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

Elephant Seal – a sometimes visitor to Victoria

Last weekend much to my surprise the monthly BirdLife Portland Pelagic managed to get out despite rather grim weather predictions earlier in the week. We saw a few nice things on the way down including Grey (white) Goshawk and Restless Flycatcher at the Cobden STW. After a very good steak at Macs and a few beers at Rob’s we decided the signs were good for the trip. The trip started very well with a pre-dawn Wilson’s Storm-petrel in the harbour itself! Things were pretty quiet on the way out with a few small pods of Common Dolphin and good numbers of Fairy Prion being the highlight. At the first stop on the shelf we quickly had a couple of whalebirds – Antarctic and Slender-billed Prion which probably remained the birds of the day. At each of the stops there were plenty of birds and it was one of those days your felt anything could turn up. A late highlight was a Brown Skua which after cruising around the bat for a bit chased and killed a Fairy Prion which was a rather savage reminder of where these birds fit in the food chain. Two NZ and a true Wanderer were other obvious highlights – LIST A couple of the White-fronted Terns provided some excitement with one bird in particular showing a strong trailing edge.

Young exulans Wanderer

Young exulans Wanderer

On the way back in we checked Lawrence Rocks as usual without any real thought of seeing more than the impressive gannet colony and the usual loafing fur-seals. As I was scanning the seals I was rather stoked/surprised to see the somewhat chubby face of a young Southern Elephant Seal staring right back at me. I had joked to Rohan on Friday night that we would pick up an Elephant Seal on Lawrence Rocks and here it was. A very unexpected mammal tick and certainly the “real” bird of the day! These days the Southern Elephant Seal is an occasional visitor to Victorian shores with at best annual records. I had to run and get my camera so missed the best angles but still picked up some nice shots. This was a young male with his tiny little “trunk” visible in side on shots – a mere shadow of what he will become. This is now the 4th species of pinniped we have recorded on these rocks in the past 12 months following an Australian Sea-lion last year as well as the usual NZ and Aus Fur-seals. All in all a good day at sea!

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Soon.....

Soon…..

A Letter-winged Kite in Victoria

I was bumming around at home on a particularly wet and uninviting ANZAC day when I got a message from Owen Lishmund. “GOT #@!$ING LETTER-WINGED KITE IN NORTHERN VICTORIA!!!!” A quick check and Owen confirmed with a great picture that he and Dan Ashdown had found a Letter-winged Kite at The Meadows near the Terricks. Despite in being afternoon I was straight in the car (thanks Simone!) and heading north, picking up Scott Baker on the way. It was 1977 when the last Letter-winged Kite irruption hit Victoria and despite the odd claim since one would normally have to go much further north up the Strezlecki Track or into the Channel country to see one. Unfortunately on the way up I was a little over zealous and had an expensive stop with the local constabulary. This coupled with Collingwood starting to lose in the footy did not bode well!

Moat 1 - Tim 0

Moat 1 – Tim 0

Eventually after skating along some very sticky, muddy roads we arrived on site. We were very encouraged to see good numbers of Elanus kites, kestrels and other birds of prey around. After crossing the moat in very bad style Scott and I started picking through the 6 or so Black-Shouldered Kites looking for something a bit different. About this time a car pulled up and Matt, Owen and Dan got out and started madly pointing at a bush at a kite we had probably walked past. Scott and I waddled back over and sure enough there it was! Letter-winged Kite! This was a lifer for me and gave me the set of resident diurnal raptors! Queue high-fives! About this time Adam and Brad turned up and we followed the Kite around getting crippling views and a few photos. It was great to see the very distinctive flight pattern and the grey crown and large size made this a young female bird. It was noticeably larger when beside a Black-shouldered Kite. One of the better afternoons in a long time! It did not even matter that Collingwood’s season is long gone. Big thanks to Dan and Owen for finding the bird and getting the news out so quickly!

