A surprise bat

Last week I met up with mates Geoff Jones of Barra Imaging and Dave Stowe http://www.davidstowe.com.au/ for a quick jaunt up to Powelltown to look for Leadbeater’s Possum and any other Central Highlands targets we could find. Unfortunately it was a school night so I was late out of the city and we did not arrive up in possum country until about 8pm. At the second stop we had a very curious Sooty Owl which trilled continually as we tried to get some clear photos of it but it remained frustratingly high and in the foliage – this was a new Aussie bird for Geoff! Of note were several species of micro bat flying around which were considerably more in evidence than other recent visits – it must be getting warmer. At one stage the Sooty Owl moved to a new tree and a small mammal scampered down the trunk and launched into the air spiraling down – a Feather-tailed Glider! Too far away to see any details but will be back to see if there is a colony in the area.

A bit further up the road we stopped with the wind starting to rise and I almost immediately got onto a nice Leadbeater’s Possum which gave some good looks to Geoff and myself but unfortunately Dave missed it. We poked around here a bit and did not turn up another although did add Ringtail Possum to the evening list. Further along Dave saw what was probably a Leadbeaters Possum at a known site but unfortunately we could not get enough to confirm. A few Bobucks were in evidence but the wind was now getting quite high so we decided that we were flogging a dead horse so headed back down the mountain. We were beetling down the mountain when at one stage I was watching a micro bat flitting around in front of the car when it suddenly veered around and got caught on the aerial of the car. I shouted to stop and we bailed out to watch the death throws of the poor little animal. At the same time a Tyto owl screamed nearby which sounded very like Masked owl. There was a sequence reminiscent of Benny Hill as I tried to collect the now dead bat, photograph it, call in the owl and all the time the wind getting stronger and stronger. In the end we left the owl in the field and headed home but I will be back soon. Later at home I examined and keyed out the poor bat – forearm length and penis shape as well as pelage and face shape indicated this was a Large Forest bat – Vespadelus darlingtoni – a bat I have probably seen thousands of times as it is common in these forests but the first time I have positively identified. All in all a brief but pretty good night – still need to get Dave a Leadbeater’s on the next visit and I did manage to get a surprise bat for the year list.

Large Forest bat

Large Forest bat

Large Forest bat

Large Forest bat

Catching the spotted one

With Simone away in the USA for a couple of weeks I booked a few nights away in Tasmania for a bit of a boy’s getaway. Of course I had a slightly ulterior motive as I still really wanted to see a quoll – I had already spent a few nights in likely areas this year without success so booked a couple of places to hopefully maximize success. Lucas is rather obsessed by carnivores of all shapes and sizes so I had no complaints from him on the plan. The basic plan was to fly into Launceston with a night in the Bridport/Scottsdale area followed by two nights at the Mountain Valley Wilderness Lodge at Loongana on the recommendation of mate Stephen Kaye. The days would be filled with whatever was needed to entertain a very curious five year old. We were up early for an 8:30 am flight and landed in Launceston in near constant drizzle which soon started to clear. We headed first to Cataract Gorge to stretch our legs and here Lucas got his first Tassie endemic with Green Rosellas feeding on the lawn. Also here is a supposedly tickable population of Peafowl – they may have been here for years but they fail my two guys in a ute with shotguns wiping them out in a weekend test. Still its a nice area for a walk and was interesting to see the affects of recent flooding earlier this year – the volume of water through the Gorge must have been incredible!

