Of Mice and Men – a week in the desert

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

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

Reptiles were in short supply on this trip

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

Gibber

Gibber

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

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

Desert Short-tailed Mouse

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

Big Country

Big Country

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

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

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

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Plains Mouse

Plains Mouse

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

One off the bucket list

One off the bucket list

Sandy Inland Mouse

Sandy Inland Mouse

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

Kultarr mating!

Kultarr mating!

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

Some evening stops were ok

Some evening stops were ok

A rather sexy gecko

A rather sexy gecko

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

The master at work

The master at work

Desert Mouse

Desert Mouse

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

Mammalwatching.com trip report

All birds are listed in eBird

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

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

Bettongs and Antechinus – a Pelagic Weekend in Tassie

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

Dusky Antechinus

Dusky Antechinus

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

Little Pygmy-possum

Little Pygmy-possum

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

Eastern Bettong

Eastern Bettong

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

See quoll - abandon car!

See quoll – abandon car!

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

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

A mystery solved

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to Euroa with Scott and left with a bit of a mystery. I had seen small, agile and very fast mammals running round in the top of a eucalypt without getting good looks. By process of elimination on range and behaviour I thought they must be Feathertail Gliders but something in the back of my mind did not sit right. So I hit up Rohan Clarke for a bit of a jaunt up the Hume. We got out of Melbourne a bit later than expected getting onsite after 7pm. A scan of the relevant tree from last time with the thermal camera revealed nothing. We decided to walk the roadside reserve and quickly Rohan spotted some hot spots in the thermal camera. Flicking on the red light we observed an Antechinus type which on ranged is probably Yellow-footed. Further on he started to pick up many house mice including a number quite high in vegetation.

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

We meandered along for several hours and found three different Squirrel Gliders as well as more common things. The Squirrel Gliders were high in eucalypts feeding on sap and gave great views if a little high for good photos. I believe these three to be different individuals to the last visit so confirms a good population in this area and shows the value of these remnant roadside vegetation. Somewhat surprisingly there was very little bat activity compared to two week previously despite conditions being very similar.

Eventually I spotlit a small mammal high in a eucalypt and got a little excited. Some more observation showed further small, fast mammals in the tree. Unfortunately when we finally got a light on them they turned out to be house mice! They are not normally known to inhabit the high branches of a mature tree but here they were. After some double (and triple) checking we realised the mystery from last time was solved and headed for home. Not quite the result we were after but any night you see three endangered Victorian Squirrel Gliders is a good night!

The Squirrel Glider – an endangered Victorian

Late last year I spent an evening around Euroa looking for Squirrel Glider with Scott Baker and Owen Lishmund without success. The weather was looking pretty foul around Melbourne but a quick check of the weather forecast showed it likely much better north of the divide so I hit up Scott for another crack. I picked him up about 5pm and we headed up the Hume arriving onsite west of Euroa a bit before 7pm. This is an area of remnant roadside vegetation and easements with some excellent old growth box and other eucalypt species with a high density of hollows. Leaving the car we quickly saw a number of Ringtail and Brushtail possums as well as many microbats zipping around despite the cool weather. Scott had to return to the car to get more batteries when I spotlit a small mammal bolting back into a hollow. Further spotlighting of the tree showed a number of other small, very fast arboreal mammals which were very light shy. By process of elimination I believe they were Feathertail Gliders but unfortunately just could not get a good enough glimpse to confirm. About now the heavens opened up and I rather fatefully left the camera in the car.

We continued to wander along the easement seeing many more Ringtails and a rather cheeky Fox. Eventually Scott found a glider but it was just a Sugar. The smell and noise from nearby pig farms was slightly disturbing! We were about a kilometer from the car when Scott spotlit a noticeably larger and fluffier glider perched low down just off the track. This was unmistakably a Squirrel Glider with its large fluffy tail looking like near half its body volume. My previous sightings in Victoria have been in nestboxes which does not give perspective on the animal. It gave us excellent close walk away views with just one small problem – the cameras were a kilometer away in the car! Still it was a memorable experience as Squirrel Gliders are endangered in Victoria and probably have a smaller population here than the Leadbeater’s Possums I photographed last week! They are more common in Northern NSW into Queensland.

