Birds of the night

Although not often seen, it is worth keeping an eye open and an ear cocked for the birds of the night. In my wanderings around Castlemaine and district I have come across a wide range of nocturnal birds. Often I am initially made aware of them by their calls – even right in town I have heard and seen a few different species. At times it is not the calls of the nocturnal birds, but rather the calls of harassing species such as honeyeaters or ravens that alert me to the presence of these cryptic birds.

So it is worthwhile to make sure that you are familiar with the calls of night birds so that in daylight you can have a look around in likely roosting sites. If you have one of the smartphone apps like Pizzey or Morcombe, it is worth becoming familiar with the various calls of the night. If you don’t have these apps, it is still possible to familiarize yourself with the calls via the bird call web site: http://www.xeno-canto.org – just do a search by name and you will get a variety of calls along with maps. One thing that will become apparent is the range of calls of each species. For example, the Southern Boobook is generally known from its distinctive two-tone call, but in reality it has a range of calls and the Xenocanto website is a good place to check these out as it provides a wide range of calls for each species.

Calls can vary with geographical location, time of the year and age of the bird, so to avoid confusion check these out. Then next time you hear an odd call at night you might be able to work out what it is.

Generally nocturnal birds are quite cryptic, but in time you can become familiar with likely locations. Generally dense cover is preferred by species such as the Boobook and Powerful owl, whilst hollows are the preferred spot for the Owlet-nightjar. For others, such as the Barn owl, even buildings can be a popular location.

So – what are you likely to see around Castlemaine? Even at our home near the heart of town we regularly hear the Boobook and the Barn Owl.

Barn owl – in the trees at Bells Swamp

The round white face is characteristic of this bird. To me this is a beautiful and delicate species. I have seen one in broad daylight flying up Lyttleton street being pursued by an unkindness of Ravens, a very aggressive bird. We often hear them calling at night up behind our place in town.

Best walks to see: Bells Swamp, any farming areas along the roads

Southern Boobook

The Boobook is another bird that I regularly hear calling at night in town. It can be found roosting during the day in dense thickets such as wattles. Their distinctive call can be heard in different parts of the town as well as out in the bush.

Best walks to see: Botanic gardens, Mt Alexander, Kalimna

Powerful Owl and chick

Our largest owl, this is a magnificent species to see. It is widespread and even pops up in towns.

Best walks to see: Botanic Gardens, Loddon River at Newstead, Pilchers Bridge

Owlet-nightjar – more common than you think – just hard to see

The Owlet-nightjar is a nice bird to see, often out sunning itself in warmer winter’s days. Although nominally nocturnal, this beautiful little bird is often out and about in daylight hours. Nest boxes are always worth checking as this species like to use them. See the back cover of the book.

Best walks to see: Kalimna, Rise and Shine, Walmer

Barking Owl – rare across the state

Although rare in this region now, the Barking Owl is one to look out for, or more likely to hear at night​, with its distinctive wuff-wuff call. Recently seen out Newstead way and heard at Rise and Shine.

Best walks to see: Rare but Newstead Rotunda, Rise and Shine, Mt Back Rd Tarrengower

The Tawny Frogmouth – sometimes referred to as an owl, but in fact quite a different species. They are fairly common in the area, but because of their cryptic behaviour often go un-observed. They like to hang around street lights in quieter areas to catch moths and other flying insects.

Best walks to see: Most places if you are observant, near street lights hawking moths

A young bird watching the world go by

White-throated Nightjars are very hard to see due to their cryptic nature. However, they have a distinctive call at dusk that you can hear in season between November and February. Sorry – no photos as I have never got close enough!

Best walks to see: Red, White and Blue, Gowar, Mia Mia

The related Spotted Nightjar has been recorded at Pilchers Bridge.

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