Tyto - Ingham 05/10
May 27, 2010 — May 30, 2010
Social duties and bird watching in great places should always go together. So ,late in May '10, Bill and Jack combined a family friend's 60th Birthday party in Townsville with some owl watching in North Queensland. We were not disappointed with fantastic sightings of Masked and Eastern Grass Owls around Ingham, and Rufous Owls in Townsville. An added bonus was being able to see six Red-backed Button-Quail and catch one juvenile King Quail. Both the button-quail and grass owl were new birds for Jack taking his Australian list to 717 a few days shy of his 14th Birthday.
This morning we got up at around 6:30am and we were leaving by 7am. Around the motel there were numerous Yellow Honeyeaters as well as a single Helmeted Friarbird. Once we left Sarina we drove until we saw some good habitat around Bowen. Here we had a look around for Proserpine Rock-wallaby but we were probably too far north anyway. The highlight here was an Indigo Flash butterfly. After this stop we drove to Ingham with a quick fuel stop. Once we were in Ingham, we drove west to Wallaman Falls to check out any possible campsites. On the slow drive up the mountain we heard/saw birds like Victoria’s Riflebird, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Spectacled Monarch, Emerald Dove and others. Arriving at the actual falls we were limited to the lookout as the track had been closed as a crime scene. A base jumper had jumped off the cliff but unfortunately his parachute hadn’t opened. From the lookout the view was amazing of the biggest single drop waterfall in Australia at 305m and we also found a good campsite in a cleared area around a transmitting tower. We then had to hurry back down the mountain to get to Tyto Wetlands before dusk. Once we arrived at Tyto, we headed straight for the Owl Viewing Platform (note that we have been informed afterwards that the Grass Owls haven’t been seen at Tyto Wetlands for several years) but on the way heard White-browed Crake, White-browed Robin and saw waterbirds like Green Pygmy-goose. Unfortunately we didn’t see any Grass Owls but instead were eaten alive by mosquitos. During the day, we had set up a night spotting route after reading David Holland’s Birds of the Night and Thomas and Thomas. Holland’s book suggested that recently ploughed cane paddocks were the best for tytos and on one he had 10 individuals; 4 Grass, 4 Masked and 2 Barn Owls. The signed route from Ingham to Wallaman Falls had many of these features so we chose it. Also according to Thomas and Thomas Wallaman Falls was good for Lesser Sooty Owls (it says around the carpark but the carpark is in woodland not rasinforest). So we set off at night with the torch out the window. It was quite a while before our first Tyto which was an un-tickable Grass Owl. The next was just a large white bird but when we went to investigate we flushed up to 7 RED-BACKED BUTTON-QUAIL (716) and at least one King Quail. This was a very unexpected surprise (but a very welcome one). We had extended views of the male with its yellow bill, white-eye and its running around like a rat. We also had a young bird which Dad caught (this turned out to be a young King Quail as pointed out by Jeff Davies) and we had excellent views. The GPS location of the paddock is S 18 37 45 E 146 00 23. Down the road just a few hundred metres we had our only Masked Owl of the night on a fence post next to a tiny patch of dense forest (S 18 37 45 E 146 00 11). The main diagnostic features of this bird were; a) massive feet with short tarsus, b) scattered spots on its wings with black all around the white dots. Unfortunately an incredibly loud car came around the corner and it was the last we saw of it. A few minutes later the same car came back and we had this conversation (just part).
‘I never seen your headlights come round the corner so I thought you’s might be broken down.’ (in your best hillbilly voice)
‘No we were just photographing owls.’
‘There’s a few of them normal grass owls just down the road back there.’