We walked back to the car and drove around to the other end of the easement hoping that the Squirrel Glider was still in the same tree but without success. A search of the area could not relocate it. Still nearby we had a Brush-tailed Phascogale run down a tree propping nicely for excellent binocular views. Unfortunately it was too high and obscured for good photos. Still another threatened Victorian mammal – the night well a success.

Brush-tailed Phascogale - just a record shot of a cool animal

Brush-tailed Phascogale – just a record shot of a cool animal

We tried a few other areas and eventually found a second Squirrel Glider – this one a bit smaller but it sat well for photographs, if a bit far away. This area is clearly a stronghold for the species in Victoria and clearly demonstrates the importance of the remnant roadside and easement vegetation. Eventually we called it a night and headed back to Melbourne arriving just after midnight – all in all a very successful night. The tail on the Squirrel Glider is something else – I think I have a new one to add to the favourite list!

Squirrel Glider

Squirrel Glider

Revisiting old friends – Leadbeater’s Possum in the Central Highlands

Still coming down from the buzz of seeing my first Letter-winged Kite, I decided it was time to head back into the Central Highlands to look for Leadbeater’s Possum and other furry targets. I hadn’t had a chance to get out to see Leadbeater’s Possum this year so I decided it was definitely time to rectify that. Dan Ashdown (one of the discovers of the Letter-winged Kite earlier in the week) met me at the station and we headed east. We poked around Tarago State Forest and Reservoir not seeing particularly much but were stopped in our tracks as yet again this area of forest was closed due to a car rally!! So we drove a few other areas with the highlights being large numbers of Lyrebirds running off the sides of the roads.

It was starting to get dark so headed in to Powelltown to pick up a burger which we took back up the hill, sitting on the edge of a devastated logging coupe where a juvenile Sooty Owl screamed incessantly from across the valley. Rohan Clarke caught up with us and at our second stop we came across a few Leadies which gave good views but would not stop for pics. There were a couple of bats flitting around here with Gould’s Wattled Bat and Eastern Falsistrellus (which I still need a confirmed sighting of!) picked up on the bat detector. Over the next few stops we steadily picked up more Leadbeater’s Possum and other cool stuff like Bobucks, Sugar Gliders, Agile Antechinus and Bush Rat. The Leadies were quite reactive and gave a good show of their diagnostic squirrel like movement and a couple of them even propped for a happy snap or two. Eventually we found the only Greater Glider for the evening sitting in a mountain ash. A distant Boobook caused some confusion until we got better views – it was variously called Greater Glider, Sooty and Powerful Owl until we got our act together!

Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater’s Possum

We ended the night at a very recently cleared and burnt logging coupe right in the middle of the area that supports high densities of the Critically Endangered Leadbeater’s Possum. The devastation in these areas is absolute with the so called “habitat trees” that are left behind killed and blackened by the followup high intensity burning of the coupes. We need a Great Forest National Park to protect this area, the animals that live here, to protect our water supplies and to as the best carbon store in the world. To continue to clearfell this area is criminal. Somewhat deflated we headed home, dodging wombats and swamp wallabies.

Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater’s Possum

Masked Owl is best owl

I have been terrible at blog posts this year. Every time I get started on a post I get distracted and never get back to it. And it is not for lack of good material! This year I have had some great experiences including Shepherd’s Beaked Whale, Eastern Quolls and more than my fair share of owls. So in the interest of getting back into the blogging business for 2017 I will start with a few Masked Owl seen in East Gippsland during January. As is my want during the Christmas break I had headed down to the Marlo area for a spot of owling with Jono Dashper and Owen Lishmund. During the daylight hours we had some pretty good birding with species like Ground Parrot at Marlo and Conran, scads of Emu-wrens, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters off the Cape and the usual suite of wet forest specialists. I particularly like heading east and encountering Black-faced Monarchs in every gully because to me they hint at a more tropical flavour further north – one of my favourite birds and we saw and heard plenty on this trip.

