On a recent walk along Terry’s Creek, Epping, we were fortunate enough to have a family of Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua) pointed out to us, and we’ve been back a few times since to check on them – our first encounters with Australia’s largest owl.
The Terry’s Creek Walk is a bushland walk between Eastwood and Epping Railway stations (in reality, there’s about 1.2km of suburban road to walk before getting to the trackhead at Albuera Rd). It follows Terry’s Creek, a small waterway that flows into the Lane Cove River, through a narrow patch of remnant Blue Gum High Forest.
The forest is hemmed in on both sides by suburban houses, so is not the quietest walk. A local bushcare group are doing great work, however the northern bank of the creek is the more natural: the southern bank, closer to the backs of houses, has a lot more weed and other exotics – a lot of privet especially.
There is a population of White-throated Gerygones along Terry’s Creek. A very small bird, they feed on insects and arthropods gleaned from leaves and bark, seldom foraging on the ground. They build pear-shaped nests of bark and spider’s webs suspended from the outer foliage of trees.
The Powerful Owl is endemic to east and south-eastern Australia, from south-east Queensland to south-west Victoria, mostly east of the Great Dividing Range. It prefers to hang around sheltered gullies in wet forests, especially along watercourses, so Terry’s Creek is the ideal location.
It is not uncommon to find a pair and their young roosting together, or at least in close proximity, and so it was on our first visit. Two parents and two chicks were roosting in dense cover – so dense it made photography difficult. The adults are a strongly-barred with grey-brown and white chevrons; the juveniles are a downy white with a contrasting dark mask.
On our first visit, as we emerged back into the open area of Forrester Park, we encountered a man from the local liquor store who was attempting to release an Echidna back into the bushland (it had somehow wandered into the store!). The Echidna had very definite ideas about how he would like to return to the bush – he insisted on burrowing out the back of the cardboard box rather than simply ambling out the open front of it!
He returned to wild happily enough.
At Terry’s Creek, the big drawcard for bushwalkers with young families is the falls:
The Powerful Owl can live for 30 years, and mates for life. They breed in winter, May to June. The male builds the nest, usually in a large, near-vertical hollow of an old tree. The female incubates the eggs. The juveniles will stay with the parents for several months, and may stay in the parents’ territory for a year.
When we returned a week later, we only saw two of the four owls – one parent and one juvenile.
Powerful Owls feed mostly on arboreal mammals – possums and bats. We have read that they may also take magpies or cockatoos.
General consensus is that the Ring-tailed possum seems to be preferred, and it seems that an increase in possum numbers in urbanized areas is also leading to an increase in Owl numbers.
Everything we have read seems to say that it is nearly always the case that a Powerful Owl will be spotted clutching the remains of the previous night’s prey in its talons. We did not witness that unfortunately. But maybe when there are two youngsters present, there is no left overs to hang onto!
On our next visit there were again only two owls present. Impossible to say if they were the same two from the week before. The younger bird seemed more alert and curious about us (and other path-users). We did not stay in the area too long in case we were spooking him and keeping him from dozing.
The adult seemed less concerned about our presence.
It was a delight to finally get to see our first Powerfuls.