Record of Leadbeater’s Possum in Bunyip State Park

Introduction

The observations were made in the Eastern part of Bunyip State Park in an area of regrowth Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) that burnt in Black Saturday in 2009. The site is about 250m above sea level and in the Lawson Creek catchment which eventually flows into Westernport Bay via the Bunyip River.

Bunyip State Park covers 16,600 hectares of various types of wet forest and heathland in the southern fall of the Great Dividing Range about 65km east of Melbourne. It contains a variety of forest types with the Mountain Ash forest largely confined to slopes in the north of the Park. Large parts of the east of the park burnt extensively in 2009 with much of the remainder burning in 2019. The burnt Mountain Ash habitat in the eastern of the park is similar to habitat where Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) occurs elsewhere with dead trees and an understory containing various wattle species. While not specifically targeting Leadbeater’s Possum at this site in May 2020 a brief stop did result in a good sighting with Scott Baker and Jim Wright.

Leadbeater's Possum - Bunyip State Park

Leadbeater’s Possum – Bunyip State Park

Observations

On the 15th of May 2020 Scott Baker, Jim Wright and myself (Tim Bawden) headed into the southern part of Tarago State Forest near Jindivick spotlighting in particular targeting Leadbeater’s Possum and large forest owls. The night was particularly successful with Leadbeater’s Possum found in the very south of Tarago State Forest (these records are some of the southernmost since rediscovery in 1961) and Sooty Owls observed along the Tarago River. Later in the evening the group decided to head home through the eastern edge of Bunyip State Park down Forest Road and stopped to check out the range-limited locally endemic Gully Grevillea (Grevillea barklyana). To our surprise we spotted a Leadbeater’s Possum in the very tree we were looking at. Upon leaving the car we pished and were able to call the animal back close enough for photos – another animal was observed close by and was heard drumming. The diagnostic shape and behaviour on both animals leaping through the understory was very evident. There was significant movement on the other side of the road which may have indicated a third animal but this was not confirmed. After a couple of minutes of spotlit observation we left the animals alone and tried two more sites further down with out success. Conditions were a very crisp, still and clear night with no risen moon and a temperature around 3 degrees C. Needless to say I was a little excited as I had tried for a while for this species in Bunyip SP.

Leadbeater's Possum - Bunyip State Park

Leadbeater’s Possum – Bunyip State Park

I was keen to return so a week later I headed back with Rohan Clarke and Scott Baker on the 23rd of May 2020. Unfortunately this night conditions were not ideal with constant drizzle and a SE-E wind and ~20kph winds with a temperature around 8 degrees C – there was no risen moon but would have been irrelevant with total cloud cover and fog throughout. Still we persisted and with a combination of pishing and Rohan’s thermal scope were able to locate a Leadbeater’s Possum approximately 200 meters south of the last sighting in Acacia dealbata. The animal was skittish perhaps due to the conditions but Scott was able to secure a diagnostic photograph. Other sites above and below this one were unsuccessful but conditions were definitely not conducive. Eventually we had to admit defeat and move to more sheltered areas.

Leadbeater's Possum record shot - Scott Baker

Leadbeater’s Possum record shot – Scott Baker

On the 13th of June 2020 I returned with my son Lucas and we managed an hour of spotlighting in the area without success before gale-force winds moved us on. On the 19th of June 2020 Isaac Clarey and I had completed a loop through Tarago State Forest (LBP at 2 sites in State Forest) and spent 2 hours working Forest Road inside Bunyip State Park after midnight without success. Unfortunately Covid-19 has at this stage prevented further visits to the area.

Over the past 5 years I have driven this road many times at night and have stopped regularly to play owl calls without observing anything unusual.

Habitat

Habitat near the site showing fire killed Eucalytpus regnans - notice the uniform relatively small size of these stags

Habitat near the site showing fire killed Eucalytpus regnans – notice the uniform relatively small size of these stags

The area the Bunyip SP sightings occurred in was a small tongue of Mountain Ash in the Lawson Creek catchment that had burnt heavily in Black Saturday in 2009. It appears that this gully may have been logged before declaration of Bunyip State Park with none of the fire killed trees particularly large. No real evidence of large stags visible from the road during daylight visits. The fire appears to be have burnt hot enough to induce stand replacement in the Mountain Ash with many young ~10 year old trees coming through. Interestingly above the road line in the sighting location the forest changes to more stringybark types including Eucalyptus obliqua and Eucalyptus sieberi typical of many other slopes in Bunyip SP. There is a thick understory with abundant Acacia dealbata and Acacia obliquinervia with the odd Acacia melanoxylon and of course the Grevillea barklyana in which the first animal was spotted. The makeup of the understory is very similar to many other locations where I have observed Leadbeater’s Possum previously. Daylight observations of the forest area did not find any obvious denning locations with no large stags located – it is possible that the fire killed trees from 2009 are now cracking enough to provide some cover or there were other undiscovered options.

Typical understory in the area

Typical understory in the area

Other nocturnal mammals seen in the immediate area during recent observations include Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps), Bobuck (Trichosurus cunninghami), Feather-tailed Glider (Acrobates sp) and Common Ring-tailed Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). Nocturnal birds noted were Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) and Australian Boobook (Ninox boobook)- it is noteworthy that in ~10+ nocturnal visits to this area over the past 5 years I have not not located any large forest owls with playback in this area of burnt forest despite them being relatively common nearby. Diurnal birds in the area are typical of similar wet forest areas in the region with notable species including Pilotbird (Pycnoptilus floccosus), Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), Brown Gerygone (Gerygone mouki), Rose Robin (Petroica rosea) and Lewin’s Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii).

