape Liptrap 2016 – harder to approach than last year

A few days in Snowy River Country

I was supposed to head to Gluepot for a family nature based weekend with Rohan and our two five year olds – Lucas and Aidan but the biblical level storms put paid to that idea. Instead we looked at the weather maps and headed to the one area within range that seemed to be dodging the worst of it – East Gippsland. It had been years since either of us had been to the Snowy River area so we decided to camp at McKillops Bridge and explore with the boys. This area of the Snowy River National Park is near the few extant populations of Brush-tailed Rock wallaby in Victoria and has had a spate of recent quoll sightings. We left late afternoon on a Thursday and cruised down to my parents place at Seaspray where all was quiet. We got up early and hit the beach before have a quick drive through Giffard FFR then on to Bairnsdale for supplies. After stocking up we drove to Cabbage Tree reserve for a quick visit. This area has had a lot of water lately and was quite soggy with plenty of mosquitoes around but there were few nice birds around including Scarlet Honeyeater, Rose Robin and Bassian Thrush. From here we ran up through Orbost up towards Bonang and on to McKillops Bridge through some excellent country with plenty of Red-necked and Swamp Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos as well as a few emus. After setting up camp we had a quick spotlight around the camp which was pretty quiet aside from Common Brush-tailed Possums and Rabbits. After the boys went to bed we sat around with the bat detector for a while but could not pick up anything aside from a distant Owlet-Nightjar.

Pine clad ridges

Pine clad ridges

Up early again and we headed to the Little River Gorge to try and have a look for rock wallabies along what is supposed to be one of the more dangerous gazetted roads in Victoria with very steep drop offs and narrow roads. We didn’t find any rock wallabies but Spotted Quail-thrush were plentiful and the views spectacular. We drove down to where the Little River meets the Snowy River for a bit of a paddle. The vegetation in the area is quite dry with an interesting mix of White Cypress Pine, Kurrajong and various eucalypts and the avifauna reflected this with Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters being the dominant honeyeaters in camp. In the evening we got down to the river on dusk with the bat detector and had plenty of bats flying round. Rohan got a good number of recordings but at this stage only Gould’s Wattled Bat and Vespadelus types could be confidently picked out. Further up the road we found a great little dam with 4 species of frog calling including my first Uperoleia toadlet – Uperoleia laevigata. The boys crashed out after this so we spotlit some distance up the road with 8 or 9 Sambar being a lowlight.

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

There were Turquoise Parrots around the camp the next morning adding to an improving birdlist for the area. We needed fuel so drove backroads to Bombala checking culverts and under bridges and generally stopping anywhere that looked decent. Bombala is renowned for its platypus but we were there in the middle of the day so no luck this time although a couple of large Cunningham’s Skinks was a highlight. From here we cruised back through the Bendoc area which has some excellent forest which needs further exploring at some stage. We stopped at a river diversion tunnel for a bit of a splash and look around and here we had our first snakes of the trip – Lowland Copperheads. Back at camp we again headed down to the river before dusk and I was able to get excellent binocular views of Gould’s Wattled Bat, Forest Bat sp and Long-eared Bat sp zipping around before dark. We also picked up some interesting calls that will require further analysis as we spotlit along the road and back at the frog pond.

Emu

Emu

In the morning we packed up and headed for home. Unfortunately soon out of the camp area we came through an area that was affected by strong winds the night before with about 10 medium trees across the road. After a lot of cursing and swearing and effort we managed to clear a path and continue on, spending time exploring creeks and admiring the view. The road into Suggan Buggan was blocked so we went as far as we could before turning for home. Finally we found a bat roosting under a bridge – a very cool Lesser Long-eared Bat which posed for some photos. While it is a very common and widespread bat across Australia this is the first time I have seen one up close. A bit later on a nice Highland Copperhead gave some excitement as it got a little bit cranky at us watching it. From here it was onwards to home and planning the next adventure. The boys had a ball and are looking forward to going again.

