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MEETING REPORT 25 October 2018
Owls of the New England North West
For our October social meeting, our speaker was Steve Debus from the UNE.  He gave us a talk on the owls of our region and also played us their many calls.  This was followed a few days later by an evening of spotlighting, during which he found us a Frogmouth and fantastic views of a Barn Owl.  Steve is always a terrific speaker and we really appreciate all the time and effort that went into this.   Thanks Steve.

The Tawny Frogmouth was included, although it is not an owl.  Frogmouths are more closely related to Nightjars, but people tend to lump them in with owls.
Tawny Frogmouths are common, no hooked beak or talons, build a frail stick nest in a tree fork (misnamed ‘mopoke’ because people hear the Southern Boobook and see the Tawny Frogmouth).  They freeze in a branch-like pose when feeling threatene
They are not owls, but have similar needs.

Owls need
Big old hollow trees, including paddock trees, remnant woodland, especially creek-side or riverine, rough grassland around the edges of paddocks, large woodland or forest reserves (Masked, Barking and Powerful Owls)

There are two owl families in Australia.  The “Barn” Owl types (Barn, Grass and Masked).  They have a heart-shaped face, are white or pale underneath, screech, and hunt by sound.  The other family is the “Hawk” owls (Boobook, Barking and Powerful).  They are more hawk-like, are mottled browns, with yellow or hazel eyes, hunt by sight, and hoot (Australian species give double hoots).
The following owls can be found in our region.
                                        
Grass Owl - Rare in our area, in tall crops, tall grassland, cotton.   They roost and nest on the ground in dense vegetation; eat rats and mice.  More common on the coast.
Barn Owl - (‘white owl’): common in farmland, mostly eat mice and rats; nest in hollows, roost in hollows or old buildings.  Has very obvious heart shaped mask
Masked Owl - Rare, found in extensive woodland or forest, e.g. Pilliga, state forests around Mt Kaputar NP; eat rabbits, rats, mice; nest in hollows, roost in holes, caves, dense foliage.
Southern Boobook - Common in well-treed farmland, woodland; ‘mopoke’ call; eat mostly mice, rats, insects; nest in hollows, roost in dense foliage, hollows, sheds
Barking Owl - Larger than the Boobook.  Has large yellow eyes.  Needs well-timbered areas and is not very common.  Its call can be confused with a barking dog.  Eats small mammals and up to medium sized birds, roosts in foliage.
Powerful Owl - Rare, huge owl.  Is occasionally found in extensive inland forest, e.g. Warrumbungles, Pilliga?  Kaputar?  Eats possums, gliders, some birds (e.g. crows/ravens, cockatoos); nest in big hollows, roosts in foliage.

Threats and problems for owls
Habitat clearance, loss of hollow trees, including paddock trees, barbed-wire fences (collisions), road kill, grain spill on roads (attracts rodents), rodenticides (secondary poisoning), especially second-generation single-dose types containing brodifacoum, bromadiolone etc. (e.g. Talon, Bromakill), pindone (anticoagulants), Harvesting machinery, headers (Grass Owl)

What can be done for owls
Retain old hollow trees, remnant woodland on farms, be owl-aware when driving at night, minimise grain spill on roads (e.g. cover grain loads), minimise use of barbed wire, use 1080 (where safe for kids and pets), not pindone, for rabbits. Use owl-friendly rodenticides, e.g. Racumin (Bayer, coumatetralyl) or the old Ratsak (warfarin), avoid brodifacoum etc. (check labels), follow product instructions, consider alternatives to anticoagulants based on vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), e.g. Bromethalm. Provide hunting perches around crops, grain storages, consider nest boxes for Barn Owls, Boobooks, regenerate native tree cover on farms, especially watercourses

TRIP REPORTS
Tuesday Walk Along the Peel River Tamworth 9 October 2018
Our first daylight savings outing saw Penny back to join us after her and Bruce’s annual migration to the north.  We were also pleased to have Mandy Jones as the newest recruit to the Tamworth Birdwatchers after first joining us as a U3A member.
Before we had even left the carpark, we had seen five birds including a Leaden Flycatcher which I have not seen on this walk before.  Heading along the walking track at our usual snail’s pace, we found that the summer migrants were back in force – Reedwarblers, Songlarks, Fairy Martins and best of all the Rainbow Bee-eaters.  On the way back for morning tea, we were entertained by a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, pair of Australasian Figbirds and a mystery sighting which proved to be a White-winged Triller after examining the photographic evidence.
By the end of morning tea, we had seen 45 species but try as we might to get to that elusive 50, we could only manage three more.