One  of the largest of the regenerating Mountain Ash in the immediate area

One of the largest of the regenerating Mountain Ash in the immediate area

Significance

The Leadbeater’s Possum is a Critically Endangered possum species restricted to the Central Highlands around Melbourne and is Victoria’s fauna state emblem. It was discovered in 1867 and was only known from five specimens with the last one collected in 1909 and was considered likely extinct as most of the original lowland swamp habitat was drained and cleared for agriculture. In 1961 it was rediscovered by Eric Wilkinson in Ash forests near Cambarville. It has since been found to inhabit an area of perhaps 70 by 80 km from Toolangi in the west, Rubicon in the north, Baw Baw in the east and Tarago in the south – see interactive map. The majority of these records are in ash or snow gum forest with only one small isolated lowland population known at Yellingbo. There are few records in the Westernport Bay catchment since 1961.

In Bunyip State Park itself there are perhaps two previous records of Leadbeater’s Possum. The first by Richard Loyn and Ed McNabb occurred in 1981 on the southern slopes of Mount Beenak in an area on the very edge of the current day park in what was then Gembrook State Forest at an altitude of about 600m. I have searched this area over past few years without result. There is a second record from the 1990’s in the Blue Range on the very northern edge of Bunyip SP (ALA) but it is unclear if this was inside the park boundary – this area contains a lot of regrowth Ash forest and would be worth further investigation. The current observations are approximately 8km ESE of these and are well with the current park boundaries. Probably the closest sightings are the recent ones in the southern portion of Tarago State Forest – before these the species was not well known south of the Tarago River. It is interesting to consider if these recent sightings have moved in following regrowth and opportunity following the Black Saturday fires or have always been in the area. Further searching in the immediate catchment area and other parts of the Bunyip catchment would be worthwhile, particularly in lowland areas which are not dissimilar to the Yellingbo habitat. At this stage Covid restrictions prevent further investigation.

Leadbeater's Possum from nearby Tarago State Forest - note white tail tip

Leadbeater’s Possum from nearby Tarago State Forest – note white tail tip

References

“Atlas of Living Australia – Open Access to Australia’s Biodiversity Data.” Atlas of Living Australia, http://ala.org.au.
“Leadbeater’s Possum Interactive Map.” Leadbeater’s Possum Interactive Map, http://lbp.cerdi.edu.au/possum_map.php.
Lindenmayer, David, et al. Mountain Ash. CSIRO PUBLISHING, 2015.
Loyn, Richard, and E. G. McNabb. “Discovery of Leadbeater’s Possum in Gembrook State Forest.” Victorian Naturalist Vol 99, 1982.
Menkhorst, Peter, and Frank Knight. Field Guide to Mammals of Australia. OUP Australia & New Zealand, 2010.

A bucket of bucketlists – Perth to Exmouth – part 2

Continuing on – we departed the Abrolhos at around 3am so we would be out over deep water on daybreak hoping for pelagic goodies and maybe a cetacean or two. On day break it was wet and that was a theme throughout the day as we rode across the Houtman Canyon and on towards Bernier Island. Lots of promise but nothing particularly unusual for the day with the common tubenoses and terns and a highlight of 3 Long-tailed Jaegers throughout the day. That evening I felt rather claustrophobic around the dinner table and excused myself early and went to bed for a rough night at sea – probably the closest I felt to being seasick but I was fine once I lay down.

Cruising

The morning however dawned calm and flat as we anchored off Dirk Hartog Island for breakfast before going ashore and ascending a near vertical dune to get to the island plateau – this nearly killed my fat arse. Dirk Hartog Island is another bucket list thing with a history of early Dutch exploration of Australia – old Dirk himself nailed a plate to a tree here back in 1616. It is also now a huge area of feral free island that is having species reintroduced from nearby Bernier and Dorre Islands and beyond. We had three key bird targets here with endemic subspecies of Rufous Fieldwren, Southern Emu-wren and White-winged Fairy-wren (the famous Black and White form). The Fieldwren and Emu-wren were easily heard and seen with a little effort in good numbers. The Fairy-wren was more difficult and after walking several kilometers I only found a small group of brown birds. Returning to the pickup rendezvous I found others had similar luck. In the bay there were dolphins and sea turtles and this is definitely a place I would like to come back to.

The road goes ever on

The road goes ever on

Dirk Hartog

Dirk Hartog

A lad with his Can(n)on

A lad with his Can(n)on

Now we headed north for the main prize and the reason I booked on the trip – Bernier Island. It was a very pleasant run with many species of tern and noddies keeping us company as we passed Dorre Island. This pair of islands are famous as they are the last (or near last) remaining homes for a group of species that were once widespread across the mainland. Banded Hare-wallaby, Shark Bay Mouse (this was once known as Alice Springs mouse!!) and Western Barred Bandicoot are only found in the wild on these two islands aside from some reintroductions and Rufous Hare-wallaby and Burrowing Bettong have wild populations on only another couple of islands (and some reintroductions). Dorre Island is off limits to us and I scanned wistfully through binoculars as we cruised past – it was significantly more desolate and barren than I was expecting. We anchored off Bernier Island in a spot many boats visit and camp and I could barely wait for lunch to get ashore. Some lovely dolphins cruised past while we waited.

Dorre Island

Dorre Island

As soon as we went ashore there was a Banded Hare-wallaby on the beach! This is my kind of place! Once we wandered up onto the plateau I picked a line and went for a walk and soon found a Rufous Hare-wallaby and then more. Reptiles were also good with Delma butleri a highlight for me. There were a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles actively hunting Hare-wallabies and with good numbers of bones around they must be pretty successful. One thing that was interesting was the dug over nature of the landscape with burrows and scratchings everywhere – must give a pretty good idea of what much of Australia was like before the advent of broad-scale agriculture and foxes and cats. Fair to say I was in heaven. Later in the evening we had great early success with everyone seeing the five key species – special thanks to Nigel, Stu and Graffy for finding everyone the first Shark Bay Mouse. It was a dumb thing with little fear bounding ungracefully across the turf in and out of vegetation – little doubt why these were an easy snack for ferals.

