Two birders based in Brisbane (southern Qld) birding in Tasmania (T) (Stuart Warren and author Colin Reid) – both first time visitors. We started in Hobart and circumnavigated the state anti-clockwise, i.e. Hobart, Bruny Island, Tasman Peninsula, Freycinet, St Helen’s, North coast, Cradle Mountain, West coast, Hobart.
Getting there and getting around:
We flew with Virgin Blue from Brisbane to Hobart ($89 each way on a midday special, my tickets purchased in July last year, Stuart’s in December). Note: Check out their specials every day on the Virgin Blue website between 12.00 and 1.00 – brilliant concept, excellent value!)
We had hired a car from Hertz – originally a 4 door Toyota Corolla - at $500 for the two weeks, this eventuated into a Nissan X-trail 4WD when I asked for an upgrade! Excellent! The operator was happy to upgrade us given the fact we were there for two weeks – it would appear most Hertz car ‘hirers’ are only in Tasmania for a few days. (Note: It’s always worth asking for an upgrade!)
Driving around T was easy as regards traffic (very little) and road condition (excellent). The towns are relatively close – most trips are less than 200 kms – but the roads are winding, one lane each way, and hilly. They are well marked and, having cut my driving teeth, so to speak, in Ireland, I revelled in the challenge! If you are more used to freeways and 2 lane highways, though, I would suggest allowing more time than you might expect for the distances.
We also found that to see some places it was necessary to drive on unsealed or dirt roads. These were in very good condition and I had no concerns re safety, however, hire care companies appear to frown on the practice so if you are concerned it may be worthwhile discussing options at the time of hiring the car. Our excess was increased from $1650, on sealed roads, to $2650 on unsealed roads. Some experience is valuable too, as, although the unsealed roads are in good nick, it is ‘different’ driving and some confidence is needed - it will also slow you down somewhat as the posted speed limit on unsealed roads is 80kms/hr. You will miss nothing major by not driving on unsealed roads in T, however, as you will see it has its values too!
Petrol varied in price from $1.14 to $1.41 per litre. Hertz offered us a tank of fuel at $1.03 a litre which we accepted and then aimed to bring the car back empty! We drove 2,714 kms in the two weeks and spent $306 on fuel.
We had pre-booked nothing! Everything would be on spec, however we had brought small one man tents with us and intended to camp as much as possible. The weather, unfortunately, turned very damp and windy after a few days and, as a result, we only actually slept under ‘canvas’ 4 nights. We found ‘bunkhouse’ accommodation at caravan parks, backpackers and YHA (Youth Hostel Australia) premises readily available in most places to be more comfortable and warmer. Price varied from $19 a night each (Port Arthur- very good) to $35 a night each (Strahan – poor). Due to the season we only booked ahead once – at Strahan, which was completely unnecessary as it turned out. If visiting during peak months - Summer or Winter - I would suggest booking ahead at the more popular tourist destinations – Port Arthur and Cradle Mountain at least. Autumn and Spring are less busy and you should be OK. There are no shortages of caravan parks with tent sites and in the warmer months camping would probably be my choice again – most camping would probably be $10 - $20 a night for an unpowered site. In both camping and ‘shared’ accommodation one has access to a full kitchen area with, in most case, adequate cooking facilities and in some cases, cutlery and plates etc. Toilets and shower blocks too, of course – although in a couple of cases we had to pay extra for the shower (Adventure Bay, Bruny Island $1 for 5 mins of hot water (mmmmm) Port Arthur 20 cents for 5 mins of hot water – OK!) Accommodation cost us about $520.
It’s probably important to know that mobile phone communication in Tasmania is not great – possibly dependent on your choice of carrier. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but it turned out to be hopeless! I am with Optus and only had signal in and immediately around Hobart (max maybe 30 kms from the city) and similarly around Launceston in the north. Otherwise we were completely without any personal communication anywhere else. It was suggested that if we were with Telstra it would be better and there were plenty of public phone booths with money (not exclusively Phone card) payments – some in the most remote of areas - so we were able to maintain contact with family and friends.
As we had planned to camp, in National Parks as a preference, we had brought a small gas stove that requires self sealing gas canisters, a couple of pots, cups, plates and a small amount of basic cutlery. We only used the stove a couple of times as the caravan parks we stayed at had cooking equip and most of the utensils we required; however at a couple of places we were glad of our personal supplies!
We had both prepared wish lists – as you do - for our trip. As neither of us had birded much in the southern states – Victoria or South Australia – and I had limited experience in New South Wales, there was more potential for lifers than might be expected.
Tasmania has 12 endemics and we had read trip reports and updates obtained from Birding Aus - email@example.com. Close friends had also birded the island state and gave us very helpful information we filed away and repeatedly referred to. We had, of course, pored over the specific species we hoped to encounter and tried to remember the details of plumage, call and preferred habitat.
We used Pizzey and Knight as our reference and also referred to ‘Where to see Birds in Australia’ by John Bransbury which we found helpful in our general meanderings around the island.
We also had a hope list of mammals. Tasmania has the reputation of hosting large numbers of supposedly easily accessible mammal species and we hoped to add to our experiences on our trip.
Trip Summary – birds.
As this report could be seen as very self indulgent I thought a brief overview of where we found the endemics and other personal lifers would cut to the chase for some readers – more detail can be found in the body of the text:
Tasmanian Native Hen – generally everywhere! We had them on the coast and in the mountains, more often around any boggy, swampy area, often beside the road, usually in pairs or small groups.
