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

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 🙁

A bit of Bunyip action

It is no secret that Bunyip State Park is my favourite place to go birding and I had been meaning to take Lucas camping here for ages. So when a spare Saturday night came up and with Simone safely out for the night we took off for a spot of camping. After a bit of exploring we chose a campsite at the Nash Creek campground which we had largely to ourselves. There were some nice birds around with Red-browed Treecreeper, Rufous Fantail and Rose Robin being camp ground birds. Lucas had a ball and was great to see him so excited exploring the area and doing his own brand of nature watching. He is fascinated by the natural world around him as are most children and I hope he never loses it.

Lucas and his cave

Lucas and his cave

On dusk we did some spotlighting and Lucas was very pleased to see his first Greater Gliders in the tree above the tent as well as many Swamp Wallabies coming out to feed on the grass. After Lucas went to bed we were visited by a Long-nosed Bandicoot briefly and there were also Sugar and Yellow-bellied Gliders around the campground. Considering I didn’t leave the immediate area of the tent I ended up with a pretty decent mammal list. The highlight however was a lovely female Sooty Owl which came in and hung out above the tent for most of the night. It went through the full repertoire of calls including constant trilling and many bomb calls – a very cool experience with my favourite bird. Judging on size I believe it was an adult female and was a new territory for me. In the morning we packed up and pottered around in the park before heading home with Lucas already planning his next camping trip.

Greater Glider - Bunyip State Park

Greater Glider – Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl - Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl – Bunyip State Park

As always it wasn’t too long before I was heading out to Bunyip again, this time last weekend with mate Paul Brooks from Tasmania. Paul has the privilege of being one of the few people I had failed to show a Sooty Owl to in a previous visit, even after a long night in the forest, so we were keen to fix that. We arrived at Mortimer’s Picnic Ground only to find the place packed for a “bush doof” dance party! Even Sooty Owls with their electronic trills could not compete with this so we moved on after a quick poke around. We drove across the park from this location and found Sugar and Yellow-bellied Gliders at the first location. A second stop and we finally had a Sooty Owl which snuck in quietly but was betrayed by the click of its talons on a branch. Paul got excellent looks at his first Sooty Owl which gave a nice bomb call as it moved off. On size I would have said this was a male bird and possibly the mate of the bird I had seen the previous weekend.

Sooty Owl peers down rather aloof

Sooty Owl peers down rather aloof

With the night now officially a success we moved on to the Helipad which was very quiet with no sign or sound of Nightjars. Further along the road we stopped again and heard two White-throated Nightjars before being interrupted by a couple of 4wd’s of your standard breed Bunyip bogan who were friendly enough until I asked them if they were after deer which made them shut right up. Pity as I would have told them where to go to find them! After they moved on we were lucky enough to get great views of the Nightjar in flight and perched high on a dead branch – another lifer for Paul!

Moving on we went to a new location that I thought looked good for Masked Owl – sure enough within minutes Paul noticed a bird fly in but when we searched it flew off but binocular views in the moonight and head torch revealed an excellent Masked Owl!! Great success! We hung around the area a while until a Masked Owl (presumably the same bird) started screaming incessantly but unfortunately as we walked up to try and get a photo a car went past and the bird shut up never to call again. Eventually a Sooty came in to see what all the racket was giving us our second bird of the night. I will certainly be heading back out soon to scope out this new location during daylight to look for likely roost places as well as trying to get that elusive photo.

Sooty Owl came in to see what all the racket was about

Sooty Owl came in to see what all the racket was about

A last stop on the way out turned up good views of a Yellow-bellied Glider peering down at us from above before we finally decided to call it a night. As we travelled south out of the park I thought I saw eyeshine so slammed on the brakes and jumped out but it was only a can. I noticed plenty of flowering banksia around so jokingly said I would look for Eastern Pygmy Possum. Within a couple of minutes I noticed some eyeshine that I thought looked like a frog but on closer examination it was indeed an Eastern Pygmy Possum peering at me through the grass!! Excitedly summoning Paul to keep a light on it, I was able to snap some very bad pictures. As I contemplated trying to catch it, it slipped away quietly into the night. At the start of this year I had never seen a Pygmy Possum of any description and now less than two months into the year I have three species under the belt! Western and Long-tailed look out, here I come! As we cruised home we decided it had been an acceptable night…..

It is an Eastern Pygmy Possum, honest!!

It is an Eastern Pygmy Possum, honest!!

