Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork) in Victoria

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

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

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

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

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

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

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

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

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

A few days in Snowy River Country

I was supposed to head to Gluepot for a family nature based weekend with Rohan and our two five year olds – Lucas and Aidan but the biblical level storms put paid to that idea. Instead we looked at the weather maps and headed to the one area within range that seemed to be dodging the worst of it – East Gippsland. It had been years since either of us had been to the Snowy River area so we decided to camp at McKillops Bridge and explore with the boys. This area of the Snowy River National Park is near the few extant populations of Brush-tailed Rock wallaby in Victoria and has had a spate of recent quoll sightings. We left late afternoon on a Thursday and cruised down to my parents place at Seaspray where all was quiet. We got up early and hit the beach before have a quick drive through Giffard FFR then on to Bairnsdale for supplies. After stocking up we drove to Cabbage Tree reserve for a quick visit. This area has had a lot of water lately and was quite soggy with plenty of mosquitoes around but there were few nice birds around including Scarlet Honeyeater, Rose Robin and Bassian Thrush. From here we ran up through Orbost up towards Bonang and on to McKillops Bridge through some excellent country with plenty of Red-necked and Swamp Wallabies and Eastern Grey Kangaroos as well as a few emus. After setting up camp we had a quick spotlight around the camp which was pretty quiet aside from Common Brush-tailed Possums and Rabbits. After the boys went to bed we sat around with the bat detector for a while but could not pick up anything aside from a distant Owlet-Nightjar.

Pine clad ridges

Pine clad ridges

Up early again and we headed to the Little River Gorge to try and have a look for rock wallabies along what is supposed to be one of the more dangerous gazetted roads in Victoria with very steep drop offs and narrow roads. We didn’t find any rock wallabies but Spotted Quail-thrush were plentiful and the views spectacular. We drove down to where the Little River meets the Snowy River for a bit of a paddle. The vegetation in the area is quite dry with an interesting mix of White Cypress Pine, Kurrajong and various eucalypts and the avifauna reflected this with Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters being the dominant honeyeaters in camp. In the evening we got down to the river on dusk with the bat detector and had plenty of bats flying round. Rohan got a good number of recordings but at this stage only Gould’s Wattled Bat and Vespadelus types could be confidently picked out. Further up the road we found a great little dam with 4 species of frog calling including my first Uperoleia toadlet – Uperoleia laevigata. The boys crashed out after this so we spotlit some distance up the road with 8 or 9 Sambar being a lowlight.

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

Uperoleia laevigata

There were Turquoise Parrots around the camp the next morning adding to an improving birdlist for the area. We needed fuel so drove backroads to Bombala checking culverts and under bridges and generally stopping anywhere that looked decent. Bombala is renowned for its platypus but we were there in the middle of the day so no luck this time although a couple of large Cunningham’s Skinks was a highlight. From here we cruised back through the Bendoc area which has some excellent forest which needs further exploring at some stage. We stopped at a river diversion tunnel for a bit of a splash and look around and here we had our first snakes of the trip – Lowland Copperheads. Back at camp we again headed down to the river before dusk and I was able to get excellent binocular views of Gould’s Wattled Bat, Forest Bat sp and Long-eared Bat sp zipping around before dark. We also picked up some interesting calls that will require further analysis as we spotlit along the road and back at the frog pond.

Emu

Emu

In the morning we packed up and headed for home. Unfortunately soon out of the camp area we came through an area that was affected by strong winds the night before with about 10 medium trees across the road. After a lot of cursing and swearing and effort we managed to clear a path and continue on, spending time exploring creeks and admiring the view. The road into Suggan Buggan was blocked so we went as far as we could before turning for home. Finally we found a bat roosting under a bridge – a very cool Lesser Long-eared Bat which posed for some photos. While it is a very common and widespread bat across Australia this is the first time I have seen one up close. A bit later on a nice Highland Copperhead gave some excitement as it got a little bit cranky at us watching it. From here it was onwards to home and planning the next adventure. The boys had a ball and are looking forward to going again.

