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

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

Some July pelagic and Sooty Owl action

This is mostly to share a few pics and experiences from a couple of outings through July which didn’t quite translate into their own posts. I started with my second trip down to Tasmania for another pelagic weekend with an extra night tacked on for some spotlighting and then followed up with a few nights out in Bunyip State Park (for a change). I headed down to Tasmania early in July a day early with intention of exploring around Mt Field for quolls and perhaps the outside chance of a devil. As we flew into Hobart I started to question my decision as it was one of the more rough flights I have had in a while and as we came in I could see the tops of the sea being blown away in the high winds. Still upon landing I picked up a car and headed out to Mt Field and my nearby AirBnB accommodation choice. I stopped in and bought a 24 hour pass only to be told after the purchase that the park was closed past the entrance area due to weather conditions – pretty typical Tassie tourist experience really…. Still my first AirBnB experience was great as I dumped my stuff in a real traditional BnB before heading out for a long nights spotlighting. As I headed out on dusk I saw my first Eastern-barred Bandicoot which I thought was a good sign but then the rain started to set in. The area around the entrance to Mt Field is generally considered good for Eastern Quoll but I had no luck despite a number of hours searching at various times of the night. There were lots of large standing areas of water which I began to notice had started to move – the river had broken its banks so I had to retreat. I spent another couple of hours driving out towards Lake Pedder and again back the other way but after my second encounter with the local constabulary I was advised to go to bed due to various landslides and water over the road events. During the couple of hours of driving around I saw nothing more exciting than numerous pademelons and Bennett’s wallabies.

A bit of water at Mt Field

A bit of water at Mt Field



The next morning Mt Field was now completely closed so I drove out to Lake Pedder for a bit of tourist action at the dam wall. I was quite shocked to see how extensively areas of swamp and buttongrass had been burnt in recent fires. Eventually I headed back to Hobart to pick up Dean and Rohan for the weekend pelagic action. On the way down to Eaglehawk Neck we did a bit of spotlighting along some side roads before dropping off bags and heading down to Fortescue Bay. On this occasion we saw little aside from the usual pademelons and brushtails and heard only a distant Morepork or two. Still we were back at a decent hour for the pelagic the next day. Unfortunately I had not had the requisite steak and beer before the pelagic so the auguries were not good for the following day.

Kelp Gull

Kelp Gull

We headed out from Eaglehawk Neck on the Pauletta heading past the Hippolytes where both Fur-seals were seen. It was a pretty good day really with highlights including a young Salvin’s Albatross, Grey Petrel, Soft-plumaged, Grey and White-headed Petrels and both Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions. Great albatrosses were only a few Southern Royals and a single Gibson’s type Wanderer. A good haul but nothing compared to the excellent pelagics of the proceeding few months out of Eaglehawk Neck. Still it was a very good day at sea and a couple of Humpback Whales rounded out the list – I think we are sometimes spoilt from this port.

Grey Petrel

Grey Petrel

Gibson's Albatross

Gibson’s Albatross

Salvin's Albatross

Salvin’s Albatross

After the pelagic we had a quick wind down and a pot of Cascade and headed to the famous tree at Port Arthur to see if the Masked Owls were around but tonight they were either having a lie-in or residing elsewhere. After a local pub meal Rohan and I headed out to Lime Bay Conservation area where we rumbled a couple of Long-nosed Potoroo. The target here was Masked Owl and we had an immediate strong call response then nothing…. seems to be quite typical behaviour in Tasmania in our limited experience. We added a nice Southern Brown Bandicoot to the trip list before again heading into bed at a reasonable hour – we must be getting old. Still we were back down at the dock early for another pelagic on the Pauletta with the conditions quite benign as we headed out followed by a horde of hungry gulls. This day was much quieter than the previous with highlights being the good numbers of White-headed Petrel and a nominate Great-winged Petrel among the recently split Grey-faced Petrels. Tried not to be too disappointed as we headed back in as there will always be next time!

Cape Petrel

Cape Petrel

Northern Giant-petrel

Northern Giant-petrel

White-headed Petrel

White-headed Petrel

Rohan and I are having a very non-competitive mammal year so we decided to head out to Gravelly Ridge Conservation Area to look for Eastern Bettongs before our flights home. This looks quite a good block of dry type woodland as we arrived on dusk into a horde of pademelons and wallabies. As we setup camera gear on dusk I waddled away from the car while scoffing dinner and almost immediately rumbled a bettong which I figured was a good sign. This was not quite the case as over the next hour or two we had only average views of a couple of further animals as we drive around. Still this area needs further investigation with more time! Alas around this time a tragic event occurred….. a European Hare skipped majestically across the road slaying Rohan’s bogey for the year – I was looking forward to him having to go spotlighting around the WTP to catch it up. A quick zip back to the airport only to be told our flights were inevitably delayed. While the weekend was slightly disappointing we still had a great time and saw plenty of good things.

Southern Royal Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

Following the return from Tassie I headed out to Bunyip State Park for a change. The first visit was with Jonathan Newman, a British birder who is north of 7500 world species. After a couple of hours of silence and worsening weather conditions we managed to nail a nice Sooty Owl which flew in for a few photos and ended up giving walk away views. The following weekend I headed back on my own to an area I suspected Sooty Owls might be nesting and kicked back with a beer and a burger in the half hour leading up to dusk. Well before dusk two owls screamed and then bombed from what I think were separate hollows in an area of tall manna gums. On dark they popped out of the hollows and then spent the next hour in a trill duet which rivals any electronic synth pop band – some one should sample that shit! At one stage a male Powerful Owl called reasonably nearby which shut them up for a minute or so until they started up again. I eventually drove away with them still trilling and found another couple of owls including one in a completely new area. Clearly a good time of year to be out and listening!

Sooty Owl - Bunyip State Park

Sooty Owl – Bunyip State Park

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