Sooner or later everybody gets a lucky break. And that was the story at Horseshoe Bay yesterday when community market shoppers and passers-by were drawn to a scene below the footbridge which crosses the tidal estuary between the shops and Henry Lawson Street.
For this photographer it was a lucky moment. A clear, well lit angle with no need to crawl through the undergrowth. Just a simple aim and snap job with the subject so impressive you only needed to be there.
For the subject, the luck was of an altogether different order. It was Breakfast! After all this was a large and formidable barking owl that had just caught big prey in the shape of a white tailed rat whose luck had clearly run out.
The barking owl with its prey
Locals and visitors gathered to watch from above as the owl - with blood smeared across its beak and cheeks - scrutinised the audience with suspicion.
The white tailed rat, which can weigh over half a kilo, would be unlikely to cause a problem for the bird to lift into flight. According to Magnetic Island's Bird Observer's Club of Australia representative, Christine Corbett, barking owls are capable of flying off with possums.
According to Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges' website (click here)White tailed rats or giant white-tailed Uromys arrived in Australia from Papua New Guinea approximately four million years ago.
Most common rats are either new endemic 'true' rats (Rattus spp) or belong to one of the old endemic groups (Uromyini) which includes the white-tailed rats (Uromys).
Christine Corbett believes the barking owl is likely to be one of a pair that have been identified roosting near to the old Horseshoe Bay school house on Heath Street for the last six months.
Barking owls are relatively recent arrivals on Magnetic Island but the population appears to be growing. For a more detailed story about barking owls on Magnetic (click here).
Story & photos: George Hirst
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Barking breakfast at Horseshoe Bay
Sorry to be a wet squib but I think we might have an identity problem here. The Giant White-tailed Rat (Uromys caudimaculatus) is very much a rainforest beastie unlikely to be found outside the Wet Tropics. The large native rat with a white tail on Magnetic Island and particularly in the estuary at Horseshoe Bay is almost certainly a Water Rat (Hydromys chrysogaster). Water rats can actually be larger than White tails and have a much greater range - basically all over eastern and northern Australia with even a few in parts of WA. Mostly active at night (owl time), feeding on aquatic invertebrates, fish, frogs and small birds. Quite common in Horseshoe, hardly ever seen, they will virtually never enter a dwelling.
The barking owls have been living in the enviromental park for over 20 years as I have been listing to them for ever, They moved over the road after the parks and wildlife burnt the lagoon a couple of years ago as they disrupted their habitat, I now only hear them in the distance.
Curious, very curious. Sniffing around I can't find a record of a Giant White-tailed Rat on Magnetic Island but then I look a bit more carefully at the photo above and wonder why the rat's tail appears to become almost bare and fairly skinny when a Water Rat's tail should be thickish at the base and densely furred with a broad white tip. Giant White-tailed rats have been recorded at Mt Elliott and Hinchinbrook Island so it might be premature to write them off (at Magnetic Island), especially looking at that photo and also remembering that Northern Quoll that turned up in Horseshoe Bay a couple of years ago.
Regarding Chasmac's comments on the late rat's identity, I agree it's a Water rat (Hydromys) and not a Giant white-tailed rat (Uromys). The 'nakedness' of the tail possibly due to sand covering it (wet tail, note that sand is the same colour), age (and resulting baldness, even though it's a female rat), or possibly even plucking by the owl (which I doubt). I've seen and caught many of both species in the course of my work, and the build, fur and feet also are very Water rat-like, and not very White-tailed rat-like. The confusion between the two is common enough. Water rats are usually called "White-tailed rats" by Maggie Islanders, because the tip of the tail is very obviously white, and it's often the only feature noticed apart from size.
True Water rats (Hydromys) are very common on Maggie (but not often noticed unless you know how to find them, and common at the creek crossing in Horseshoe.
The only other rats/mice I know of from Maggie are introduced 'Black' rats (Rattus rattus) and House mice (Mus musculus). Neither are particularly common, which is great in my opinion.
Eric, I stand corrected and defer to your expert assessment. George Hirst (Ed)