Dodgy Peafowl at Cataract Gorge

Dodgy Peafowl at Cataract Gorge

After picking up a few supplies we had a pleasant drive across to Scottsdale. I was very happy en-route to hear Lucas tell me “This forest looks great for Masked Owl!” – the boy is learning! At Scottsdale we dropped in to the tourist information centre where Lucas was given an excellent poster on Tasmanian wildlife and sites to see it – tourism in Tasmania is an odd beast but this was one thing they do well. The lady here said that the ponds at the free camping area were good for Platypus so despite it being the middle of the day we wandered down for a look. No luck this time but certainly worth another look at dawn or dusk. We drove the back route C832 to Bridport as reconnaissance for spotlighting later this evening as a number of trip reports on Jon Hall’s seminal website mammalwatching.com mention this as good for Eastern Quoll and Tasmanian Bettong. The habitat on this road looked a perfect mix of woodland, plantation and agricultural land with the requisite huge amount of roadkill. We saw a number of wombats out and about during the day as well as a huge Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle which Lucas was keen to see. Then of course it was a stint at the beach where I unsuccessfully tried to rustle up a vagrant penguin in the rocks while Lucas played in the sand. I had booked an AirBnB option again which was a very nice property with good areas of bush and apparently regularly have platypus in their dams. Lucas and I poked around in the bush where we found our first Echidna although there was no sign of the other monotreme in the dams, probably still too early. We went to the bowling club for an early dinner where I had one of the best steaks I have had in a long while and Lucas had a mountain of flathead tails and chips. Right on dusk we headed out and Lucas promptly fell immediately asleep – it had been a long day. I ended up driving and spotlighting many back roads and paddocks over the next four and a half hours. During this time I saw many, many, many Tasmanian Pademelons and Brush-tailed Possums, at one stage I could spotlight 14 individual possums outside one window of the car. There were also reasonable numbers of Bennett’s Wallabies and Common Wombat and in one place a few Forester Kangaroos. The highlights had to be two Tasmanian Bettong on the edge of a paddock on the C832 which were extremely distinctive after having looked at several bazillion pademelons and wallabies over the proceeding hours and a Morepork which flew in briefly to my bad imitation of its call. But there was no quoll of any type to be had on this evening!

Nice beach at Bridport

Nice beach at Bridport

Up early we headed west stopping anywhere that looked worthwhile. We dropped into Narawntapu National Park late in the morning mostly cause I could say I had been there and for Lucas to play on the beach. We visited the ranger station and paid our dues before walking out to the birdless bird hide and then went to Bakers Beach. Despite it being the middle of the day we saw Forester Kangaroo, Tasmanian Pademelon, Common Wombat and Bennett’s Wallaby – would be good to come back and explore some of the more remote areas after dark. Four Eastern Curlew on the point at Bakers Beach were my first in Tassie – there may have been more there but I did not want to disturb them. After a long session of beach play we headed on and up into the hills towards Loongana. About halfway from Ulverstone I saw my first quoll! Unfortunately it was an ex-quoll having been hit by a car – a beautiful spotted-tailed quoll rather flat (and smelly) beside the road. We decided that the silver lining was that it showed we were coming into good quoll habitat!

An ex-quoll

An ex-quoll

We arrived at the accommodation at Loongana and met Len who gave us a tour. Len was excellent with Lucas answering the incessant questions that only a five year old can dream up. Apparently we were the first guests after a few months closed over winter so he was not sure how we would go with the animals that evening although he had been seeing and hearing devils. We had a bit of an explore before Len took us down to show Lucas his first platypus which fed happily in one of the many pools on the river. Apparently platypus number are down a bit following the floods earlier in the year but with a bit of effort I would think you could get many excellent sightings on this stretch of river. Approaching dark Len wired up some chicken frames and we sat down to watch from the comfort of the cabin with an open fire roaring and a nice cool local beer. Almost immediately I saw a quoll-like creature out of the corner of my eye approaching the bait but unfortunately it was just a tortoise-shell coloured feral cat! Over both nights we were regularly visited by three different cats which hopefully will have a conversation with the end of Len’s rifle barrel in the near future. It wasn’t long after true dark when all the pademelons bolted and in strolled a magnificent Spotted-tailed Quoll which sniffed around a bit before grabbing three bits of chicken and bolting – this was a large animal which I assume is a male. The whole experience took about 45 seconds but Lucas and I were stoked – our first quoll and there were many high fives. About 30 minutes later I spotted the quoll looping around the road again so I gave Lucas the red-light and when it came in to grab more chicken I was able to snag a few photos. The excitement of the day was too much for Lucas who crashed out soon after.