As always I can highly recommend the downloadable map from the Parks Website and the use of the Avenza PDF Maps application – http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/bunyip-state-park

A good ordinary Portland Pelagic

“A good, ordinary Portland pelagic” – fateful words and one that all too often describes a pelagic over the Summer months out of Portland in SW Victoria – a pelagic with good numbers of ordinary birds but lacking that special one. After a week of favourable looking forecasts the trip was confirmed on the Friday night and I headed down with Scott Baker who gripped me continually with tales of his recent 6 week birding exploits in India. We had a bit of time before dinner so had a walk around Point Danger looking for vagrant penguins and had a quick glance at the Cape Gannet whose chick was coming along quite nicely. Was actually quite birdy with Blue-winged Parrots being chased by a nice Collared Sparrowhawk while Rufous Bristlebirds called in the background. On the way out a hunting White Goshawk was a nice bonus. The usual half a cow for dinner was not washed down with the usual beers as I am trying to do Febfast – something felt wrong and after casting the bones and examining the auguries it was clear that the signs for tomorrow were not good.

Great-winged Petrel coming in

Great-winged Petrel coming in

At 7am we jumped aboard the Timaru of South West Charters and headed out to the shelf. As we past Lawrence Rocks we had a brief fly by of a jaeger but it was too far to get a positive ID. There were small numbers of common shearwaters offshore but almost no albatross were encountered until we hit the shelf. A small pod of Offshore Bottle-nosed Dolphins just before the shelf provided some interest and was a new one for my mammal year list. Conditions were very benign and remained so for the whole day – I wore shorts and had no regrets. As we hit the shelf we encountered a good sized pod of pilot whales for the third month running with some impressive bulls passing very close to the boat! Of course my camera was still in its bag inside the cabin…. after getting some cracking views of the whales I raced in and got the camera out only for the pod to be disappearing into the distance…. what could have been!

I could have had awesome pilot whale shots.....

I could have had awesome pilot whale shots…..

We started berleying and soon gathered good numbers of birds behind the boat. A highlight was watching the Short-tailed Shearwaters diving deep chasing fish and liver scraps – sometimes remaining under the water for near a minute. There were good numbers of Great-winged Petrels with gouldii outnumbering macroptera about 10 to 1. We had a good amount of shark liver and the shark off-cuts were particularly fought over by albatross and petrel alike. Considering the summery conditions it was surprising that we only had a couple of White-chinned Petrels and Flesh-footed Shearwaters across the day.

Just a Shy

Just a Shy

We are getting Nick from SW Charters quite well trained in the art of berleying now and he was keeping large numbers of birds interested. It was the sort of day where something rare could just fly through but if it did we missed it. Still there continued to be very good numbers of Great-winged petrel behind the boat at all times as well as shearwaters and Shy and Yellow-nosed Albatross. A late Buller’s Albatross was probably the bird of the day. There was some excitement when a large whale spouted beside the boat but it sunk beneath the water without showing any features and could not be relocated. The time of year would make a Blue Whale most likely but the spout didn’t seem right – sighting of the day gone begging!

Shy Albatross hooking in

Shy Albatross hooking in

I spent the whole way back in looking and hoping for a Blue Whale as they had been regularly seen over the proceeding few weeks but with no luck. A stop at Lawrence Rocks produced the usual fur-seals as well as views of the impressive gannet colony. Gannets now cover every possible nesting spot including some in some very precarious positions. I think there was an air of some slight disappointment as we docked – but still it was “a good ordinary Portland Pelagic” with birds many birders around the world would love to see.

Curious young seal

Curious young seal

Ebird Species list – http://ebird.org/ebird/australia/view/checklist?subID=S27365843

The littlest possum

On Thursday I flew down with Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ for back to back Eaglehawk Neck pelagic boat trips on the Friday and Saturday. We had flown in earlier than usual as we had originally intended to chase Tasmanian Tree Frog (Litoria burrowsae) but apparently they had not been calling due to dry conditions – as it turns out we did not have to worry about dry conditions as it rained much of the weekend with the East coast in particular receiving some serious drenching. Instead of frog hunting we headed to Eaglehawk Neck and checked into the trusty Lufra Hotel. Despite the sketchy looking weather the pelagic was confirmed for the following day so we dropped bag and headed out for a bit of recce followed by some serious spotlighting. We dropped into Fortescue Bay, scoping out some likely looking places before heading down to Remarkable Cave which lived up to its name. Dropped into the Port Arthur Caravan park as soon as it was dark and eventually picked up a nice Long-nosed Potoroo among the numerous Pademelons.