iPhone Banded Hare-wallaby

iPhone Banded Hare-wallaby

Boodie burrow

Boodie burrow

Western Barred Coot

Western Barred Coot

I was also amazed how small Western Barred Bandicoots were – seemingly not much bigger than a guinea pig and much smaller than our Eastern bandicoot species. These were probably the most wary of the five and would waddle off on approach. Banded Hare-wallaby were particularly numerous near the beach and pretty un-phased as we wandered past- I still had to pinch myself everytime – this was a huge bucketlist animal for me and one of my most wanted globally. I actually saw more Rufous Hare-wallabies during the day than at night but that was probably because I walked further into the flatter areas in the middle of the island. Finally my favourite of the big five was the Boodie or Burrowing Bettong – the little chubbers have so much character and would let out an indignant little squeak if you disturbed one but never went far. Probably my favourite sighting was a mama with a baby in the pouch – 2 sets of eyes staring back at me in the darkness. There were also plenty of geckos and some of the lads found some pythons but it was fur that took priority tonight. Most people went back to the boat but Rohan and I stayed out a while longer absorbing this great place. As I walked around I twice spotlit a long-eared bat perched on some bushes – probably Lesser based on range and there was a small Vespadelus type buzzing me on occasion. There was a sixth key mammal species to see here – Ashy-grey Mouse which also has a patchy distribution on the mainland in SW Australia. Rohan called me on the radio and said he had one – only issue is I had no idea where he was – eventually after huffing and puffing for 10 minutes or so I found him only for the mouse to have disappeared! We split up again and again the radio crackled – another one! Another 10 minutes (by now sweat was pouring from every pore) and I was there and got it. It was rather unconcerned going about its business including feeding. Nearby I found another one showing we may have stumbled on a loose colony or similar. Looking at the known terrestrial mammal list for the islands it seems we may have only missed Rakali! We eventually had a celebratory beer on the beach next to the camping fishermen before heading back to the boat.

Banded Hare-wallaby

Banded Hare-wallaby

Beautiful Boodie

Beautiful Boodie

Nice!

Nice!

Rufous Hare-wallaby

Rufous Hare-wallaby

Still buzzing at breakfast back on the boat as more dolphins cruised past. Unfortunately it was time to head north into deeper water. I was pretty knackered from last night’s escapades so crashed out in the cabin for a bit. Suddenly the shout of “CETACEANS!” came from the bow and I was up camera in hand. They were logging on the surface in the distance dead ahead dropping below the water every now and again with people calling them orcas, then dolphins, then blackfish. Eventually they disappeared for awhile before surfacing beside the boat – ORCAS!!! You could hear them breathing as they cruised unhurriedly along with Bernier Island in the background! Just when I thought Bernier couldn’t get any better. We had an amazing experience as we were able to watch them for perhaps 15 minutes – at one stage all 7-8 animals were swimming line abreast. My one previous sighting of orca was at significant distance off Portland – fair to say this cleansed that sighting. Images have since been sent off to experts and this is part of a known larger pod that specialises in hunting Humpback Whale calves in season with at least 6 of the individuals identified to name. Needless to say I was no longer tired that day….

ORCA!

ORCA!

Nice saddle

Nice saddle

Orcas with Bernier in background

Orcas with Bernier in background

More orcas

More orcas

Alas all good things have to come to an end with the Orca heading off around the northern tip of Bernier. As we headed north into deeper water we started to see our first sea snakes and more sea turtles as well as the now usual terns and wedgies. A Red-tailed Tropicbird provided some excitement as did a Streaked Shearwater and some Bottlenose Dolphins bow riding and carrying on. In the evening there was a Bulwer’s Petrel which would be new for me but I just didn’t get enough on it to tick. Then another one but again I wasn’t happy. I was a little stressed but then we had two at once fly right past the back of the boat showing all the necessary ID features and there were a couple of high fives! We kept watching til right on dusk and then went and had another awesome meal and rather too many celebratory whiskies.

Not behd, good soize

Not behd, good soize

A few drinks

A few drinks

Today was the final day at sea where we would visit Cloates and Cape Range Canyons and get into real deep water in the hope of some mega pelagic birds and beaked whales – one can always be hopeful. We spent most of the day on deck with some good birds but long periods of quiet. Highlights included many Bulwer’s Petrel, both Lesser and Greater Frigatebirds (the latter being a rarity off this coast), Red-tailed Tropicbird and Long-tailed Jaeger. Imagine being on a boat so stable you could use a spotting scope for much of the day. We berleyed up for a period of time with no luck but a couple of the boys hooked into some Dolphinfish which provided some excitement. Right on dusk a pod of Spinner Dolphins rounded out the day and boat trip nicely. A special call out must go to Nigel Jackett and George Swann who steadfastly logged every bird and other animal (except for flying fish) for the whole trip. Nigel alone shared over 50 eBird lists with others on the boat – legendary effort. That night a number of us stayed up rather late drinking whiskey and other beverages – been a good trip! It was very rock and roll as we came into Exmouth overnight – fair to say I may have wished for a drink or two less.

Just using a spotting scope on a boat as you do....

Just using a spotting scope on a boat as you do….

We were in Exmouth a day early as the itinerary had run that way so I organised a hire car. After a good coffee and bakery run Rohan and I went exploring the very cool Cape Range National Park with its deep gorges and rugged dry creek lines. It was very warm and quiet during the afternoon but we did waddle up a mountain to a cave where we found my first Common Sheathtails roosting. Later we checked out the sewage ponds for a reasonable range of species before checking into accommodation. That night we spotlit up on the range which was very quiet before heading down the hill which was much more exciting with perhaps 7 species of geckos seen as well as a Mulga Snake, some pythons and Spinifex Hopping-mice. As we crawled back into town late Rohan leaped from the car for a North-western Shovel-nosed Snake – a very cute little elapid – new and very cool!

