A feather for a tail

Earlier this week I knocked off work a bit early and headed up into the Central Highlands with Rohan Clarke http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ with a couple of targets in mind. We arrived at a site near the base of Lake Mountain that is known for Broad-toothed Rat and poked around a bit while waiting for dark. From here we headed out towards Woods Point stopping in likely looking habitat for owls, possum and glider. At the first stop we had a couple of Bobuck and a Greater Glider so things were off to a good start. Rohan had use of a thermal camera which again proved very good at picking up animals that otherwise would have been missed by normal spotlighting. A second stop had a calling Sooty Owl and yet more Greater Gliders and what Rohan thought was a Feather-tailed Glider but he could not relocate. This is a species which was high on my wish list so I was a bit disappointed to miss it…. but the night was young!

Bobuck

Bobuck

We moved on again to a new spot and almost immediately had good looks at a Leadbeater’s Possum flitting around. After seeing them in Tarago, Powelltown and Toolangi recently it was good to add another population to my records. We moved on and Rohan picked up a very small but hot object on the thermal camera – flicking on the headlamp I saw it was a Feather-tailed Glider which was quite light shy, zipping down the trunk and going to ground, fantastic stuff! The small eucalyptus it was in had a fair infestation of lerp which we surmised it was likely feeding on. I was elated but the twitching part of me was a bit torn – I had good views of its feather tail as it scuttled along but Feather-tailed Gliders have recently been split into two species, Narrow-toed and Broad-toed and both occur in Victoria so was unsure which I had seen. About now my head torch batteries started to die so I stopped to change them and of course Rohan located another another Feather-tailed Glider! Running across with a handful of batteries and torches there was a Feather-tailed Glider frozen in the fork of a small tree. In the excitement I did not check camera settings so the photos are not as good as they could be but were good enough to show that it was a Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider! Lifer and a very wanted tick under the belt! it gave us a good couple of minutes of viewing before vanishing into the night. We spent a fair bit of time in this area and found another couple of feather-tails which showed we must have found a good colony.

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider - Yarra Ranges State Forest

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider – Yarra Ranges State Forest

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider - Yarra Ranges State Forest

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider – Yarra Ranges State Forest

We continued east, stopping regularly getting as far as Matlock before heading back. Plenty of Greater Gliders seen and we checked a known location for Leadbeater’s that Rohan had found previously and quickly found a couple of animals which gave a pretty good show with their diagnostic movements through the mid canopy. Another stop in a random location pulled in yet another Leadbeater’s Possum which sat and watched us for a while. We checked again the Feather-tail colony but could not locate any animals on this occasion but did hear some very distant wild dogs or dingos. Rohan tried his best howling impersonation and rather quickly the dogs came closer and closer until they were only a couple of hundred meters away. About now they must have realised they were being conned as they lost interest – still it was a fun experience! We were driving towards the campsite to call it a night when we rumbled a small looking boobook in the middle of the road. Rohan immediately suspected it a Tasmanian Boobook or Morepork and a quick couple of photos showed it to be the case with its heavily spotted underparts and phonebook yellow eyes. This is an excellent record and again is supporting evidence that small numbers of these birds winter on the Australian mainland. In many ways this was the sighting of an already excellent night!

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

We camped down towards Big River where a pair of Powerful Owls called repeatedly just before dawn which rounded the night out well. Up early and back to Melbourne in time for an 11 am meeting. All in all it was a very successful evening with 5 Feather-tailed gliders, 4 Leadbeater’s Possums, 25+ Greater Gliders, Agile Antechinus and four owl species as well as plenty of the more usual suspects. The Leadbeater’s Possum records have been reported to relevant authorities. Now it is time to find a Broad-toed Feather-tailed!

More Leadbeater’s Possum action

I had some spare time Saturday night so I headed out to the Powelltown area to meet up with a mate Stephen and two of his sons – Adam (10) and Liam (8) to try and show them a Leadbeater’s Possum or two. On the way there I tracked through Tarago State Forest and was fortunate enough to spot a Platypus in the Tarago River minutes after talking to a fisherman who told me he had never seen a platypus there as the water is too dirty. Well the water looks pretty clean to me and Tarago Reservoir is in service as part of Melbourne’s water supply so I was not surprised to see a trail of muddy water and then a beak sticking up briefly in the increasing gloom. Now I just need to find a platypus in Bunyip sometime! A Bassian Thrush on the side of the road and a few lyrebirds were nice as I zipped around to Powelltown for the 6pm meetup.