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Masked Owl is best owl

I have been terrible at blog posts this year. Every time I get started on a post I get distracted and never get back to it. And it is not for lack of good material! This year I have had some great experiences including Shepherd’s Beaked Whale, Eastern Quolls and more than my fair share of owls. So in the interest of getting back into the blogging business for 2017 I will start with a few Masked Owl seen in East Gippsland during January. As is my want during the Christmas break I had headed down to the Marlo area for a spot of owling with Jono Dashper and Owen Lishmund. During the daylight hours we had some pretty good birding with species like Ground Parrot at Marlo and Conran, scads of Emu-wrens, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters off the Cape and the usual suite of wet forest specialists. I particularly like heading east and encountering Black-faced Monarchs in every gully because to me they hint at a more tropical flavour further north – one of my favourite birds and we saw and heard plenty on this trip.

Eventually we found our way to my favourite owling site near Conran where yet again the Crescent Honeyeaters “egypted” on dusk before the White-throated Nightjars fired up. A Masked Owl screamed but it was soon drowned out by a lovely pair of Sooty Owl trilling which gave good if distant views. Something rather special about seeing two Sooties in the one binocular view in the fading light…. We potted around the area finding a number of frogs including some nice Paracrinia haswelli before heading further afield. Ducking down some dirt tracks we found a nice open area of heathland where right on midnight we had a rather lovely Masked Owl come and visit, cackling around our heads like a demented seagull. This was a lovely pale bird which looked like a ghost hovering well above us at the limit of the torch beam. It did not perch but was a nice lifer for Jono and Owen. Further up the track we encountered another individual which gave us great views as it perched reasonably close by.

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

We continued on and somewhere well north of Bemm River we encountered a third Masked Owl. This individual is not done justice my bad pictures but in the binocular view had a gorgeous grey tone on its facial disk like no other I had seen before. Unfortunately it did not get close enough for good pics but I will be back. Sooty Owls and Yellow-bellied Gliders at Cabbage Tree and a fat Long-nosed Bandicoot rounded out an excellent night.

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

A night out in the Watagans

With the year winding down we headed to Newcastle for Christmas with my brother in-law and his family. We left on the afternoon of the 23rd spending the night in Cootamundra although the wattles weren’t flowering. The highlight of the trip up was good numbers of Superb Parrot from Cootamundra through to past Yass. In Newcastle we stayed at Warabrook backing on to a nice wetland which was quiet but has excellent potential. After a good Christmas day I had a leave pass for a night out spotlighting so I chose the Watagans inland from Newcastle. My main hope was to see a Parma Wallaby which is an elusive macropod endemic to New South Wales and the Watagans are the most southerly location they are found so that was the cornerstone for the evening.

I did not really know what to expect aside from the fact that there were a few atlas records of Parma Wallaby on the southern end of the Watagans Forest Road so I decided to spotlight this road. Arrived about an hour before dusk so drove slowly along the road looking for likely gullies and clearings. On dusk I spent some time at the Hunter Lookout which is good for Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby but I had no luck. Driving south along the road a Southern Long-nosed Bandicoot was a good start. At the second stop a Sooty Owl called continually with both bomb and trill calls. Here I met the first of three different groups out herping for the night – something the Watagans is famous for.

Moving along I saw plenty of macropods but all seemed to be pademelon or red-necked wallaby. Soon i managed to stir up a number of Yellow-bellied Gliders while getting average views of two Sooty Owls. The Sooties were very vocal but were not much more than eyeshine in the distance. Still it meant that I had seen Sooty Owl every month for 2016. Yellow-bellied Glider is also a threatened species in NSW so good to see (and hear). It was already starting to get late when I almost drove over a snake on the road. Getting out I found a very nice elapid – a Golden-crowned Snake. This was new for me and it was quite chilled. Eventually near the headquarters I saw what might have been my target but views were too poor and no photo taken. I will need to go back to the Watagans – great are and much more to see. The highlight for the rest of the trip was a new mammal for the yearlist – Indo-pacific Bottlenosed Dolphin in Newcastle harbour. Already planning a trip next year to get the Parma!

Golden-crowned Snake

Golden-crowned Snake