Greater Sooty Owl – Tyto tenebricosa
The most widely encountered large forest owl in the area of the proposed GFNP is the Sooty Owl. Most traditional literature has them as denizens of dark, ferny gullies but I have found them in a wide variety of habitats from Ash, to Messmate and even heath. They do need access to mature trees for roosting and nesting but can range away from these areas to hunt. In Bunyip State Park they seem to utilise the large Manna gums in most creek lines for this purpose and are usually found around these areas in the hour or so after dusk but later in the night can be found well away even in heathland. In Bunyip SP at least they seem to take mainly arboreal prey and I have seen young birds with Sugar Gliders, Ringtails and Bush Rats brought to them by their parents.
The areas of State Forest that are part of the proposed Great Forest Park are important habitat for these birds. I have found them on many occasions in both the Tarago and Yarra State Forests with the Tarago State Forest in particular seeming to hold a number of breeding pairs in the areas that were unaffected by the Black Saturday fires. The easiest place close to Melbourne to reliably see them is in Bunyip State Park with Mortimer’s Picnic Ground and Link and Ash Landing roads all worth a try. Further east in Gippsland you can pick the habitat that looks “right” for Sooty Owl and invariably when trying after dark you have a good chance of picking them up. In areas north of Cape Conran, Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls all inhabit the same forest which must cause some schisms on occasion – I have witnessed a large female Sooty Owl being driven off by a pair of Masked Owls.
The Sooty Owl is listed as vulnerable in Victoria under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee act – LINK
Study with a good summary of relative diets of Sooty, Masked and Powerful Owls – LINK
The Sooty Owl above shows the typical 4 white points on the disc and dark beak of a juvenile bird.
Listen to a pair of Sooty Owls duet on the southern side of Bunyip State Park