With the boys both desperately wanting to see Leadbeater’s Possum and Stephen only having seen one previously, we headed out to check out colonies found previously over the past year or so. It was a full moon night so I was a little skeptical how we would go but we pretty quickly got onto a very nice possum which sat nicely for all to see. After a couple of happy snaps it jumped even closer beside the car showing us all its diagnostic movement which best resembles a squirrel. With the main target out of the way we continued on to try and get some better views as well as try and rustle up an owl or two.

Leadbeater's Possum - Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Yarra State Forest

After a couple more stops we arrived at an area of perhaps ten year old regrowth that has been very productive on previous visits. It seems that this is a great place for possums and gliders of all shapes and sizes to travel and feed in the abundant wattle from denning sites nearby. Over a number of visits here I have found Greater, Yellow-bellied and Sugar Gliders, Ringtails and Bobucks and of course Leadbeater’s Possum – it seems as long as there are stags nearby, possums will travel to feed into areas like this. We were fortunate enough to find a number of Leadbeater’s Possums sitting low for some great views and a couple of snaps. Towards the end of this wander we watched several Leadbeater’s chase each other round, calling continuously in what appeared to be a territorial dispute. This was fascinating as it was probably the first time I have seen demonstrable interaction between individual Leadbeater’s Possums. The call was a continual staccato tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi which was very different to the drumming call I had heard in the past. Perhaps this was a territorial call, while the drumming is threat related? We had not heard a night bird of any description which is not unusual on full moon nights in my experience. I was very impressed by Adam and Liam’s knowledge, questions and discipline throughout our jaunt and I think they are both excellent young naturalists.

Leadbeater's Possum - Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater's Possum - Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Yarra State Forest

With Liam getting a bit tired we headed back to Powelltown managing a nice Southern Boobook on the way down the mountain – still we did pretty well overall – just over two hours for nine Leadbeater’s Possum! After dropping them back at their car I had a bit of decision to make about what to do next. I decided to go again to Bunyip to chase owls despite the full moon – in hindsight a bad choice. Three and half hours wandering around Bunyip produced plenty of Yellow-bellied, Greater and Sugar Gliders but I could not even get a peep out of an owl of any description. Still they will be waiting for next time….

Some Powerful Owl fun

With the forecast looking fantastic on Sunday night I finished up some family commitments and headed out to Bunyip State Park to look for some owl action. I arrived out there about 7:30 pm to still conditions and crystal clear skies. Jupiter was close to the moon which was half full and providing plenty of ambient light for moving around. Basic plan for the evening was to visit 4 sites in the park – two well known and two new sites – twice each to chase owls which should be quite vocal right now. I started at a nice known spot of mine where recently I have had Sooty and Powerful owl as well as the three regular gliders but all I had was silence. Despite a fair bit of poking around I could not even raise a ringtail. I moved on to another known spot where I had previously seen Masked Owl and sure enough after about 10 minutes I had strong call response several times but could not move the bird from its location in the forest across the valley.

Yellow-bellied Glider came in to greet the Powerful Owl

Yellow-bellied Glider came in to greet the Powerful Owl

I drove around a bit with only the occasional Greater Glider spotlit and the odd boobook calling for company plus numerous Geocrinia victoriana until I eventually had a Sooty Owl fly across the road in front of the car which is the first time this has happened for me. I stopped and could hear the Sooty moving away calling as it went before settling several hundred meters away. I tried to call it back but it would not come any closer. The reason for this was soon apparent as a pair of Powerful Owls started calling with the deep male in response to the higher pitched female. I was alerted to the Powerful Owl sitting above me by a number of Yellow-bellied Gliders calling raucously with one even gliding into the tree beside the owl and charging up the trunk. I had read about this behaviour from Yellow-bellied Gliders and while I had heard and seen them respond to Sooty Owl calls this is the first time I had witnessed the mobbing behaviour. Despite this the Powerful Owl sat completely unperturbed looking down at me allowing me to take a few happy snaps. By now a second Sooty Owl had joined the first as they sat screaming with indignation the gully over which the owl ignored. After 10 minutes the owl had not moved so I left it to its own devices – for all I know it is sitting there still. A couple more Greater Gliders and a Frogmouth on the way out rounded it off. All in all a pretty good night and home in bed just after 11 which is not bad for a school night!

Powerful Owl - Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl – Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl - Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl – Bunyip State Park

Reason’s why we need a Great Forest Park – #1 – Leadbeater’s Possum

Last night I headed out to Toolangi State Forest with Rohan Clarke http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ for a night of spotlighting. Toolangi is not really a favourite site of mine due to the constant reminder of the destruction of clear fell logging with desolate coupes and immature regrowth through most of the area. Still it is the western most remaining bastion of the now critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum so it is these we targeted along with the more common forest inhabitants. The basic plan was a loop around through the forest looking for new locations and potentially following up some old ones.

