Ton up on a brief Cairns wildlife adventure

At the start of the year I set a goal of trying to see 100 mammal species in Australia for the year. By December I had crawled my way to 89 and with work busy and a hectic schedule it was looking unlikely that I would make it. I managed to find a small window and booked flights to Cairns for a few nights up on the Atherton Tablelands where a suite of a number of new types possum and other local mammal specialties should get me there with a bit of luck. I flew out of Melbourne Saturday morning and landed in Cairns just after lunch. My headtorch had gone walkabout so I had to head into the CBD for a replacement where it is almost impossible to miss the several camps of Spectacled Flying-fox. There was a shortage of head torches but I eventually found one and headed off to the Botanic Gardens where Spotted Whistling Ducks had been reported recently. They were not there but good numbers of Radjah Shelduck and a Black Bittern were nice for a Southerner and got the bird list kick started. From here I headed up the coast getting Agile Wallaby on the northern outskirts before stopping briefly at Rex Lookout but the tide was too high to go exploring for bats in the crevices below. It was then onto Julatten and one of my favourite birdwatching areas in Kingfisher Park and Mount Lewis. I had never been here towards the wet season so very quickly picked up my first new bird of the trip in Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, a spectacular bird that migrates from New Guinea to nest during the wet season. It proved common on the ground of Kingfisher Park. A quick wander round the grounds to get my ear in then I got prepared for a long evening of spotlighting.

Litoria infrafrenata

Litoria infrafrenata

I had an excellent meal at the Highlander Tavern watching swiftlets wheel overhead and a Bush-hen call from the vegetation below before heading up Mount Lewis. It was starting to rain and there were good numbers of frogs out including Litoria infrafrenata, jungguy and serrata. About halfway up a Papuan Frogmouth was disturbed from its roadside perch. Up at the clearing on top of the mountain the cloud had come right in and the wind was up so observation was difficult. With a bit of effort I was able to find four Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum and a single Green Ring-tailed Possum which were both new for me. Conditions were not really improving so I worked my way back down the mountain seeing a couple of Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots on the way.

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

I spent the next few hours spotlighting in and around Kingfisher Park doing quite well. I started with Fawn-footed Melomys and Bush Rat at the feeders and Northern Brown Bandicoot nearby before finding a couple of Eastern Blossom Bats in the orchard which are easily observed under red light. Red-legged Pademelon and both bandicoots were readily encountered as I walked around and around the grounds. Eventually I found a nice Striped Possum in the canopy which was quite noisy as it moved around – I had seen this species last time I was here and was happy to see again although it was too high for photos. The highlight of the night (and possibly the trip) was a Diadem Leaf-nosed Bat which I found hunting from a perch near the toilets. It hated white light but would sit quite happily under red-light allowing for binocular observation. It would wiggle its head in a circle before leaving the perch to hunt and returning – a very cool animal. I was staying in the bunkhouse which I had to myself eventually retiring sometime after midnight.

Litoria serrata

Litoria serrata

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

I woke early and headed up Mount Lewis with a couple of birds in my sights. Andrew from KF Park had told me the small cutting half way up the mountain was currently good for Blue-faced parrot-finch and so it proved with one seen almost as soon as I left the car. It immediately flew so I sat down to wait. Within five minutes a good half dozen of the birds came in to feed on the seeding grasses giving great binocular views. A much wanted tick and every bit as impressive as they look in the books. Further up the mountain I parked at the main clearing and took the forest walk. There were plenty of nice birds including wet tropic endemics like Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill and the Riflebird. Further up Tooth-billed Bowerbird and heaps of Chowchilla were good to reconnect with. I eventually wandered past the dam and perhaps 500 meters further on I had an exquisite male Golden Bowerbird land so close to me that my camera could not focus. It sat and regarded me for perhaps 15 seconds before flying away. This was another lifer for me and now my new favourite Australian bird! I was quite stoked as I headed back to the car with three amazing iconic new birds in less than 24 hours.