This road turned out to be Cavallaros Rd and we did see 2 EASTERN GRASS OWLS (717) by the side of the road. The legs on these things were incredibly long when they were standing on the ground and when they were flying they stuck out beyond the tail like as sore thumb. This is an excellent road with many opportunities for the other Tytos as well. The GPS co-ordinates are S 18 38 50 E 145 58 53. Another highlight down this road was a single Large-tailed Nightjar which allowed us to get so close that the camera wouldn’t focus. We then started to head up the mountain seeing 16 Large-tailed Nightjars sitting on the bitumen presumably to warm up (temperature was below 20 degrees). We think that the tytos are probably easier around here than people say and with a bit of prior planning and research you should come up with the goods. Before you start make sure you know the Tytos well because you often won’t get a great view. We then fell asleep in the car at around 11pm.Read more.
This morning we got up before dawn after sleeping in the Landrover to an Australian Owlet-nightjar calling. As more light started to creep through the rainforest the dawn chorus of Spotted Catbirds, Eastern Whipbirds, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters started as well as many other more common birds. When we got up birding proved to be quite difficult but we did see Macleay’s Honeyeater, Emerald Dove (>25), Yellow-throated Scrubwren etc and heard some Chowchillas around the campsite. Once we got back we had some cereal with some un-refrigerated milk and left camp at around 8am. A single Red-tailed Black-cockatoo flew beside the car near the bottom of the mountain. We then drove south from Ingham to Townsville and we met up with legendary locals Len & Chris Ezzy. After catching up it was almost midday so they called up Ian Boyd and we headed out to see the Rufous Owls. We met up with Ian Boyd and he soon showed us a pair of Rufous Owls. This location is on Private Property and the owners don’t wont many people on their property. Of interest, as Ian pointed out, in the Rufous Owl the male is actually bigger than the female (1.2kg rather than 1kg). Another thing that Ian pointed out was that the Noisy Friarbirds were in the non-endemic grevillea’s but rare elsewhere. Other birds in this area was; White-browed Robin, Large-billed Gerygone and others along the Ross River. The butterflies in this area were also amazing with highlights being Dingy Bush-browns and Indigo Flash. A sad note in this area is that Ian designed a wonderful Borrow Pits with different water level stepping but the water department decided that it would be better as just a dam and filled it in (the Pink-eared Ducks also decided to leave). After this we headed out to dam wall of Ross River which is a site for the endangered southern subspecies of Black-throated Finches. We didn’t see any but birding highlights were; White-winged Trillers, Fuscous Honeyeaters and Rufous-throated Honeyeater. The birds weren’t really the highlight here but rather the dragonflies (Red Swampdragon, Green Skimmer, Australian Emperor, GREEN EMPEROR SP etc), butterflies (Dainty Grass-blue, Spotted Pea-blue, Wattle Blue etc) and mammal (Allied Rock-wallaby). After this we went back to the Ezzy’s place where we had lunch. Once we said goodbye to Len & Chris we headed over to Rhonda’s 60th Birthday Party (the main purpose of the trip). Here we met up with Glynn, Rhonda’s 3 sisters, Dannielle and her kids; Lucy and Lachlan as well as other friends. After this, we stayed at the party till after midnight and stayed at Rhonda and Glynn’s place.Read more.
This morning we slept in until about 9am and Rhonda cooked us toast for breakfast. After this we said goodbye and headed off on the long drive back to Bundaberg. On the way back I finished the book about a young Barn Owl called ‘Wesley, The Story of a Remarkable Owl’ by Stacey O’Brien. It follows the life of a young Barn Owl with nerve damage and is taken into care; a good read with some interesting behavioral observations. We arrived in Bundaberg just after 10pm.
I would like to thank my Dad, Bill Moorhead, for organising this trip, finding all the Tytos, driving tirelessly throughout the day (2,500km) and finding other birds (and photos). It was great to catch up with Len & Chris Ezzy and we thank them for showing us around a few sites and supplying us with lunch. We would like to thank Ian Boyd for showing us the Rufous Owls and his extensive local knowledge. Glynn and Rhonda Jones for letting us stay at their house and supplying us with a great dinner and company. We would like to thank all other people at the party for the great time especially Lucy.Read more.