Hoarse Maskeds and a Marksmen Great-bill

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Hoarse Maskeds and a Marksmen Great-bill
From: "Michael Todd" <>
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 16:04:43 +0800
Hello all

I've just come back from a weeks finchbanding and star finch chasing on
Nifold Plain, Lakefield NP. Nifold is currently getting belted by gale force
winds and the once flooded grassy plains are fast drying out. Even so there
are still pockets of greener grass which the wildlife (including the
cattle!) are very adept at finding. I spent each evening spotlighting and
watching owls.

I suspect the Grass Owls are breeding. The male owl would emerge during the
twilight about a half hour after sunset and then within 5-10 minutes would
hurry back in the direction from whence he came carrying food, chirrupping
all the way. Where exactly he went with that food I couldn't find out but I
suspect that that was where the missing female was. On my last night with
the grass owls I rather aimlessly shined the spotlight around from the road
after having spent a couple of hours trudging around in the dark over the
grasslands trying to find where the male was going to. After a short while
the male appeared and gave the impression that he wa following the spotlight
and using it to get a clearer look at the ground while he hovered. I
deliberately moved the spotlight away from him with the intention of
providing just enough light to see him so that I could watch what he did,
but he just kept following the spotlight!

On my birthday I treated myself to a nights camping at a river rather than a
mosquito ridden dam out on the Nifold Plain! I ended up spending most of the
night spotlighting and listening to owls. I had heard Tyto owls previously
at the site and suspected them of being Maskeds but hadn't had the time or
opportunity to give a proper search so I figured that this would be a good
birthday treat to myself. It took a few hours before I heard and then saw
the first Masked Owl. It gave me about a minute of observation before it had
had enough and flew over the river. I then heard Masked Owls on a few more
occasions over the next couple of hours. But it was at 4 am that the owls
really got serious. From 4 am until about 6 am there were three Masked Owls
calling at once and they were calling almost continuously. It was a great
racket! Each screech was separated by about 3 seconds of silence. They would
start deep and harsh but after a few minutes it was as though their throats
were getting sore and the screeches would start to degenerate into whistles
and squeaks. They'd then stop for a few minutes and then start up again! It
will be one of my most memorable birdwatching and bird-listening
experiences, being in the middle of such a cacophony. All of the Masked Owls
that I observed were similar to the others that I have observed in Lakefield
NP being not much larger than a Barn Owl with very lightly feathered legs.
They do however still possess the characteristic large eyes, darker backs
and barred wings of Masked Owls elsewhere in Australia.

The other birthday surprise I received was a roosting adult Great-billed
Heron. I saw the bird, and
thought it was a heron, but wasn't able to get a good look at it until I was
right next to it and then I was gobsmacked. It was perched on a low eucalypt
branch about 4 metres off the ground and was quite bemused at my vehicle. I
suspect it had'nt seen one before. The problem I had was trying to get the
whole heron in frame with my camera while still having the flash carry far
enough for the photos to turn out! It wasn't easy. In the end the heron had
had enough and said goodbye by crapping on the windscreen of the car! I
suppose I should have been thankful that he didn't show such disdain for me
and my camera because he produced a fair whack of excrement!


Mick Todd

Michael Todd
Finch Researcher
Tropical Savannas CRC
c/o Stephen Garnett,
EPA, PO Box 2066, Cairns, Qld, 4870

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