From here I headed south and after a breakfast coffee ended up at Granite Gorge near Mareeba. I paid my ten dollars and duly ended up sitting getting a lap dance from a Mareeba Rock-wallaby. I was quite torn as many of the animals appear in poor health and such a setup would probably be banned in Victoria. Still it was very interesting to study them up close and when an adult male hopped on my lap I got an appreciation of just how small and light they are and how easily many of our rock-wallabies could be smashed by foxes. I really don’t know what should be done about this place but I have heard they are at least being fed macropod pellets now rather than random human food so perhaps a step in the right direction. I do know it is one I want to sanitize on my list in the future. I was now sitting on 99 mammals for the year so headed to Mareeba Wetlands where the lovely staff showed me the Large-footed Myotis roosting in the cafe building. There were perhaps twenty of them huddled in several locations which gave me my 100th mammal of the year. I celebrated with a nice pot of tea! Perhaps not the same as a Boxing Day hundred at the MCG but I was pretty chuffed with myself.

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Large-footed Myotis

Large-footed Myotis

From here I drove north and checked many culverts and drains from Mt Molloy to Mt Carbine and beyond but aside from sore knees found nothing much aside from a couple of geckos and frogs. Andrew and Carol (who are excellent and free with their knowledge) had told me about a roost flyout of Little Bent-winged Bat near Kingfisher Park so I sat out in the park in the passing showers and waited for dusk. Perhaps ten minutes before dark bats began to pour from a small spout in one of the large eucalypts and I was able to get excellent views under red light as many of the bats flew out and latched on to branches nearby. Straight after dark it began to rain heavily and did not really let up all evening. I did go out and get wet and saw some great frogs and eventually an awesome Giant White-tailed Rat which was checking out a fruiting tree. Eventually I decided to cut my losses and went to bed early (midnight) knowing I would have a late night tomorrow.

makes my knees sore to look at

makes my knees sore to look at

Mixophyes coggeri

Mixophyes coggeri

It was still raining so I must admit I slept in a bit before heading south. After coffee (of course) I checked out Tolga Scrub but the flying-fox roost was currently empty. At Nerada Tea Plantation the staff took one look at my binoculars and knew I was there for the tree-kangaroos. They were not in their usual spots and it started to rain heavily so I relaxed with a nice pot of the local brew until it cleared. Out near the carpark in the drizzle I found two Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo which gave good views as they chilled and did their daytime thing. My only other view of this species was years ago on Mount Lewis as one crossed the road so it was great to get relaxed viewing.

Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo

Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo

I visited many of the usual southern tablelands birding spots but it was very dry and quiet and eventually Herberton to add Little Red Flying-fox to the year list before heading to Chambers Wildlife Lodge near Lake Eacham to check in. I grilled them for sites for my remaining targets and was pleased to learn that Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum sometimes visit the grounds. They also have a feed station setup which nightly gets visited by Sugar Glider and apparently recently a Striped Possum mum and bub. After a quick walk around the grounds I headed out to mount Hypipamee for spotlighting on dusk. Here I had an excellent night with around a dozen Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – a weird looking possum as well as plenty of great frogs and a screaming tyto. The possum was new for me but was somewhat tinged by a tiny long-tailed grey mammal which I had briefly in the spotlight. Possibly a long-tailed pygmy-possum or a tree mouse but one that definitely got away.

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Back at Chambers I tried a couple of local spots for Herbert River Ringtail before sitting down and watching the feed station hoping for some Striped Possum photos. The Stripies did not come in this night but I had excellent views and photo opportunities for Sugar Gliders as the glided in. Once the lights went out here I went out spotlighting and eventually sometime after midnight I managed a Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum in what appeared to be someone’s front yard. I had excellent binocular views but unfortunately had left my camera back in my room so tried to take a picture with the iPhone – see below….. On the way back to bed I was kicking Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots out of the way.

Sugar Glider

Sugar Glider

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum..... Honest!!!

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum….. Honest!!!

It was raining heavily again in the morning so I cruised back to Cairns and onto a plane home – too short a trip but an excellent one with 17 new mammals for the year list and three new birds as well as excellent frogs. I really need to go back and photograph things with more time as well as clean up all the mammals I still need up that way. Thanks to Sim and Lucas for letting me go (and putting up with me this year) and Rohan Clarke for igniting the beast and getting us both on a non big year mammal medium year!