Spotted-tailed Quoll scoffing some chicken

Spotted-tailed Quoll scoffing some chicken

Despite it being early I too was struggling to keep awake with the comfortable couch and warm open fire making it hard to keep my eyes open. A couple of the largest Brush-tailed Possums I have ever seen came in and started chowing down on copious amounts of chicken. A diet of regular protein made them quite impressive animals and when the feral cats again came around they just stood up on their back legs and spread their arms as if to say “come at me”. But even these had to give way and bolt up onto the roof when a dog like critter waddled in – a Tasmanian Devil! There were actually two animals with a large mottled adult coming well into the light and a smaller all dark animal sitting back in the shadows only visible in the red light of my torch. Unfortunately the adult had a very visible facial tumour as many animals at this site apparently do. This insidious disease has now apparently spread across almost the whole state with the Tarkine and Arthur River now infected. Both animals were extremely skittish with the adult grabbing some chicken before bolting off. Twenty minutes later it came back again briefly and I was able to snap a couple of quick shots. Unfortunately around 10:30 pm I am rather embarrassed to say that my watch ended in a snoring heap only to wake up hours later with the meat all gone, fire out, cold and shivering and a sore neck – still it was well worth it!!!

Tasmanian Devil with obvious early stage facial tumour

Tasmanian Devil with obvious early stage facial tumour

We slept in a bit before getting up for a bit of a walk around the property and then heading off to Tasmazia – a crazy maze and miniature village in the middle of no where in Tasmania which Lucas loved. One thing that was apparent was that Flame Robins were back with a vengeance with many hundreds seen in paddocks as we drove around. A visit to Leven Canyon on the way back got Lucas his first Pink Robin with a nice male sitting on an open branch. We picked up a couple of bits of “fresh” roadkill for tonight’s stake out which may or may not have voided the rental agreement on the hire car. Another visit to the river and dinner and we settled down to watch over our staked out roadkill which was supplemented with some extra chicken.

Just a couple of pademelons sleeping in the boot

Just a couple of pademelons sleeping in the boot

It was a quieter start to the night with Lucas crashing out early – I was determined not to suffer the same fate as the previous night so had a number of coffees to keep me going. The feral cats were much bolder than the previous night and would not even react to a tap on the window while stealing chicken. I was sitting stretched out with feet against the window and was surprised when a different quoll to the previous night sauntered in and sniffed at my feet through the glass! A mad grab for camera only startled it and it fled – this was a clearly smaller animal than the previous night. It wasn’t long before the quoll was back sniffing around the carcasses before grabbing a couple of bits of chicken and fleeing. It came back one more time before midnight and me crashing out. I set my alarm for 2am and found that the pademelon corpses had been moved and gnawed at and all the chicken gone which made me suspect devils which was confirmed the next morning. There was no further activity that night.

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Spotted-tailed Quoll

Lucas and I left early vowing to return soon – apparently there are caves here that we need to explore! We headed up to Cradle Mountain but we didn’t really have enough time to do it justice so we headed to the excellent breeding facility devils@cradle which has displays and captive breeding programs for the three large marsupial carnivores in Tasmania – Spotted-tailed and Eastern Quolls and Tasmanian Devil. This facility is well worth a visit if you are in the area with all three species seen closeup with good commentary from clearly passionate keepers. Unfortunately we had to then track back to Launceston and a flight home but we are already planning our next trip back for Eastern Quoll and to get Lucas a wild Tassie Devil. Lucas and I can highly recommend the Wilderness Lodges at Loongana for an excellent wildlife experience and were both stoked to see our first wild quolls.

Cradle Mountain is usually covered in cloud

Cradle Mountain is usually covered in cloud

The ubiquitous Tasmanian Pademelon

The ubiquitous Tasmanian Pademelon

My 100th Aussie mammal – New Holland Mouse

A couple of years ago I saw a Blue Whale surface beside the boat on a Portland pelagic and decided it was time to start a mammal list. I have put a bit of effort this year into finding new mammals and a recent tally put me on 99 identified species. I was fortunate enough on the weekend to be able to tag along while Phoebe Burns from Melbourne University and Museum Victoria checked traps for the endangered (in Victoria) New Holland Mouse at Wilson’s Promontory National Park. I am particularly interested in this species as it used to occur at a favourite childhood haunt Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve before becoming extinct sometime in the 80’s. In Victoria the species is in considerable trouble with the only known extant populations now in the Yanakie Isthmus area of Wilson’s Prom, Providence Ponds and some parts of the Gippsland Lakes.

