On the warm evenings of summer 2021 we would go out to collect pesky Cane Toads that were attracted to our dam, and it was then that we started hearing a very faint but persistent noise off in the bush. Difficult to describe, we spent quite a few evenings discussing what it could be. Was it an insect? Was it a frog? A nocturnal mammal or bird? It’s location never seemed to change, and we would hear it for hours nearly every night.
We managed to record these calls and send them to a few groups for ideas. The Australian Museum Frog ID Project confirmed it wasn’t a frog, they suggested an insect. iNaturalist provided no hints. Bird groups couldn’t help either. All we could do was listen and ponder.
In January 2022 our mystery noise suddenly got louder. Still coming from the same direction but quite loud and we now decided it was probably an owl. But what owl would stay in the same spot all night every night? We tried spotlighting but the bush is thick in that area, and we didn’t want to go crashing in at night and disturb whoever had taken up residence there.
By early March the calling had changed tone a little and finally changed location. So late one night we went out determined to finally solve our mystery. Armed with red and white spotlights, binoculars, cameras and a sense of adventure, off we went.
By now the calls were coming from high up in an old Blackbutt tree and then we caught a set of large eyes in the spotlight looking down upon us. We needed the binoculars to see more than just shining red eyes. Not only were we thrilled that our mystery was solved but WOW it was solved in the most spectacular way. High above us was a beautiful Sooty Owl fledgling.
He (we actually don’t know its gender but using the pronoun ‘it’ feels diminishing) paused for a while to stare down at us and then decided his dinner was more important and started calling again. We promptly named the fledgling “Junior”, and we spent a while in the dark just enjoying the moment.
Over the next few weeks, Junior got more mobile and we would hear him calling each night from different trees. Some nights he would be in trees close to our house calling for his supper. His calls continued to mature over time, but they were still quite different to the adult calls we were used to hearing. Occasionally we are lucky enough to hear the parents feeding Junior – his calls become more frantic and higher pitched followed by gobbling sounds.
It has now been over nine months since we first started hearing Junior. We believe the initial faint calls were Junior in his nest hollow. We still hear him calling but his range has expanded and some nights the neighbours have him visit. Being able to observe the growth of this Sooty Owl fledgling has been extraordinary and we are amazed that he is still dependant on his parents over this length of time. The parents have been working hard to feed themselves and Junior for close to a year now.
As the year progresses, we are not sure how much longer we will have the pleasure of hearing Junior calling for his supper. It will be bittersweet when we hear him no more. We feel very privileged that Junior and his parents have given us this experience and that we are able to provide the habitat they have called home.[As a footnote, Junior finally left home in mid-November – the parents spent a year raising this chick].
Article and photos by Sharon Evans and Bill Sullivan
Land for Wildlife members
Ilkley, Sunshine Coast