Birds Recorded: Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Spotted Dove, Crested Pigeon, Peaceful Dove,  Australasian Darter, Little Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, White-faced Heron, Australian White Ibis, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Australian King-Parrot, Eastern Rosella, Red-rumped Parrot, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Rainbow Bee-eater, Superb Fairy-wren, Striated Pardalote, White-plumed Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Brown Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Australasian Figbird, White-winged Triller,  Rufous Whistler, Australian Magpie, Willie Wagtail, Australian Raven, Leaden Flycatcher, Magpie-lark, Australian Reed-Warbler, Rufous Songlark, Welcome Swallow, Fairy Martin, Common Blackbird, Common Starling, Common Myna, Mistletoebird, Double-barred Finch, Red-browed Finch, House Sparrow.
Terri Mower
 
Pilliga Forest Birdwatchers Visit Narrabri Lake 20 October 2018
I left here at 6.00am with Bruce.  The sun was not up.  Travelling along No1 Break it decided to rise and torment Bruce until he reached the Highway and turned north to Narrabri. So we arrived at our destination in good time.  We drove slowly through the town and along the edge of what should have been the lake, which now was an expanse of dry land with a couple of small puddles just to prove that a shower had fallen a few days ago.  Among a number of birds present we found Mary and Innes wandering along with their binoculars ready.  At this stage among us we recorded over twenty birds so we decided that perhaps this was not to be another bird outing failure reflected by the drought.  So the four of us were there to record the Narrabri Lake bird list for the 20th October 2018.  We had Blue Bonnet, Nankeen Kestrel, White-winged Triller and Cockatiel among our sightings.

Feeling very satisfied with what we already had we decided we deserved a cup of coffee.  So being well fortified, we decided to walk along the side of the "Lake".  A thick patch of reeds produced a Reed Warbler's call and presently when a pair of Banded Lapwings rose from a pool of water, a fast flying raptor made an unsuccessful attack.  Was it a Peregrine Falcon?  No, it was too small surely.  It had to be a miniature representative, the Australian Hobby.  I nominate it "The Bird of the Day".  There is something about these fast flying (I know what I am doing) small birds that you have to admire.  They leave no doubt in your mind who they are.  Fear accompanies them, no doubt, but this is nature, isn't it?

What about the rest of what we saw? Here they are:  Brown Quail, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, White-faced Heron, Straw-necked Ibis, Australian White Ibis, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Nankeen Kestrel, Australian Hobby, Banded Lapwing, Spotted Turtle-dove, Feral Pigeon, Crested Pigeon, Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Cockatiel, Eastern Rosella, Australian Ringneck, Blue Bonnet, Red-rumped Parrot, Laughing Kookaburra, Superb Fairy-wren, Little Friarbird, Noisy Friarbird, Striped Honeyeater, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Yellow-throated Miner, Noisy Miner, Brown Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, Restless Flycatcher, Willie Wagtail, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, White-winged Triller, White-breasted Woodswallow, Pied Butcherbird, Magpie-lark, Australian Magpie, Australian Raven, House Sparrow, Welcome Swallow, Fairy Martin, Australian Reed Warbler, Common Myna, Common Starling.

At about 12 noon, we had a bit of a consultation, and we all decided that we had an all up total of 46.  "Why don't you come out to our place for lunch", the Wheelers said. They live six kilometres out of town on five acres of land with a beautiful bird attracted garden, finches everywhere.  We thoroughly enjoyed their hospitality and were very impressed with the tractor restoring work Innes was doing in his work shed.
Bruce delivered me to McDonalds and kindly waited until my daughter, Sue, turned up from Tweed Heads.  We left for home into stormy looking weather.
We were satisfied with our day, but hope that next time we go to Narrabri, the Lake will be overflowing and we will have the pleasure of the company of those who could not make it this time.  And, John, our thoughts have been with you as you battle with hospital and what it has been offering.  Best of luck from us all.
Rocky Creek Millsite next month, but more of that later.
David and Shirley
 
Saturday Trip to Curracabundi National Park, 27 October 2018
It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning when 20 Tamworth Birdwatchers, and two of Penny’s grandchildren, assembled at the Paradise end of Peel St, competing with numerous Park Runners for a parking space, both within the car park and on the road.  After a bit of car pooling, eight vehicles left for the trip up Port Stephen’s Cutting toward Niangala. 

Our first stop was “Omaru”, the property owned by Alex and Dorothea Holtman, on the Cowsby Rd. Here we were greeted not only by our hosts, but also by a visiting Emu, which had been raised on a nearby property, and now wanders around the area looking for food.  Under strict instructions from Dorothea not to feed it, the emu eyed off our morning tea, as we sat on the front lawn to appreciate the fantastic view over the Barnard River valley toward the Barrington Tops.  A number of birds kept us entertained, including Welcome Swallows and Superb Fairy-wrens.  As we were packing up to leave, Dorothea and Terri discovered that they had been born in the same small town in Holland, four years apart. Both had come to Australia as five year olds, a remarkable co-incidence which left Dorothea quite emotional.
 
