10th December, 2015

Bush Stone Curlew with Chicks

A female Bush Stone Curlew protecting it's chicks at the dead of night

Soul Piercing Eyes

Before I get into what has been happening over the past week and a bit I thought I would update you all on the Koala joey that was featured in my blog post Life and Death. If you read the blog you would have been familiarised with his circumstances. Well, he responded really well to treatment and was feeding well but took a turn for the worse not long after. I am saddened to share that he passed away due to reasons unknown. RIP little furball. You will be missed.

Onto the week that was. My first story is one that has been ongoing for many weeks, if not over a month. Near my house is a shopping centre that had recently become a new nesting ground for a pair of Bush Stone Curlews. I had known of these for years as they inhabited bushland behind the shopping centre and as the urban sprawl continued, so did their habitat. BSC's are very resilient and are more than capable of living amongst humans, so come breeding season they chose a nest site in the carpark. 

Once chosen, the female laid her eggs and the countdown began. Members of the public and centre management did their best to barricade it off however, one day the pair had disappeared and so did their eggs. It was later found a member of my Wildlife rehab group that was a reptile carer thought it would be better if the eggs were taken and incubated. As noble as this gesture was, they should have been left alone! Once born, they were reunited and since then it has been nothing but trouble in terms of receiving calls from the public about their safety and people stealing the chicks because they think they are in danger!

I had to do something because at this rate the chicks would die of stress before anything else. I contacted my local newspaper and was interviewed about these special birds and how to "live" with them. I was happy with the article and have been receiving less calls since the word has been spread. I will be over the moon once the chicks are big enough to fly and run away!

Gold Coast Bulletin article on Bush Stone Curlews

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Kestrel named "Demeter" after the Greek Goddess of Agriculture

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My next story is another sad Nankeen Kestrel story (Yes, they all end up like this for some reason). On Friday afternoon I received a phone call from the RSPCA about an injured "Kite". I drove out to the site to find a grounded Kestrel. She was very alert and rolled onto her back into a defensive position so I had hoped that it may have been a small fracture in her wing. I boxed her up and took her home for the night and to inspect her injuries in detail.

Upon a proper check I found a fractured left tibia. I could not find any breaks in her wing so an x-ray would be required in the morning. I left her with a small mouse and closed her box for the night. In the morning the mouse was partially eaten and she appeared responsive so I ran her down to Currumbin Hospital for further checks. A few days later I was told that they found a broken left tibia (as I found), a fractured left wing (as suspected) and a smashed pelvis. She was euthanised as these injuries were too horrific. So now I have had 2 kestrels and both have died or been put to sleep due to the extent of their injuries. Disheartening to say the least!

On the Sunday, I woke up very early to do some species specific birding. I had planned to target Ground Cuckoo Shrike (pretty rare), Painted Honeyeaters, Plum Headed Finches and to see my Black Falcons again. I wanted to visit the Falcons first as the weather forecast was good and I have only ever seen them in bad light, so I wanted to get some GREAT photos. 

So what happens? I arrive at their location. TICK. Sunrise 20 minutes ago with great light. TICK. Black Falcons, hello? FAIL. Pretty devastated, haha. So 1.5 hours of travel West for nothing except some okay photos of a Spotted Harrier.

Time to drive another 1.5 hours WEST! Surely I will get the other 3 species. Nope not at all, lol. Saw loads of birds just not the three others I wanted. Just like any wildlife, you can never be guaranteed of a sighting, part of the fun I guess!

  • Spotted Harrier
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Spotted Harrier, Nankeen Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon taken WEST of Toowoomba, QLD.

After my dismal attempts at locating birds on the Saturday I had planned some camping out at Bunya Mountains. It is a special place located about 2-2.5 hours North West of Brisbane. It is the largest Bunya Tree forest in the world. It has a great variety of rainforest birds but there was only one species that I would be coming here for and that was the elusive Sooty Owl (T.tenebricosa). This owl has one of the smallest distribution of our native owls so would be fantastic to locate one and even more so to photograph it!

Upon arriving at the campsite I spent some time setting up tent and having a look at the walking tracks to see what one's would be best to locate one. Obviously night time was going to be best so I had to plan a few spots to sit and wait. I chose a walking circuit and headed off for the afternoon just to get a feel for the place and take in some of the scenery.