Mature Mountain Ash in Toolangi State Forest

Mature Mountain Ash in Toolangi State Forest

The first few spots we tried were quiet with Bobuck, Greater and Sugar Gliders providing some interest. Rohan was using a thermal camera in the hope of picking up some interesting small mammals in the undergrowth while I used the more traditional head torch looking for eye shine higher up. A few small mammals and roosting birds were picked up with the camera which proves it can be a useful tool although I imagine you lose some of the experience of walking in the forest at night while staring at the screen. It was a seriously quiet night with not a single night bird heard or seen or Sugar Glider yap. More interestingly not a single frog was heard despite many heard on visits to other central highlands areas over the past couple of weeks. Less surprisingly microbats were not much in evidence with only a couple seen patrolling the forest roads.

We continued to try a number of new sites with no sign of Leadbeater’s Possum despite the habitat looking better although it was still not as prime looking as the areas around Poweltown. We did propose that potentially the less optimum habitat meant that the possums were in this area in lesser densities. The other theory was that they were less susceptible to our squeaking due to the time of year so went to check out a site where Rohan had previously found them. As soon as we left the car at this spot Rohan picked up one and then a second animal in quick succession – he is a jammy bastard like that! They were quite interested in us, jumping around and looking at us although not sitting close for good photos. We ended up finding 3 animals at this location and a separate animal perhaps 500 meters away which came in from a different direction. From here we tried some other prime looking areas without further success before calling it a night. All in all a successful evening for finding the 4 Leadbeater’s Possum but on the whole quite quiet for 6 hours of effort. With the recent upgrade (downgrade?) of Greater Glider to nationally vulnerable the good numbers in these forests could be important. Greater Gliders require large hollows for denning and breeding which are also important for other animals such as large forest owls so any moves to further protect the glider must also help these.

Unfortunately the possum’s did not sit for good pics but did manage a couple of ID shots below.

Leadbeater's Possum - Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater's Possum - Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Toolangi State Forest

I have to say that I was less impressed by the forest in Toolangi than area’s around Powelltown where I have been concentrating in recent times but there is still some excellent areas of mature forest. It is clearly being logged hard and even areas of regrowth don’t seem to be as diverse in structure. There also seems to be less old stags left which are important den sites for Leadbeater’s Possum. There is still clearly an important population of these animals (and others) here though that needs to be protected and protected now. There is only one way we can save the Leadbeater’s Possum and that is through protection in a properly funded Great Forest Park. Do not let their habitat and our water catchments become like the logging coupe below – it is devastation in that pic but even those “habitat trees” remaining wont be alive once the coupe is burnt. #GFNP

Recent coupe in Toolangi - not yet burnt

Recent coupe in Toolangi – not yet burnt

One night in Deni

Last weekend I was invited to join Phil Peel and his bunch of Filthy Flockers and friends for a full days birding on the Hay Plains around Deniliquin. Phil had organised Phil Maher http://www.philipmaher.com/ to take us around for a days birding followed by an evening spotlighting for Plains Wanderer and other targets after dark. Unfortunately Plains Wanderers had not been seen for a couple of months due to the extremely dry conditions so they were not considered much of a chance but it was still worth a look. If nothing else there were a few mammals in the area I could add to my year list and a pretty good chance of Inland Dotterel and Fat-tailed Dunnart which would be lifers.

I left work early on Friday afternoon and headed up to Deniliquin which is an easy 3 hour run from Melbourne arriving just after dark for a few beers and the exchanging of some wild birding tales. Phil Maher arrived around 7:30 am and we all piled into a bus for some birding at some of his local sites – he did warn that it was very dry and was not expecting much. Still we had a good mornings birding with plenty of Superb Parrots, Bluebonnets, White-winged Fairy-wrens and White-backed Swallows being highlights. Unfortunately the bird life was a bit quiet and the area would be well worth another visit after some rain. We were dropped back for lunch which was spent consuming a rather large parma and a couple of beers at the local pub

Flockers on the loose

Flockers on the loose

We were picked up mid afternoon and headed north looking for Ground Cuckoo-shrikes. Did not find these but Red Kangaroo was new for the year list as was Western Grey Kangaroo as we entered the property on which we would be spotlighting. Phil Maher has done a lot of work getting land holders onside and getting access to these properties and the owners of this property are particularly interested in conservation. A number of the locals helped with driving us around in the evening which gives them an additional financial reason to promote a good environment for Plains Wanderers. We had an excellent meal as the sun set and then headed out for the evening spread across four vehicles. We quite quickly found a lovely pair of Inland Dotterel which is a bird I had wanted to see since I was a young boy! They are fantastically camouflaged and would have easily been missed if they had not moved. We had an excellent photography session with the pair before leaving them in peace.

