Monday, 28 December 2015

Top Ten Wildlife Encounters of 2015

2015 was a beautiful year to be in the bush (or the sea in some cases!), and I had many wonderful encounters with unusual, rarely seen animal species, all within a short drive of Brisbane. Here are my ten favourites!

1. Budgerigar, Haigslea.
It might seem funny to have such a seemingly common and ordinary bird in the top spot, but until you've seen a wild budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), you haven't seen the real thing! Budgerigar have only been recorded in South-east Queensland on a handful of occasions, but persistent drought and El Nino conditions led to a spate of observations this year from the Lockyer Valley, Somerset and Scenic Rim areas, beginning when I sighted the species near Raysource Road in May. Two things about the wild version of this bird surprised me: firstly, that it was such a secretive seed-eater, keeping closer to cover more so than the doves and finches around it; and secondly, that its shimmering green plumage is more beautiful than I'd ever given it credit for.

2. Great Barred Frog, Mount Cotton.
Despite their large size, great barred frogs are athletic jumpers.
Earlier this year, I lost track of time during a late afternoon walk through Venman Bushland National Park, and ended up having to complete it in the dark. To subsequently hear the forest suddenly come alive with the deep, booming barks of the great barred frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus) is an experience I will never forget! I
was able to track down a pair of these fabulous creatures before the evening was over, sitting on the banks of a swollen Tingalpa Creek.

3. Southern Boobook, Mount Cotton.
Boobooks are named after their haunting, double-note call that is also described as 'Mo-poke!'
Boobook owls (Ninox boobook) aren't particularly rare around Brisbane (I recently even heard one in suburban Bray Park), but being nocturnal, secretive and well-camouflaged means that I rarely see them. So when I found this stunning bird at dawn along a paperbark-lined creek in the Redlands, I made sure to stop and appreciate the moment!

4. Grey-headed Flying-Fox, Cleveland.
Victims of a media smear campaign, sadly misunderstood and seemingly abundant, I've seen Brisbane's flying-foxes get taken for granted by people I'd normally consider nature enthusiasts, let alone by the general public! I felt a great fondness for these creatures this winter however, when I stopped by the Black Swamp Wetlands to study the increasingly uncommon grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) that occasionally resides there.

5. Naked Tree Frog, Woorim.
This sexy-sounding frog is described as 'naked' thanks to its pale skin tones that match the dead branches and stones of its surrounds. That wasn't enough to hide it from my keen eyes however, when I spotted one track-side on a morning walk in Bribie Island National Park this year.

6. Sowerby's Sea-Hare, Pumicestone Passage.

In October, I made the inspired decision to go snorkeling among the seagrass and mangroves on the calm side of Bribie Island. For my efforts, I was rewarded with the sight of a massive Sowerby's sea-hare (Aplysia sowerbyi) moving slowly across the seafloor.

Eastern rosellas often hybridize with
pale-headed rosellas in the wild.
7. Eastern Rosella, Edens Landing.
One thing my interest in wildlife has taught me is that it is not necessary to go to expansive and remote National Parks to enjoy interesting or rare animal sightings—a simple walk through the suburbs will often do. Such was the case when I found an eastern rosella (Platycercus eximius) in some humble parkland in Logan towards the end of the year. Of the three rosella species recorded from South-east Queensland, this is by far the least common, and is usually considered a bird of Australia's southern states. It was my first time seeing this bird in the wild, and I think it would be no understatement to say it is a breathtakingly beautiful creature.

8. Beach Stone-Curlew, Bongaree.
Brisbane's suburban bush stone-curlews (Burhinus grallarius) are very well-loved birds of ours, but many people are unaware that their rarer coastal cousin, the beach stone-curlew (Esacus magnirostris) can also be seen nearby, albeit with a bit more effort required. In February this year, just after Tropical Cyclone Marcia swept through, I was lucky enough to see a pair of the latter birds on the southern tip of Bribie Island, strolling among the storm debris.

9. Bark Mantids, Kippa-Ring and Haigslea.
Bark mantids are more likely to be seen on rough-barked trees that offer camouflage and shelter.
To happen upon such remarkable little beings once in a year is a stroke of luck, but to happen upon them twice is to be very blessed indeed. Earlier in the year, I encountered a spiny bark mantis (Gyromantis kraussi) while spotlighting in Kippa-Ring; months later, on a rainy night in Haigslea, I found a related black bark mantis (Paraoxypilus tasmaniensis). Any bigger and these insects would be quite terrifying creaturesfor the stink bugs they prey upon however, they already are!

10. Northern Brown Bandicoot, Burpengary.
The conical soil diggings left behind by the northern brown bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) may be common, but sightings of the creature itself can be fleeting. To find a pair engaged in courtship behaviour just a few feet away, as I did in January while spotlighting along Burpengary Creek, is therefore quite a notable encounter.

Honourable mentions: Square-tailed kite (Lophoictinia isura) at Ipswich, razor grinders (Henicopsaltria eydouxii) at Albany Creek, and land mullets (Egernia major) at Eagle Heights.

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