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.

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

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork) in Victoria

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

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

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

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

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

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

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

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

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

Some July pelagic and Sooty Owl action

This is mostly to share a few pics and experiences from a couple of outings through July which didn’t quite translate into their own posts. I started with my second trip down to Tasmania for another pelagic weekend with an extra night tacked on for some spotlighting and then followed up with a few nights out in Bunyip State Park (for a change). I headed down to Tasmania early in July a day early with intention of exploring around Mt Field for quolls and perhaps the outside chance of a devil. As we flew into Hobart I started to question my decision as it was one of the more rough flights I have had in a while and as we came in I could see the tops of the sea being blown away in the high winds. Still upon landing I picked up a car and headed out to Mt Field and my nearby AirBnB accommodation choice. I stopped in and bought a 24 hour pass only to be told after the purchase that the park was closed past the entrance area due to weather conditions – pretty typical Tassie tourist experience really…. Still my first AirBnB experience was great as I dumped my stuff in a real traditional BnB before heading out for a long nights spotlighting. As I headed out on dusk I saw my first Eastern-barred Bandicoot which I thought was a good sign but then the rain started to set in. The area around the entrance to Mt Field is generally considered good for Eastern Quoll but I had no luck despite a number of hours searching at various times of the night. There were lots of large standing areas of water which I began to notice had started to move – the river had broken its banks so I had to retreat. I spent another couple of hours driving out towards Lake Pedder and again back the other way but after my second encounter with the local constabulary I was advised to go to bed due to various landslides and water over the road events. During the couple of hours of driving around I saw nothing more exciting than numerous pademelons and Bennett’s wallabies.

A bit of water at Mt Field

A bit of water at Mt Field



The next morning Mt Field was now completely closed so I drove out to Lake Pedder for a bit of tourist action at the dam wall. I was quite shocked to see how extensively areas of swamp and buttongrass had been burnt in recent fires. Eventually I headed back to Hobart to pick up Dean and Rohan for the weekend pelagic action. On the way down to Eaglehawk Neck we did a bit of spotlighting along some side roads before dropping off bags and heading down to Fortescue Bay. On this occasion we saw little aside from the usual pademelons and brushtails and heard only a distant Morepork or two. Still we were back at a decent hour for the pelagic the next day. Unfortunately I had not had the requisite steak and beer before the pelagic so the auguries were not good for the following day.

Kelp Gull

Kelp Gull

We headed out from Eaglehawk Neck on the Pauletta heading past the Hippolytes where both Fur-seals were seen. It was a pretty good day really with highlights including a young Salvin’s Albatross, Grey Petrel, Soft-plumaged, Grey and White-headed Petrels and both Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions. Great albatrosses were only a few Southern Royals and a single Gibson’s type Wanderer. A good haul but nothing compared to the excellent pelagics of the proceeding few months out of Eaglehawk Neck. Still it was a very good day at sea and a couple of Humpback Whales rounded out the list – I think we are sometimes spoilt from this port.

Grey Petrel

Grey Petrel

Gibson's Albatross

Gibson’s Albatross

Salvin's Albatross

Salvin’s Albatross

After the pelagic we had a quick wind down and a pot of Cascade and headed to the famous tree at Port Arthur to see if the Masked Owls were around but tonight they were either having a lie-in or residing elsewhere. After a local pub meal Rohan and I headed out to Lime Bay Conservation area where we rumbled a couple of Long-nosed Potoroo. The target here was Masked Owl and we had an immediate strong call response then nothing…. seems to be quite typical behaviour in Tasmania in our limited experience. We added a nice Southern Brown Bandicoot to the trip list before again heading into bed at a reasonable hour – we must be getting old. Still we were back down at the dock early for another pelagic on the Pauletta with the conditions quite benign as we headed out followed by a horde of hungry gulls. This day was much quieter than the previous with highlights being the good numbers of White-headed Petrel and a nominate Great-winged Petrel among the recently split Grey-faced Petrels. Tried not to be too disappointed as we headed back in as there will always be next time!

Cape Petrel

Cape Petrel

Northern Giant-petrel

Northern Giant-petrel

White-headed Petrel

White-headed Petrel

Rohan and I are having a very non-competitive mammal year so we decided to head out to Gravelly Ridge Conservation Area to look for Eastern Bettongs before our flights home. This looks quite a good block of dry type woodland as we arrived on dusk into a horde of pademelons and wallabies. As we setup camera gear on dusk I waddled away from the car while scoffing dinner and almost immediately rumbled a bettong which I figured was a good sign. This was not quite the case as over the next hour or two we had only average views of a couple of further animals as we drive around. Still this area needs further investigation with more time! Alas around this time a tragic event occurred….. a European Hare skipped majestically across the road slaying Rohan’s bogey for the year – I was looking forward to him having to go spotlighting around the WTP to catch it up. A quick zip back to the airport only to be told our flights were inevitably delayed. While the weekend was slightly disappointing we still had a great time and saw plenty of good things.

Southern Royal Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Following the return from Tassie I headed out to Bunyip State Park for a change. The first visit was with Jonathan Newman, a British birder who is north of 7500 world species. After a couple of hours of silence and worsening weather conditions we managed to nail a nice Sooty Owl which flew in for a few photos and ended up giving walk away views. The following weekend I headed back on my own to an area I suspected Sooty Owls might be nesting and kicked back with a beer and a burger in the half hour leading up to dusk. Well before dusk two owls screamed and then bombed from what I think were separate hollows in an area of tall manna gums. On dark they popped out of the hollows and then spent the next hour in a trill duet which rivals any electronic synth pop band – some one should sample that shit! At one stage a male Powerful Owl called reasonably nearby which shut them up for a minute or so until they started up again. I eventually drove away with them still trilling and found another couple of owls including one in a completely new area. Clearly a good time of year to be out and listening!

Sooty Owl - Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl – Bunyip State Park

A feather for a tail

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

Bobuck

Bobuck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

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

Some Powerful Owl fun

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

Yellow-bellied Glider came in to greet the Powerful Owl

Yellow-bellied Glider came in to greet the Powerful Owl

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

Powerful Owl - Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl – Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl - Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl – Bunyip State Park

If only….

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

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

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

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

EBIRD LIST

Sooty Owl - Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl – Bunyip State Park

If only the flash had fired :(

If only the flash had fired 🙁