Common Sheathtail

Common Sheathtail

Cape Range

Cape Range

Brachyurophis approximans

Brachyurophis approximans

Next morning I was up early and out to Mangrove Bay where I had two new bird targets – Mangrove Grey Fantail and Dusky Gerygone _ I had clearly done my homework well as I found at least half a dozen of each within 5 minutes of the carpark – two more lifers! It was a very birdie site with many waders on the mudflats. From here I trundled down to Yardie Creek where I was able to show some tourists the Black-flanked Rock-wallabies which were common. A couple of stops on the way back before hitting up the micro-brewery in town while I checked emails and looked at some photos. Exmouth if a very cool, laid back town with dingoes, emus and perenties in town just a normal part of life. Tim Faulkner gave me a call and invited me out for a night of chasing reptiles and other critters with Obie and Liz so after stocking up we were off. An excellent night with many critters seen including a pile of new geckos, some snakes and best of all a Stripe-faced Dunnart. Exact quote from Tim – “we are going to get Bawden a dunnart up here” and sure enough we did! Very cute and bitey. The rest of the crew were more excited by a jewelled gecko they had tried very hard to find previously just sitting in the road. Orange-naped Snake rounded out a cool night although my first blind snake was dead on the road just out of town. The sheer numbers of knob-tailed geckos seen across two nights was incredible. thanks for an awesome night out!

Black-flanked Rock-wallaby

Black-flanked Rock-wallaby

This is snek!

This is snek!

Giant gecko!

Giant gecko!

Orange-naped Snake

Orange-naped Snake

Unfortunately then it was back to Melbourne. This is just a snippet of what we got up to – left out many things – seriously one of the best trips I have done. 6 new birds, 11 new mammals and 20+ new reptiles and a whole pile of bucket list locations ticked off. Special thanks to George and Rohan for organising/guiding, the boat crew for doing an awesome job with us miscreants and to Tim, Liz, Scott, Brad, Ian, Arthur. Kathy, John, Stewart, John and Nigel for being excellent companions. Finally thanks to Lucas and Simone for letting me go and being very supportive. 11/10 would recommend this trip and would do again – the rashes, scratches and sunburn all forgotten!

Another iPhone hare-wallaby

Another iPhone hare-wallaby

One more Boodie for luck

One more Boodie for luck

A bucket of bucketlists – Perth to Exmouth – part 1

A couple of years ago Rohan mentioned that George Swann of Kimberley Birdwatching was looking to organise a trip that would involve a visit to Bernier or Dorre Islands that I knew I had to get onboard. These islands are known as one of the last remaining homes and only realistic chance to see up to 5 rare mammals that were once common across much of the mainland before foxes and cats decimated them. Of particular interest to me was the Banded Hare-wallaby which appears to be the last remaining member of an ancient sub-family of macropods and something I had read about as a kid. This species may have persisted on the mainland until the 1960s but Bernier and Dorre are its last wild populations although has now been re-introduced to a number of secure fenced/island locations. When the trip finally came about from Perth to Exmouth via the Abrolhos, deep water canyons and a visit to Bernier Island I booked immediately!

Quokka - Rottnest Island

Quokka – Rottnest Island

I flew into Perth late on a Saturday and took a taxi to my Air BnB in Fremantle – having the obligatory plate of prawns and a few beers. The next morning I was up early and on the first ferry to Rotto as I had never seen a Quokka. On the ferry ride over there was a lovely Bridled Tern flying beside the boat – lifer number one for the trip! On Rotto I immediately saw Quokka upon leaving the wharf area and there were many around the settlement. It was hard to get a picture of these food pigs without a man-made feature in the background. I had plenty of water and sunscreen so decided to hoof it and go for a long walk. The salt lakes were excellent with many birds including large numbers of Banded Stilt and Fairy Tern as well as a few Sanderling – a scope would be handy for the next visit. I was rather upset when a car spooked a flock of Banded Stilt and one clipped a powerline and cartwheeled to the ground dead. There is no reason for these rickety powerlines above ground in such a critical wetland habitat. There were a good number of reptiles out as the day warmed up with King’s Skink being prominent. Encountered many Quokka’s while I walked but they were mostly very skittish – very different to the ones around the settlement. On the south coast I spent a bit of time seawatching with many shearwaters and more Bridled Terns seen. That night I caught up with Rohan for a couple of beers and dinner ahead of the trip.

Ex Banded Stilt

Ex Banded Stilt

Ctenotus fallens

Ctenotus fallens

Up early I walked down to the wharf spreading jocks and socks across Fremantle as my duffle bag had split. It was a good crew of people assembled for the trip who I either knew or knew by reputation. Eventually the boat arrived – the very lovely MV Diversity II – Diversity Charters and we loaded up and set sail. It was an excellent boat with many creature comforts and my cabin mate was the legend Nigel Jackett. Passing Rotto we saw good numbers of Bridled Tern and Shearwaters and as we headed into deeper water the first Noddys of the trip. As we headed into deeper water Great-winged Petrel became more prominent as well as a couple of Grey-faced Petrel which is a good record off this coast. The absolute highlight was a pod of Striped Dolphin which cavorted and bow rode for a bit and was a lifer for many onboard. Later in the evening there was a pod of pilot whales but they were not close enough for ID being in the transition zone between Short-finned and Long-finned. First night on-board I was a bit knackered and retired early.

The next morning we were again all up on the foredeck seeing some good seabirds including our first Lesser Noddies – another lifer and one of the key species for the trip. More Striped Dolphins were cool and a small flock of Roseate Terns flew by which would have been a lifer for me but was not quite tickable – I did not have to worry. We cruised into the southern islands of the Abrolhos group starting at Pelsaert Island – a key seabird nesting site. I had read a lot about this island group over the years but never thought I would be able to visit yet here we were! We went ashore on Pelsaert Island in the afternoon with many highlights including large numbers of nesting Common Noddy and the local subspecies of Pacific Gull. Plenty of Osprey and Sea-eagles, reptiles and other seabirds rounded out the list. Killer views of Roseate Tern sorted that out – another lifer. A number of Australian Sea-lions played in the shallows which seemed out of place in such a warm environment. That night WA boys counted some 51,200 Lesser Noddies coming into land – it was a steady impressive stream. The rest of us had a few drinks and talked some shit.