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lesser long-eared bat

Lucas and a Litoria

Lucas and a Litoria

Birding around Bangalore

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

Indian Jungle Crow

Indian Jungle Crow

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

Jungle Bush Quail

Jungle Bush Quail

Brown-capped Woodpecker

Brown-capped Woodpecker

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

Lesser Fish Eagle

Lesser Fish Eagle

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

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

White-rumped Shama at nest

White-rumped Shama at nest

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

Barred Button-quail

Barred Button-quail

Wild cow encountered on foot

Wild cow encountered on foot

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

Ebird Checklist for Cauvery WLS

Silk worm cocoons

Silk worm cocoons

Pied Cuckoo

Pied Cuckoo

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Some Powerful Owl fun

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

Yellow-bellied Glider came in to greet the Powerful Owl

Yellow-bellied Glider came in to greet the Powerful Owl

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

Powerful Owl - Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl – Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl - Bunyip State Park

Powerful Owl – Bunyip State Park

One night in Deni

Last weekend I was invited to join Phil Peel and his bunch of Filthy Flockers and friends for a full days birding on the Hay Plains around Deniliquin. Phil had organised Phil Maher http://www.philipmaher.com/ to take us around for a days birding followed by an evening spotlighting for Plains Wanderer and other targets after dark. Unfortunately Plains Wanderers had not been seen for a couple of months due to the extremely dry conditions so they were not considered much of a chance but it was still worth a look. If nothing else there were a few mammals in the area I could add to my year list and a pretty good chance of Inland Dotterel and Fat-tailed Dunnart which would be lifers.

I left work early on Friday afternoon and headed up to Deniliquin which is an easy 3 hour run from Melbourne arriving just after dark for a few beers and the exchanging of some wild birding tales. Phil Maher arrived around 7:30 am and we all piled into a bus for some birding at some of his local sites – he did warn that it was very dry and was not expecting much. Still we had a good mornings birding with plenty of Superb Parrots, Bluebonnets, White-winged Fairy-wrens and White-backed Swallows being highlights. Unfortunately the bird life was a bit quiet and the area would be well worth another visit after some rain. We were dropped back for lunch which was spent consuming a rather large parma and a couple of beers at the local pub

Flockers on the loose

Flockers on the loose

We were picked up mid afternoon and headed north looking for Ground Cuckoo-shrikes. Did not find these but Red Kangaroo was new for the year list as was Western Grey Kangaroo as we entered the property on which we would be spotlighting. Phil Maher has done a lot of work getting land holders onside and getting access to these properties and the owners of this property are particularly interested in conservation. A number of the locals helped with driving us around in the evening which gives them an additional financial reason to promote a good environment for Plains Wanderers. We had an excellent meal as the sun set and then headed out for the evening spread across four vehicles. We quite quickly found a lovely pair of Inland Dotterel which is a bird I had wanted to see since I was a young boy! They are fantastically camouflaged and would have easily been missed if they had not moved. We had an excellent photography session with the pair before leaving them in peace.

Inland Dotterel - Deniliquin area

Inland Dotterel – Deniliquin area

We then headed to what had been a reliable Plains Wanderer paddock up until a few months ago and the 4 cars split up to quarter the paddocks. Pretty quickly I spotted the eyeshine of a small mammal which was a Fat-tailed Dunnart! but it disappeared quickly down a hole. Not to worry, the other cars soon had one out in the open so we zipped across and were able to get a few nice photos of a very cute little carnivore. Apparently Narrow-nosed Planigales also inhabit these plains but Phil had only seen twice in the last 10 years so would be a real fluke to see without a concerted effort. There were good numbers of microbats around with White-striped Free-tailed Bats calling overhead and small grey fluttery ones which were likely Lesser Long-eared Bats. We scoured the paddock for a couple of hours picking up more dunnarts before calling it a night content that we had given it a good go. A celebratory beer for an excellent bird in the Inland Dotterel and we were already planning our next visit for Plains Wanderer.

Fat-tailed Dunnart - Deniliquin area

Fat-tailed Dunnart – Deniliquin area

On Sunday I eventually rolled out of bed and after a Maccas coffee started to head home. I checked out a few area of Red Gum forest between Deni and the border without finding too much of note so I decided to head to the Kamarooka area north of Bendigo. Kamarooka was the driest and quietest I have known it in well over 10 years of regular visits. In fact the Distillery Dam was completely dry! Still with a bit of effort I was able to turn up a few nice birds including Hooded Robins, Shy Heathwren, Jilberts Whistler and Variegated Fairy-wren. It was so quiet I didn’t stay too long and headed for home. Thanks to Phil Peel for the invite!

Distillery Dam - dry as a dead dingo's donger!

Distillery Dam – dry as a dead dingo’s donger!

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