Our next stop was only a brief drive from “Omaru”, parking along the road in the Tuggalo State Forest at Akehurst Saddle.  Most of us walked down the grassy hillside, seeing White-naped Honeyeaters, Brown Thornbills, and White-throated Treecreepers.  An elusive Eastern Whipbird was calling from the gully, and new members Andrew and Bianca thought they could hear a Superb Lyrebird calling in the distance.  Varied Sittellas were spotted in the canopy of tall trees, and a pair of Striated Pardalotes were seen coming out of a tree hollow near the stream, possibly indicating the site of a nest.  Rufous Whistlers and Grey Shrike-thrush were calling, and Grey Fantails flitted around in the trees.  It was hard to drag ourselves away, but we all headed back up the hill, to meet up with the others who had stayed nearer the road.

We then headed south along Cowsby Road, past an old hut which was now part of the Curracabundi National Park, and into the area of the park which stretched on both sides of the road.  Here we set up for lunch, and everyone was quite amused by John and my picnic – our usual fare for a day’s outing, including a bread-stick, prosciutto, cheese, olives, gherkins and pickled onions.  We like roughing it!  It seemed like everyone needed a photo of our laden table!  After lunch, some members headed downhill along the fire-trail, sighting Satin Bowerbirds, Kookaburras, and a White-browed Scrub-wren.  Noisy Friarbirds were uncharacteristically silent, and we were all surprised by their lack of “noise”!

When the group returned to the cars, we found that Penny and her grandkids, Freddy and Benny, had seen the sighting of the day, spotting a Pacific Baza!  They had walked a fair way south along the road, and it had flown into a tree near them.  In an unsuccessful effort to repeat the sighting, some of us walked the same way along the road, but instead of the Pacific Baza, Andrew and Bianca spotted a Cicadabird, which as we were technically in Tamworth Regional Council’s area, could be added to our 200 year bird list, along with the Pacific Baza.  A pair of Leaden Flycatchers was also seen, making a nest on a small branch.  The male sat at the nest, moving its head from side to side as it added a layer to the partly-formed nest, then the female sat on the nest and gave it a poke here and there, as if to check on the quality of the work!
So after a productive day’s bird-watching, everyone headed for home – thank you to all the members who came along to make my first trip as a leader such a lovely day.

Bird List for “Omaru” and Tuggalo SF (same GPS reading):
Emu, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Crimson Rosella, Laughing Kookaburra, White-throated Treecreeper, Brown Treecreeper, Satin Bowerbird, Superb Fairy-wren, Brown Thornbill, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Pardalote, Eastern Spinebill, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, White-naped Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Eastern Whipbird, Varied Sitella, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, Olive-backed Oriole, Pied Butcherbird, Pied Currawong, Grey Fantail, Australian Raven, Rufous Songlark, Welcome Swallow, Common Blackbird.
Bird List for Curracabundi NP:
Pacific Baza, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Crimson Rosella, Laughing Kookaburra, White-throated Treecreeper, Satin Bowerbird, Brown Thornbill, Striated Pardalote, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Varied Sittella, Cicadabird, Golden Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, Olive-backed Oriole, Pied Currawong, Grey Fantail, Leaden Flycatcher.
Jan Hosking
Sunset Owl Outing - Sunday 28 October 2018
“Woof-woof”,  “Woof-woof”;  “boo-book”, “boo-book”; “skke-arr” “skke-arr”.
Would we hear any of these bird calls on our Sunset Owl Outing?
Steve Debus played a selection of owl calls to our group as part of his presentation on Australian Owls at our TBW Social Meeting.  National Bird Week was a good excuse to follow this up with a special outing to see if we could spot any of these beautiful nocturnal birds and record them as part of the Aussie Backyard Bird Count.
Car-pooling was organised to minimise the size of our convoy.  The aim of this, plus the use of walkie-talkies, was to maximise the chance that everyone would have the best opportunity to share any sightings.

Torches and binoculars were at-the-ready as we set off to explore the area around Warral.  This area, on the western outskirts of Tamworth, is a flat, open farming area.  There are isolated paddock trees, plus a few more wooded areas such as Bolton’s Creek Reserve.   I couldn’t contain my excitement when we spotted a very white shape flying across the night sky.  We didn’t see it catch it, but Marianne saw the Eastern Barn Owl swallow a rodent.  It then flew to a tree nearby where we observed it cleaning itself after the tasty meal.

During the evening we also spotted another nocturnal predator, as it flew strongly and silently from paddock tree to paddock tree. The Tawny Frogmouth is not an owl, but is probably our most widespread and often sighted night bird.
The Sunset Owl Outing was a new and positive experience for a number of our TBW members.  A few comments from the evening were:
“I saw a Barn Owl four times!” MC
“I saw a Barn Owl swallow a rodent J” MT
“We had an interesting time tonight, I’m glad we went.” GP
Bird List:
Tawny Frogmouth, Galah, Little Corella, Eastern Rosella, Eastern Koel, Eastern Barn Owl, Noisy Miner, Australasian Pipit.
Denise Kane
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