Ian’s Bird of the Week – Lesser Sooty Owl ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 9/7/15
You may remember that in March of this year Greater Sooty Owl featured as Bird of the Week when I visited East Gippsland east of Melbourne with my Victorian birding pals Barb, Jen and Joy. Last Thursday I met up with the trio again, this time at Kingfisher Park west of Cairns, Far North Queensland. The main target was, naturally, Lesser Sooty Owl , another member of the Barn Owl family and a species as elusive as its larger cousin. I’d seen one at Kingfisher Park in 2002 but hadn’t photographed it and none of the trio had seen it before.
It’s a Wet Tropics endemic ranging from Paluma – and perhaps Bluewater Forest near me – in the south to Cedar Bay in the north, with an estimated population of 2000 pairs. I’ve searched for it many time since without success so I’d agree with the field guides that say: “seldom seen” (Morcombe) and “until field studies in recent decades … among our least-known birds” (Pizzey and Knight). On Wednesday night I’d searched for it along some dreadful tracks in Tumoulin Forest Reserve near Ravenshoe and on Thursday night we spotlighted the 10km length of the Mount Lewis road near Kingfisher Park with the usual result.
It does occur at Kingfisher Park and Andrew Isles told us to listen for it in the evening “after the barn owls” which live in adjacent Geraghty Park. Barn and Sooty Owls make chirruping calls and both species of Sooty Owl have a characteristic descending whistle like a falling bomb. Sure enough at 6:55pm an owl chirruped maybe 50 metres from the trio’s apartment and we raced around the corner to find this bird had come to visit us and was perched in full view in a tree at a photography-friendly height. Later, I agreed with Joy that it was an OMG moment on a par with encountering the Kagu family on a forest track in New Caledonia.
In the past, the Greater and Lesser have been treated as a single species, but the species split is now generally accepted. They are genetically close, but there is a big difference in sizes – Lesser 31-38cm/12-15in , Greater 37-51cm/14.5-20 (females of both are larger than the males) – and differences in appearance, call and behaviour. Their ranges are disjoint with the Greater found from near Melbourne (Strzelecki and Dandenong Ranges) along the east coast to Eungella National Park near Mackay in Central Queensland. There is also a Sooty Owl in New Guinea. It’s still lumped with the Greater, which is biogeographically unlikely, but has been placed with the Lesser and may even be a different species.
The behaviour of the Lesser differs in that it uses lower perches for hunting, good for photographers, and is known to cling to the side of tree trunks like the Eastern Yellow and Pale-yellow Robins. The last photo shows its impressive talons: these would be able to cling on to anything.
If you’re into benchmarks, last week’s bird, the Ouvea Parakeet, was the 1500th global species on the Birday website (15% of all bird species) but the Australian total was stuck at 699 waiting for something special of course. The Lesser Sooty Owl will be a fitting 700th – I haven’t put it up yet, you get to see if first – that’s 700 out of the 898 ever recorded or 78%.
I’m back home now planning my next project now that the Diary of a Bird Photographer Volume 1 has been published. So far, 27 copies have been purchased and favourable comments are coming in from all over the place including California, UK, Italy and Dubai. The Fat Birder has published a review in which he said:
“I hope anyone who enjoys fine photography and fantastic birds will go to iTunes and download the book… I for one can’t wait for volume 2”
Happily, the remaining 940 members of the bird of the week list don’t have to wait that long for Volume 1!
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. (Isaiah 43:20 KJV)
I am impressed with this neat Lesser Sooty Owl from our Creator and also with Ian’s number of Global and Australian birds he has on his birding list.
Now that he is producing these books, I hope he will continue to give permission to reproduce his Bird of the Week Newsletters.