Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Morepork twitch

The International Ornithologist’s Union maintains a list of  the world's bird species. It is this list that has become, for many people, the default list for Australian bird species since the "Christidis & Boles" list is no longer being maintained. Recently it has split off the Tasmanian race of the Southern Boobook and called it Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae leucopsis). Interestingly, this is reverting to the situation  as it was in the 1930s and earlier.

The Morepork is a very hard species to find in its home state of Tasmania, or so I have found. I have heard them calling in the steep, heavily wooded valleys and hills south of Hobart and chased them numerous times without success. Each winter some birds move north to Victoria so when one turned up  in a backyard in Hamilton just 4 hours drive west of Melbourne, I had to go.
It had selected a good place to hide

I emailed Steve Clark, the birder who had found it, and arranged to go down. Luckily this cute little bundle of feathers is a creature of habit and has been roosting each day in one of two trees in his back yard.
Note quite asleep

I picked up Joy and Helen on Friday morning and we were on our way. The sun was out and there was no wind so it was a perfect day for a twitch. And when we arrived, there was the owl, fast asleep and partially hidden by the ivy climbing up an old hakea. For ten minutes we chatted, oohed and aahed and took photos. Owls can be very hard to find at night but when a daytime roost is found it is just tooo easy.
The eyes reflect strong yellow and even in daylight the eye is dark yellow

Morepork is the allocated common name for this "new" species but it seems odd to me, it sounds like a request at dinner time; "More pork please". An old alternative common name for the Boobook was Mopoke, an approximation of its call, and I think it is a shame this name was not used. I guess the problem is that we are currently using an international list for the Australian birds and the common names given don't always align with the names we are used to, sigh. These small owls speak with an Australian accent and, to my ears, they say Mo-Poke, Mo-Poke; not More-pork, More-pork.
The breast is strongly marked and white flecks show on the head

After about 15 minutes we thanked Steve for his hospitality and climbed back into the car for the drive back to Melbourne. In fact I need to say that both Steve and Jenny were absolutely wonderful in the help they provided us with a combination of phone calls and emails to make sure all three of us were able to see the bird.

What a fun way to spend an early winter day; good company, a new bird for the list, a day in the country and some nice birding from the car. As well as the standard roadside ravens, corellas, waterbirds and raptors we saw a pair of Brolga beside a reedy creek – beautiful.
Helen and Joy "twitching" the Morepork (Mopoke) in Steve's backyard.

All images and text © Jenny Spry

1 comment:

  1. Clark without an 'e' please.

    The owl was absent on Sat morning.