Eventually we found our way to my favourite owling site near Conran where yet again the Crescent Honeyeaters “egypted” on dusk before the White-throated Nightjars fired up. A Masked Owl screamed but it was soon drowned out by a lovely pair of Sooty Owl trilling which gave good if distant views. Something rather special about seeing two Sooties in the one binocular view in the fading light…. We potted around the area finding a number of frogs including some nice Paracrinia haswelli before heading further afield. Ducking down some dirt tracks we found a nice open area of heathland where right on midnight we had a rather lovely Masked Owl come and visit, cackling around our heads like a demented seagull. This was a lovely pale bird which looked like a ghost hovering well above us at the limit of the torch beam. It did not perch but was a nice lifer for Jono and Owen. Further up the track we encountered another individual which gave us great views as it perched reasonably close by.

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

We continued on and somewhere well north of Bemm River we encountered a third Masked Owl. This individual is not done justice my bad pictures but in the binocular view had a gorgeous grey tone on its facial disk like no other I had seen before. Unfortunately it did not get close enough for good pics but I will be back. Sooty Owls and Yellow-bellied Gliders at Cabbage Tree and a fat Long-nosed Bandicoot rounded out an excellent night.

Masked Owl

Masked Owl

A night out in the Watagans

With the year winding down we headed to Newcastle for Christmas with my brother in-law and his family. We left on the afternoon of the 23rd spending the night in Cootamundra although the wattles weren’t flowering. The highlight of the trip up was good numbers of Superb Parrot from Cootamundra through to past Yass. In Newcastle we stayed at Warabrook backing on to a nice wetland which was quiet but has excellent potential. After a good Christmas day I had a leave pass for a night out spotlighting so I chose the Watagans inland from Newcastle. My main hope was to see a Parma Wallaby which is an elusive macropod endemic to New South Wales and the Watagans are the most southerly location they are found so that was the cornerstone for the evening.

I did not really know what to expect aside from the fact that there were a few atlas records of Parma Wallaby on the southern end of the Watagans Forest Road so I decided to spotlight this road. Arrived about an hour before dusk so drove slowly along the road looking for likely gullies and clearings. On dusk I spent some time at the Hunter Lookout which is good for Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby but I had no luck. Driving south along the road a Southern Long-nosed Bandicoot was a good start. At the second stop a Sooty Owl called continually with both bomb and trill calls. Here I met the first of three different groups out herping for the night – something the Watagans is famous for.

Moving along I saw plenty of macropods but all seemed to be pademelon or red-necked wallaby. Soon i managed to stir up a number of Yellow-bellied Gliders while getting average views of two Sooty Owls. The Sooties were very vocal but were not much more than eyeshine in the distance. Still it meant that I had seen Sooty Owl every month for 2016. Yellow-bellied Glider is also a threatened species in NSW so good to see (and hear). It was already starting to get late when I almost drove over a snake on the road. Getting out I found a very nice elapid – a Golden-crowned Snake. This was new for me and it was quite chilled. Eventually near the headquarters I saw what might have been my target but views were too poor and no photo taken. I will need to go back to the Watagans – great are and much more to see. The highlight for the rest of the trip was a new mammal for the yearlist – Indo-pacific Bottlenosed Dolphin in Newcastle harbour. Already planning a trip next year to get the Parma!