Common Noddy

Common Noddy

Pacific Gull

Pacific Gull

Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Australian Sea-lion

Australian Sea-lion

Next morning we were up early and tendered across further down Pelsaert Island to where the Lesser Noddies nest. They were extremely approachable and are now on my tickled list. Also of interest were Spotless Crakes, waders and many more terns. I really enjoyed just wandering beside these seabird colonies full of noise, smells, life and death. Sea-eagles were a constant presence on these islands and must do very well.

Lesser Noddy

Lesser Noddy

iPhone Lesser Noddies

iPhone Lesser Noddies

From here we cruised north to the next cluster of islands and went ashore at Wooded Island where we wandered around with lighting flashing overhead. Good numbers of terns were a highlight and again that night the boys counted some 39000 Lesser Noddies coming into roost. A bull Sea-lion trying to seduce a female was also of interest. There are very few passerines on these islands with Silveryes, Welcome Swallows and the odd Pipit being about it – not even a stray Singing Honeyeater makes it out here. While we were out the crew caught some squid which was expertly prepared by the chef Danny and was excellent! as were all his meals.

MV Diversity II

MV Diversity II

Give us a kiss

Give us a kiss

Yum!

Yum!

The next morning we headed to the northernmost group of islands in the Abrolhos which are the scene of one of the more gruesome parts of Australian history where the Dutch ship Batavia ran aground back in the 1600s and some of the survivors went on a murderous rampage against the rest of the ships people. We went ashore first at West Wallabi Island and immediately started finding reptiles EVERYWHERE! Every rock and log seemed to have geckos or spiny-tailed lizards and curled up in the rain were carpet pythons at regular intervals. Also everywhere were Tammar Wallabies for which the island is named – a very attractive mid sized wallaby which I had seen previously in SA and WA. The real prize here though was the local “subspecies” of Painted Button-quail – apparently one of the five most likely bird taxon in Australia to go extinct. Good news is we had no issues finding them – there were certainly platelets everywhere. Despite the rain it was an excellent morning exploring and the amount of vertebrate wildlife was impressive. We also got to see Wiebbe Hayes’s fort where he and his men held off Cornelious’s musket wielding murderer’s with sticks and stones. It seems unlikely that this is the original structure.

Painted Button-quail on the move

Painted Button-quail on the move

The fort!

The fort!

Beautiful Carpet Python

Beautiful Carpet Python

After a good feed we went to East Wallabi Island where again there were plenty of Tammar Wallabies and a few Painted Button-quail. Reptiles were again excellent. Amazingly there was full mobile reception on top of the hill so I was able to call home and update the family. It would have been good to spend more time here but its fair to say the Abrolhos definitely were ticked off the bucket list.

Pogona minor

Pogona minor

Tammar Wallaby

Tammar Wallaby

Lerista praepedita

Lerista praepedita

Overnight we headed north into deep water and on towards the ultimate goal of the trip Bernier Island – but that will have to wait for the next installment.

Bridled Tern

Bridled Tern

Sooty Tern Juv

Sooty Tern Juv

A close encounter with the Plains Wanderer

Over the past few years I have spent a number of nights waddling across the grasslands that comprise part of Terrick Terrick National Park with Scott Baker and others looking for Plains Wanderer and other threatened species of the area with little luck. At best it has been a good opportunity to have a few beers with mates and a bit of exercise – aside from a few button-quails and barn owls had rarely seen anything of note. The Plains Wanderer is a critically endangered bird that looks superficially like a quail but is more closely related to waders and is a monotypic member of its own family Pedionomidae. The Terricks for many years were considered a stronghold for the species but in recent years it has been largely absent. It seems to prefer a habitat just short of drought conditions with sparse rather than thick grass. A couple of months back I got a message from Owen Lishmund that he had found a Plains Wanderer in the Terricks but was unfortunately away so couldn’t race up – following that more people found more birds so was almost frothing at the bit when I finally got a chance to head up again with Scott Baker for a look.

We headed up late afternoon and of course dropped into Mitiamo Store for a couple of Jill’s famous steak sandwiches which I can highly recommend. Arriving at our chosen paddock a bit after dark we wolfed down the steak sandwich, cracked a can and headed out spotlighting. Within a few minutes I spotlit another member of the threatened community of the area – a Fat-tailed Dunnart. I have seen these in NSW, SA and the NT but was a first record in Victoria for me. These are little, savage members of the Dasyurid family that take a toll on local insects, arthropods and vertebrates. I really like how it stood up on hind legs like a little Quoll when checking me out before scampering down a hole. This was one of a dozen I saw for the night which was great considering I had seen a grand total of zero in previous nights up here – it seemed a good omen.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

After only twenty minutes and a couple of flushed Pipits, I put up a bird. I immediately knew from its long trailing legs it was a Plains Wanderer! It took a few moments to locate as it was so well camouflaged but I did a little dance as I realised it was a lovely young male bird. We spent a couple of minutes photographing before leaving it alone – it was sitting so still and reliant on its disguise I think i could easily have picked it up. I was pretty stoked and what an amazing, unique and tiny little bird! We continued on in this and another paddock and despite finding more dunnarts and a large number of dunnarts that was the only PW for the night – we walked over 20km for the night. Since then I have heard that other surveys in the same area have found more birds so hopefully there is an increase in Victoria. With the Plains Wanderer out of the way I now need to go and find a Scrubbird – my last endemic family in Aus.

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Scott and I eventually camped in the park and did a bit of birding and herping in the morning before having a bacon and egg roll at Jill’s in Mitiamo and heading home – a very successful night!

