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Searching for Eastern quolls (Dasyrurs viverrinus)Printable Version


Mud Map
With Rebecca Lang's recent article on the Eastern quoll sighting in the Hawkesbury region of north-western Sydney last month, I couldn't help but get out there myself to see what the area looks like.

The first obstacle on the list was finding a map of the area. It seems like every map I have of north western Sydney just manages to drop East Kurrajong off the edge. Finding a useful online website, I drew a bit of a mud map for myself.

Of course, I knew that in all liklihood I'd get there, drive the length of the road and not see anything. Then what? Drive for an hour to search for five minutes?

I noted that just to the north lies the Wollemi National Park - home, of course to the ancient Wollemi pine (Wollemia Nobilis). There are plenty of roads in the area, although only a couple going directly into the park, so I would be able to spend some time just driving through ideal quoll habitat, eyes open and camera at the ready.

When I first sighted an Eastern quoll in Tasmania, I had been driving just before dawn through Tinderbox Hills, south of Hobart. Thinking that pre-dawn was as likely a sighting time as any (and given that Nicole Palmer's sighting was made on the drive to work - presumably in the morning), I bundled my own toddlers into the car at 4.30 and headed off.

The search
Racing to get to Roberts Creek Road before the sunrise did, I was cursing that I didn't leave at 4AM as planned. The new motorway made for a quick trip out though, but by the time I reached my destination, the pre dawn light was already quite bright.

Nevertheless, video and still cameras at the ready, I set off down the road. The area generally consisted of farmland with bushland pockets. Roberts Creek Road, as the name implies, crosses over a creek where the vegetation is generally denser. Were I to return (without infant passengers), I would probably concentrate on walking along the creekline to search for quolls - unless, of course, more information were to come to light about the exact location of the sighting.

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) Eastern Quoll threatened species fact sheet quotes Godsell in reporting that Eastern quoll "home ranges are relatively small, with females remaining within a few hundred meters from their den". In addition, due to young being weaned, "large numbers of juveniles enter the population around November" and "disperse over summer".

Given that Ms Palmer apparently saw a younger individual with an adult, it is perhaps probably that this was a mother and infant, within a few hundred meters of their den. Being late November presently, this pair may have already broken up, but if time permits I hope to search again in the near future.

At any rate, I crossed the creek and headed up the other side, coming out of the bushland and back into farmland at the top of the hill. There wasn't a mammal in sight, notwithstanding the cows and goats.

Wollemi National Park
With the sun now breaking the horizon, there would be almost no chance of sighting an Eastern quoll. I continued along the various backroads and into Wollemi National Park, only to be greeted with a sign reading "This is private property, please turn around now".

On the second attempt we came in and down to Wheeny Creek campground. The kids woke up to find themselves descending a steep dirt track with bushland either side. I'm sure those who camped overnight appreciated the sound of our car driving through at about 6AM. After parking and getting out of the car we were treated to the most amazing bird calls.


Superb Lyrebird, male (Menura novaehollandiae) - click to enlarge


I should have known better. If you are visiting Australia and get the chance to "go bush" - do make sure to try and hear the superb lyrebird - its range of vocalisations is truly astounding. It has been known to mimic any number of other birds, but also dogs, cats, chainsaws, gate hinges, windmills, frogs, engines and people.

This photo is probably the best of a whole lot of bad photos - and I do apologise! Shown is a male - similar to that found on Australia's ten cent coin. Although many authors have written that the lyrebird does not display its tail as shown on the coin (raised up and over its body) - there are plenty of photos available online showing the bird doing just this.


Superb Lyrebird, female (Menura novaehollandiae) - click to enlarge


Actually it was the female we saw first. She ran out from the bushes near the river and just tore across the picnic ground into scrub on the other side. Although this bird normally walks around slowly looking for a meal amongst the leaf litter, when it does decide to dart for cover, this is one quick bird.


Satin Bowerbird, male (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) - click to enlarge


The next unusual bird we were to see was truly amazing. We were walking through a deserted campground on the valley floor and at the end of the campground there was a medium sized black bird darting about the trees. It was staying in the same general area, but clearly a flighty bird. As we approached, the bird went higher, but did not leave the scene. Whilst I was standing there attempting to get a long distance photo, I took a look around, and about a meter to my left was the bird's bower - an unusually shaped nest surrounded by a platform of twigs covered in all things blue.


