Catching the spotted one

With Simone away in the USA for a couple of weeks I booked a few nights away in Tasmania for a bit of a boy’s getaway. Of course I had a slightly ulterior motive as I still really wanted to see a quoll – I had already spent a few nights in likely areas this year without success so booked a couple of places to hopefully maximize success. Lucas is rather obsessed by carnivores of all shapes and sizes so I had no complaints from him on the plan. The basic plan was to fly into Launceston with a night in the Bridport/Scottsdale area followed by two nights at the Mountain Valley Wilderness Lodge at Loongana on the recommendation of mate Stephen Kaye. The days would be filled with whatever was needed to entertain a very curious five year old. We were up early for an 8:30 am flight and landed in Launceston in near constant drizzle which soon started to clear. We headed first to Cataract Gorge to stretch our legs and here Lucas got his first Tassie endemic with Green Rosellas feeding on the lawn. Also here is a supposedly tickable population of Peafowl – they may have been here for years but they fail my two guys in a ute with shotguns wiping them out in a weekend test. Still its a nice area for a walk and was interesting to see the affects of recent flooding earlier this year – the volume of water through the Gorge must have been incredible!

Dodgy Peafowl at Cataract Gorge

Dodgy Peafowl at Cataract Gorge

After picking up a few supplies we had a pleasant drive across to Scottsdale. I was very happy en-route to hear Lucas tell me “This forest looks great for Masked Owl!” – the boy is learning! At Scottsdale we dropped in to the tourist information centre where Lucas was given an excellent poster on Tasmanian wildlife and sites to see it – tourism in Tasmania is an odd beast but this was one thing they do well. The lady here said that the ponds at the free camping area were good for Platypus so despite it being the middle of the day we wandered down for a look. No luck this time but certainly worth another look at dawn or dusk. We drove the back route C832 to Bridport as reconnaissance for spotlighting later this evening as a number of trip reports on Jon Hall’s seminal website mammalwatching.com mention this as good for Eastern Quoll and Tasmanian Bettong. The habitat on this road looked a perfect mix of woodland, plantation and agricultural land with the requisite huge amount of roadkill. We saw a number of wombats out and about during the day as well as a huge Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle which Lucas was keen to see. Then of course it was a stint at the beach where I unsuccessfully tried to rustle up a vagrant penguin in the rocks while Lucas played in the sand. I had booked an AirBnB option again which was a very nice property with good areas of bush and apparently regularly have platypus in their dams. Lucas and I poked around in the bush where we found our first Echidna although there was no sign of the other monotreme in the dams, probably still too early. We went to the bowling club for an early dinner where I had one of the best steaks I have had in a long while and Lucas had a mountain of flathead tails and chips. Right on dusk we headed out and Lucas promptly fell immediately asleep – it had been a long day. I ended up driving and spotlighting many back roads and paddocks over the next four and a half hours. During this time I saw many, many, many Tasmanian Pademelons and Brush-tailed Possums, at one stage I could spotlight 14 individual possums outside one window of the car. There were also reasonable numbers of Bennett’s Wallabies and Common Wombat and in one place a few Forester Kangaroos. The highlights had to be two Tasmanian Bettong on the edge of a paddock on the C832 which were extremely distinctive after having looked at several bazillion pademelons and wallabies over the proceeding hours and a Morepork which flew in briefly to my bad imitation of its call. But there was no quoll of any type to be had on this evening!

Nice beach at Bridport

Nice beach at Bridport

Up early we headed west stopping anywhere that looked worthwhile. We dropped into Narawntapu National Park late in the morning mostly cause I could say I had been there and for Lucas to play on the beach. We visited the ranger station and paid our dues before walking out to the birdless bird hide and then went to Bakers Beach. Despite it being the middle of the day we saw Forester Kangaroo, Tasmanian Pademelon, Common Wombat and Bennett’s Wallaby – would be good to come back and explore some of the more remote areas after dark. Four Eastern Curlew on the point at Bakers Beach were my first in Tassie – there may have been more there but I did not want to disturb them. After a long session of beach play we headed on and up into the hills towards Loongana. About halfway from Ulverstone I saw my first quoll! Unfortunately it was an ex-quoll having been hit by a car – a beautiful spotted-tailed quoll rather flat (and smelly) beside the road. We decided that the silver lining was that it showed we were coming into good quoll habitat!

