In possum country

see url The monthly Portland pelagic was cancelled so I was looking for something to do on Saturday evening. I decided to go spotlighting for a change as it had been a week and I was having withdrawal symptoms. It was late notice but Jono and Chris stepped up to the plate and met me out at Powelltown at 8pm – the Powelly pub was going bananas with at least 5 cars there but we resisted the urge to go in and evangelise in this hard core logging town on the virtues of the Leadbeater’s possum and a Great Forest National Park. We headed north to our first stop which was just on true dark – Jono heard a Sooty which was a good sign but it was a false dawn as it was the only Tyto heard for the night. I had recently acquired a low end bat detector so waved that around a bit and I can confirm that indeed there are bats around and I can hear them with the device. In fact bats were a feature of the night, at every stop we had many microbats of various sizes and flight patterns zipping around but unfortunately all remain unidentified aside from the White-striped Free-tailed Bat which was heard and even spotlit at most stops. After a bit of stuffing around it was time to get serious so we headed off to find some possums.

generic viagra buy uk We stopped at a spot I had seen Leadbeater’s earlier in the year and after a bit of pishing Chris was able to get onto a couple of Leadbeater’s possums which got the night off to a good start. Further up the road there were a number of Geocrinia victoriana calling and then at least three Leadbeater’s possum zipping around the area. At one stage two were on a branch and I almost got a good pic but without time to setup properly just ended up with some blurred blobs. Still it was great to observe their behaviour and again we heard their drumming call. A lyrebird calling at 10pm was somewhat novel.

Two Leadbeaters in the one frame - pity about the focus

buy viagra now online Two Leadbeaters in the one frame – pity about the focus

Further up the hill we went to an area of regrowth which is regularly frequented by various types of possums due to the prevalence of thick hickory and silver wattle. Tonight was no exception with good views of Sugar Glider and a number of Bobucks including one fatty that was as wide as it was tall. Also throughout this area we came across individual Leadbeater’s Possum that clearly travel into the area to feed from roosting sites nearby. I need to come back here during the day to see just how close the nearest suitable stags are as they are not immediately apparent from the road. Was fortunate enough to have one animal come quite close for photo opportunities but again I had a double failure – first failing to turn the flash on when it was closest and then not nailing the shot when it leapt from one trunk to another. Still we again got to observe these animals – the way they move is diagnostic with no other Australian mammal like it. I was now a couple of Canadian Club and dry cans in and with 8 or so Leadbeater’s under the belt it was turning into a good night. Here we had the standard nightly run in with some friendly boguns in a 4wd who were suitably amazed when we said we were looking for possums and owls although they understood better when I explained it goes well with a couple of cans.

Turn the flash on muppet

Turn the flash on muppet

This could have been great!

This could have been great!

From here we headed into new areas and at the first stop we jumped out of the car and heard a Limnodynastes calling. Whilst the others were chasing frogs I managed to pish up some Leadbeater’s quickly and we soon had 3 performing quite nicely. At one stage I had three on the same branch but it was too overgrown to get a shot!

Moving on again we stopped at the top of a likely looking hill and started walking down. This proved to be great country with Yellow-bellied Glider calling and good numbers of Bobucks and Ringtails. As we moved down we had two excellent Greater Gliders on a branch staring down at us – one was a white morph and one the more regular dark morph. I have only rarely seen the white morph in these forests so it was very cool to watch and photograph these cracking animals. Of course we were distracted from the Gliders by performing Leadbeater’s possum with a number of animals seen as we walked about 800 meters down the hill. It was now about 12:30 so it was time to call it a night with the drive back to Powelltown being largely uneventful.

A relatively slim Bobuck

A relatively slim Bobuck

This pair of Greater Glider was a highlight of the night

This pair of Greater Glider was a highlight of the night

Pretty good night really – out of 7 spots we had Leadbeater’s Possum at 6 of them with 3 of those sites being new for me. We saw a conservative minimum of 18 individual LBP but it was likely higher than this. Records will be submitted to the appropriate authorities for the LBP and Greater Gliders. Somewhat surprisingly the only mammals seen were possums and gliders (6 species) and the microbats and the only birds heard (by me) were Boobook and a single Owlet-nightjar. 3 species of frog rounded out the vertebrate list. It was a long drive back home from Powelltown but well worth it and I am already looking forward to the next night out. #GFNP If anyone wants to come and help identify the myriad of microbats out there please let me know!