Shitty phone pic inside the Remarkable Cave

Shitty phone pic inside the Remarkable Cave

Headed back to the Fortescue Bay entrance road which was the target site for the evening. Unfortunately the weather was setting in with rain squalls and an serious level of wind. As we headed down we were very lucky to see a small mammal on the road which turned out to to be a Little Pygmy Possum! This happens to be the smallest member of the possum family and an adult weighs between a 1/4 and and 1/8th of the Mountain Pygmy Possums we found earlier in the month. The possum was rescued from the road and placed in a shrub where we managed to get a couple of quick photos before it slipped away. It has to be a candidate for the cutest animal in Australia. This was a completely unexpected mammal tick for me and already made the weekend worthwhile! Despite recent reports of Tassie Devils in the area we didn’t see or hear much else of note that night but it was still a very successful evening!

Little Pygmy Possum - Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum – Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum - Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum – Fortescue Bay

12 of us jumped on the trusty Pauletta – http://www.paulettacharters.com/tours.html – at 7 am and headed out into lumpy seas. There was a fair bit of spray on the way out which made standing at the back a bit uncomfortable but excellent views of a Buller’s Shearwater more than made up for that. It was a bit of a strange day with the disappointment of not being able to get onto a couple of small Pterodromas being more than compensated by a South Polar Skua!!, several Great Albatrosses of various taxa and then a fantastic White-necked Petrel which was a lifer for me! This bird looped around the boat giving fantastic views for all on board. Paul Brooks, the doyen of all things Tasmanian Birding has indicated it is only the 5th Tasmanian record. Unfortunately due to the wet conditions I left my camera inside all day so have bugger all to show from these close approaches. As we were about to leave the final berley point a flyby of a Cook’s Petrel gave a nice but brief view. The trip back in was largely unpleasant with heavy rain and a bit of swell making it a rather damp experience. Still – running at 1 mammal and 1 bird tick and some cracking loose change it was already an awesome trip!

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke - http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke - http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

After a slab of cow and a couple of beers at the Lufra, Rohan and I headed out again to the Fortescue Bay road to again search for Devils and other mammalian targets. Rohan had a FLIR which pics up heat signatures so we had a crack in the floristically diverse areas along the entrance road and down near the Fortescue Bay campground. Aside from a few Brushtails and some roosting birds the highlights were a few frogs brought out by the damp conditions. Of interest we both heard a White-striped Freetail Bat on the Fortescue Bay Road calling and then doing a feeding sequence which does not seem to be known from Tasmania – inquiries with bat experts in Tasmania are continuing. As we headed back intending to do a quick loop around the peninsula disaster struck with a large wattle tree across the only exit road!! We tried to move it but with 10 meters of trunk back into the scrub we were well stuck. Back 10km to the campground and Rohan spoke to a few drunk campground denizens before having to wake up the awesome ranger Matt who drove out and chopped up the tree in 2 minutes with his chainsaw. We were lucky to get back to the hotel by 12:30am when it looked for a while that two not small gentlemen would have to overnight in a tiny Barina! 8 trips up and down the Fortescue bay road over 2 nights = 0 Devils.

Litoria ewingii - Tasmanian animals sound slightly higher

Litoria ewingii – Tasmanian animals sound slightly higher

Crinia tasmaniensis

Crinia tasmaniensis

Was a bit dusty when the alarm went off but again we were back at the dock at 7am for another trip on the Pauletta – http://www.paulettacharters.com/tours.html Conditions today were much better and it wasn’t long on the way out until again we had great views of a Buller’s Shearwater behind the boat which looped a bit giving everyone a good look. Soon after a small pale shearwater flew past the back of the boat which I had excellent views of – was very pale underneath with no triangle in the armpit typical of Fluttons types but had a very solid cap at eye level or lower which threw me a bit as I was used to extra white on the face from Aussie birds. It was a Little Shearwater and independent descriptions from others on the boat confirmed as likely from the Sub-antarctic elegans population. great start to the trip!

Across the rest of the day we had other excellent sightings including three Long-tailed Jaegers giving close approaches, a lovely adult Salvin’s Albatross, 3 Wandering types and best of all 2 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters which are a Mega off Tassie! although most of the boat were not impressed. Given the warmer water and birds like White-necked Petrel across the weekend I guess it was not unexpected to get Wedge-tailed Shearwater although there are actually very few records off Tassie! Jack Moorhead again proved to be an awesome Cookalaria spotter calling a Gould’s Petrel very early giving everyone the chance to get great views. Had a very relaxing trip back in interrupted by disappointing views of another Little Shearwater type. On the way back to the airport we checked out a few wader spots around Orielton Lagoon although didn’t see much wader action aside from 60 odd Pacific Golden Plovers before checking in for the flight home and a well earned beer. Thanks to Rohan for organising an awesome weekend and Simone and Lucas for letting me go! Was also very good to catch up with my Tassie pelagic friends and meet a pile of new ones. And yes – the highlight was the littlest possum….

Exulans

Exulans

Young Exulans

Young Exulans