Inland Dotterel - Deniliquin area

Inland Dotterel – Deniliquin area

We then headed to what had been a reliable Plains Wanderer paddock up until a few months ago and the 4 cars split up to quarter the paddocks. Pretty quickly I spotted the eyeshine of a small mammal which was a Fat-tailed Dunnart! but it disappeared quickly down a hole. Not to worry, the other cars soon had one out in the open so we zipped across and were able to get a few nice photos of a very cute little carnivore. Apparently Narrow-nosed Planigales also inhabit these plains but Phil had only seen twice in the last 10 years so would be a real fluke to see without a concerted effort. There were good numbers of microbats around with White-striped Free-tailed Bats calling overhead and small grey fluttery ones which were likely Lesser Long-eared Bats. We scoured the paddock for a couple of hours picking up more dunnarts before calling it a night content that we had given it a good go. A celebratory beer for an excellent bird in the Inland Dotterel and we were already planning our next visit for Plains Wanderer.

Fat-tailed Dunnart - Deniliquin area

Fat-tailed Dunnart – Deniliquin area

On Sunday I eventually rolled out of bed and after a Maccas coffee started to head home. I checked out a few area of Red Gum forest between Deni and the border without finding too much of note so I decided to head to the Kamarooka area north of Bendigo. Kamarooka was the driest and quietest I have known it in well over 10 years of regular visits. In fact the Distillery Dam was completely dry! Still with a bit of effort I was able to turn up a few nice birds including Hooded Robins, Shy Heathwren, Jilberts Whistler and Variegated Fairy-wren. It was so quiet I didn’t stay too long and headed for home. Thanks to Phil Peel for the invite!

Distillery Dam - dry as a dead dingo's donger!

Distillery Dam – dry as a dead dingo’s donger!

Chasing the spotted one

It was on a late January spotlighting night with Chris Sanderson in the Yarra Ranges that I learnt of a lodge in the far north of NSW that “guaranteed” quoll for visitors. Spot-tailed Quoll has long been on my most wanted list so I was very keen to see one. Chris and Katrina gave glowing reports of watching quolls feeding outside the accommodation so I did a bit of further research on the Guestwick Eco Lodge http://www.guestwickecoresort.com.au/ and contacted Adrian to book a night. Around this I decided to plan my first ever mammal-centric twitching trip – while I still needed quite a few birds in the SE Queensland area I planned this trip to be mammal first. So flying into Brisbane the plan was Lamington first night, Guestwick the second and then a bit loose after that with two rock-wallabies on the agenda. Eventually I had the leave pass confirmed so flew into Brisbane on a Thursday afternoon. Flight was delayed so I copped Brisbane right on peak hour which was frustrating but it did mean that I hit the Logan area right on dusk as a huge Flying-fox camp moved out. Standing like a true dork on the side of the road I added Black Flying-fox to the year list as well as picking out a Grey-headed as many, many bats moved out to the surrounding suburbs. I finally escaped the traffic and headed up to the campground at Green Mountain picking up the excellent Hare and Fox on the way as well as many Cane Toads. Things were looking a bit bleak until I hit the edge of Lamington NP where I stopped at the first pull-in. Here I picked up a rather cranky Short-eared Brushtail Possum (technical tick!) and a number of Grey-headed Flying-foxes feeding above. Driving slowly up I rumbled a number of small mammals on and beside the road – the first being an antechinus which at the time I took to be Subtropical (read more on this later), a Fawn-footed Melomys (tick!) which gave great binocular views as it nibbled on something on the road and a Bush Rat which actually ambled off the road. Also very prevalent were a good number of Lechriodus fletcheri (Black-soled Frog) which was new for me.