An ex-quoll

An ex-quoll

We arrived at the accommodation at Loongana and met Len who gave us a tour. Len was excellent with Lucas answering the incessant questions that only a five year old can dream up. Apparently we were the first guests after a few months closed over winter so he was not sure how we would go with the animals that evening although he had been seeing and hearing devils. We had a bit of an explore before Len took us down to show Lucas his first platypus which fed happily in one of the many pools on the river. Apparently platypus number are down a bit following the floods earlier in the year but with a bit of effort I would think you could get many excellent sightings on this stretch of river. Approaching dark Len wired up some chicken frames and we sat down to watch from the comfort of the cabin with an open fire roaring and a nice cool local beer. Almost immediately I saw a quoll-like creature out of the corner of my eye approaching the bait but unfortunately it was just a tortoise-shell coloured feral cat! Over both nights we were regularly visited by three different cats which hopefully will have a conversation with the end of Len’s rifle barrel in the near future. It wasn’t long after true dark when all the pademelons bolted and in strolled a magnificent Spotted-tailed Quoll which sniffed around a bit before grabbing three bits of chicken and bolting – this was a large animal which I assume is a male. The whole experience took about 45 seconds but Lucas and I were stoked – our first quoll and there were many high fives. About 30 minutes later I spotted the quoll looping around the road again so I gave Lucas the red-light and when it came in to grab more chicken I was able to snag a few photos. The excitement of the day was too much for Lucas who crashed out soon after.

Spotted-tailed Quoll scoffing some chicken

Spotted-tailed Quoll scoffing some chicken

Despite it being early I too was struggling to keep awake with the comfortable couch and warm open fire making it hard to keep my eyes open. A couple of the largest Brush-tailed Possums I have ever seen came in and started chowing down on copious amounts of chicken. A diet of regular protein made them quite impressive animals and when the feral cats again came around they just stood up on their back legs and spread their arms as if to say “come at me”. But even these had to give way and bolt up onto the roof when a dog like critter waddled in – a Tasmanian Devil! There were actually two animals with a large mottled adult coming well into the light and a smaller all dark animal sitting back in the shadows only visible in the red light of my torch. Unfortunately the adult had a very visible facial tumour as many animals at this site apparently do. This insidious disease has now apparently spread across almost the whole state with the Tarkine and Arthur River now infected. Both animals were extremely skittish with the adult grabbing some chicken before bolting off. Twenty minutes later it came back again briefly and I was able to snap a couple of quick shots. Unfortunately around 10:30 pm I am rather embarrassed to say that my watch ended in a snoring heap only to wake up hours later with the meat all gone, fire out, cold and shivering and a sore neck – still it was well worth it!!!

Tasmanian Devil with obvious early stage facial tumour

Tasmanian Devil with obvious early stage facial tumour

We slept in a bit before getting up for a bit of a walk around the property and then heading off to Tasmazia – a crazy maze and miniature village in the middle of no where in Tasmania which Lucas loved. One thing that was apparent was that Flame Robins were back with a vengeance with many hundreds seen in paddocks as we drove around. A visit to Leven Canyon on the way back got Lucas his first Pink Robin with a nice male sitting on an open branch. We picked up a couple of bits of “fresh” roadkill for tonight’s stake out which may or may not have voided the rental agreement on the hire car. Another visit to the river and dinner and we settled down to watch over our staked out roadkill which was supplemented with some extra chicken.

Just a couple of pademelons sleeping in the boot

Just a couple of pademelons sleeping in the boot

It was a quieter start to the night with Lucas crashing out early – I was determined not to suffer the same fate as the previous night so had a number of coffees to keep me going. The feral cats were much bolder than the previous night and would not even react to a tap on the window while stealing chicken. I was sitting stretched out with feet against the window and was surprised when a different quoll to the previous night sauntered in and sniffed at my feet through the glass! A mad grab for camera only startled it and it fled – this was a clearly smaller animal than the previous night. It wasn’t long before the quoll was back sniffing around the carcasses before grabbing a couple of bits of chicken and fleeing. It came back one more time before midnight and me crashing out. I set my alarm for 2am and found that the pademelon corpses had been moved and gnawed at and all the chicken gone which made me suspect devils which was confirmed the next morning. There was no further activity that night.

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Lucas and I left early vowing to return soon – apparently there are caves here that we need to explore! We headed up to Cradle Mountain but we didn’t really have enough time to do it justice so we headed to the excellent breeding facility devils@cradle which has displays and captive breeding programs for the three large marsupial carnivores in Tasmania – Spotted-tailed and Eastern Quolls and Tasmanian Devil. This facility is well worth a visit if you are in the area with all three species seen closeup with good commentary from clearly passionate keepers. Unfortunately we had to then track back to Launceston and a flight home but we are already planning our next trip back for Eastern Quoll and to get Lucas a wild Tassie Devil. Lucas and I can highly recommend the Wilderness Lodges at Loongana for an excellent wildlife experience and were both stoked to see our first wild quolls.

Cradle Mountain is usually covered in cloud

Cradle Mountain is usually covered in cloud

The ubiquitous Tasmanian Pademelon

The ubiquitous Tasmanian Pademelon

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