Summary of mammals seen below:

Short-beaked Echidna – One on side of road as I was descending Gilles into Cairns
Northern Brown Bandicoot – A couple at Kingfisher Park and one beside the road near Wongabell State Forest
Northern Long-nosed Bandicoot – Easy to see at Kingfisher Park and Chambers Lodge, also on Mt Lewis
Striped Possum – One seen on the first night in the canopy at Kingfisher Park. Apparently a mother and baby have been coming in at Chambers Lodge late most nights but not when I was there.
Sugar Glider – Quite a few came in to the feeding station at Chambers Lodge and were quite tame. Easy to spotlight in the surrounding forest too
Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – About a dozen seen from the carpark at Mt Hypipamee up to and along the main road a way and at the road works clearing about 3km up the road.
Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum – Four seen within 500m of the clearing on Mt Lewis including a mum and bub
Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum – thought I was going to dip but finally got one in someone’s driveway near Lake Eacham after midnight
Green Ring-tailed Possum – One spotlit on Mt Lewis and one seen during the day at Curtain Fig
Common Brush-tailed Possum – One during the day at Granite Gorge and several at Mt Hypipamee
Musky Rat-kangaroo – One only on Mt Lewis!
Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo – Two seen near the carpark at Nerada Tea Plantation. Staff are very helpful and the tea good.
Mareeba Rock-wallaby – I had a lap dance at Granite Gorge from a rock-wallaby – these animals are not in a good state – very sad. One I would like to sanitize on my list next visit.
Red-legged Pademelon – Common at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis and Southern Tablelands.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo – Two just north of Mareeba on side of the road
Agile Wallaby – Common from the outskirts of Cairns
Fawn-footed Melomys – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park. One spotlit at Chambers Lodge
Giant White-tailed Rat – One seen on second night at Kingfisher Park in the rain. Impressive animal.
Bush Rat – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park
Eastern Blossum-bat – Several in Orchard area at Kingfisher Park – easy to get good views under red light
Spectacled Flying-fox – Hard to miss as you drive into Cairns. Odd animals encountered while spotlighting each night
Little Red Flying-fox – Camp at Tolga Scrub seems abandoned. Big colony at Herberton
Diadem leaf-nosed Bat – Cracker of an animal and probably the highlight of the trip. I was able to watch the bat hunting from a perch under red light at Kingfisher Park. It would move its head in a circular motion before flying off and back to perch.
Little Bent-winged Bat – I watched the flyout of a roost of 50+ of these bats in Geraughty Park next to Kingfisher Park. Red light again helpful as they would fly out and often land in the surrounding trees. Andrew and Carol can point you to the right tree.
Large-footed Myotis – Easily seen in the visitors centre at Mareeba Wetlands – just ask the staff. Also found under a couple of bridges in the Yungaburra area.
Feral Cat – One seen on Mt Lewis and one at Mt Hypipamee
Also saw a long-tailed, small grey mammal with pale blue eyeshine run up a tree at Mt Hypipamee – one that got away. Plenty of bats got away too – with many different types seen while spotlighting. I had almost no luck at all checking culverts, bridges and picnic shelters for roosts this trip.

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 2

Up at dawn from our Nullarbor roadside stop campsite and the flies were already annoying! We stopped at some cliffs and did a brief seawatch with a number of Short-tailed Shearwaters seen which is getting close to their westerly limit. I was quite surprised how green the Nullarbor was and while it is said to be treeless, plenty of shrubs were taller than me. We crossed the WA border and despite having driven over an hour it was still before 6am so we went down to the old Eucla telegraph station. A very nice and placid Carpet Python was an excellent distraction and despite the strong winds and sand we added Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. Back at Eucla we fuelled up on coffee and a bacon and egg breakfast and headed towards Cocklebiddy. Earlier this year Bernie O’Keefe had posted an excellent trip report of his trip for Naretha Bluebonnet so we relied on this quite heavily – thanks BoK!

This is snek!

This is snek!

At the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse we fueled up and got the details of Arubiddy Station and made a call to let them know we would be travelling through to Rawlinna. This is a polite thing to do – do not say you are there for birdwatching and certainly do not visit the homestead to ask for permission – a simple phonecall is all that is required. The site we were looking for was around 100km north and the road was so bad that it would take 3-4 hours. Just north of the roadhouse we found an Inland Dotterel so already the jaunt was off to a good start. There were plenty of gates and the road got worse as we headed north of Arubiddy Station but there were nice distractions with Nullarbor Bearded Dragon being new to both of us, plenty of Western Grey and Red Kangaroos and eventually a single female Nullarbor Quail-thrush walked across the road. Clearly they are in far lower density in this section of the Nullarbor than around the roadhouse. Around 82km north of Cocklebiddy we found a very active wombat burrow system and could even hear and smell the animals in the burrows. The plain up to this stage had been largely treeless but we could see a line of trees in the distance and right on the 100km mark we turned west and came across the tank where Bernie and others had recently seen the parrots. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to travel here although we had stopped quite a lot for various distractions.