Lechriodus fletcheri

Lechriodus fletcheri

I quickly setup my tent at the campground at Green Mountain, twice hearing a Sooty Owl bomb nearby and then loaded up ready for a long night of spotlighting ahead. Red-necked Pademelons were everywhere and I actually tripped over one as I headed up to the road to begin the action. I headed up past O’Reilly’s Guest House where many pademelons and a couple of Northern Brown Bandicoots fed on the lawn. I did the Tree top walk loop picking up Brown Antechinus, Long-nosed Bandicoot and more Bush Rats and a Fawn-footed Melomys. Red-legged Pademelon was quite easy to find in the rainforest itself and while shyer than its Red-necked cousin it was easy to get good looks. I heard a Sooty Owl a couple of times here but I suspect it might have been some punters at O’Reilly’s playing the call. The most common mammal by far was the Eastern Ring-tailed Possum which are quite rufous in this area and most rustles in the canopy were this. The animals here are allegedly more rufous but looked a lot like those in the Otways so perhaps its a wet forest thing.

Eastern Ring-tailed Possum

Eastern Ring-tailed Possum

I walked slowly down the road from the campsite spotlighting as I went. In a couple of places Noisy Pitta called in the darkness even though it was now pushing 11pm. On the aptly named Python Rock Track I was happy to find a carpet python in ambush position completely ignoring me. Sugar Gliders were calling in a number of places and I managed to spotlight a couple in the rainforest. There were many, many microbats of different sizes and colours which made me wish for a decent bat detector although the Black and Grey-headed Flying-foxes feeding in the canopy were easier. There were plenty of Black-soled and Great Barred Frogs which gave good photo opportunities although none were calling and a couple of Southern Leaf-tailed Geckos which was new for me. I eventually made it to Duck Creek Road despite the distractions and immediately heard a Marbled Frogmouth followed by a couple more. It took a bit of effort and wandering through the forest but I eventually got some decent views of them in the canopy although they really did not like the light on them. This was a new bird for me so I began the walk back to the tent with most reasonably possible targets under the belt jumping in to bed about 2am.

Carpet Python

Carpet Python

As I could not peg the tent out properly on the packed gravel tent sites I woke up early a little bit dusty with the damp tent on my face. I immediately remembered why I love Lamington with excellent birds flitting through the campsite area continually. I put aside a couple of hours for birding doing the Tree Top walk again and my favourite Python Rock track picking up some nice birds including Albert’s Lyrebird and Paradise Riflebird but I had to remember this was a mammal trip and not a birding trip so had to move on. Again I saw a couple of Antechinus which were very brown and quite long tailed – typical Brown type. When I returned at the end of the trip I asked on the Facebook Mammal Watching Forum about antechinus at Lamington as I was sure i had seen two species with typical Brown types around O’Reillys and what I thought were less-brown and shorter tailed animals down the mountain. However I (and others) were to be disappointed with Angus McNab confirming that genetic work shows there are only Brown Antechinus at Lamington (plus a couple of non Brown types). I had been told that Pretty-faced (Whip-tailed) Wallabies were found on the way down on the grassy slopes towards Canungra and I managed to find three sitting nicely for a couple of photographs.

Pretty-faced (Whip-tailed) Wallaby

Pretty-faced (Whip-tailed) Wallaby

For most of the Friday I was dealing with calls from work while I worked my way towards the Guestwick Ecolodge over the border in NSW. Near Beaudesert I stopped to inspect a poor road-killed Boobook owl and was fortunate to have a Yellow-footed Antechinus watching me. I eventually arrived at Guestwick mid afternoon and was met by the very hospitable Adrian and his wife Karen. I had been warned that the quolls had not been seen for a few days but was still keen to visit and put in a good effort. Was a great place with excellent, comfortable accommodation and abundant wildlife nearby. Red-necked Wallabies fed within meters of the cabin and King Parrots were within touching distance. I was here for the quolls and Adrian did everything humanly possible to get them in with a road-killed hare wired up and lamb shanks and chicken necks outside the accommodation. University researchers had recently collared the resident male but he had returned since a number of times so I was hopeful. Adrian even setup a trail camera that would flash if it detected movement from a quoll on the hare. After having a good wander and getting to know the local inhabitants I had a relaxing beer and awaited darkness.

Red-necked Wallaby

Red-necked Wallaby

As it got dark the Brush-tailed possums were the first to appear, looting the bird feeders and some cut up fruit put out for the bettongs. After half an hour there was no sign of quoll or bettong and a fierce electrical storm hit dumping large amounts of rain in a short period. At this stage I was worried I was heading for a double dip! Eventually the rain started to clear and I saw my first Rufous Bettong – over the course of the night I saw at least eight individuals and they are now on my patted list after very slowly crawling up to one. Excellent stuff! There were no signs of quolls and no flashes from the camera so I spent many hours exploring the property. There were a number of frogs around including Ornate Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum ornatum), Red-eyed Treefrog (Litoria chloris) and Stony-creek Frog (Litoria wilcoxii). Wandering around the property I also saw Echidna, Bush Rat, Sugar Glider, Eastern Grey Kangaroo and around 3am a female Powerful Owl called incessantly from across the hill. But unfortunately no quoll despite spotlighting from 7pm til 12:30 am and then getting up every hour after that.

