Litoria spenceri – a frog expedition

Those of you who read my posts (this one is a few weeks late) would know I am a great supporter of the formation of a Great Forest Park in the Central Highlands around Melbourne. I have spent many nights out observing, recording and photographing some of the key species that make these forest home including Leadbeater’s Possum and Sooty Owl. One species that is considered a key endangered species found in the proposed area that I had not seen is the Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri. This endangered frog was never common and has declined and disappeared in many of its rocky mountain stream habitats due to a combination of Chytrid fungus, habitat degradation and potentially competition from introduced trout. A friend had suggested a few areas it was worth a try for this species so Scott Baker and I decided to go for a look. I think it is fair to say that I was unaware of just how much it had declined in other parts of its range ahead of this mini expedition. We picked up another friend Susan Myers and headed up to the Rubicon State Forest near Eildon for a bit of late afternoon birding and exploration.

Litoria spenceri - habitat

Litoria spenceri – habitat

Litoria spenceri - habitat

Litoria spenceri – habitat

It was a lovely area of state forest bordering Eildon National Park with a nice mixed understory and decent canopy. A baby Tiger Snake was a good distraction as we setup camp and feasted on a Ploughman’s dinner with a couple of beers. On dark we wandered up the road and almost immediately heard a Litoria spenceri calling from the creek below. These creeks are regularly fished by trout fishermen so it was relatively easy to get down to the river for a look. Very quickly we found a frog perched up on a rock in the stream which was found to be a Spotted Tree Frog! great success and only 10 minutes of looking. This frog jumped in the water and swam strongly away but soon after we found another which allowed a number of photos. Aware of the threat of Chytrid fungus we at no time handled or got close to the frogs photographing them in situ. We spent the next couple of hours wandering up and down some streams and rivers and found perhaps a half a dozen frogs and heard more.

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog - Litoria spenceri

Spotted Tree Frog – Litoria spenceri

These are beautiful little frogs with a very cool range of colours although were often hard to spot calling from thick vegetation. Further spotlighting away from the rivers produced a range of common forest bat species, three glider species (Yellow-bellied, Greater and Sugar) and several Boobook owls. We ended up clocking off relatively early for a spotlighting night after a few more beers and a chat. Up early the next morning we did a bit of birding – of interest we heard the frogs calling in a number places from the road during the day. A very successful expedition in 24 hours door to door. It was only after returning home I realised just how rare this frog now is but seems to be persisting quite well in this area which is close to roads and well visited by trout fishermen. Yet another reason to declare these forest a Great Forest Park #GFNP

Rubicon State Forest

Rubicon State Forest

The littlest possum

On Thursday I flew down with Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/ for back to back Eaglehawk Neck pelagic boat trips on the Friday and Saturday. We had flown in earlier than usual as we had originally intended to chase Tasmanian Tree Frog (Litoria burrowsae) but apparently they had not been calling due to dry conditions – as it turns out we did not have to worry about dry conditions as it rained much of the weekend with the East coast in particular receiving some serious drenching. Instead of frog hunting we headed to Eaglehawk Neck and checked into the trusty Lufra Hotel. Despite the sketchy looking weather the pelagic was confirmed for the following day so we dropped bag and headed out for a bit of recce followed by some serious spotlighting. We dropped into Fortescue Bay, scoping out some likely looking places before heading down to Remarkable Cave which lived up to its name. Dropped into the Port Arthur Caravan park as soon as it was dark and eventually picked up a nice Long-nosed Potoroo among the numerous Pademelons.

Shitty phone pic inside the Remarkable Cave

Shitty phone pic inside the Remarkable Cave

Headed back to the Fortescue Bay entrance road which was the target site for the evening. Unfortunately the weather was setting in with rain squalls and an serious level of wind. As we headed down we were very lucky to see a small mammal on the road which turned out to to be a Little Pygmy Possum! This happens to be the smallest member of the possum family and an adult weighs between a 1/4 and and 1/8th of the Mountain Pygmy Possums we found earlier in the month. The possum was rescued from the road and placed in a shrub where we managed to get a couple of quick photos before it slipped away. It has to be a candidate for the cutest animal in Australia. This was a completely unexpected mammal tick for me and already made the weekend worthwhile! Despite recent reports of Tassie Devils in the area we didn’t see or hear much else of note that night but it was still a very successful evening!

