Westland Petrel – another cracker of a weekend in Tassie

Late in April I headed down for another double-header Eaglehawk Neck pelagic weekend with two boat trips and the usual associated night time misadventures. Earlier in the year I had racked up my 700th Aussie bird species with Black-bellied Storm-petrel on another one of these weekends. April-May are good months for a couple of my last few semi-regular South-East Australian species in Southern Fulmar and Westland Petrel so with a good forecast was keen to get out. Rohan Clarke picked me up from the airport Friday afternoon and we headed down to the Lufra. The whole Tasman Peninsula was packed out for a massive tuna fishing competition and there was many a bourbon and coke being consumed in the car park. The night was young so we teamed up with Gus and Elliot for a bit of spotlighting through the suburban limits of Eaglehawk Neck. We started off with the usual Pademelon’s, Brushtails and Bennett’s Wallabies before graduating to Eastern-barred Bandicoot and then a nice Tassie Morepork showing well. I was of course taking a nature break when Rohan picked up a Pygmy-possum in the thermal camera which turned out to be a lovely Eastern Pygmy-possum – a Tassie first for me. It gave good views as it crept back into cover in someone’s front yard. A bit further on a roosting Sea-eagle rounded out a very good evening of suburban spotlighting.

Up early and onto the Pauletta we headed out into very calm conditions cruising past the Hippolytes and then deviating to a group of albatross. Around here the deckhand Hugh started tossing out a bit of berley which got a number of the albatross following us for much of the day. We were at about 250 fathoms when Gus spotted a large pale shearwater way back in the wake which was initially called as a Buller’s. Boat stopped and the bird started to fly in while many of us grabbed cameras. It was only when it landed on the water that we realised it was in fact a Great Shearwater – a mega more often found in the Atlantic Ocean. I had seen previously during the influx in April 2011 but a very good bird to connect with again. It flew off and we continued to the shelf, all in a bit of a shock.

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

We had a very nice, pleasant day at the shelf with some excellent birds including a couple of confiding Providence Petrels and a number of great albatross including Southern Royal, Wandering and Gibson’s. There were good numbers of White-chinned Petrel throughout the day and I spent a lot of time checking them again and again for Westland. A very good day in glassy very flat conditions which made us wish for a little more wind or swell.

Providence Petrel - shit shot but finally have in pixels

Providence Petrel – shit shot but finally have in pixels

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Eventually it was time to head in and we were all slightly flat – there had been plenty of birds all day and of course the early morning mega but something seemed to be missing. As we crossed over the shelf and into offshore waters both Rohan and I immediately picked up on an incoming Procellaria with a darkened billtip and started taking photos. The bird clearly had a different flight jizz to White-chinned being slightly heavier and build yet lighter in flight. The billtip was confusing being black on one side yet worn and light on the other. Examination on the back of cameras had us pretty certain it was a Westland Petrel yet not 100% sure. The bird stuck around for a number of passes allowing many pics to be taken. Later on the computer it was clear this was a Westland Petrel and a very well wanted lifer confirmed.

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel - the bad side

Westland Petrel – the bad side

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

We headed down the peninsula for a good pub meal and a celebratory lifer beer (or two) before heading out for a few hours spotlighting. We headed out the Taranna Forest Drive where we had plenty of the usual suspects as well as several Morepork’s showing and giving a good call repertoire. The highlight of the night was yet another Little Pygmy-possum no more than the size of my thumb picked up in the thermal camera frozen against a thin trunk. Two Pygmy-possum species in a weekend is pretty special.

Up early again and out on the Pauletta where there was slightly more wind and swell than the previous day but conditions were still very benign. It was still another excellent day at sea with an even more diverse species list than the previous day. An early Westland Petrel got things going, one of perhaps four we had for the day. At our deepest berley point we had an excellent flyby of a Cook’s Petrel which a very late record for this species off Eaglehawk Neck. Other pelagic highlights included both Royals, two Wandering types and the usual suite of species. At one stage we had many hundreds of Common Dolphins passing by the boat in a large mega herd which was very cool. On the way back in we had a couple of flybys of another Great Shearwater! probably the same bird as yesterday but who knows? Probably the only disappointment for the weekend was the lack of large cetaceans despite perfect spotting conditions – we later found out that tuna boats had seen both Orcas and a very large Blue Whale which we must have just missed.

After a coffee it was back to the airport and the flight home. Already looking forward to the next weekend down here!