Rufous Bettong

Rufous Bettong

Litoria chloris

Litoria chloris

In the morning I slept in so I missed the Glossy Blacks that visited the yard but I did eventually get up and have another wander around the property before heading off. Adrian was very apologetic about the quolls and offered me the next night with no charge but as I said, no promises with wildlife! I will be back to this excellent property though, quolls or not, Lucas would love it. From here I headed north to a site near Oakey to search for Plum-headed Finch – Doctor’s Creek Reserve. Not having more information than the site name, I parked the car and walked down the power easement to the creek line where I pretty quickly saw two Plum-headed Finches flush and fly away into the distance! I was quite torn as I know they were PHF and I got ok binocular views but it was hardly a satisfying experience. I should not have worried though as I soon found more birds which gave good views, TICK! This site seemed to be a pretty good birding spot with White-throated Gerygone calling and a number of other nice birds around but I could not stay and had to move on. I had read David Andrew’s new Mammal Finding Guide which mentioned there was a Little Red Flying-Fox colony at Kearney’s Springs Historical Park in Toowoomba and as I needed this for the year list I diverted there. When I got there I could only find Black Flying-Fox and eventually a few Grey-headeds but no Reds… and then I read the council signs which also suggested these were the only two species here. This was a couple of hours diversion but at least I got to visit Super Rooster for a chicken fix. From Toowoomba I headed north to Lake Perseverance which is well known for being a good spot for Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby. Despite it being mid afternoon and quite hot I was quickly able to spot a couple of animals on the dam wall. This seems to be the kind of place it would be worth coming back after dark as the wallabies would likely be feeding on the lawns. Still it was a decent twitch and I could not be too fussy. From here I went to the nearby Cressbrook Dam which is supposed to be good for Red Deer but all I found were Eastern Greys. I dropped back in at Perseverance on the way back out and got good views of a Rock-wallaby foraging in the creekline below.

Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby hiding

Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby hiding

Final destination for the day was the main Dandabah campground at Bunya Mountains National Park where I had booked a site. I arrived just before dark and quickly set up the tent before heading to the “bat house” which is the largest known maternal roost for Chocolate Wattled Bat in Australia. I got excellent views of the animals leaving under red light but even that seemed to bother them a bit so I left to their own devices and headed out into the rainforest. Great Barred Frogs (Mixophyses fasciolatus) were calling all night and were everywhere on the paths – after the third one jumped into me I stopped freaking out (much). My main target here was Black-striped Wallaby and after about an hour of spotlighting I found one which gave unsatisfactory views. I continued to search but was rudely interrupted by a pair of Sooty Owls trilling their heads off above me for a good 20 minutes. I eventually found more Black-striped Wallabies with the area around the Tim Shea Falls beings best – they were much shyer than the much more common Red-necked Wallaby and quite distinctive looking with a different gait. Quite happy I headed back to the campground to enjoy a quiet birthday beer and update my records.

Mixophyses fasciolatus

Mixophyses fasciolatus

I could not be kept in camp however with a nearby calling Sooty Owl again calling me out for another couple of hours spotlighting. This time I added Long-nosed Bandicoot to the day list as well as getting some nice pics of Short-eared Brushtail Possum before escaping to bed a little later than intended. I was rather unimpressed by a rather nasty looking spider beside the tent which had me checking bedding and the like as I had left the tent partly open. In the morning I did a bit of birding down some of the rainforest paths picking up some nice rainforest species. From here I had a bit of a conundrum – do I go and chase a nice suite of birds I need around Rainbow Beach or do I go after the next Petrogale up the coast – the Herbert’s Rock-wallaby. Of course I chose the rock-wallaby and headed a few hours away to a site in the Andrew’s Mammal Finding Guide – the Auburn River National Park. Unfortunately when I arrived at the Auburn River NP it was already after lunch time and the temperature was mid 30’s and humidity high. The guide mentioned a lookout that was good for looking for the wallabies but this was overgrown so I had to venture down into the gorge. I loaded up on a heap of water and there was plenty of water in the gorge but over the next few hours of searching I pushed myself a bit far and ended up with something close to heatstroke. In three hours or so of searching I didn’t even find any rock-wallaby scat so they are probably not in particularly high numbers at this location and certainly searching during the heat of the day was quite foolish! When I finally got back to the car I had a celebratory chunder for the dip and then spent the next half hour trying to cool down.

