Thursday, October 18, 2018

Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork)

Somehow the Tasmanian Boobook (Morepork) had slipped by me. Earlier this year, I realised that I did not have it on my list. I had no Tassie trips planned for the immediate future, but I knew that these owls were seen consistently at Cape Liptrap Lighthouse in Victoria around mid October. I talked about it with my birding buddy James Cornelious. He had seen them there last year.

On Sunday 7 October, my friends Murray and Charlie Scott from Brisbane were down in Victoria and James and I took them around the WTP. This day of birding ended up including two quite confiding Orange-bellied Parrots. These released birds posed nicely for photos. Murray and Charlie were very pleased indeed.

The previous Morepork reports started in mid October, with the 14th being the earliest listed on eBird. But James had seen an Instagram post by James Mustafa from 5 October. It seems that he, Sue Taylor, and another birder had seen the owls on the fifth. Since James was already down in Lara, we decided if he stayed the night, we could drive over the next day to Cape Liptrap. We had a plan.

I did not want to drive back late at night, so I decided to book an off-season cabin at Waratah Bay Caravan Park just 20 minutes from the lighthouse. At least in off-season, I highly recommend this park. The views are wondrous! We had a two-bedroom cabin that was very comfortable and reasonable. Honestly, I could have done with a few days there.

I had phoned my friend, Dave Stabb and found that he needed the Morepork as well. He only lives about an hour from the lighthouse. He decided to meet us there at 6pm. I even had time for a short ‘granddaddy nap’ in the cabin before we left to meet him.

On the drive over, even in full daylight, we had to mind the Wombats. We saw several, especially on the last ten kilometres of unsealed road. We arrived at the carpark, met Dave and walked down to the lighthouse. I was surprised at how close it was. It is just a couple hundred metres of flat, easy path. At the lighthouse there are two picnic tables, one on the left and one on the right. This was going to be pretty easy birding.

As we waited for darkness some young (late teen, early twenties) ‘kids’ arrived carrying things including several six-packs of beer. They then set up a small beach-type tent right there on the lighthouse grounds. More came, and then a few more. We were very worried that this impending ‘party’ would be noisy and affect the owls behaviour. Even though there eventually must have been at least a score of them wandering around and hanging out in their tent, they were not loud at all. Honestly, we hardly knew they were there.

The first owl flew over us just after dusk. We then saw another couple before it was full dark including one that I caught in the torch beam giving us decent enough views to tick the bird. We sat down at the left picnic table (facing the lighthouse) to wait for more and then… a Morepork landed on Dave’s head! Absolutely silent, it landed momentarily on his head less than a metre away from me and I did not hear or see a thing! (I was looking down checking my camera, as I had tripped and fallen with it earlier). James was sitting right beside Dave and saw the bird. Dave felt it land lightly and depart, but that was all. I mean seriously, on his head!

After sitting a bit longer at the left table, we decided to move to the table on the right side. It seemed the owls where coming from the left. It was now full dark. Every so often I’d wander away from the table and shine the red torchlight along the posts and into the trees and brush. On the third or forth of these wanders there it was, eye shine! Two eyes were staring back at me. I called to Dave and James and soon we were all looking at the Tasmanian Boobook. We took a few photos using only the medium torchlight and marvelled at the lovely little owl. And they are small too. Then we switched off the torch and left it be. 

We took a lifer selfie for Dave and me and said goodbye to him. Then we drove slowly back to Waratah Bay. I lost count of Wombats along the way (nine or ten maybe?). We were in our comfy cabin by quarter past ten. That was my kind of nocturnal birding.

The next morning I was happily up at dawn and enjoyed a short walk. The weather was turning rainy, and after looking at a beautiful female Helena Gum Moth, we packed up and left. Sadly, only a few minutes later, the moth was snatched up by a magpie and devoured. Such can be nature.
Sunrise over Wilson's Promontory

I write, therefore I am. I share therefore it’s real. I love because I need to.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Princess Parrots!


Princess Parrots. The name itself is magical to me. They are the parrots Sean Dooley decided not to try for in the Big Twitch because they live “…about as far from anywhere as you can go and still be on Earth.” But as he also said, “they are as beautiful as they are rare.” I have referred to them as ‘pastel parrot porn.’ The subtle shades of blue and pink and green are stunning, heart stopping, breathtaking. They are slender birds with a very long tapering tail that give them an elegant profile. Even seen only in silhouette they are unmistakable. And we saw them! I am still trying to get that into my brain.

The trip had been being planned for a year by Bernie O’Keefe. I became a part of it through my dear friend, Robert Shore. He began suggesting that he and I join this expedition months ago. And I am very, very glad that he did. Sometimes I need a bit of a push. My issues with anxiety are something I have been open about and have dealt with all my life. On occasion, I really have to force myself to do what I ‘know’ I want to do. I am extremely grateful when I am able to do that. I will not let my comfort zones become shackles.