Ebird lists: DAY 1 and DAY 2

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Westland Petrel

Short-tailed Shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Buller's Albatross

Buller’s Albatross

Parasuta flagellum – a new snake

Last weekend Lucas and I had a spare day and he was pretty keen to head to the Western Treatment Plant as we hadn’t been there for ages. As we arrived it started pouring with rain and that was a theme for the visit – moments of brilliant sunshine followed by pouring rain. We first headed out to Kirk Point where a late pale Arctic Jaeger provided some interest. I think the main reason Lucas likes the WTP is he gets to sit in the front as we drive around and today was no exception. Nothing particularly exciting on the bird front but we set ourselves a modest target of 60 species for the visit.

Whistling Kite

Whistling Kite

Eventually with not much activity we started to head out but stopped in an area with plenty of rocks and rubbish scattered around. Lucas is always up for a good flip so we went for a wander to see what we could find. Plenty of centipedes, crickets and roaches as well as the odd unidentified nest which i assumed were house mice although they did not smell. Eventually I flipped a cracked and broken bit of masonry and found a snake! Looking at the dark crown and tiny size I immediately assumed it was a juvenile Eastern Brown Snake. Unfortunately it slipped down a crack in the ground before I could snag a photo so we moved on. We soon found another somewhat larger specimen which allowed a couple of photos before it to found a crack to disappear. I wasn’t entirely sure of ID so sent a few text pics to some wiser heads who confirmed the snakes were in fact Little Whip Snakes – Parasuta flagellum – which was a new snake for Lucas and I. We were pretty stoked so celebrated with some junk food on the way home after also meeting out 60 bird species target.

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Parasuta flagellum

Of Mice and Men – a week in the desert

Back in September Rohan Clarke and I hit the road again with a rather loose itinerary. We were to spend a week getting up to Alice Springs searching for critters then I would fly back and Rohan’s family would fly in for a family holiday. We hadn’t done nearly enough research but had a basic idea that we would run up to Coober Pedy and then slow down checking out such places as Oodnadatta, Mount Dare and Old Andado for some cool members of the rodent and dasyurid family as well as some of the key birds and anything else we could find. We left after work on a Tuesday and drove up to Mildura where the mammal list was kicked off with such luminaries as House Mouse and Fox – a few Barn Owls were slightly better. We didn’t dally much, stopping for supplies in Port Augusta but keen to kill some kilometers.

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

The second night we stopped and camped down a side road off the highway north of Pimba. Some nice birds around with the highlight being Ground Cuckoo-shrike. Later that night we had the first test drive of a car mounted thermal camera which had almost immediate success with a roosting Bourke’s Parrot! We had a number of small mammal hits including a lovely Bolam’s Mouse – a new Pseudomys for me and the first lifer of the trip! Next morning we were up early running up to Coober Pedy through scads of Budgies. At the well known cairn site south of the town we quickly had great views of Thick-billed Grasswren – lifer! But after several hours of searching we had no luck with Chestnut-breasted Whiteface and had to kick on. A quick stop for ice at Coober Pedy and we headed out onto the featureless expanse of the gibber plains. At the first change in scenery at a dry river crossing we stopped and got onto a couple of Gibberbirds – second lifer of the day!

Gibber

Gibber

Once we got off the featureless plains we had some excellent birding with plentiful Thick-billed Grasswrens, Bourkes Parrots, Cinnamon Quail-thrush and Rufous Fieldwren. That evening we did about 40 km of spotlighting through gibber and clay plains seeing many small mammals on the thermal camera but frustratingly could only get onto a couple – Fat-tailed Dunnart and Desert Short-tailed Mouse. The mouse was my second new rodent of the trip and a very interesting animal that would almost go to sleep when pinned in the spotlight!

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

The next morning we were up early finding more Thick-billed Grasswrens – they seemed to be in every single area of saltbush as well as more Bourke’s Parrots. We rolled into Oodnadatta and I thought the sign said “dirtiest town in Australia” – well at least they embrace it! (it actually said driest town in Aus) After a late breakfast we kicked on into Witjira National Park where Cinnamon Quail-thrush was probably the most common bird! We had a well needed soak at Dalhousie Springs in the lovely warm water where Freckled and Pink-eared Ducks were nice additions. Dinner was at Opossum Waterhole where the first dingo of the trip kept an eye on us. Plenty of raptors around the “waterhole” which had dried down to about the size of a billiard table. After dark we had about 20 Barn Owls come into drink as well as a couple of Spotted Nightjars flitting round. Many bats cruising around – will have to see what the bat detector comes back with. We spotlit from here to Mount Dare arriving sometime after 11pm with the pub still open! A highlight was spotlighting a couple of Bustard in flight but we didn’t have much success with only the odd rodent type detected.

