Our Friday night survey team was particularly focussed on the endangered Tasmanian masked owl. The standard masked owl survey technique is quite full on - 5 mins' amplified masked owl calls (aka horror movie scream/hiss); wait quietly in the darkness, listen; another 5 mins of calls. No luck, and we moved up the track to listen for frogs.
But then, among the croaks, we picked up a subtle, hard-to-identify hiss. Halfway through another round of the recording, some very distinctive scary owl calls and cackles came right back at us! Frank Bird, the team leader, managed to pick up a beautiful view of the bird for the team with his spotlight, and even - a special ornithologist’s skill - to take a photo of it with his phone through his binoculars.
Though we'd thought it was worth trying, the chances of detecting one had seemed low, since masked owls are considered to be less common in wet forests, and you may need several nights’ surveying to pick one up even if it’s living in the area. What with that, and the sheer beauty of the owl - we were all a little overwhelmed.
You can find out more about the owl and its conservation requirements at this link.
There are thought to be only 500 breeding pairs. To breed successfully, it needs really big hollows which only form in very old trees. Another reason not to destroy these forests, if one were needed!