A Nullarbor Adventure – part 2

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

This is snek!

This is snek!

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

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

Nullarbor Bearded Dragon

The infamous? tank

The infamous? tank

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

Naretha Bluebonnet

Naretha Bluebonnet

Hunting Bluebonnets

Hunting Bluebonnets

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

Freckled Sun-orchid - Jilbadgi NR

Freckled Sun-orchid – Jilbadgi NR

Road killed malleefowl

Road killed malleefowl

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

Black-footed Rock-wallaby - Mount Caroline NR

Black-footed Rock-wallaby – Mount Caroline NR

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

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

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

Motorbike Frog

Motorbike Frog

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

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

Blue Lady Sun-orchid

A Nullarbor Adventure – part 1

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

Crinia riparia - Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

Crinia riparia – Southern Flinders Ranges Froglet

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

Telowie Gorge - Rock-wallaby habitat

Telowie Gorge – Rock-wallaby habitat

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby - Telowie Gorge

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby – Telowie Gorge

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

Southern Ningaui

Southern Ningaui

Western Pygmy-possum

Western Pygmy-possum

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

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

View from the tent at Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush - Yumbarra CP

Copperback Quail-thrush – Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot - Yumbarra CP

Scarlet-chested Parrot – Yumbarra CP

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

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Dwarf Bearded Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

Peninsula Dragon

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

Nullabor Quail-thrush - record shot at best

Nullabor Quail-thrush – record shot at best

Scoping wombats - beer in hand!

Scoping wombats – beer in hand!

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork) in Victoria

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

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

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

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

Morepork at Cape Liptrap from 2015

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

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

Tasmanian Boobook near Cambarville in May 2016

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

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

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

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