Satin Bowerbird, male (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) - click to enlarge


Who knows what this bird did to impress the females before we came along and provided them with all manner of plastics - straws, bottle lids, pegs, spoons. I couldn't believe this bird had built this marvellous construction less than 1 meter away from open grassland which was equipped with barbeques for campers.

Although the blueish purple tinge in this photo is as much due to my poor camera lens as anything else, this bird, although black in appearance, does have a bright blue sheen to its plumage.


Satin Bowerbird nest - click to enlarge


Not wanting to disturb the bird too much, we took our photos quickly and then moved away from the nest. Being in full view from the open grassland, I found a spot on the other side of the valley, perhaps 15 meters away, and waited in the hope he would return to the bower for a photograph.

Alas, the kids could not be patient forever and eventually I left my waiting spot.


Satin Bowerbird nest - click to enlarge


Sure enough - I had not walked perhaps ten paces before the bird returned to the nest. Despite hurrying back for a photo, I missed it and he took off again.


Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)


Although the Australian Magpie is incredibly common around Sydney, I included this photo because I like the in-flight perspective. The magpie is often one of the first birds you will hear singing in the morning and they do have quite a beautiful melodic song. Although it is true that magpies can swoop, grab and peck at people, I have heard that it is only males, and then perhaps less than five percent of them - usually because they were taunted whilst young. I have no idea how much truth there is in that theory - but each spring thousands of school children are taught the dangers of walking through parks which contain nesting magpies.

We are quite fortunate to have a pair nesting behind our house again this year - the fledgeling is nearly ready to fly.


Brown Pigeon (Macropygia amboinensis) - click to enlarge


We had just photographed a pair of Australian wood ducks (not shown) and were about to leave when an unusual pair of pigeons landed in a tree nearby. Although I couldn't see them clearly, I could tell they were not your usual domestic pigeons. I always found it funny to be browsing through my bird identification handbook, and to see just how many different kinds of pigeon Australia has, and then to think that I have never seen any except the domestic, spotted turtledove and the crested.


Brown Pigeon (Macropygia amboinensis) - click to enlarge


However, this time I knew I had something new. I took photos hoping there would be enough information to ID them later, and luckily there was. Although at the time I wondered if they were bronzewings, they turned out to be brown pigeons.


King Parrot, male (Alisterus scapularis)


Again we were turning to go when another visitor dropped in - this time the Australian King Parrot; a male.


King Parrot, male (Alisterus scapularis)


This is a fairly common parrot, but I have never seen it near my own suburb, which is in Sydney's south east; however a few weeks ago one did visit our gum tree for a few brief moments. I have since found out that the King Parrot is fairly common around Sydney's north west - which is where this one was photographed.


Common Bronzewing Pigeon (Phaps chalcoptera) - click to enlarge


Finally, as we were driving up and out of the valley, a common bronzewing pigeon did indeed drop in to visit us. This photo was taken through the windscreen of the car because I knew that as soon as I opened the car door it would take off - which it did. Again, despite the poor quality photo, there are enough identifying features to distinguish it from the brush bronzewing; the white marking behind the eye is very prominent and the forehead is white. Although the iridescent green plumage of the wing is not apparent in this photo, it was very striking to see.


Conclusion
I guess it is not at all surprising that I did not encounter any Eastern quolls on this short trip, which lasted mere minutes before sunrise, coupled with the fact that I wasn't able to leave the car at all. However, sighting so many beautiful birds was rewarding - not just for myself but the children too.

It was interesting to return with a huge batch of hopelessly poor quality photos - most were subject to camera shake due to my inexperience with the longer lens, and most were also subject to chromatic aberation (or "purple fringing") due to the poor quality lens (and/or my poor choice of exposure settings).

The poor photo quality certainly gives cause to pause and think about the quality of photograph which might be expected when an unprepared observer chances upon a rare species such as the Eastern quoll, or, for that matter, the thylacine. I reflected on this matter earlier when I was caught by surprise by a swamp wallaby in a local bushland reserve.

Regarding the October sighting of the Eastern quoll - I would very much like to return here again before sunrise, and perhaps spend a considerable amount of time exploring the area on foot.

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