Bird watchers in Townsville (North Queensland) are a lucky lot. They live in a bird rich area where, on a half day outing it is not uncommon to come up with 70+ species. A recent Townsville Region Bird Observers Club (TRBOC) outing produced 108 species.
But this article is not about Townsville’s abundant bird life it is about a special spot among the Melaleuca, Tamarind, Casuarina and Leichardt trees along a river bank in one of Townsville’s outer suburbs. It’s a spot where, with only a little luck a pair Rufous Owls (Ninox rufa) can be found. A little bit harder to find are the resident Barking Owls and Southern Boobooks. A walk in the area just after sunset may just give you fleeting glimpses of the Large-tailed Nightjar with its unmistakable resonant chop, chop call.
A Special Spot in Townsville
The Rufous Owls which have been residence in the area for a number of years and have always been a favourite among the locals who know the birds’ whereabouts. I have been watching them regularly for the last seven years and have become familiar with their habits. On a number of occasions I have seen one of the pair during the day with food skewered in its long talons. Half of a possum is common but on other occasions Jacanas, Pied Imperial Pigeons, Egrets and Flying Foxes have been the food for the day. A friend and I saw a Rufous Owl at another location with a partly devoured Blue-winged Kookaburra.
The Owls nesting hollow is in a large eucalypt just back from the river and they have produced young each season for the last seven years. For the last three years the pair has fledged twins. The young birds are striking with their snowy white breasts and faces and they generally appear around October and stay with the adults until about April the following year. I would imagine that a pair of fast growing Rufous Owl chicks would put a strain the parents when it comes to providing food. They must be good providers as the chicks grow fast, look healthy and quickly start changing to adult colouring.
I feel that Rufous Owls around Townsville are not as rare as the books suggest. I know of three active nesting areas and all are within the suburbs of Townsville.
Not far along the river from where the Rufous Owls nest the Barking Owls have produced three chicks in each of the last four years. While the Rufous Owl likes to roost in dense foliage during the day the Barking Owls usually prefer to roost in the open foliage of the Melaleucas and where their colouring makes them difficult see.
I have no records of the Southern Boobook nesting in this particular area but they are seen every now and then. My sightings have been of only single birds, never pairs. Maybe one day I will come across a nesting pair!
I visit this area of the river and the owls regularly and never tire of observing them and their other feathered friends that includes their main tormenter the Spangled Drongo along with the resident nesting White-browed Robins, White-bellied Sea Eagles, Grey Fantails, Yellow Honeyeaters and Little Shrike Thrushes just to name a few.