Golden-crowned Snake

Golden-crowned Snake

Ton up on a brief Cairns wildlife adventure

At the start of the year I set a goal of trying to see 100 mammal species in Australia for the year. By December I had crawled my way to 89 and with work busy and a hectic schedule it was looking unlikely that I would make it. I managed to find a small window and booked flights to Cairns for a few nights up on the Atherton Tablelands where a suite of a number of new types possum and other local mammal specialties should get me there with a bit of luck. I flew out of Melbourne Saturday morning and landed in Cairns just after lunch. My headtorch had gone walkabout so I had to head into the CBD for a replacement where it is almost impossible to miss the several camps of Spectacled Flying-fox. There was a shortage of head torches but I eventually found one and headed off to the Botanic Gardens where Spotted Whistling Ducks had been reported recently. They were not there but good numbers of Radjah Shelduck and a Black Bittern were nice for a Southerner and got the bird list kick started. From here I headed up the coast getting Agile Wallaby on the northern outskirts before stopping briefly at Rex Lookout but the tide was too high to go exploring for bats in the crevices below. It was then onto Julatten and one of my favourite birdwatching areas in Kingfisher Park and Mount Lewis. I had never been here towards the wet season so very quickly picked up my first new bird of the trip in Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, a spectacular bird that migrates from New Guinea to nest during the wet season. It proved common on the ground of Kingfisher Park. A quick wander round the grounds to get my ear in then I got prepared for a long evening of spotlighting.

Litoria infrafrenata

Litoria infrafrenata

I had an excellent meal at the Highlander Tavern watching swiftlets wheel overhead and a Bush-hen call from the vegetation below before heading up Mount Lewis. It was starting to rain and there were good numbers of frogs out including Litoria infrafrenata, jungguy and serrata. About halfway up a Papuan Frogmouth was disturbed from its roadside perch. Up at the clearing on top of the mountain the cloud had come right in and the wind was up so observation was difficult. With a bit of effort I was able to find four Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum and a single Green Ring-tailed Possum which were both new for me. Conditions were not really improving so I worked my way back down the mountain seeing a couple of Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots on the way.

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Daintree River RIng-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

Green Ring-tailed Possum

I spent the next few hours spotlighting in and around Kingfisher Park doing quite well. I started with Fawn-footed Melomys and Bush Rat at the feeders and Northern Brown Bandicoot nearby before finding a couple of Eastern Blossom Bats in the orchard which are easily observed under red light. Red-legged Pademelon and both bandicoots were readily encountered as I walked around and around the grounds. Eventually I found a nice Striped Possum in the canopy which was quite noisy as it moved around – I had seen this species last time I was here and was happy to see again although it was too high for photos. The highlight of the night (and possibly the trip) was a Diadem Leaf-nosed Bat which I found hunting from a perch near the toilets. It hated white light but would sit quite happily under red-light allowing for binocular observation. It would wiggle its head in a circle before leaving the perch to hunt and returning – a very cool animal. I was staying in the bunkhouse which I had to myself eventually retiring sometime after midnight.

Litoria serrata

Litoria serrata

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

Northern leaf-tailed Gecko

I woke early and headed up Mount Lewis with a couple of birds in my sights. Andrew from KF Park had told me the small cutting half way up the mountain was currently good for Blue-faced parrot-finch and so it proved with one seen almost as soon as I left the car. It immediately flew so I sat down to wait. Within five minutes a good half dozen of the birds came in to feed on the seeding grasses giving great binocular views. A much wanted tick and every bit as impressive as they look in the books. Further up the mountain I parked at the main clearing and took the forest walk. There were plenty of nice birds including wet tropic endemics like Fernwren, Mountain Thornbill and the Riflebird. Further up Tooth-billed Bowerbird and heaps of Chowchilla were good to reconnect with. I eventually wandered past the dam and perhaps 500 meters further on I had an exquisite male Golden Bowerbird land so close to me that my camera could not focus. It sat and regarded me for perhaps 15 seconds before flying away. This was another lifer for me and now my new favourite Australian bird! I was quite stoked as I headed back to the car with three amazing iconic new birds in less than 24 hours.

