Masked Owls in Tasmania

To: <>, "Michael Todd" <>
Subject: Masked Owls in Tasmania
From: "Crispin Marsh" <>
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2013 16:02:13 +1000
Dear Birders,

                        I came down to Tasmania in April for a ‘family’ holiday 
with only 2 birding objectives, firstly to see the small Tasmanian Owl that the 
IOC have designated as the Morepork Ninox novaeseelandiae leucopsis ( a split 
from Southern Boobook) and the second was to see the Tasmanian sub-species of 
Masked Owl.

                        I did the usual literature searches and made a variety 
of enquiries which lead me to find (a) that both birds can be very tricky and 
(b) that Mick Todd is prepared to provide professional guiding on weekend 
nights for those seeking to see nocturnal birds in Tasmania. Now Mick was 
recently awarded his Ph D for a thesis on the Masked Owl in Tasmania, written 
after hundreds of hours of seeking these birds at some 211 locations in 
Tasmania - so he should know something about the birds. His thesis can be 
downloaded from . I found 
it very readable and contained an enormous amount of information not only on 
the Masked Owl but also on the Morepork and the Australian Owlet-nightjar. This 
convinced me that I should contact Mick and see if we could work out an evening 
that would suit us both. Fortunately we could and the chosen evening turned out 
to be windless and only lightly overcast, perfect weather for owling.

                        We went up the Derwent Valley from Mick’s home in 
Molesworth in the early evening aiming for a number of sites Mick had selected 
from Google earth on the basis of habitat suitability. We pulled up at the 
first selected area and awaited nightfall. Just as Mick said “They should be 
leaving their roosts about now, we could give the call a try” there was the 
piercing screech of a Masked Owl from nearby. Mick played the call briefly and 
the owl, a brown male bird, alighted in the tree above our heads. As it did so 
there was another screech from the opposite direction. Another short burst of 
call saw the second bird arrive, this time a larger brown female bird. After a 
bit of circling around the 2 birds landed in the branches of a vast old 
eucalypt, not more than 2 meters apart. and spent at least half an hour 
chattering to one another. Mick was able to record a good part of this 
interchange. Eventually the birds flew off to hunt leaving Mick and me gob 
smacked at our good fortune at finding not just one bird but a pair and for 
being able to observe such a long interaction between them. 

                        We eventually dragged ourselves off to Mick’s second 
selected site and started with the Morepork call. A bird responded by call but 
didn’t show. A third site was one where Mick had seen Masked Owl previously. 
Again we started with a Morepork call which was answered but the bird didn’t 
show. The call of the Masked Owl however again resulted in the location of a 
pair of birds. A very large brown female bird and a smaller and distinctly 
paler male bird. They both provided prolonged views with some chattering 
calling between the birds but not the close interaction of the first pair. 

                        I was still without a view of the Morepork so we 
stopped at another site on the way home. The Morepork call elicited a vocal 
response and the bird flew over our heads providing excellent flight views in 
the spotlight. Tired but happy we returned to Mick’s at around midnight after 
an exceptional night of nocturnal birding. The trip was made even more 
pleasurable due to Mick’s knowledge and enthusiasm, both of which he was eager 
to share in ample measure. Truly a great night’s birding and money well spent. 
To put this experience in context Mick noted that during his research he often 
did not see or hear a Masked Owl in an evening of searching; very rarely had he 
seen more than a single such bird at a site; and that he had never before had 2 
pairs on one night. Best of the numerous mammals seen was Eastern Quoll.

Mick can be contacted at  or by text to his mobile 
0487766957. Please note that Mick is still studying and has a young family, 
both of which might limit his availability at short notice.


Peter Marsh

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