New Holland Mouse habitat

New Holland Mouse habitat

I was up at 5am from my sister’s holiday house at Phillip Island trekking across to Yanakie where I met up with Rohan Clarke. At 7:30 am we met up with Phoebe and her assistant Jenne and drove in to her research sites on the isthmus. Despite being a life long regular visitor to the Prom, this was one area I had never really explored so it was interesting to see the areas of long unburnt ti-tree habitat. It was a very successful morning with Phoebe finding nine New Holland Mice and a few Bush Rats in her traps. The New Holland Mouse is a very charismatic animal and was often quite chilled after release, several times running between legs as they ran off to their holes. This was my first Pseudomys and I am looking forward to seeing more of this genus of Australian native rodents. Phoebe is studying this population for her PhD and took measurements of each of the captured animals with her research important for the continued survival of this species in Victoria. A few hog deer on the way out showed that the recent culling effort has had little effect on the population.

New Holland Mouse hole

New Holland Mouse hole

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

Later in the day I dropped in at Cape Liptrap to look for whales but all I saw was a few fur-seals. A lyrebird crossing the road near the Cape was very unusual as the habitat is very strange and the species does not occur at nearby Wilsons Prom. Eventually I got my Humpback as a few were showing well off the Cape Woolamai beach back at Phillip Island. All in all a very successful day!

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse

Birding around Bangalore

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

Indian Jungle Crow

Indian Jungle Crow

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

Jungle Bush Quail

Jungle Bush Quail

Brown-capped Woodpecker

Brown-capped Woodpecker

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

Lesser Fish Eagle

Lesser Fish Eagle

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

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

Yellow-crowed Woodpecker

White-rumped Shama at nest

White-rumped Shama at nest

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

Barred Button-quail

Barred Button-quail

Wild cow encountered on foot

Wild cow encountered on foot

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

Ebird Checklist for Cauvery WLS

Silk worm cocoons

Silk worm cocoons

Pied Cuckoo

Pied Cuckoo

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

A feather for a tail

Earlier this week I knocked off work a bit early and headed up into the Central Highlands with Rohan Clarke http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ with a couple of targets in mind. We arrived at a site near the base of Lake Mountain that is known for Broad-toothed Rat and poked around a bit while waiting for dark. From here we headed out towards Woods Point stopping in likely looking habitat for owls, possum and glider. At the first stop we had a couple of Bobuck and a Greater Glider so things were off to a good start. Rohan had use of a thermal camera which again proved very good at picking up animals that otherwise would have been missed by normal spotlighting. A second stop had a calling Sooty Owl and yet more Greater Gliders and what Rohan thought was a Feather-tailed Glider but he could not relocate. This is a species which was high on my wish list so I was a bit disappointed to miss it…. but the night was young!

Bobuck

Bobuck

We moved on again to a new spot and almost immediately had good looks at a Leadbeater’s Possum flitting around. After seeing them in Tarago, Powelltown and Toolangi recently it was good to add another population to my records. We moved on and Rohan picked up a very small but hot object on the thermal camera – flicking on the headlamp I saw it was a Feather-tailed Glider which was quite light shy, zipping down the trunk and going to ground, fantastic stuff! The small eucalyptus it was in had a fair infestation of lerp which we surmised it was likely feeding on. I was elated but the twitching part of me was a bit torn – I had good views of its feather tail as it scuttled along but Feather-tailed Gliders have recently been split into two species, Narrow-toed and Broad-toed and both occur in Victoria so was unsure which I had seen. About now my head torch batteries started to die so I stopped to change them and of course Rohan located another another Feather-tailed Glider! Running across with a handful of batteries and torches there was a Feather-tailed Glider frozen in the fork of a small tree. In the excitement I did not check camera settings so the photos are not as good as they could be but were good enough to show that it was a Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider! Lifer and a very wanted tick under the belt! it gave us a good couple of minutes of viewing before vanishing into the night. We spent a fair bit of time in this area and found another couple of feather-tails which showed we must have found a good colony.