Big Country

Big Country

Woke up early at Mount Dare and what a place! There were tonnes of water dependent birds like Budgies and Zebra Finches as well as plenty of raptors including a very open pair of Black Falcons. We were packing up when Rohan shouted “Flock Bronzewing!” and sure enough a male flew in and did a few laps around the campsite – beautiful bird and another lifer! We ended up having at least three birds kicking around until we set off exploring. We did a fair bit of recce for spotlighting that evening an eventually headed over the border into the dune country of the western Simpson Desert. At the first really decent cane grass covered dune we stopped and almost immediately found a group of Eyrean Grasswren – lifer number 2 for the morning! We spent a lot of time exploring the area and saw plenty of Grasswrens but getting a photo was another matter. A Black-breasted Buzzard circled above us a time. We headed back to Mount Dare for a pub meal watching Collared Sparrowhawks chase Zebra Finches while we waited for dark.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

After dark we almost immediately started to have success with first a House Mouse near the settlement then Fat-tailed Dunnart and Desert Short-tailed Mouse soon after. But what we were really after soon fell with Plain’s Mouse seen well sitting outside their burrows. This was a new rodent for both Rohan and myself. It is a large Pseudomys the size of a small hamster and was very charismatic – definite highlight of the trip. We found they were in colonies and would find small clusters of them. We were poking around one of the colonies when a Tyto owl flew over us looking rather long legged. Did not think much of it until a bit later we found it sitting on the road before flushing off looking rather dark for a Barn Owl but still we didn’t quite twig. It wasn’t til we followed it and spotlit it sitting on the plain that we realised it was a beautiful dark-faced female Grass Owl! This is quite a mega bird for South Australia and was clearly here hunting the various rodent types around. We tried for quite a while to get photos and while getting some great views of it in flight could not get a pic. Still a very, very successful night!

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Plains Mouse

Plains Mouse

Up early we headed back into dune country to again get acquainted with Eyrean Grasswrens – I walked across 4 different cane grass covered dunes systems and each had a family of grasswrens, there must be huge numbers across the Simpson. After a late breakfast and another coffee we cruised up to Old Andado stopping along the way wherever birding looked half decent. At Old Andado the caretaker regaled us with tales of shooting out engine blocks of itinerant city folk as we had a look around the old homestead. From here we went up to the Mac Clark Reserve which was something of a bucket list item for me – for some reason I had always wanted to visit this stand of waddy wood acacia – probably because it is a well known site for Letter-winged Kite! We had a good explore but could not dig up a kite but found a great spot for dinner by an old tank. After dark things really hotted up with Sandy Inland Mouse (tick!), Spinifex Hopping-mouse (tick!) and Plains Mouse falling quickly. The Hopping-mouse and Plains Mice were particularly common on the plains around Mac Clark.

One off the bucket list

One off the bucket list

Sandy Inland Mouse

Sandy Inland Mouse

Despite the many distractions we decided to spotlight the whole way back to Old Andado. Sometime after midnight I started dropping in and out of sleep while Rohan was a trooper and kept on scanning. At 2am we stopped for a very good signal which happened to be two Kultarr mating!! One of my most wanted to see species and we had two of them mating! It was quite a violent affair with the female looking rather disheveled when the male abandoned her and bolted off! Great experience capping off a very successful night!

Kultarr mating!

Kultarr mating!

Woke up late the next morning and decided to have a rather quiet day around the homestead to recharge the batteries. It was sometime around lunchtime I decided to have a quiet toilet break when Rohan yells out “GREY FALCON!!” – so in a seen reminiscent of a Carry On movie I run out of the toilet with pants falling around my ankles to get my second ever and best to date views of one of the best birds in Australia! It banked around a few times before disappearing not to be seen again. The caretaker was less impressed and seemed to be eyeing off our engine block for a bit of target practice. Later he relented and let us know a good bit of dune country to start our spotlighting while he headed off to Mount Dare to get on the piss. We headed out there late afternoon picking up some more Eyrean Grasswrens while waiting for dark.

Some evening stops were ok

Some evening stops were ok

A rather sexy gecko

A rather sexy gecko

We had a very successful night spotlighting with probably 100+ Spinifex Hopping-mouse, Kultarr, Fat-tailed Dunnart and other interesting stuff including a number of geckos and a very fat feral cat. Up early we headed out to Kulgera via Finke stopping anywhere we saw birds. At Erldunda we had the first mobile reception in about 5 days which was put to good use gripping off a few people. For the last night we headed out west of Erldunda to a dried salt lake surrounded by samphire, chenopod and mature spinifex – what looked like perfect habitat for a certain bird popping up in recent times. While we didn’t have luck with that bird we did see some cool stuff with highlights including Desert Mouse (tick!) and a probably ningaui in the spinifex that we couldn’t quite get onto. A very enjoyable night of bashing spinifex followed by drinking beer and telling a few tales under the stars.