During my walk I seen many birds such as Satin Bowerbirds, Superb Fairy Wrens, White-Browed Scrub Wrens, Catbirds, Black Faced Monarchs and White Headed Pigeons along with a few marsupials such as the Red Necked Wallaby. Along the way we were checking various tree hollows to see if we could see anything "Owly". About 4 km's into our trek we came across a Fig Hollow. We looked into it and saw a silhouette. I grabbed my torch and squeezed into it and shone it up towards the eerie shadowy figure. A SOOTY OWL roosting!!!! My friend Jade and I were ecstatic with the find! I quickly took some photos of the Owl and we immediately organised to come back at dusk and set up camp hoping to see the Owl emerge from it's hollow and venture out looking for food!

Waterfall in Bunya Mountain

Waterfall in Bunya Mountain

Sunset was scheduled for approximately 6:30pm so we arrived back at the Sooty Owl's roost at about 6pm. He was awake now and preening itself. Due to me having to watch the owl up into the hollow these did not allow for the best photos as a big branch was in the way and also my neck would hurt from constantly looking straight up. We would check on it intermittently for any movement with the spotlight without causing the animal any distress. 

As soon as the sky went black it was amazing to hear the change of forest sounds almost immediately. From diurnal birds squabbling over roosting space to the sounds of Boobook Owls calling and Micro-bats moving amongst the canopy. After about 40 minutes I checked on the Sooty again and he moved from inside the roost. I frantically ran around outside the tree trying to locate it to find him with his head poked out of a hole surveying the area. He stayed here for another 20-30 minutes before flying to a tree adjacent to his roost site.

I continued to spotlight the owl every 5-10 minutes  for a few seconds to keep an eye on it. He was now very alert, moving his head in the direction of every sound that was made. I tried to stay as quiet as possible but in an attempt to get a better view of it I made a pretty loud noise and he looked straight at me. The eye's of a Sooty are as black as night, almost lifeless.

He let out the infamous "Whistle Bomb" call and then flew off into the night. This has probably been one of my best finds to date and I don't ever think the sound of it's call will ever leave me nor will those big black "SOUL PIERCING EYES".

Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa)

On the rescue and release front (apart from my Kestrel earlier in the week), I had to release another Peregrine Falcon on the Sunshine Coast, a Barn Owl in the same area and I had to do a reunite with a post fledgling Boobook Owl on the Gold Coast. The first two were simple releases but the Boobook Owl would pose a more difficult task as it wasn't a hard release (Hard releases are simply a release where you just let it go), here I had to try and locate the family and reunite the bird with them. I can't do this during the day as Boobook's nest in tree hollows so this was another late night!

Both the Peregrine and Barn Owl hard releases went very smooth and I have footage of the release as filmed in slow motion by my friend Emma who was present at both this and the Barn Owl releases.

Peregrine Falcon Release

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

I arrived at the location for the attempted Boobook release on Sunday evening and spent several hours searching for the roost site. At approximately 1:30am I came across a large Eucalyptus tree. My juvenile Boobook was being quiet vocal at this stage which ended up being a god send as it's call's initiated return calls from it's family which pinpointed the hollow. I spotlighted the tree and found 2 other fledglings. I was excited to have found them! I opened the box and let the juvenile out. He flew towards the tree but he couldn't get any height so landed on the ground.

I decided to capture it again to maybe launch it higher so it would get onto a branch when an adult flew out of no where to greet it's baby. They both started communicating and the adult flew up high encouraging the bird to come to it. Unfortunately after repeated attempts it was still very low so I decided to grab it and help give it some height. It got high enough to land in a tree adjacent to it's nest tree but was now with one of it's parents. I was very happy to see the family unit reunited again and I will go back in a few days to see if all 3 chicks are around.

Southern Boobook Owls

Southern Boobook Owl nesting hollow discovery and reunite

Overall, a fairly busy week (add into this working my real job). I had some great wild encounters, rescued and released some amazing birds of prey and met some great new friends along the way. I'd like to thank my new friend Jade for tagging along for 4 days of birding and Emma and Trent for their hospitality up on the Sunshine Coast. 

As always, I'd appreciate a like, a comment, a share of my website or a combination of all three as your interactions are what keeps me going.

Until next time remember to "Let mother nature be your teacher" - W. Wordsworth

  • Trevor Scouten

    on December 22, 2015

    Great read Matt, I have been busy of late and not had the chance to read all your blogs. I enjoyed the video you composed of the Boobook release. Thanks for taking the time to document and share.

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