Short-eared Brushtail Possum

Short-eared Brushtail Possum

Bitey McBitey

Bitey McBitey

I decided to cut my losses on the rock-wallaby and made a beeline for the Cooloola National Park on the coast arriving just on dusk at the famous T&T powerline site. I heard at least six Ground Parrot calling at this location and shortly after true dark I was rewarded with brief but excellent views of a Grass Owl which I squeaked in. I had heard that playback was useless at this location due to many years of overplaying but did find my poor squeaking imitation of a dying rodent worked well enough although the owl fled as soon as I put light on it. Over the next half an hour I had several more brief views and heard it trilling a number of times. It was very depressing to see the numbers of Cane Toads at this site…. On the way out I flushed a couple of White-throated Nightjar from the road. I camped at Inskip Point and was murdered by sandflies in the morning. I spent half an hour looking for BBBQ but only found old platelets before I had to make a beeline for Tin Can Bay. Tin Can Bay gives an opportunity every morning to see Australian Hump-backed Dolphins being fed at Barnacles Dolphin Centre – http://www.barnaclesdolphins.com.au/ and today was no exception with four dolphins visiting. It is quite a good experience and only costs $5 which in turn gives you $2 off a better than average coffee so well worth a visit. It is only moderately touristy and the volunteers know what they are talking about and it gives you a good chance to get close to an otherwise somewhat difficult species to see. In the nearby mangroves I was also able to fill a rather embarrassing hole in my bird list, finally picking up Mangrove Honeyeater which tried to land on my head when I pished – good times.

Australian Hump-backed Dolphin

Australian Hump-backed Dolphin

Not sure why they are called Hump-backed Dolphins....

Not sure why they are called Hump-backed Dolphins….

About now I was quite stuffed from the previous days exertions and several nights of little sleep so I headed slowly back to Brisbane birding at a couple of sites without seeing anything spectacular. I ended up heading to the lounge early to enjoy a beer or three while updating notes and entering ebird records. In the end the damage was 14 new mammals for the year list and 4 new birds for the life list! Pretty good going! I will be back for that quoll and that rock-wallaby however! Thanks to Lucas and Sim for letting me escape.

In possum country

The monthly Portland pelagic was cancelled so I was looking for something to do on Saturday evening. I decided to go spotlighting for a change as it had been a week and I was having withdrawal symptoms. It was late notice but Jono and Chris stepped up to the plate and met me out at Powelltown at 8pm – the Powelly pub was going bananas with at least 5 cars there but we resisted the urge to go in and evangelise in this hard core logging town on the virtues of the Leadbeater’s possum and a Great Forest National Park. We headed north to our first stop which was just on true dark – Jono heard a Sooty which was a good sign but it was a false dawn as it was the only Tyto heard for the night. I had recently acquired a low end bat detector so waved that around a bit and I can confirm that indeed there are bats around and I can hear them with the device. In fact bats were a feature of the night, at every stop we had many microbats of various sizes and flight patterns zipping around but unfortunately all remain unidentified aside from the White-striped Free-tailed Bat which was heard and even spotlit at most stops. After a bit of stuffing around it was time to get serious so we headed off to find some possums.

We stopped at a spot I had seen Leadbeater’s earlier in the year and after a bit of pishing Chris was able to get onto a couple of Leadbeater’s possums which got the night off to a good start. Further up the road there were a number of Geocrinia victoriana calling and then at least three Leadbeater’s possum zipping around the area. At one stage two were on a branch and I almost got a good pic but without time to setup properly just ended up with some blurred blobs. Still it was great to observe their behaviour and again we heard their drumming call. A lyrebird calling at 10pm was somewhat novel.

Two Leadbeaters in the one frame - pity about the focus

Two Leadbeaters in the one frame – pity about the focus

Further up the hill we went to an area of regrowth which is regularly frequented by various types of possums due to the prevalence of thick hickory and silver wattle. Tonight was no exception with good views of Sugar Glider and a number of Bobucks including one fatty that was as wide as it was tall. Also throughout this area we came across individual Leadbeater’s Possum that clearly travel into the area to feed from roosting sites nearby. I need to come back here during the day to see just how close the nearest suitable stags are as they are not immediately apparent from the road. Was fortunate enough to have one animal come quite close for photo opportunities but again I had a double failure – first failing to turn the flash on when it was closest and then not nailing the shot when it leapt from one trunk to another. Still we again got to observe these animals – the way they move is diagnostic with no other Australian mammal like it. I was now a couple of Canadian Club and dry cans in and with 8 or so Leadbeater’s under the belt it was turning into a good night. Here we had the standard nightly run in with some friendly boguns in a 4wd who were suitably amazed when we said we were looking for possums and owls although they understood better when I explained it goes well with a couple of cans.