Bernie had done a lot of research and planning. He is a teacher and he is organized. I love that. We had itineraries, we had phone numbers, we had permits to transit Aboriginal Lands and we had checklists of supplies and equipment. He had also been in touch with Ian May who was generous with his copious knowledge. He has probably seen more Princess Parrots, more consistently, than any other birder.

I spoke with John Weigel about his sightings in that area and got his thoughts on how to pursue these avian treasures. I also spoke with Mark Carter and pretty much they both said the same thing. Look and listen early in the morning along the dunes through which the road passes. If the birds are present, they can be heard and seen moving about and feeding. Seemingly they are only active in the morning, although indeed a flock could fly-by any time of day (more about that later).

The Thunderbird Princess Parrot Expedition team consisted of: Bernie O’Keefe, Glen Pacey, Robert Shore, Bill Twiss and David Adam and me. Bernie had come up with the name Thunderbirds and yes, it’s cool. We were in four vehicles: Robert and I in our troopies, Bernie and Glen in Bernie’s Triton 4WD Ute, and Bill and David in Bill’s Prado.

(photo by Bernie O'Keefe)
I will not go into the details of the trip up or out. On 24 September we left Alice Springs. It is a long drive mostly on an unsealed road that is often very rough, and sometimes has spots with soft sand. It is not an easy drive, but certainly not ‘bad.’ We bush camped just past Papunya and then carried on to Jupiter Well the next day.

There are even portions where one can safely roll along at 80+ kph. After our last possible fuel stop in the aboriginal community of Kiwirrkurra, Western Australia we had 136 more kilometres to Jupiter Well. After that, there were some long stretches of soft sand that were better in 4WD. But all in all, I was never uncomfortable about the road. Troopi was definitely in her element.


We had a look around John Weigel’s site about 46 kilometres east of the well and then continued on to set up camp. We were there. We were at Jupiter Well. I loved it, really loved it.

Dawn breaking at Jupiter Well. This is life.
The first thing the next morning we decided to check out the areas we had heard about to the west of the well. We did and they were underwhelming in habitat. We headed back to the eastern areas with more desert oak and marbled gum trees. As we rolled slowly along about 17 kilometres east of the camp, Glen and I saw a small flock of parrots flying ahead of us. Robert and Bernie had already stopped and jumped out of the ute. As we caught up to them, we were looking at the small flock as it wheeled and crossed the road up ahead. Bernie had his thumbs up and said, “It’s them! Princess Parrots!” He and Robert had been closer and had gotten better views, but we did indeed see them! The birds were very backlit, but unmistakable. The little flock of 8-10 birds flew south, disappearing into the trees. Bill and David had been further back and had not seen them at all. So the team headed into the bush searching and searching for the flock, but without success. 

Princess Parrots!! (Photo by Bernie O'Keefe)
Glen and my Lifer Selfie for Princess Parrots! But there were more to come...
Back at camp I called and checked in with Lynn as best as I could on the satellite phone (at times the reception was poor). I managed to tell her the parrots had been seen on our first morning! Then the group had a quiet afternoon as the heat had begun building out there. We did a bit of looking for lizards and we found a few.

(photo by Robert Shore)
The next day we had Bill and David take the front since they had not seen the parrots yet. We did not see any that morning, but we did check out a large dam where some members of the team decided to stay and sit and watch. Bernie, Glen and I did a bit more driving and checking along the roadsides then headed back to camp about noon as the temperatures began to climb. I had a wondrously refreshing ‘bath’ under the bore pump and then I settled into my camp chair in the shade. 

Glen and I were conversing under the desert oaks and then… I looked up and shouted, “What the F***!” (sadly, that is an exact quote). About 25 to 30 Princess Parrots few directly over us at tree top height in formation like a pastel bomber squadron. Glen yelled, “PRINCESS PARROTS!” Bernie popped up from where he was napping in the shade, but missed them. Then another flock of 10 to 15 flew over just behind us only moments later. This was around 1:30pm in the heat of the arvo. They seemed to be on their way somewhere. For the next couple of hours we searched the areas in the direction they were traveling, but we did not refind them.

The next morning we again headed out east. We knew there were parrots around; we just needed for the whole team to see them. About seven kilometres from camp the lead car stopped. There were six Princess Parrots literally posing in a small dead tree on the top of the dune line. YES! 
(Photo by David Adam)
They flew, but they went down behind the dune and we soon relocated them feeding in a small bush. We took photos and we rejoiced. However, Robert had gone over to that large dam and was not with us. Bernie tore down there to tell him. Soon he was back and had excellent views of these birds as well. Brace yourselves, here come the photos...


Glen looking at the bush where the parrots had been.
So there you have it! The Thunderbird Princess Parrot Expedition was a complete success. The parrots were seen by some of the team every day and that was beyond our expectations. Bernie O’keefe did a wonderful job planning and organising the expedition. He wrote an excellent trip report which I will add at the end of this blog entry when I can figure out how to do it (no luck yet...).

I write, therefore I am. I share therefore it's real. I love because I need to.