Little Pygmy Possum - Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum – Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum - Fortescue Bay

Little Pygmy Possum – Fortescue Bay

12 of us jumped on the trusty Pauletta – http://www.paulettacharters.com/tours.html – at 7 am and headed out into lumpy seas. There was a fair bit of spray on the way out which made standing at the back a bit uncomfortable but excellent views of a Buller’s Shearwater more than made up for that. It was a bit of a strange day with the disappointment of not being able to get onto a couple of small Pterodromas being more than compensated by a South Polar Skua!!, several Great Albatrosses of various taxa and then a fantastic White-necked Petrel which was a lifer for me! This bird looped around the boat giving fantastic views for all on board. Paul Brooks, the doyen of all things Tasmanian Birding has indicated it is only the 5th Tasmanian record. Unfortunately due to the wet conditions I left my camera inside all day so have bugger all to show from these close approaches. As we were about to leave the final berley point a flyby of a Cook’s Petrel gave a nice but brief view. The trip back in was largely unpleasant with heavy rain and a bit of swell making it a rather damp experience. Still – running at 1 mammal and 1 bird tick and some cracking loose change it was already an awesome trip!

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke - http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke - http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

White-necked Petrel courtesy of Rohan Clarke – http://www.wildlifeimages.com.au/

After a slab of cow and a couple of beers at the Lufra, Rohan and I headed out again to the Fortescue Bay road to again search for Devils and other mammalian targets. Rohan had a FLIR which pics up heat signatures so we had a crack in the floristically diverse areas along the entrance road and down near the Fortescue Bay campground. Aside from a few Brushtails and some roosting birds the highlights were a few frogs brought out by the damp conditions. Of interest we both heard a White-striped Freetail Bat on the Fortescue Bay Road calling and then doing a feeding sequence which does not seem to be known from Tasmania – inquiries with bat experts in Tasmania are continuing. As we headed back intending to do a quick loop around the peninsula disaster struck with a large wattle tree across the only exit road!! We tried to move it but with 10 meters of trunk back into the scrub we were well stuck. Back 10km to the campground and Rohan spoke to a few drunk campground denizens before having to wake up the awesome ranger Matt who drove out and chopped up the tree in 2 minutes with his chainsaw. We were lucky to get back to the hotel by 12:30am when it looked for a while that two not small gentlemen would have to overnight in a tiny Barina! 8 trips up and down the Fortescue bay road over 2 nights = 0 Devils.

Litoria ewingii - Tasmanian animals sound slightly higher

Litoria ewingii – Tasmanian animals sound slightly higher

Crinia tasmaniensis

Crinia tasmaniensis

Was a bit dusty when the alarm went off but again we were back at the dock at 7am for another trip on the Pauletta – http://www.paulettacharters.com/tours.html Conditions today were much better and it wasn’t long on the way out until again we had great views of a Buller’s Shearwater behind the boat which looped a bit giving everyone a good look. Soon after a small pale shearwater flew past the back of the boat which I had excellent views of – was very pale underneath with no triangle in the armpit typical of Fluttons types but had a very solid cap at eye level or lower which threw me a bit as I was used to extra white on the face from Aussie birds. It was a Little Shearwater and independent descriptions from others on the boat confirmed as likely from the Sub-antarctic elegans population. great start to the trip!

Across the rest of the day we had other excellent sightings including three Long-tailed Jaegers giving close approaches, a lovely adult Salvin’s Albatross, 3 Wandering types and best of all 2 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters which are a Mega off Tassie! although most of the boat were not impressed. Given the warmer water and birds like White-necked Petrel across the weekend I guess it was not unexpected to get Wedge-tailed Shearwater although there are actually very few records off Tassie! Jack Moorhead again proved to be an awesome Cookalaria spotter calling a Gould’s Petrel very early giving everyone the chance to get great views. Had a very relaxing trip back in interrupted by disappointing views of another Little Shearwater type. On the way back to the airport we checked out a few wader spots around Orielton Lagoon although didn’t see much wader action aside from 60 odd Pacific Golden Plovers before checking in for the flight home and a well earned beer. Thanks to Rohan for organising an awesome weekend and Simone and Lucas for letting me go! Was also very good to catch up with my Tassie pelagic friends and meet a pile of new ones. And yes – the highlight was the littlest possum….

Exulans

Exulans

Young Exulans

Young Exulans