Friday, June 28, 2013

Chasing that dark ghost - the Sooty Owl

One of my favourite birds has always been that dark denizen of the forested gullies of Eastern Australia, the Sooty Owl. I tend to get a bit of an itch I cant quite scratch unless I get a chance to go out and spend an evening poking around the tall forests east of Melbourne at least once every few months, an itch that gets stronger as time goes on. These forests are magical, sometimes eerie places once the sun drops below the horizon with the gurgles of gliders and the distant calls of a boobook replacing the daytime chorus. But the sound that still gets my heart racing is the piercing "falling bomb" call of the Sooty travelling through the misty night air.

Last Friday night I headed out with a couple of mates to Tarago State Forest which is an area of Mountain Ash, Silvertop and Messmate near Neerim in Victoria. It was my fourth visit spotlighting this year to this area and on each occassion I have seen some great birds and mammals. I was hoping to get better Sooty Owl shots than earlier in the year but unfortunately it was not to be. We arrived just on dark and after fumbling around for gear, opening a beer we immediately got onto a calling Tyto owl. The owl was doing a pitch perfect rendition of the Masked Owl hiss and was clearly a large bird - so we got quite excited thinking it was probably a Masked that was dancing around just outside our torch beams. Eventually we did get brief but good looks of a large female Sooty - a beautiful bird. We left her in peace and continued on. I had not heard a Sooty doing that particular call before and if I had not sighted the bird may have been tempted to put it down as a possible heard Masked Owl - certainly learn new things all the time.

We continued along and as a whole the forest was almost eerily quiet - lit by a near full moon. We heard another Sooty call distantly - this time a more traditional bomb call as well as a couple of distant boobooks. A couple of Yellow-bellied Gliders gurgling were the only mammals - the place is usually alive with Greater, Sugar and Yellow-bellied gliders as well as possums but perhaps the moon was making them wary. The last stop in Tarago just on the edge of a logging coupe again had a Tyto hissing away, although distantly, which we left in peace.

The great thing about spotlighting at this time of year is that you can start early, have a good 4 or 5 hours spotlighting and still be home tucked up in bed before midnight. As the mercury dipped towards freezing we drove back through the eastern edges of Bunyip State Park dodging wombats and a magnificent Sambar stag. Following some hot noodles and a brief drive along the powerline easement in Bunyip we headed back to Melbourne, rather satisfied but already looking forward to the next trip. Its good to know that despite the pressures of logging and significant damage during the Black Saturday fires, there still seems to be a good population of Sooty Owls in the area.

On previous nocturnal visits to this area - have recorded Boobook and Powerful Owls, Owlet-nightjar and Tawny Frgomouth. White-throated Nightjar is easily found just over the hill in Bunyip during the summer months so should occur here too. It is a very good area for mammals too with Greater, Yellow-bellied and Sugar Gliders common as well as Mountain and Common Brushtail, Common Ringtail possums. Long-nosed Bandicoots are often seen on the side of the road in warmer months and Swamp Wallabies are common. Many species of microbat can be seen, particularly in the warmer months and earlier this year a couple of Grey-headed Flying-foxes were recorded. Probably the most noticable mammal is the wombat - generally doing their best to be kamakaze road hazards...

It is also a cracking area for birding during the day during the warmer months - but that can wait for another day....

1 comment:

  1. Would love to capture owls with my camera. I probably need more stealth and patience. Great blog Tim