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

Epic couple of days

At the start of last year if you told me I would have had been able to see and photograph a wild Leadbeater’s Possum at close range I would probably not have believed you. But thank’s to the excellent field skills of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ – I was able to spend a number of nights out in the Mountain ash forests around Melbourne having close encounters with Leadbeater’s Possum and even getting a couple of reasonable images. If it was possible to get good photos of the “critically endangered” Leadbeater’s Possum we wondered if the same could be done for another endangered possum – the Mountain Pygmy-possum. I spent a fair bit of time researching online information and chatting to some people in the know and hatched a plan to try and see Mountain Pygmy-possum in Victoria – Simon Mustoe http://simonmustoe.wildiaries.com/ was particularly helpful. Rohan and I had set a few days aside at the start of the New year to have a crack in the Victorian High Country but the report of the first Paradise Shelduck for the mainland turning up at Lake Wollumbulla in NSW caused a change of plan. The Shelduck is usually only found in New Zealand and there had been no confirmed mainland records for Australia so the bird was well lost. We would drive up to Lake Wollumbulla on New Years Day, twitch the duck and then head to Kosciusko National Park for one night trying to find the Mountain Pygmy-possum – sounds easy really.

It was somewhat strange to go to a New Year’s Eve party and hardly drink but it meant I could be up at a reasonable hour on New Year’s day for the trip up the Hume. We arrived with a couple of hours of daylight left and quickly found the duck and were able to spend a fair bit of time with it without interruption. We were somewhat surprised at the lack of people looking for the duck but I guess the Sydney locals would have already twitched it and the interstaters were still coming. At this point I realised I could no longer claim to have never gone interstate to twitch a vagrant bird – the start of a slippery slope towards becoming a twitcher perhaps? On the way out in the increasing gloom we managed to pick out the other famous vagrant at the site at the moment – the Hudsonian Godwit – a bird that more normally inhabits the Americas. I had seen a couple of times before in Victoria but it was still very nice to see. We spent a few hours spotlighting in the State Forest and National Park south of Lake Wollumbulla without much success – most of the forest roads were gated and there was ridiculous amounts of traffic on the roads for the time of night.

Paradise Shelduck

Paradise Shelduck – a long way from home

Up at dawn we were back at the duck and were able to spent a good couple of hours observing and photographing the bird. It was very wary and alert which made approach difficult and again was a point to it being a wild bird. Lake Wollumbulla is a great place with tonnes of birds and with the extra attention of birders is bound to turn up more interesting sightings over the next few years. As we left the first birders started to arrive with quite a crowd building up. The drive to Kosciusko was interesting, passing through a number of National Parks and reserves. At Jerrawangala National Park I saw my first Rockwarbler in over ten years at a site which must be getting close to the southern most part of their range.

Rohan approaching the duck

Rohan approaching the duck

After a stop off in Cooma for lunch and supplies we made it to the might Kosciusko National Park with plenty of time for reconnaissance and exploration. I had never been to this area before and it is quite spectacular – will need to return sometime to further explore. We identified a couple of rocky boulder/scree slopes with low heathy vegetation that is supposed to be the preferred habitat of the pygmy-possum. On dark we setup in locations with a good view of area to listen, watch and wait. The weather was closing in fast and the radar showed significant rain on the way. The first small mammal seen was a Bush Rat which seems to be quite common at this altitude. White-striped Freetail Bats were clicking around, several times nearly running into me – with no tree canopy they were much easier than normal to get a spotlight on. Eventually after hearing many soft little noises of small mammals we were able to get fleeting then excellent views and even photographs of the Mountain Pygmy-possum in between squalls of wind and rain. This had to be one of my best wildlife experiences to date and there were two very happy observers! I was extremely happy to get the few photos below – I missed the tail but I can live with that. I was quite surprised how chunky the animals were but I guess they need serious fat reserves to survive winters at this location.