From here I headed south and after a breakfast coffee ended up at Granite Gorge near Mareeba. I paid my ten dollars and duly ended up sitting getting a lap dance from a Mareeba Rock-wallaby. I was quite torn as many of the animals appear in poor health and such a setup would probably be banned in Victoria. Still it was very interesting to study them up close and when an adult male hopped on my lap I got an appreciation of just how small and light they are and how easily many of our rock-wallabies could be smashed by foxes. I really don’t know what should be done about this place but I have heard they are at least being fed macropod pellets now rather than random human food so perhaps a step in the right direction. I do know it is one I want to sanitize on my list in the future. I was now sitting on 99 mammals for the year so headed to Mareeba Wetlands where the lovely staff showed me the Large-footed Myotis roosting in the cafe building. There were perhaps twenty of them huddled in several locations which gave me my 100th mammal of the year. I celebrated with a nice pot of tea! Perhaps not the same as a Boxing Day hundred at the MCG but I was pretty chuffed with myself.

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Mareeba Rock-wallaby

Large-footed Myotis

Large-footed Myotis

From here I drove north and checked many culverts and drains from Mt Molloy to Mt Carbine and beyond but aside from sore knees found nothing much aside from a couple of geckos and frogs. Andrew and Carol (who are excellent and free with their knowledge) had told me about a roost flyout of Little Bent-winged Bat near Kingfisher Park so I sat out in the park in the passing showers and waited for dusk. Perhaps ten minutes before dark bats began to pour from a small spout in one of the large eucalypts and I was able to get excellent views under red light as many of the bats flew out and latched on to branches nearby. Straight after dark it began to rain heavily and did not really let up all evening. I did go out and get wet and saw some great frogs and eventually an awesome Giant White-tailed Rat which was checking out a fruiting tree. Eventually I decided to cut my losses and went to bed early (midnight) knowing I would have a late night tomorrow.

makes my knees sore to look at

makes my knees sore to look at

Mixophyes coggeri

Mixophyes coggeri

It was still raining so I must admit I slept in a bit before heading south. After coffee (of course) I checked out Tolga Scrub but the flying-fox roost was currently empty. At Nerada Tea Plantation the staff took one look at my binoculars and knew I was there for the tree-kangaroos. They were not in their usual spots and it started to rain heavily so I relaxed with a nice pot of the local brew until it cleared. Out near the carpark in the drizzle I found two Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo which gave good views as they chilled and did their daytime thing. My only other view of this species was years ago on Mount Lewis as one crossed the road so it was great to get relaxed viewing.

Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo

Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo

I visited many of the usual southern tablelands birding spots but it was very dry and quiet and eventually Herberton to add Little Red Flying-fox to the year list before heading to Chambers Wildlife Lodge near Lake Eacham to check in. I grilled them for sites for my remaining targets and was pleased to learn that Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum sometimes visit the grounds. They also have a feed station setup which nightly gets visited by Sugar Glider and apparently recently a Striped Possum mum and bub. After a quick walk around the grounds I headed out to mount Hypipamee for spotlighting on dusk. Here I had an excellent night with around a dozen Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – a weird looking possum as well as plenty of great frogs and a screaming tyto. The possum was new for me but was somewhat tinged by a tiny long-tailed grey mammal which I had briefly in the spotlight. Possibly a long-tailed pygmy-possum or a tree mouse but one that definitely got away.

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Lemuroid RIng-tailed Possum

Back at Chambers I tried a couple of local spots for Herbert River Ringtail before sitting down and watching the feed station hoping for some Striped Possum photos. The Stripies did not come in this night but I had excellent views and photo opportunities for Sugar Gliders as the glided in. Once the lights went out here I went out spotlighting and eventually sometime after midnight I managed a Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum in what appeared to be someone’s front yard. I had excellent binocular views but unfortunately had left my camera back in my room so tried to take a picture with the iPhone – see below….. On the way back to bed I was kicking Northern Long-nosed Bandicoots out of the way.