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

The infamous? tank

The infamous? tank

Others had recently driven up to the tank and literally twitched the Bluebonnets from the car but they were not around when we arrived. We got out and wandered around but it was pretty grim with plenty of sheep and flies and not much else. Eventually we met back at the car and sat down to see what would come in to the water. Some Zebra Finches was a good start and a Hobby cruised through a few times stirring things up. It was quite interesting to see a couple of Magpie-larks nesting here – clearly the small patch of mud and water was enough to sustain them. With not much doing we settled back with lunch and then a cup of coffee trusting that the birds would need to come in to drink. The coffee was needed as I had been drifting off but there is nothing like two blue-tailed parrots flying in to wake you up! An excellent pair of Naretha Bluebonnet had slipped in to a tree to wait to drink seemingly much quieter than their Eastern cousins. We maneuvered around and managed to get excellent views and even a few pics of the pair which didn’t seem too fussed by our presence. They were very quiet throughout the encounter and eventually left on their own accord after having a good drink. It would have been good to spend more time to see if more had come in but we were on a bit of a schedule and it was hardly the most inviting campsite so we headed back towards Cocklebiddy – very happy with both main targets out of the way. On the way back I was very happy to get excellent views of Australian Pratincole – a bird I had not seen for quite a while. It seemed to be a quicker run back and we arrived in Cocklebiddy just after dark and decided to get a room as we were both rather knackered and needed a shower.

Naretha Bluebonnet

Naretha Bluebonnet

Hunting Bluebonnets

Hunting Bluebonnets

Up early again we headed west where the plain gave way slowly to stunted mallee and then into the Great Western Woodlands – this is an enormous largely contiguous area of mallee, heath and woodland and is a trip in itself just to explore. Our target for the evening was Jilbadgi Nature Reserve SW of Coolgardie which had interesting records of a number of dunnart and other species. It was a difficult park to access as mining companies had taken over and and blocked many of the access roads – welcome to Western Australia! Eventually we found a way in down south but it was getting late so we had a quick recce and found a place to camp. Jilbadgi is a very interesting area with extensive heath and mallee habitats. On dark there were many bats with 4 species confirmed by bat detector and spotlit – Gould’s and Chocolate Wattled Bats, Southern Forest Bat and White-stripaed Free-tailed Bat as well as a couple of unknowns. A very nice pair of Boobooks were quite confiding and called most of the night. We spent many hours using thermal cameras and had a number of hits but frustratingly could not get visuals on anything. At one stage we startled something large and hot which fled and on examination found a goanna with its head chewed off – probably a cat! Eventually and somewhat frustratingly we gave up. Up early in the morning and things began to look up straight away with Elegant Parrot and Black-eared Cuckoos flying around camp. One of my favourite birds – Southern Scrub-robin were everywhere and even gave me a quick display. We went and birded the recently burnt heath areas and found a number of hopping-mouse burrows which may explain the signals we were getting the night before. Here I got my third new bird of the trip with Western Fieldwrens calling and showing everywhere. Of interest was a pair of Southern Emu-wren which would have to be about as far inland as they get in Western Australia – this is a little known isolated population in this area. Another good area that needs further attention – maybe another time!

Freckled Sun-orchid - Jilbadgi NR

Freckled Sun-orchid – Jilbadgi NR

Road killed malleefowl

Road killed malleefowl

We had a long drive through the trashed wheatbelt area of SW Western Australia so looked for things we could break up the journey with. There is an isolated population of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby in the wheatbelt and a quick google gave us a couple of sites to try. We chose Mount Caroline Nature Reserve which was not too far off the main drag and drove to the information board and walked up the easement to the rocky hill. Very quickly we got glimpses of our first rock-wallabies at the site and with a bit of patience were rewarded with excellent views. Fox control in the area has had a very positive effect on population and this site is now used as a feeder population for other isolated sites. We spent a very nice couple of hours with the rock-wallabies with some nice birds and reptiles to help break it up.