The master at work

The master at work

Desert Mouse

Desert Mouse

The next day we cruised back to Alice Springs arriving a bit after lunchtime. We did check out the caves south of town for bats but they were pretty trashed and full of rubbish and burnt stuff. Checked into a cabin at the Big4 and hit the pub after a shower and a swim. The next day I had a relaxed time around Alice drinking coffee at the Botanic Gardens and catching up with Mark Carter. Black-footed Rock-wallaby eating pancakes and a Euro rounded out the trip list. Thanks to Rohan for an awesome trip and to Simone and Lucas for letting me go! Seven new mammals and four new birds plus change made for a very successful jaunt!

Mammalwatching.com trip report

All birds are listed in eBird

Little Button-quail - about the only bird pic I took all trip!

Little Button-quail – about the only bird pic I took all trip!

Bettongs and Antechinus – a Pelagic Weekend in Tassie

Last weekend I was back down to Tasmania again for another double header pelagic trip out of Eaglehawk Neck. With the bitterly cold temperatures hopes were high that we would get some good seabirds. I flew into Hobart early on Friday picking up Max Breckenridge and a hire car. We checked out wader sites around Orielton where we found some Double-banded Plovers which was new for my Tassie list. Later we did the Weilangta Forest Drive and looped around to Gould’s Lagoon – birding was quiet but we saw a few nice things. After picking up Rohan we headed up Mount Wellington to look for Long-tailed Mouse – very much speculative but Rohan had a thermal camera so was worth a shot. No luck with the mouse but we did have a very nice Dusky Antechinus propped in a tree. The Tasmanian Dusky Antechinus is mooted as a split so it was good to see. I have also never seen a Dusky Antechinus in a tree in Victoria so interesting behaviour. An Eastern Barred Bandicoot near the summit was a nice addition and the mammal list was starting to tick along.

Dusky Antechinus

Dusky Antechinus

Up early and onto the boat for what ended up being a very quiet day at sea which was quiet surprising considering there was a bit of swell and a cold southerly blowing. Despite 6 layers including 3 fleeces it was very cold! Highlights of the day included a Northern Royal and three New Zealand Wandering Albatross. A very pleasant day at sea but low species numbers and diversity. After a good steak at the Lufra we headed out to search for the Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus which has recently been split from the main form. This is notoriously difficult to find with only a couple of specimens caught during extensive study effort. Despite this we were bullish and armed with the thermal camera and site locations we had a good crack. No antechinus but we did find several Little Pygmy-possums. After finding them last year and earlier this year there would seem to be a very good population on this peninsula. It was only 2 degrees outside but these tiny little mammals were still active! A lost flash had us searching and getting to bed later than expected but that is standard disruption for a night spotlighting on the Tasman peninsula!

Little Pygmy-possum

Little Pygmy-possum

It was freezing the next morning and I did not want to get out of bed…. Still once on the water hopes were again high that we would do better than yesterday. Early on the signs were good as we got a Providence Petrel at the first stop. But it was a false dawn as things became very quiet during the day. Probably the same Northern Royal Albatross from the previous day livened things up briefly but again diversity and numbers were very low for an Eaglehawk pelagic. With a late flight out of Hobart we had a few hours to chase something so decided on Gravelly Ridge which is about thirty minutes north of the airport. We arrived just on dark and almost immediately got onto a Morepork which was a new bird for Max. We only had an hour or so but made the most of it with about six Eastern Bettong seen in the park itself. These are certainly a candidate for the cutest mammal in Australia. One small group comprised two adults and a young animal. The dry forest with decent cover in this location seems perfect for bettongs.

Eastern Bettong

Eastern Bettong

We had commented that the edge farmland habitat around the park looked perfect for Eastern Quoll and sure enough we had a lovely dark adult animal crossing the road on the way out. We abandoned the car and piled out after it and while it showed some interest in our squeaking it disappeared into the night. Any night you see a quoll is a successful night! Back to the airport in plenty of time for a delayed flight. Thanks to Max and Rohan for being excellent pelagic/spotlighting companions and to Angus McNab for some great intel.

See quoll - abandon car!

See quoll – abandon car!

Cheating a bit - here's a dark Eastern Quoll from earlier in the year

Cheating a bit – here’s a dark Eastern Quoll from earlier in the year

A Letter-winged Kite in Victoria

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

Moat 1 - Tim 0

Moat 1 – Tim 0

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

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

Letter-winged Kite

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!