Sugar Glider

Sugar Glider

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum..... Honest!!!

Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum….. Honest!!!

It was raining heavily again in the morning so I cruised back to Cairns and onto a plane home – too short a trip but an excellent one with 17 new mammals for the year list and three new birds as well as excellent frogs. I really need to go back and photograph things with more time as well as clean up all the mammals I still need up that way. Thanks to Sim and Lucas for letting me go (and putting up with me this year) and Rohan Clarke for igniting the beast and getting us both on a non big year mammal medium year!

Summary of mammals seen below:

Short-beaked Echidna – One on side of road as I was descending Gilles into Cairns
Northern Brown Bandicoot – A couple at Kingfisher Park and one beside the road near Wongabell State Forest
Northern Long-nosed Bandicoot – Easy to see at Kingfisher Park and Chambers Lodge, also on Mt Lewis
Striped Possum – One seen on the first night in the canopy at Kingfisher Park. Apparently a mother and baby have been coming in at Chambers Lodge late most nights but not when I was there.
Sugar Glider – Quite a few came in to the feeding station at Chambers Lodge and were quite tame. Easy to spotlight in the surrounding forest too
Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum – About a dozen seen from the carpark at Mt Hypipamee up to and along the main road a way and at the road works clearing about 3km up the road.
Daintree River Ring-tailed Possum – Four seen within 500m of the clearing on Mt Lewis including a mum and bub
Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum – thought I was going to dip but finally got one in someone’s driveway near Lake Eacham after midnight
Green Ring-tailed Possum – One spotlit on Mt Lewis and one seen during the day at Curtain Fig
Common Brush-tailed Possum – One during the day at Granite Gorge and several at Mt Hypipamee
Musky Rat-kangaroo – One only on Mt Lewis!
Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo – Two seen near the carpark at Nerada Tea Plantation. Staff are very helpful and the tea good.
Mareeba Rock-wallaby – I had a lap dance at Granite Gorge from a rock-wallaby – these animals are not in a good state – very sad. One I would like to sanitize on my list next visit.
Red-legged Pademelon – Common at Kingfisher Park, Mt Lewis and Southern Tablelands.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo – Two just north of Mareeba on side of the road
Agile Wallaby – Common from the outskirts of Cairns
Fawn-footed Melomys – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park. One spotlit at Chambers Lodge
Giant White-tailed Rat – One seen on second night at Kingfisher Park in the rain. Impressive animal.
Bush Rat – Common and easily seen at Kingfisher Park
Eastern Blossum-bat – Several in Orchard area at Kingfisher Park – easy to get good views under red light
Spectacled Flying-fox – Hard to miss as you drive into Cairns. Odd animals encountered while spotlighting each night
Little Red Flying-fox – Camp at Tolga Scrub seems abandoned. Big colony at Herberton
Diadem leaf-nosed Bat – Cracker of an animal and probably the highlight of the trip. I was able to watch the bat hunting from a perch under red light at Kingfisher Park. It would move its head in a circular motion before flying off and back to perch.
Little Bent-winged Bat – I watched the flyout of a roost of 50+ of these bats in Geraughty Park next to Kingfisher Park. Red light again helpful as they would fly out and often land in the surrounding trees. Andrew and Carol can point you to the right tree.
Large-footed Myotis – Easily seen in the visitors centre at Mareeba Wetlands – just ask the staff. Also found under a couple of bridges in the Yungaburra area.
Feral Cat – One seen on Mt Lewis and one at Mt Hypipamee
Also saw a long-tailed, small grey mammal with pale blue eyeshine run up a tree at Mt Hypipamee – one that got away. Plenty of bats got away too – with many different types seen while spotlighting. I had almost no luck at all checking culverts, bridges and picnic shelters for roosts this trip.