Nice pair

Nice pair

Going a little batty

As someone who regularly goes out spotlighting in the forests around Melbourne I regularly encounter large numbers of microbats flitting around, particularly on warm Summer nights. Aside from the large and audible White-striped Freetail Bat these largely remain unidentified to the casual observer and at best get filed under microbat sp. There are apparently some 16 species recorded in the Greater Melbourne area (although only 5 make it into the inner suburbs) so I was keen to look at ways of exploring this under appreciated part of our mammalian fauna. A bit of googling found the excellent work done by Robert Bender and Steve Griffiths at Wilson Reserve and Organ Pipes with the ongoing bat box monitoring and bat banding programs – https://batboxes.wordpress.com/ On the website I noted that monitoring was on Saturday at Wilson Reserve so I came along to see what it was all about. Wilson Reserve is well known in birding circles as an excellent spot for Powerful Owls although I did not have a chance to have a look this time. At 3pm a couple of cars with ladders rolled in which I rightly assumed meant they were here to check the bats. Robert was very personable and quickly made me feel welcome and I was given the very important job of holding a bag of “important stuff” while we went around and checked the various bat boxes. There are 26 boxes up at Wilson Reserve over a space not much larger than a couple of acres and are roughly split into a forest and a meadow area. My group was given the task of checking the forest area which consisted of Robert climbing the ladder to a precarious height of 5 to 6 meters and reporting on the content of the boxes. In the forest area there was little found aside from a few Huntsmen guarding eggsacs. We moved on to the last few boxes in the meadow where we found two boxes with about 10 bats each – mostly Gould’s Wattled Bat and a few Eastern Broad-nosed Bats. It is not til you see these in someone’s hand that you realise how small they actually are. The bat’s are caught, bagged and taken back to Robert’s house for processing – this clearly does not stress these bats too much – they have been doing it for years and regularly retrap the same bats and have to follow strict ethical guidelines.

Gould's Wattled Bat ready for processing

Gould’s Wattled Bat ready for processing

Processing ran like a well oiled machine and I must admit I felt like a bit of a third wheel for a while until I found my niche as an umbrella holder shading the processors. To handle and process bats you need to have a complete rabies vaccination and some training which Robert and Steve are more than happy to help with. In addition to the processors there are scribes who record all the measurements and more importantly remind the processor what is missing – when there are over 50 bats to process this is very important. I was fortunate to meet “white-spot” – a female Gould’s Wattled Bat who has been around the 5 years of the WIlson Reserve banding program and has been re-caught over 40 times. There were 2 species caught across the day – the majority Gould’s Wattled Bat (~50) and around 5 Eastern Broad-nosed Bats. The EBN Bats are noticably smaller than the Gould’s and clearly occupy a different ecological niche – so much so that they are tolerated in the same boxes as the larger Goulds. There is a fantastic body of knowledge being built up through this program and a lot of thanks must go to Robert and his tireless work. Eventually I graduated to scribe duties where Robert gave me advice on the acceptable ranges for measurements to help eliminate human error in the records.

Eastern Broad-nosed Bat

Eastern Broad-nosed Bat

Gould's Wattled Bat

Gould’s Wattled Bat

I get the feeling that these programs – https://batboxes.wordpress.com/ – are running from the smell of an oily rag so always need volunteers – so if you are curious and want to get involved, come along and have a look – even if it is just to hold an umbrella or carry a ladder. I know I will be bringing Lucas along sometime soon to have a look at these fascinating mini-beasts.

Checking status of Gould's Wattled Bat

Checking reproductive status of Gould’s Wattled Bat

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay to see the bats released in the evening although I will certainly do so in the future. From the leafy suburbs of Ivanhoe I drove east an hour and half to Powelltown where I met up with Steve Davidson –  http://www.themelbournebirder.com/ and Jono Dashper – Flickr for a spot of spotlighting. Neither of them had seen Leadbeater’s Possum so that was to be the primary target for tonight’s somewhat limited time budget. We headed out north of Powelltown and reasonably quickly found a couple of Leadbeater’s Possum which gave good views although the photographic opportunities were limited. After a great experience we moved on – hearing a distant Sooty Owl at one site and encountering some Bobucks and YB Gliders at another. After a few frogs we left for a relatively early, but successful night.

Leadbeater's Possum

Leadbeater’s Possum

Litoria ewingii - recent morph

Litoria ewingii – recent morph