The bucket list – a Wallaby and a Wombat – part 1

It was getting to that time of year again – time for Rohan Clarke and I to head somewhere to see something amazing. This year I was to fly into Mackay and meet up with him after he had an excellent 3 week holiday with the family while they would fly back to Melbourne and we would drive the car home (while diverting to some interesting sites of course) We had joked last year that we should combine a trip for Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat and Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby and through academic contacts of Rohan’s things had fallen into place. Permission had been granted to enter Epping Forest National Park to trial thermal camera gear as a survey method – this is the only place that the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat remains in the wild. In addition we also had permission to go to Taunton National Park – this is where the Bridled Nail-tailed Wallaby was “rediscovered” in 1973 when a fencing contractor reported seeing these tiny macropods when they had been considered extinct for 40 years. Around these two cornerstones and a few other targets we planned a trip back to Melbourne.

Despite a few delays in Brisbane I flew into Mackay and landed around 4:30 pm picking up a hire car for the evening – this was my first time back in Mackay since an epic family holiday back in 1982 – I am sure it hadn’t changed a bit! I was checking into my motel while a Red-whiskered Bulbul called outside – a Queensland plastic rarity which was somewhat amusing. Rohan had permission to spend his last night with the family spotlighting (thanks Kate) so we had a cunning plan to go look for Water Mouse (aka False Water Rat) at a site south of Mackay. Needless to say after several hours bashing through mangroves and surrounding grassy swamp areas we dipped. We did find a number of Melomys but were unsure of species. Birds were better with two species of nightjar and a Grass Owl on the way out.

I was up early and headed to the Botanic Garden for an excellent couple of hours of birding. It was great to catch up with birds I had not seen for a couple of years – things like Cotton Pygmy-geese, Jacanas and Yellow Honeyeaters showed I wasn’t in Melbourne anymore. Also of interest was a Platypus snuffling around which I was quite surprised to see here in the middle of town in a coastal location. I returned the car and met up with Rohan and after a quick supermarket shop for supplies we headed out towards Eungella. A Pacific Baza perched beside the road giving excellent views was a nice start – this is a species I had only seen a couple of times previously. I had two realistic bird targets for the trip with the first being White-browed Robin. We stopped at the first likely bit of habitat on the Pioneer River and after a bit of poking round we found a lovely couple of pairs of White-browed Robin in a strip of riparian vegetation between the river and the cane. After spending a bit of time with these it is clear it is my new second favourite robin – after Southern Scrub-robin of course.

White-browed Robin

White-browed Robin

From here is was up to the township of Eungella perched on the plateau of the Clarke Range west of Mackay. There is a bird around here called the Eungella Honeyeater which is probably the only Australian species formally described in my lifetime (1983) and restricted to a small area of upland rainforest and surrounds. This range restricted species can be difficult at times to connect with but Elliot Leach had given us his best spot which paid off as soon as we rolled down the hill the appropriate distance! While we made lunch we saw a number of Eungella Honeyeaters calling and returning too and from some flowering in some tall trees. Lifer number two of the trip and thankyou Elliot!! I would have loved to have stayed and explored but time was short and we rolled on to Broken River which must be the easiest place in Australia to see Platypus.

Eungella Honeyeater

Eungella Honeyeater

Platypus

Platypus

Carlia rhomboidalis

Carlia rhomboidalis

From here we spent some time in Crediton State Forest doing some birding and recce for spotlighting later in the evening. A highlight was the range restricted Peppered-belly broad-tailed gecko (quite a mouthful – but a lovely gecko) After a good meal we did some bat detecting down by a creek picking up Eastern Forest Bat and Little Bentwing Bat. Further up the road we spotlit a number of Central Greater Gliders (Lifer) as well as some very vocal Yellow-bellied Gliders and a Sooty Owl – a pretty good start to the evening! Back to Broken River and Rohan picked up a tiny thermal speck in the top of the canopy which after much contortion was found to be a Broad-toed Feather-tailed Glider (Lifer) which was pretty cool. We found it again as we walked back up the road which showed the thermal camera was probably not missing anything!

Peppered-belly broad-tailed gecko

Peppered-belly broad-tailed gecko

Broad-toed Feather-tailed Glider

Broad-toed Feather-tailed Glider

From here we moved out through drier areas towards Eungella Dam – during this drive we saw good numbers of Central Greater Glider in habitat that seems unusual including a couple of animals cavorting on the ground in a cow paddock!!! The trees were low and no Southern Greater Glider would be seen dead in such second class habitat! Also of interest were a couple of Rufous Bettong and Sugar Glider as well as a Boobook with an unidentifed Rat prey. When we reached the dam area we parked and went for a walk where we found several Squirrel Gliders in a flowering tree which were clearly larger and bulkier than the Sugar seen earlier. Jono Dashper had said this was a great site for Unadorned Rock-wallaby (Lifer) and so it proved with perhaps half a dozen seen including a mother and joey. They certainly lived up to the Unadorned name…..

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

Central Greater Glider

Central Greater Glider

Unadorned Rock-wallaby

Unadorned Rock-wallaby

Up early we birded around Eungella Dam seeing some nice wetland species as well as an interesting mix of dry and wetter country birds. At one stop we found an unfortunate Squirrel Glider deceased on a barbed wire fence – these must take a terrible toll in this glider rich area. We had vague info that the area towards Nebo was good for Spectacled Hare-wallaby so headed in that direction. A nice group of Squatter Pigeons was a highlight as it was the first time I have seen the southern subspecies. We spent the night spotlighting and thermal camera around Homevale National Park which was an interesting blend of dry woodland and escarpment country only about 20km as the crow flies from Eungella. Hearing Lewin’s and Scarlet Honeyeater calling in seemingly dry country was quite unusual. Highlights of the evening were three Rufous Bettong, a small pack of Dingo and several Barking Owl as well as Spotted Nightjar, Squirrel Glider and a good number of microbats around the camp.