Mountain Pygmy-possum

Mountain Pygmy-possum playing peekaboo

We ended up being quite fortunate with the weather because no sooner had we packed up the camera gear and got in the car that the rain really started to pour down. We spent a bit of time driving around in the rain listening for the endangered subspecies alpina of the Verreaux’s Tree Frog without any luck – all we heard were a few Crinia’s. Still we could hardly complain after the cracking success of the evening! Further spotlighting and slow driving found some more common mammals including Wombat, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Red-necked Wallaby, Swamp Wallaby, Brush-tailed Possum and near the park entrance a small group of Fallow Deer expanding their range. We drove the back route through the south of Kosciusko National Park to get home the next day which was impressive and had a brief stop at Burrowa-Pine National Park in NE Victoria which will require further exploration in the future. All in all a very successful couple of days and now time to work on the next target 😉

Mountain Pygmy-possum

Mountain Pygmy-possum coming out to play

Mountain Pygmy-possum

Mountain Pygmy-possum is curious

Mountain Pygmy-possum

Mountain Pygmy-possum posing on stage

A record of Australian Sea Lion in Victoria

On the 10th of January on a monthly BirdLife Australia pelagic trip we found an adult female Australian Sea Lion hauled out on Lawrence Rocks near Portland. Australian Sea Lions are Australia’s only endemic pinniped and are considered rare visitors to Victoria with only rare stragglers occasionally seen on beaches and at fur seal colonies in the SW of the state. Their nearest breeding sites are on Kangaroo Island with other sites around Port Lincoln and in southwest WA. We previously had another female Sea Lion on Lawrence Rocks on October 7th 2012. Lawrence Rocks also had its usual crew of Australian (Cape) Fur Seals as well as at least one New Zealand Fur Seal which together with a number of Short-beaked Common Dolphins and a small pod of Long-finned Pilot Whale made for a good mammal day at sea. Unfortunately birds were of low diversity across the day with 6 Wandering type albatross being the main interest.

Australian Seal Lion - Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Australian Seal Lion – Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Australian Seal Lion - Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Australian Seal Lion – Lawrence Rocks, Vic

Probable adult female antipodensis Wandering type albatross

Probable adult female antipodensis Wandering type albatross

An adequate night out

With Simone safely shipped off to Paris, Lucas and I headed down to Seaspray for a few nights with Mum and Dad at the holiday house.The water levels at Seaspray were as low as I have ever seen them and aside from an impressive 500+ Banded Stilt there were no waders of note. I did spend an afternoon and then a few hours spotlighting in Giffard FFR and surrounding areas of Mullungdung State Forest as I had heard tasty rumours of Masked Owl and i was keen to check the swamps for Uperoleia tyleri which had been photographed a couple of years back. However the swamps were bone dry and the forest largely silent after dark with many foxes and three cats being a concern – the only nighttime observation of note were 14 separate wombats (all alive for a change) and the only frog calling was Crinia signifera.

Red-bellied black snake

Red-bellied black snake

After a couple of excellent mornings at the beach with Lucas I had a leave pass so decided to duck off a mere three hours up the coast to Cape Conran for a touch of spotlighting. On the way I stopped at an old favourite, Fairy Dell and while it was in the heat of the day I still had some nice birds including Leaden Flycatcher and Black-faced Monarch. A further brief stop at Cabbage Tree walk added Scarlet Honeyeater and Brush Cuckoo as well as the more usual suspects. I didn’t do any targeted daylight birding in Cape Conran Coastal Park but still managed some nice birds including a couple of Turquoise Parrots on Cabbage Tree Road and a nice pair of very vocal Beautiful Firetails. A work mate was staying at Conran Camp Ground so I dropped in for a few beers and an excellent evening meal. I set off a bit before dusk to drive to my “secret spot” arriving as the Crescent Honeyeaters were Egypting themselves to sleep. The Crescents were still calling as the White-throated Nightjars arced up, bubbling away in the distance – I did have a brief flyby but I had more impressive targets on my mind. Pretty soon a Sooty Owl called and a large female owl landed quite a way back. I could tell she was agitated as she kept looking around and was not really interested in my squeaking and would not come closer for photos. The reason for the agitation became apparent as two Masked Owl called from either side of the location, first hissing and then cackling repeatedly. The Masked Owl that I decided was male flew in cackling and the Sooty Owl immediately decamped, flying off into the night screaming her displeasure – for the remainder of the time I was here she remained perhaps 150 meters away screaming every few minutes – this is a call I rarely hear closer to Melbourne so I assume it is threat related.

Sooty Owl - taken last year in same location

Sooty Owl – taken last year in same location

High above my head I had a second Masked Owl cackling away and I was able to spotlight what I assume was the female circling high above like a seagull. She seemed to be darker than the first bird and eventually she had enough and flew somewhere up the hill where she continued to hiss intermittently for the next half hour. Which left me with the male – he was in for the long haul and continued to cackle repeatedly – any noise would set him off – even me explaining to him what a pretty boy he was and he would cackle repeatedly. I had a good half hour with this magnificent owl as he occasionally changed perches but all the while cackling to me as I first squeaked and then just started talking to him. Eventually I said enough was enough so I bid him adieu – he continued to cackle at me as I got into the car and drove further afield.

Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

Australian Masked Owl

I drove to another site a few kilometers away towards Orbost and lay back on the bonnet of the car and listened for a time until I heard a distant scream. A quick call and I very quickly had two Masked Owl cackling and circling well above my head. They eventually settled well away and continued to hiss but with the scrub being rather thick and already having good shots I moved on. I was also on the lookout for frogs and as I was driving along I heard Litoria nudidigita calling from a roadside wetland so pulled over for a poke around. Almost immediately I heard what I believe to be a Uperoleia calling – here it is likely to be the very rare and range restricted martini which I was very keen to see and photograph. A quick switch to macro lens and I started to poke around – I was sure I could hear two frogs calling. Unfortunately I quickly ended up in the water and despite the heat of the recent days it was dark, dank and very cold and around scrotum deep. The calls of the frog are quite ventriloquil and were calling from deep inside thick vegetation and eventually I had to admit defeat although I will return better prepared and with backup.

I continued to pot around and eventually looped back to the Cabbage Tree Walk where a Boobook and Sooty Owl were calling incessantly. By now the moon was well up and it was past 2 am so I rolled out the swag, quite satisfied that I had had an adequate night.

Masked Owl says goodnight

Masked Owl says goodnight

Pilot Whales off Portland

Well here it is – first post on a new blog – lets see how we go.

Last Sunday 13/12/2015 a group of 10 birders were out on the “Timaru” from Portland in South-west Victoria. This is a new boat for us so we are still training the crew on what is required for a successful pelagic birding trip and they are learning fast. Unfortunately on this trip we had no shark liver and only fish frames for berley which may have affected our ability to attract and hold birds around the boat. However conditions were very calm, with very little swell or wind and on such days birds are often reluctant to feed anyway. After an uneventful trip out (aside from good numbers of Great-winged Petrel well inside the shelf) and first stop beyond the shelf it was decided to move out deeper looking for birds.

Great-winged Petrel

Great-winged Petrel

We were motoring to a second spot when the call went out for “Whales!” The boat quickly stopped and through binoculars I immediately saw the curved dorsal fin and bulbous black head of what I was sure were pilot whales. Over the next 15 minutes we observed many animals around the boat but all kept at least 100 meters away at all times. It was hard to estimate numbers but there was at least 20 animals but probably more. There was clearly a variety of sizes ranging from very small where the dorsal fin barely came above the water to very large with big hook backed fins. Many bad photos were taken due to the distance but zooming in we could see the distinctive white saddle behind the dorsal fin on some animals which combined with the bulbous head confirmed them as pilot whales. The next question was “what kind of pilot whale?”, as the two species, long-finned and short-finned are notoriously difficult to split in the field. it would seem that short-finned pilot whale has never been recorded in Victoria, being a largely sub-tropical and tropical species while there are many records of long-finned pilot whale, particularly in the Bonney Upwelling where we were. In addition experts who have looked at the photos agree they are long-finned, so long-finned they are! A new mammal for me and suddenly the pelagic was looking right up. The animals lingered for perhaps 15 minutes, mainly logging on the surface before quietly slipping from sight. Cetaceans aside from Common Dolphin are a special event on Portland pelagics and these pilot whales joined a list of others I have seen in recent years including Blue, Fin, Southern Right, Humpback and Killer whales.

Pilot whale Pod

Pilot whale Pod

Pilot whale

Pilot whale showing saddle

Long-finned Pilot Whale

Long-finned Pilot Whale

Once the pilot whales disappeared things did improve on the birding front. Across the whole day a highlight was the large numbers of Great-winged Petrels – conservatively we would have seen at least 250 including disturbing some large rafts but the number could easily be higher than that. Other highlights included three White-headed Petrels, only the second time I have seen these on a Victorian pelagic and a very nice Wandering Albatross with a nearly white tail. On the boat we decided this was an “exulans” or true Wanderer and was a very nice bird that made several passes. A good bit of time at Lawrence Rocks and we made it back to Portland. With the promise of shark liver on the next pelagic I am looking forward to January.

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross + sea lice

Wandering Albatross + sea lice

Wandering Albatross cruising by

Wandering Albatross cruising by