Turn the flash on muppet

Turn the flash on muppet

This could have been great!

This could have been great!

From here we headed into new areas and at the first stop we jumped out of the car and heard a Limnodynastes calling. Whilst the others were chasing frogs I managed to pish up some Leadbeater’s quickly and we soon had 3 performing quite nicely. At one stage I had three on the same branch but it was too overgrown to get a shot!

Moving on again we stopped at the top of a likely looking hill and started walking down. This proved to be great country with Yellow-bellied Glider calling and good numbers of Bobucks and Ringtails. As we moved down we had two excellent Greater Gliders on a branch staring down at us – one was a white morph and one the more regular dark morph. I have only rarely seen the white morph in these forests so it was very cool to watch and photograph these cracking animals. Of course we were distracted from the Gliders by performing Leadbeater’s possum with a number of animals seen as we walked about 800 meters down the hill. It was now about 12:30 so it was time to call it a night with the drive back to Powelltown being largely uneventful.

A relatively slim Bobuck

A relatively slim Bobuck

This pair of Greater Glider was a highlight of the night

This pair of Greater Glider was a highlight of the night

Pretty good night really – out of 7 spots we had Leadbeater’s Possum at 6 of them with 3 of those sites being new for me. We saw a conservative minimum of 18 individual LBP but it was likely higher than this. Records will be submitted to the appropriate authorities for the LBP and Greater Gliders. Somewhat surprisingly the only mammals seen were possums and gliders (6 species) and the microbats and the only birds heard (by me) were Boobook and a single Owlet-nightjar. 3 species of frog rounded out the vertebrate list. It was a long drive back home from Powelltown but well worth it and I am already looking forward to the next night out. #GFNP If anyone wants to come and help identify the myriad of microbats out there please let me know!

Nice pair

Nice pair

If only….

After having such good fortune on most of my spotlighting trips this year I was about due for a quiet one. I headed out to Bunyip late afternoon for a bit of pre-spotlighting exploring of a new area which had no tracks marked on the map. After a bit of poking around I was able to find a management track into the area I was interested in but it was very quiet with only a few birds seen and nothing of particular interest. Still it was a worthwhile exercise with large areas of Banksia spinulosa about to come into flower which will be worth checking shortly. Headed into Gembrook for dinner and met up with my two companions for the evening Dean and Chris. Chris is a bit of a veteran of my spotlighting nights but this was the first time I had managed to drag Dean out. A few White-throated Needletails hawked above Gembrook before dusk.

We headed to the Helipad arriving right on dusk but no nightjars were evident although a Sooty did call from Ash Landing Road. Another reliable nightjar spot again drew a blank – perhaps they are starting to head North as they were very much in evidence last week. My main target for the night was to try and photograph the Masked Owl I had seen last week so we headed over to the area. We had some distant call response but no action so after half an hour moved on to another spot. Many of the eucalypts were flowering so there were large numbers of Grey-headed Flying-foxes around which I don’t recall seeing in such numbers in Bunyip State Park before. A Greater Glider also fed on the blossum and Sugar Gliders yapped from various places. Many, many microbats flitted around which remain frustratingly unidentified.

We headed to Mortimer’s Picnic Ground where the well known juvenile Sooty Owl continued to show well while calling incessantly although staying too far away for photos. Mum (or Dad) called from nearby but did not show so we headed back to the original site. After poking around there for half an hour with a gliding Sugar Glider the highlight we were about to get in the car when a Sooty Owl called from directly above the car. This bird looked to be an adult male on size but had a bit of a teenagers voice as its bomb calls cracked and warbled. Still it gave great views and photo opportunities, particularly for Dean with his excellent camera setup. While we were admiring and photographing this owl, the Masked Owl started calling strongly from down the road so I jumped off to chase it. Unfortunately it shut up after a couple of minutes and did not call again while we were there which was somewhat disappointing. Still the Sooty Owl decided to follow us down the road, trilling as it went giving us more photo opportunities. In the end we left it there and for all we know it is calling still.

All in all a good but not great night with walk away views of the Sooty Owl and 12 identified mammal species – will be back out again soon.

EBIRD LIST

Sooty Owl - Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl – Bunyip State Park

If only the flash had fired :(

If only the flash had fired :(