Black-footed Rock-wallaby - Mount Caroline NR

Black-footed Rock-wallaby – Mount Caroline NR

We stayed the night on the outskirts of Perth and had a couple of drinks to celebrate the success of the trip. The next morning Rohan left on a plane for Broome and I hired a car to head south to hunt a few mammals. I drove straight down to the Perup area which is one of the best mammal watching areas in Australia. I had plenty of targets here and very quickly knocked off the first with Western Brush Wallaby on Northern Road. I was particularly keen to spot a Numbat so drove a number of roads and eventually on Pollard Road saw what I thought was a leaf rolling down the road but as it got closer I got binoculars on it and it was a NUMBAT!! it turned off the road and I got excellent views as it ran into a bunch of logs. I waited in the area over an hour but it did not reappear as it was late in the day and might have just decided to go to sleep. The Perup Guesthouse is currently closed but I walked in just before dark and saw little except some cool orchids. Right on dusk I had a Woylie prop nicely on the side of the road but camera was not ready so opportunity was missed. Soon after Western Ring-tailed Possum fell with three animals in melaleuca near the road west of the guesthouse entrance and then Tammar Wallaby with two animals near the intersection with Northern Road. Only 1 hour after sunset and 5 out of my 6 targets already down! I then began to drive roads and walk tracks as I was particularly keen to see a Chuditch (Western Quoll) Hours passed and I had no luck but I was determined to get one and eventually 100km of driving and 8km of spotlighting on foot I was rewarded with a CHUDITCH! on a bit of manky roadkill on Cordalup Road. Much smaller than I was expecting i think it must have been a young female. It fled into the bush but I squeaked and it eventually poked its head out but unfortunately the shitty corolla chose that moment to start beeping that they keys were still in the ignition and it fled again never to return. Never hire a corolla if wildlife watching – vision is shit and it beeps randomly for all sorts of reasons! I headed to where I was going to bush camp and rumbled a Western Pygmy-possum crossing the road. I thought I could catch it but misjudged its location only to see it climbing a tree above my head – I blame the fact it was 2am and I was completely knackered. I missed photos of most things but I will be back with more time!

Crappy shot of a Western Ring-tailed Possum - I need to go back!

Crappy shot of a Western Ring-tailed Possum – I need to go back!

Motorbike Frog

Motorbike Frog

I slept in the next morning and went to Manjimup for coffee and breakfast so missed my numbat leaving its log – I drove around for a few more hours without anything much aside from some nice orchids. I decided to make a run for Dryandra to see if I could ride my luck and hopefully pick up a Red-tailed Phascogale. Dryandra is a favourite birding spot of mine and saw plenty of nice birds before dusk and also checked out a brand new camping area Gnaala Mia which had nice facilities and a bit of heath in the campground itself. A Western Brush Wallaby before dusk was nice but after dark I had no luck with mammals of any sort. While spotlighting for phascogale in casaurina on Kawana Road I did hear a Masked Owl call a number of times but it would not move from its location. In the end no luck this night so I retired to the new campground which I had to myself! I had a couple of excellent hours birding in the morning before heading to the airport. All in all a cracking trip with 3 new birds, 10 new mammals, a pile of new reptiles and 2 new frogs! Thanks to Rohan for the company and Simone and Lucas for letting me go.

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 1

A few months ago Rohan Clarke and I hatched a cunning plan to target two birds we both still needed – Nullarbor Quail-thrush and Naretha Bluebonnet. Both these species were until recently considered subspecies of others but have been “split” into their own species. They also happen to be only found a long way from anywhere, on and around the Nullarbor Plain. So the plan was to relocate Rohan’s car to Perth so he can use it for a family holiday later in the year and we spend 6 days getting it there which would allow plenty of time for wildlife watching. While the two birds were the cornerstones of the trip we still managed to add a number of furry and scaly targets to the agenda as well.

Crinia riparia - Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

Crinia riparia – Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

We left Melbourne late on a Tuesday afternoon with a Hilux packed to the gunnels mostly for Rohan’s family trip following. We drove into the night and ended up in a rather crappy motel in Keith with only a few Eastern Grey Kangaroos getting the mammal list started. Up early we headed through Adelaide stopping at Telowie Gorge just south of Port Augusta. This is known site for Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby but being early afternoon it was far from an ideal time. About 1.5km up the gorge we startled a single rock-wallaby which gave great views – a new animal for me and one that Rohan had not seen for years. This would have to be one of the most attractive macropods in Australia and in the end we walked away with it watching us from up high on the cliffs. On the way down we found the very range restricted Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet which was a new frog for me (not surprisingly!) Add to this a nice suite of birds including Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and Little Woodswallow and the trip was off to a great start!