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider - Yarra Ranges State Forest

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider – Yarra Ranges State Forest

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider - Yarra Ranges State Forest

Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider – Yarra Ranges State Forest

We continued east, stopping regularly getting as far as Matlock before heading back. Plenty of Greater Gliders seen and we checked a known location for Leadbeater’s that Rohan had found previously and quickly found a couple of animals which gave a pretty good show with their diagnostic movements through the mid canopy. Another stop in a random location pulled in yet another Leadbeater’s Possum which sat and watched us for a while. We checked again the Feather-tail colony but could not locate any animals on this occasion but did hear some very distant wild dogs or dingos. Rohan tried his best howling impersonation and rather quickly the dogs came closer and closer until they were only a couple of hundred meters away. About now they must have realised they were being conned as they lost interest – still it was a fun experience! We were driving towards the campsite to call it a night when we rumbled a small looking boobook in the middle of the road. Rohan immediately suspected it a Tasmanian Boobook or Morepork and a quick couple of photos showed it to be the case with its heavily spotted underparts and phonebook yellow eyes. This is an excellent record and again is supporting evidence that small numbers of these birds winter on the Australian mainland. In many ways this was the sighting of an already excellent night!

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

We camped down towards Big River where a pair of Powerful Owls called repeatedly just before dawn which rounded the night out well. Up early and back to Melbourne in time for an 11 am meeting. All in all it was a very successful evening with 5 Feather-tailed gliders, 4 Leadbeater’s Possums, 25+ Greater Gliders, Agile Antechinus and four owl species as well as plenty of the more usual suspects. The Leadbeater’s Possum records have been reported to relevant authorities. Now it is time to find a Broad-toed Feather-tailed!

More Leadbeater’s Possum action

I had some spare time Saturday night so I headed out to the Powelltown area to meet up with a mate Stephen and two of his sons – Adam (10) and Liam (8) to try and show them a Leadbeater’s Possum or two. On the way there I tracked through Tarago State Forest and was fortunate enough to spot a Platypus in the Tarago River minutes after talking to a fisherman who told me he had never seen a platypus there as the water is too dirty. Well the water looks pretty clean to me and Tarago Reservoir is in service as part of Melbourne’s water supply so I was not surprised to see a trail of muddy water and then a beak sticking up briefly in the increasing gloom. Now I just need to find a platypus in Bunyip sometime! A Bassian Thrush on the side of the road and a few lyrebirds were nice as I zipped around to Powelltown for the 6pm meetup.

With the boys both desperately wanting to see Leadbeater’s Possum and Stephen only having seen one previously, we headed out to check out colonies found previously over the past year or so. It was a full moon night so I was a little skeptical how we would go but we pretty quickly got onto a very nice possum which sat nicely for all to see. After a couple of happy snaps it jumped even closer beside the car showing us all its diagnostic movement which best resembles a squirrel. With the main target out of the way we continued on to try and get some better views as well as try and rustle up an owl or two.

Leadbeater's Possum - Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Yarra State Forest

After a couple more stops we arrived at an area of perhaps ten year old regrowth that has been very productive on previous visits. It seems that this is a great place for possums and gliders of all shapes and sizes to travel and feed in the abundant wattle from denning sites nearby. Over a number of visits here I have found Greater, Yellow-bellied and Sugar Gliders, Ringtails and Bobucks and of course Leadbeater’s Possum – it seems as long as there are stags nearby, possums will travel to feed into areas like this. We were fortunate enough to find a number of Leadbeater’s Possums sitting low for some great views and a couple of snaps. Towards the end of this wander we watched several Leadbeater’s chase each other round, calling continuously in what appeared to be a territorial dispute. This was fascinating as it was probably the first time I have seen demonstrable interaction between individual Leadbeater’s Possums. The call was a continual staccato tsi-tsi-tsi-tsi which was very different to the drumming call I had heard in the past. Perhaps this was a territorial call, while the drumming is threat related? We had not heard a night bird of any description which is not unusual on full moon nights in my experience. I was very impressed by Adam and Liam’s knowledge, questions and discipline throughout our jaunt and I think they are both excellent young naturalists.