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lucas and a Litoria

Lucas and a Litoria

Leopard Seal – third time is the charm

A couple of times previously this year I have gone chasing a vagrant seal reported on our beaches. The first time was a Leopard Seal near the Cerberus naval base on the Mornington Peninsula which judging by the freshness of the slide mark to the water must have left a mere hour or two before I arrived at dawn. The second time Rohan Clarke and I headed down to Port Fairy to chase a freshly reported Crabeater Seal and again we arrived to spotlighting for slide marks and no seal after it had decamped a few hours before and gave us a chance to generate some unique memes. So when I heard of yet another Leopard Seal (probably the 5th or 6th report this year in Victoria) A quick examination of ALA and other atlas sources show many records for Victoria so they must be a regular visitor. I was up early with Lucas who never needs an excuse for a beach adventure to go and chase. About this time I was pretty sure I was going to be able to photograph yet another rare seal slide mark.

A leopard seal was here - honest!

A leopard seal was here – honest!

And here - spotlighted scrapes of a Crabeater!

And here – spotlighted scrapes of a Crabeater!

After a coffee and a power juice Lucas and I arrived down at a beach on the Mornington Peninsula and jumped out of the car and ran to scan the beach – and nothing! Still there were a couple of areas of rocks in either direction that a seal could be hiding behind and Lucas was keen to play so we wandered down to investigate. Lucas was pretty excited to see his first Hooded Plovers with no fewer than six on the beach. He was off observing the plovers when I wandered past a section of rocks and there was a rather small (at 5-6 feet) but awesome Leopard Seal lying there. At first I saw clouds of flies rise of its unmoving head and I thought we had arrived to a corpse but it eventually stretched and rolled onto its side. I am pretty sure I was less excited than the quoll a couple of weeks ago but Lucas assures me it was abut the same. The animal was very chilled and never raised its head the time we were there. It appeared to be in very good nick for a young animal far from home and a quick snap of its dump showed it may have snagged a Little Penguin or two in the preceding week. We were very privileged to be able to spend some time in the presence of this apex predator although Lucas was distracted by some pretty cool rockpools. The seal appeared to be a young animal in some sort of moult with patchy fur on its face. We got a good 20 minutes alone with the animal until a couple of Rangers turned up who asked us to move even further back before approaching the seal closer than we ever would have.

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Knowing it was time to go we wandered back up the beach indulging in a quick high five before getting into the serious business of exploring the beach washed seaweed and stalking the Hoodies. Lucas has not stopped talking about Leopard Seals since and we had to write it down in his mammal list along with the Hooded Plovers in his birdbook – queue proud Dad.

Leopard Seal poo!

Leopard Seal poo!

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Leopard Seal

Spring time is orchid time in Melbourne

While I generally chase things with a backbone I also have a secret like for a good native orchid. This year they have certainly taken a back seat but today I had a spare couple of hours so headed out to Baluk Willam NCR near Lysterfield for a bit of wander and poke around. Baluk Willam NCR is a fantastic little reserve for our native ground orchids and the friends website is excellent for letting you now what is in flower at the moment – http://fobw.rnr.id.au/ The reserve also occasionally picks up the odd good bird so I also kept an eye and an ear out for any returning spring migrants.

Petalochilus

Petalochilus

I parked at the southern carpark as usual and did the loop where there were plenty of greenhood types out with many of them now past their best – Talls, Cobras, Noddings, Maroonhoods and Mountains all in evidence. Plenty of finger/fairy orchids were out and made quite a nice carpet in places. Plenty of small birds calling including a Brown Thornbill which was doing a nice little bit of mimicry which had me going for a moment.

Pterostylis alpina

Pterostylis alpina

Pterostylis alpina

Pterostylis alpina

Across the road from the carpark is always worth a good going over and here there were good numbers of orchids showing well. There were plenty of Wallflower Orchids – Diuris orientis including some that were nearly completely yellow as well as more greenhoods and two species of Spider Orchid. Plenty of Brownbeaks were starting to show well which are a smart looking orchid that has a bit of a perfume. From here I wandered a big loop around much of the rest of the reserve and didn’t see much else although a couple of competing male Scarlet Robins all puffed up and calling loudly was nice. Nice afternoon out and I have successfully resisted the orchid bug for a bit longer.

Lyperanthus suaveolens

Lyperanthus suaveolens

Diuris orientis

Diuris orientis

Diuris orientis

Diuris orientis

A quick add-on. Today I had a quick visit to Pauline Toner Butterfly Reserve in Eltham to photograph Common Golden Moth orchids – Diuris chryseopsis. There were plenty of them here but most had been smashed by solid rain over the past week but I still managed a few pics.

Diuris chryseopsis

Diuris chryseopsis

Diuris chryseopsis

Diuris chryseopsis