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More spotlighting fun in western Sydney

April 5th, 2011

A few months back I met a nice birder couple from Thunder Bay, Ontario in Canada. They are spending several months in Penrith before moving along across the rest of the Australian Continent so I tried to help them (especially Allan) get onto new bird species. Finally, last Sunday night (April 3rd) I managed to line up a spotlighting outing with Allan and I was hoping to show him a Powerful Owl in Mitchell Park. That was not to be the case, despite us listening intently and looking around, but we did get to see some other wonderful nocturnal animals.
There was a spot I remembered having seen Sugar Gliders leave their hollows near Cattai Creek and we started there. Gosh, weren’t we lucky! As soon as it was dusk I started to hear rustling in many trees around us, but the most amazing thing was seeing the White-throated Nightjar flying over the creek at the height of the tree tops. It was amazing to finally catch a glimpse of a bird that had eluded me for years.

Sugar Glider - a favorite food of owls.

Not one, but two Sugar Gliders.

The Sugar Gliders made a lot of foraging noise at first making their finding by sight easy, as well I managed to spot a hollow where a Common Ringtail Possum was about to pop its head out, but the spotlight made it shy away a little. It eventually exited and literally ran down into the rainforest area to feed. Now I know why the Powerful Owl was sitting in the casuarina tree two weeks earlier when I was there with Dale, Ashwin and David. It was waiting to snare a pesky little mammal! And it waited a long time, because even an hour later when Dion Hobcroft (a Sydney based birding guide) and his partner in crime were there, they saw the owl perched in the same tree. Owls are very patient hunters and long-stay and short-stay perch hunting are methods they often use to catch prey. They sit still, listening for any sounds that give away the target species and then the owls swoop right on in to catch them in their lethal talons.

The Powerful Owl I photographed two weeks earlier.

A photogenic Tawny Frogmouth.

Hopefully, I will be able to find a Powerful Owl for Allan before he moves away from Sydney. We then ascended to the higher track to hear a Swamp Wallaby thump away from us; they have extremely loud footsteps – if one could call it that. It stopped and allowed some really nice views, but not as nice as the one we came across some five minutes later. In between the two Swamp Wallabies, we saw a Common Brushtail Possum and started to pick up on the calls of the Yellow-bellied Gliders, which are residents in this park. Their calls are quite scary at first if you don’t know what makes them. They are also not easy to find and out of about 40 outings at Mitchell Park, I have only seen and photographed them twice!

Yellow-bellied Glider from July 2009.

Photographed elsewhere in the Hawkesbury, this Golden-crowned Snake is ready to strike.

Making our way back up the hill, a Southern Boobook was calling in the distance and we heard many cows that Allan recorded with his mega microphone. He also managed to record the Australian Owlet-nightjars calling with short trills. This is a type of call I often hear them make during the daytime, but not so much at night. At this place especially, at night, I hear a call that sounds like a short kind of a meow, a descending whistle lasting around half a second. Soon after I found a Common Ringtail Possum on a powerline (low overhead line) and once we photographed it, I showed Allan the exact tree onto which an adult female Powerful Owl landed a few weeks back scaring me to death almost. There was no owl, but another two trills from an owlet-nightjar were welcome and I explained to Allan that once you hear them, they are fairly close and I want to try and track the bird down. I bush-bashed up a hill and stopped to look around every five or so meters, expecting to see the little nightjar fairly close to ground. It was about two meters above ground, perched in a live tree, looking as cute as ever. Allan saw one of these – he actually found it – while on a tour with Phillip Maher in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, but only saw the head poking out of a hollow.

The gorgeous Australian Owlet-nightjar.

This time, Allan was also privileged to see the whole bird perched out in the open. We slowly approached it and it allowed dozens of photographs to be captured, some even full frame portraits of its face. A very obliging little bird. This concluded our nocturnal adventure and we have already planned the next two outings.

Stay safe and happy birding!

Nature Photography

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