Squirrel Glider - unfortunately killed on barbed wire

Squirrel Glider – unfortunately killed on barbed wire

Squatter Pigeon

Squatter Pigeon

Barking Owl

Barking Owl

Today was a big day – we were heading to Epping Forest National Park to hopefully see one of the most endangered species in Australia. On the way to Nebo we found recently harvested fields full of 100’s of Brolga and Bustard as well as large flocks of Red-winged Parrot which glowed in the morning sun. A bit further on we flushed a large flock of finches off the side of the road which proved to be Plum-headed Finches – a species I had only seen once previously. We stopped and it proved to be a great location with a conservative estimate of 500 Plum-heads as well as other nice species like Black and Black-chinned Honeyeater, Squatter Pigeon and Little Woodswallow. At Clermont we stopped for lunch and supplies before birding a bit at Hood’s Lagoon which was a nice stop. From here it was onto Epping Forest National Park where we were greeted by the current caretakers – Sandra and Charlotte. Epping Forest National Park was the last place in the world where Northern hairy-nosed wombat occurrs in the wild and was as low as 30 animals in the 1970s. Numbers have increased to more than 200 at Epping and there is a second introduced population but it is still very much endangered. Access to the park is restricted and Rohan had organised through academic contacts over a number of months. There is a fence around the park to keep dingos out and wombats in but it is not a true predator proof fence – cats and foxes would have no problem passing through and indeed we saw several cats and more prints during our visit. The speed limit in Epping is 20 km/h during the day and 5 km/h during the night and it never seems too slow.

The caretakers were amazing with their hospitality and insisted on cooking as dinner. We had a nice evening drive and were very privileged to see our first Northern hairy-nosed wombat sitting outside their burrow in the evening sun. The wombat bolted back into its hole but soon emerged to give us another view. We were stoked and returned for a celebratory drink and an excellent dinner. The caretakers at Epping are all volunteers and do an amazing job checking the fences, looking for signs of predators and protecting the park.

Wombat!

Wombat!

Bucket List number 1

Bucket List number 1

After dinner we headed out for a long night of using the thermal camera and spotlighting. There were many wallabies and kangaroos which were somewhat distracting but at least showed the thermal camera was working. The grass was high but the car-mounted thermal camera cut right through it which showed the value of it as a survey tool. A small signal proved to be a Spectacled Hare-wallaby which was a new very cool macropod for me. It allowed reasonably close views but was a bit skittish but I was happy to get some distant photos. A bit later on we were able to get extremely close to another Hare-wallaby which decided that hunkering down in some grass was good camouflage even when we wandered up right next to it – no wonder they get smashed by foxes in range. It took a while but eventually we picked up a wombat in the thermal and then I was shocked to see one waddle across the middle of the screen not five meters from the car! They were very skittish though and not tolerant of white light at all. Red light was somewhat better but they would still bolt to a hole if they heard or smelt us (several days without a shower and I was probably quite stinky) It was an amazing night – probably saw eight wombats (including a couple thermal only) and at least that many hare-wallabies as well as plenty of other critters and a few night birds.

Spectacled Hare-wallaby

Spectacled Hare-wallaby

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat

In the morning we birded a bit and checked out some impressive wombat burrows before we had to head off. A young Black-breasted Buzzard took a bit too much thinking to work out but I blame to lack of sleep. I think it is fair to say we were both somewhat in awe of the experience and very privileged. I did accidentally leave my boots in Epping but I think that was a fair price to pay for such an amazing experience!!

Wombat burrow

Wombat burrow

Westland Petrel – another cracker of a weekend in Tassie

Late in April I headed down for another double-header Eaglehawk Neck pelagic weekend with two boat trips and the usual associated night time misadventures. Earlier in the year I had racked up my 700th Aussie bird species with Black-bellied Storm-petrel on another one of these weekends. April-May are good months for a couple of my last few semi-regular South-East Australian species in Southern Fulmar and Westland Petrel so with a good forecast was keen to get out. Rohan Clarke picked me up from the airport Friday afternoon and we headed down to the Lufra. The whole Tasman Peninsula was packed out for a massive tuna fishing competition and there was many a bourbon and coke being consumed in the car park. The night was young so we teamed up with Gus and Elliot for a bit of spotlighting through the suburban limits of Eaglehawk Neck. We started off with the usual Pademelon’s, Brushtails and Bennett’s Wallabies before graduating to Eastern-barred Bandicoot and then a nice Tassie Morepork showing well. I was of course taking a nature break when Rohan picked up a Pygmy-possum in the thermal camera which turned out to be a lovely Eastern Pygmy-possum – a Tassie first for me. It gave good views as it crept back into cover in someone’s front yard. A bit further on a roosting Sea-eagle rounded out a very good evening of suburban spotlighting.

Up early and onto the Pauletta we headed out into very calm conditions cruising past the Hippolytes and then deviating to a group of albatross. Around here the deckhand Hugh started tossing out a bit of berley which got a number of the albatross following us for much of the day. We were at about 250 fathoms when Gus spotted a large pale shearwater way back in the wake which was initially called as a Buller’s. Boat stopped and the bird started to fly in while many of us grabbed cameras. It was only when it landed on the water that we realised it was in fact a Great Shearwater – a mega more often found in the Atlantic Ocean. I had seen previously during the influx in April 2011 but a very good bird to connect with again. It flew off and we continued to the shelf, all in a bit of a shock.

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

We had a very nice, pleasant day at the shelf with some excellent birds including a couple of confiding Providence Petrels and a number of great albatross including Southern Royal, Wandering and Gibson’s. There were good numbers of White-chinned Petrel throughout the day and I spent a lot of time checking them again and again for Westland. A very good day in glassy very flat conditions which made us wish for a little more wind or swell.