Telowie Gorge - Rock-wallaby habitat

Telowie Gorge – Rock-wallaby habitat

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby - Telowie Gorge

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby – Telowie Gorge

From here we picked up supplies (and beer) at Port Augusta and headed down to Whyalla Conservation Park where we found some great birds including Western Grasswren, Slender-billed Thornbill, Rufous Fieldwren and Red-backed Kingfisher – its been about 6 years since I was last here and was good to see the country in good condition. The destination for the night was Ironstone Hill Conservation Park which was selected a bit on spec as it was a known site for both Sandhill Grasswren and Sandhill Dunnart. It was a difficult park to find any information on so we explored along the north/south road during the remaining daylight marking out suitable areas of habitat. After dark we spent a number of hours spotlighting and using thermal cameras and were very lucky to pick up Southern(Mallee) Ningaui and Western Pygmy-possums. Detected as small hot spots in the thermal camera and then spotlit they were both new species for me! While we did not get the dunnart, the habitat looks very plausible and would probably require tagging along on an official survey trip to have any real chance. The next morning we birded triodia areas looking for grasswrens and while we did not find any it again would seem likely they still occur there. The birds and flora here are both very reminiscent of Gluepot and parts of the Victorian mallee. Pretty keen to revisit here in the future with more time.

Southern Ningaui

Southern Ningaui

Western Pygmy-possum

Western Pygmy-possum

From here we stopped in briefly at Secret Rocks before heading through Ceduna and out to Yumbarra Conservation Park. I have fond memories of this park as nearly 6 years ago in 48 degree heat I managed to track down my first and only Scarlet-chested Parrot and had been wanting to get back ever since. We spent the late afternoon birding but it was very quiet with only Black-eared Cuckoo and Western Yellow Robins being standouts. That evening we had dinner at one of the rockholes and picked out Goulds and Chocolate Wattled Bat and a couple of other unidentified ones with the bat detector. We spent several hours spotlighting but saw not much of consequence. I was a bit flat as the site was not living up to the awesome reputation I had given it but that all changed in the morning. Up early we quickly found a quite showy pair of Copperback Quail-thrush, Shy Heathwren and best of all a very confiding female Scarlet-chested Parrot! Two visits here for two Scarlet-chested parrots – cant ask for more than that! Leaving the park we had a very cool Dwarf Bearded Dragon which in a matter of a minute completely changed colour from a yellow to a dark grey.

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush - Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush – Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot - Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot – Yumbarra CP

From here we headed west eventually passing north of the Goyder line and past wheat fields and onto the Nullarbor proper. At one stage we passed paddock after paddock of Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat burrows but in the middle of the day there was no point stopping. From here we entered the little mentioned Great Eastern Woodlands, an extensive area of mallee and woodland which must be good for birding at the right time of year. We stopped at the Head of the Bight but unfortunately the whales had left 2 weeks earlier. Still we found a new reptile in Peninsula Dragon which was quite attractive. We were now well into the Nullarbor proper with Rufous Fieldwren, Slender-billed Thornbill, White-winged Fairy-wren and the ubiquitous Australian Pipit the common birds. A quick stop at the famous Nullarbor Road House for fuel and a cool drink and we headed out to hunt for Quail-thrush.

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

It has been well known for a long time that the area directly north of the Nullarbor Road House is an excellent area for the Nullarbor Quail-thrush (not surprisingly) so we headed out along Cave Road and pretty quickly found a couple of Quail-thrush – tick for both of us! While it was easy to get good binocular views, photographs were more difficult. Over the next few hours we saw at least 17 separate birds but photo opps remained elusive. As we looped around we saw many wombat burrows so after dinner at the roadhouse we saw out with a beer and a scope and eventually had excellent views of a Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat sitting outside its burrow! Yet another new mammal for me and one Rohan had not seen for a long time. Eventually it got dark so we drove around with thermal cameras for a couple of hours but surprisingly found nothing but rabbits. From here we drove an hour west and camped by the road with tomorrow targeted for Western Australia and the Naretha Bluebonnet! – to be continued in Part 2!

Nullabor Quail-thrush - record shot at best

Nullabor Quail-thrush – record shot at best

Scoping wombats - beer in hand!