Leadbeater's Possum - Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater's Possum - Yarra State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Yarra State Forest

With Liam getting a bit tired we headed back to Powelltown managing a nice Southern Boobook on the way down the mountain – still we did pretty well overall – just over two hours for nine Leadbeater’s Possum! After dropping them back at their car I had a bit of decision to make about what to do next. I decided to go again to Bunyip to chase owls despite the full moon – in hindsight a bad choice. Three and half hours wandering around Bunyip produced plenty of Yellow-bellied, Greater and Sugar Gliders but I could not even get a peep out of an owl of any description. Still they will be waiting for next time….

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

Reason’s why we need a Great Forest Park – #1 – Leadbeater’s Possum

Last night I headed out to Toolangi State Forest with Rohan Clarke http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ for a night of spotlighting. Toolangi is not really a favourite site of mine due to the constant reminder of the destruction of clear fell logging with desolate coupes and immature regrowth through most of the area. Still it is the western most remaining bastion of the now critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum so it is these we targeted along with the more common forest inhabitants. The basic plan was a loop around through the forest looking for new locations and potentially following up some old ones.

Mature Mountain Ash in Toolangi State Forest

Mature Mountain Ash in Toolangi State Forest

The first few spots we tried were quiet with Bobuck, Greater and Sugar Gliders providing some interest. Rohan was using a thermal camera in the hope of picking up some interesting small mammals in the undergrowth while I used the more traditional head torch looking for eye shine higher up. A few small mammals and roosting birds were picked up with the camera which proves it can be a useful tool although I imagine you lose some of the experience of walking in the forest at night while staring at the screen. It was a seriously quiet night with not a single night bird heard or seen or Sugar Glider yap. More interestingly not a single frog was heard despite many heard on visits to other central highlands areas over the past couple of weeks. Less surprisingly microbats were not much in evidence with only a couple seen patrolling the forest roads.

We continued to try a number of new sites with no sign of Leadbeater’s Possum despite the habitat looking better although it was still not as prime looking as the areas around Poweltown. We did propose that potentially the less optimum habitat meant that the possums were in this area in lesser densities. The other theory was that they were less susceptible to our squeaking due to the time of year so went to check out a site where Rohan had previously found them. As soon as we left the car at this spot Rohan picked up one and then a second animal in quick succession – he is a jammy bastard like that! They were quite interested in us, jumping around and looking at us although not sitting close for good photos. We ended up finding 3 animals at this location and a separate animal perhaps 500 meters away which came in from a different direction. From here we tried some other prime looking areas without further success before calling it a night. All in all a successful evening for finding the 4 Leadbeater’s Possum but on the whole quite quiet for 6 hours of effort. With the recent upgrade (downgrade?) of Greater Glider to nationally vulnerable the good numbers in these forests could be important. Greater Gliders require large hollows for denning and breeding which are also important for other animals such as large forest owls so any moves to further protect the glider must also help these.

Unfortunately the possum’s did not sit for good pics but did manage a couple of ID shots below.

Leadbeater's Possum - Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater's Possum - Toolangi State Forest

Leadbeater’s Possum – Toolangi State Forest

I have to say that I was less impressed by the forest in Toolangi than area’s around Powelltown where I have been concentrating in recent times but there is still some excellent areas of mature forest. It is clearly being logged hard and even areas of regrowth don’t seem to be as diverse in structure. There also seems to be less old stags left which are important den sites for Leadbeater’s Possum. There is still clearly an important population of these animals (and others) here though that needs to be protected and protected now. There is only one way we can save the Leadbeater’s Possum and that is through protection in a properly funded Great Forest Park. Do not let their habitat and our water catchments become like the logging coupe below – it is devastation in that pic but even those “habitat trees” remaining wont be alive once the coupe is burnt. #GFNP

Recent coupe in Toolangi - not yet burnt

Recent coupe in Toolangi – not yet burnt