Providence Petrel - shit shot but finally have in pixels

Providence Petrel – shit shot but finally have in pixels

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Eventually it was time to head in and we were all slightly flat – there had been plenty of birds all day and of course the early morning mega but something seemed to be missing. As we crossed over the shelf and into offshore waters both Rohan and I immediately picked up on an incoming Procellaria with a darkened billtip and started taking photos. The bird clearly had a different flight jizz to White-chinned being slightly heavier and build yet lighter in flight. The billtip was confusing being black on one side yet worn and light on the other. Examination on the back of cameras had us pretty certain it was a Westland Petrel yet not 100% sure. The bird stuck around for a number of passes allowing many pics to be taken. Later on the computer it was clear this was a Westland Petrel and a very well wanted lifer confirmed.

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel - the bad side

Westland Petrel – the bad side

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

We headed down the peninsula for a good pub meal and a celebratory lifer beer (or two) before heading out for a few hours spotlighting. We headed out the Taranna Forest Drive where we had plenty of the usual suspects as well as several Morepork’s showing and giving a good call repertoire. The highlight of the night was yet another Little Pygmy-possum no more than the size of my thumb picked up in the thermal camera frozen against a thin trunk. Two Pygmy-possum species in a weekend is pretty special.

Up early again and out on the Pauletta where there was slightly more wind and swell than the previous day but conditions were still very benign. It was still another excellent day at sea with an even more diverse species list than the previous day. An early Westland Petrel got things going, one of perhaps four we had for the day. At our deepest berley point we had an excellent flyby of a Cook’s Petrel which a very late record for this species off Eaglehawk Neck. Other pelagic highlights included both Royals, two Wandering types and the usual suite of species. At one stage we had many hundreds of Common Dolphins passing by the boat in a large mega herd which was very cool. On the way back in we had a couple of flybys of another Great Shearwater! probably the same bird as yesterday but who knows? Probably the only disappointment for the weekend was the lack of large cetaceans despite perfect spotting conditions – we later found out that tuna boats had seen both Orcas and a very large Blue Whale which we must have just missed.

After a coffee it was back to the airport and the flight home. Already looking forward to the next weekend down here!

Ebird lists: DAY 1 and DAY 2

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Short-tailed Shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Buller's Albatross

Buller’s Albatross

Of Mice and Men – a week in the desert

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

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

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

Gibber

Gibber

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

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

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

Big Country

Big Country

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

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

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

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Plains Mouse

Plains Mouse

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

One off the bucket list

One off the bucket list

Sandy Inland Mouse

Sandy Inland Mouse

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

Kultarr mating!

Kultarr mating!

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

Some evening stops were ok

Some evening stops were ok

A rather sexy gecko

A rather sexy gecko

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

The master at work

The master at work

Desert Mouse

Desert Mouse

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

Mammalwatching.com trip report

All birds are listed in eBird

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

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

Bettongs and Antechinus – a Pelagic Weekend in Tassie

Last weekend I was back down to Tasmania again for another double header pelagic trip out of Eaglehawk Neck. With the bitterly cold temperatures hopes were high that we would get some good seabirds. I flew into Hobart early on Friday picking up Max Breckenridge and a hire car. We checked out wader sites around Orielton where we found some Double-banded Plovers which was new for my Tassie list. Later we did the Weilangta Forest Drive and looped around to Gould’s Lagoon – birding was quiet but we saw a few nice things. After picking up Rohan we headed up Mount Wellington to look for Long-tailed Mouse – very much speculative but Rohan had a thermal camera so was worth a shot. No luck with the mouse but we did have a very nice Dusky Antechinus propped in a tree. The Tasmanian Dusky Antechinus is mooted as a split so it was good to see. I have also never seen a Dusky Antechinus in a tree in Victoria so interesting behaviour. An Eastern Barred Bandicoot near the summit was a nice addition and the mammal list was starting to tick along.

Dusky Antechinus

Dusky Antechinus

Up early and onto the boat for what ended up being a very quiet day at sea which was quiet surprising considering there was a bit of swell and a cold southerly blowing. Despite 6 layers including 3 fleeces it was very cold! Highlights of the day included a Northern Royal and three New Zealand Wandering Albatross. A very pleasant day at sea but low species numbers and diversity. After a good steak at the Lufra we headed out to search for the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus which has recently been split from the main form. This is notoriously difficult to find with only a couple of specimens caught during extensive study effort. Despite this we were bullish and armed with the thermal camera and site locations we had a good crack. No antechinus but we did find several Little Pygmy-possums. After finding them last year and earlier this year there would seem to be a very good population on this peninsula. It was only 2 degrees outside but these tiny little mammals were still active! A lost flash had us searching and getting to bed later than expected but that is standard disruption for a night spotlighting on the Tasman peninsula!

Little Pygmy-possum

Little Pygmy-possum

It was freezing the next morning and I did not want to get out of bed…. Still once on the water hopes were again high that we would do better than yesterday. Early on the signs were good as we got a Providence Petrel at the first stop. But it was a false dawn as things became very quiet during the day. Probably the same Northern Royal Albatross from the previous day livened things up briefly but again diversity and numbers were very low for an Eaglehawk pelagic. With a late flight out of Hobart we had a few hours to chase something so decided on Gravelly Ridge which is about thirty minutes north of the airport. We arrived just on dark and almost immediately got onto a Morepork which was a new bird for Max. We only had an hour or so but made the most of it with about six Eastern Bettong seen in the park itself. These are certainly a candidate for the cutest mammal in Australia. One small group comprised two adults and a young animal. The dry forest with decent cover in this location seems perfect for bettongs.

Eastern Bettong

Eastern Bettong

We had commented that the edge farmland habitat around the park looked perfect for Eastern Quoll and sure enough we had a lovely dark adult animal crossing the road on the way out. We abandoned the car and piled out after it and while it showed some interest in our squeaking it disappeared into the night. Any night you see a quoll is a successful night! Back to the airport in plenty of time for a delayed flight. Thanks to Max and Rohan for being excellent pelagic/spotlighting companions and to Angus McNab for some great intel.

See quoll - abandon car!

See quoll – abandon car!

Cheating a bit - here's a dark Eastern Quoll from earlier in the year

Cheating a bit – here’s a dark Eastern Quoll from earlier in the year