Scoping wombats – beer in hand!

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

Birding around Bangalore

And now for something a little different – I have spent the past week or more in India for work. Last Saturday I managed to get a day away from the meetings to get a day out birding with Bopanna from Bangalore Birding – http://www.bangalorebirding.com/. I had used him last year for another day out to Nandi Hills, Hoskote Lake and Valley School and found him excellent with great skills and a very easy going personality. This year the plan was to head south for birding on the edge of the Cauvery River Wildlife Sanctuary to fill in a few species missed last year. Bopanna picked me up at 6 am and we headed out into Bangalore traffic which was even starting to get heavy at this hour.

Indian Jungle Crow

Indian Jungle Crow

About an hour south of Bangalore we stopped for coffee and then at a couple of wetlands where breeding plumaged Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas were highlights as well as plenty of the usual wetland suspects. Eventually we turned off the main road and headed towards the sanctuary and the good birding really began. A quick stop in a paddock found good numbers of Jungle Bush Quail which were quite vocal and sat up nicely on rocks with an estimate of 15-20 birds in the immediate area. Cauvery WLS is a large area of more than 100,000 hectares but access to most is restricted so we birded in the buffer areas. In an area of dry forest I picked up my most wanted local target Blue-faced Malkoha as well as other nice birds including Brown-capped and Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers, Large Cuckooshrike, Small Minivet and Common Woodshrike. I always love Woodpeckers of any sort as they don’t occur back home and was even better to pick up a new one.

Jungle Bush Quail

Jungle Bush Quail

Brown-capped Woodpecker

Brown-capped Woodpecker

At a small village on a tributary of the Cauvery River we noticed a brand new bridge which we sat on and waited for the Lesser Fish Eagle which Bopanna assured me was reliable here. Sure enough right on cue the magnificent bird flew in and perched giving great views until some crows flushed it and it soared up the river over our head! This bridge was an excellent vantage point with other birds such as Crested Treeswift, Indian Grey Hornbill, various Kingfishers, White-browed Wagtail and Purple Heron giving good shows. A wild pig and some Bonnet Macaques got the mammal list ticking along.

Lesser Fish Eagle

Lesser Fish Eagle

From here we followed the road over the bridge into an excellent area of forest. Apparently roads like this are often restricted access but as this one led to a temple it was still open. Crossing the road was a nice Ruddy Mongoose which was a new mammal for me. We spent several hours in this area with many more nice birds seen. Highlights for me included a nesting pair of White-rumped Shama – was surprised to see they were cavity nesters, three soaring Short-toed Eagles, Black-hooded Oriole, Bay-backed Shrike, Black-naped Monarch and Yellow-eyed Babbler among many others. The forest looked so good I would not have been surprised to see a leopard cross the road or us to encounter some elephants which are apparently in this reserve in good numbers but unfortunately no luck on this day. Buried in the forest near the shrine was a small village whose inhabitants apparently get by harvesting elephant dung and subsistence farming. I could have happily spent several days just exploring this section but we moved on for lunch.

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

White-rumped Shama at nest

White-rumped Shama at nest

We had a good lunch at hotel on the Cauvery River where it seems that Indians and tourists make a good habit of drowning on a regular basis. The signs were quite morbid detailing the deaths and statistics with hundreds drowned in the last 20 years. There was some nice wildlife watching here with a mugger crocodile feasting on a dead dear as well as Wooly-necked Stork, Darter and a brace of Cormorants nesting in a large tree. After lunch we returned to the previous area of forest where I had a bit of a wander along a nearly dry creek. As we started to head back to Bangalore a pair of Barred Button-quails crossed the road giving great views of both male and female.

Barred Button-quail

Barred Button-quail

Wild cow encountered on foot

Wild cow encountered on foot

We meandered back to Bangalore stopping for anything that looked interesting. I was particularly happy to get better views of a couple of Pied (Jacobin) Cuckoos which sat on a wire. We ended up hitting right on 100 species for the day and I managed about 12 new ones which was great. I look forward to going out with Bopanna next time I am in Bangalore, hopefully for longer this time with a trip into the Western Ghats on the cards. Unfortunately the rest of my trip was consumed with work and with the hotel locations I did not even get a chance to get away again for more birding.

Ebird Checklist for Cauvery WLS

Silk worm cocoons

Silk worm cocoons

Pied Cuckoo

Pied Cuckoo

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

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