Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Eastern Grass Owl on the Sunshine Coast

Last night I had a pair of Eastern Grass Owls performing nicely in the tall grassland/sugar cane flats of the Maroochy River floodplain on the Sunshine Coast. I was unable to photograph them unfortunately; thanks to Rob Hutchinson for this image. One of my birds was similarly coloured, but the second was much more extensively buff on the underparts.
I have recorded Grass Owls consistently since first finding them on the Sunshine Coast in December 2009 and know of 7 and possibly 8 local sites for the species. While Eastern Grass Owl is nomadic in much of its Australian range, it appears to be resident in this region. Autumn appears to be a particularly good time of year for playback response, suggesting that like other Tyto species in south-east Queensland, the bird is essentially a late autumn-winter breeder.

Much of the habitat frequented by the owls is tall grassland in areas that were once farmed for sugar cane but are now disbanded. Some of the grassland is being colonised by Allocasuarina and other trees so its future is uncertain. The owls also frequent areas of tall grass interspersed with sugar plantations.
A pair of Eastern Grass Owls deserted one favoured site when the grass was cut down, but they were back as soon as the grass regrew, so they are demonstrating an ability to adapt to changing circumstances. I've not seen owls hunting over sugar cane and I've only once managed to flush an owl during the day.
Last night I also had this Southern Boobook feeding over the open grassland. The Southern Boobook is generally associated with wooded habitat, not grassland.
Similarly I had a Grey Goshawk feeding over the open paddocks, along with a Brown Goshawk. Like the Southern Boobook, the Grey Goshawk is a forest bird - see here for more. The raptors, both nocturnal and diurnal, are evidently being attracted by healthy populations of rats in the grasslands; those populations presumably have not declined to any significant extent over the 30 months that I've been keeping an eye on the owls.
I've seen dark native rats (the short tails indicate native rather than introduced) often scurry across the roads at night - most likely the Swamp Rat, Rattus lutreolus. On several occasions I've spotted Black-shouldered Kites carrying large dead rats in their talons.
Other good birds in the grassland and associated wet areas yesterday included 3 King Quail and 1 Spotless Crake.

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