Green Rosella – generally everywhere also. In flocks of up to 15/20 birds, beside the road commonly.
Yellow Wattlebird – several locations, more coastal than mountainous, but that may have had something to do with the weather. The sound of someone getting sick was a regular indication. Never in big numbers – I think 3 was the most we had at one time, usually a pair.
Black-headed Honeyeater – in a number of places – Silver Falls entrance on Mt Wellington Rd, south Bruny Island, Port Arthur, Lake st Clair and Mt Field NP, usually high in the canopy in small flocks of 5 - 10 birds.
Strong-billed Honeyeater – We picked this bird up at Jetty rd, south Bruny Island, Port Arthur and, briefly, at Lake St Clair.
Yellow-throated Honeyeater – relatively common – usually alone or just a pair. The call is quite distinctive and heard in most locations.
40 Spot Pardalote – tried the Peter Murrell reserve of course, just south-west of Hobart. We did see them there but the views were ‘challenging’ to say the least. We got crippling views at Denne’s Point on N Bruny.
Scrubtit – Stuart saw one twice very briefly on our first day at Fern Glade on Mt Wellington, much to my disgust and disappointment. Connected well at Ma Vista Picnic grounds on south Bruny Island and had brilliant views at Nelson Falls.
Dusky Robin – easy peasey at Bruny. We had 6 in a field within 10 minutes of leaving the ferry and continued to see them over the next two days. Only the occasional one after that.
Tasmanian Thornbill – everywhere there were trees and, in some case, where there weren’t! This was the easiest and commonest endemic. Even on Cradle Mt in howling wind and driving rain!
Tasmanian Scrub-wren – discreet but regular in all overgrown moss covered forests in gullys and hillsides – usually the damper the better. They reacted in the same way as the more familiar, to us, White-throated S-W, to squeaking noises.
Black Currawong – common throughout although not every day. Flocks of up to 40 on the Gordon River and Cradle Mt – more usually in twos and threes. Interestingly we noted that the dark form of Grey Currawong was also present (white undertail coverts) yet not mentioned in any other trip reports. Have they been misidentified as Black Currawongs?
In general we found all the endemics relatively easily – common and widespread in the right habitat -except the Pardalote. In the end we had excellent views of all and came away very satisfied.
Other desirable species (A little subjective? Possibly, but for us they were lifers – decide for yourself!)
Crescent Honeyeater – not common, but certainly regular sightings throughout the fortnight - usually a pair, in low brush. Good views were had with patience although their continuous flitting around like overgrown Spinebills made photography challenging!
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater – only at Cape Bruny on south Bruny island, although we possibly had one at the airfield at Strahan – a brilliant bird and one of my favourites.
Striated Fieldwren – first encountered at a random stop on the road from Cradle Mt to Strahan at the top of Mt Livingstone (on the road to Granville Harbour before the turnoff to the harbour itself) in heavy wind and sleet. Brilliant views – very exciting - in the heather and on the ground of at least 4 birds. Also seen, but not as well, at the airfield at Strahan.
Beautiful Firetail – the most difficult bird of the trip – I almost retitled this report as ‘2 weeks and 1 Firetail’! Tried everywhere, everyday with no luck until on the (unsealed) Ocean rd at Strahan, while looking at Southern Emu-wrens, one turned up for good views. We specifically looked on Jetty rd, South Bruny as local advice suggested they were there, but had no clear advice on other locations.
Olive Whistler – a bird that had eluded us both in SE Qld, we had our first at Mt Mangana on south Bruny for poor views and then encountered a pair at Lake St Clair at the platypus viewing station for amazingly close (3 meters) views of a very confident pair of birds – brilliant!!
Hooded Plover – this was one I have wanted to see for years – as you do! We had a flock of 20 birds on Cloudy Beach on S Bruny - 50 meter ‘scope views in a howling gale and imminent rain – good, happy with them!
The biggest miss out was not getting a pelagic. We had booked on one out of Eaglehawk neck but it had been cancelled months ago and we had been unable to locate another. One of the biggest drawcards in T is the number and variety of seabirds and their availability due to the close continental shelf. We determined to do land based seawatching wherever possible and that proved interestingly positive. We also took a trip on the Tasman Island Cruise and returned the next day for a second go – we would highly recommend the trip even if you do get a pelagic elsewhere. The operators are enthusiastic, passionate and very knowledgeable and their boat handling skills and repartee are worth experiencing! We believe the Bruny Island Cruise, a sister operation, is also worth taking but we have no personal experience.
We did manage to get some pretty good seabirds with the limited access we had.
One of the commonest birds we saw on our trip, and in numbers we have never before experienced, was Superb Fairy-wren. There were hundreds of them in every type of habitat. Other very common birds included the introduced Common Blackbird, Common Starling and House Sparrow; Masked Plovers, Forest Ravens and Silver Gulls were seen most days. I will not repeat these species in the report – assume they were seen and resulted in the usual follow up in each case to ensure they weren’t something else!!
LIFER or NEW AUSTRALIAN bird for one or both of us. (S) – Stuart (C) – Colin(E) – Endemic
5.5.09 We left Brisbane on time (8.35am) and after a satisfying flight arrived in Hobart at 11.25 to bright sunshine and a slight sea breeze. We had our first tick before we even undid our seatbelts! FOREST RAVEN on the runway! We grabbed our bags and headed over to the Car rentals to pick up our pre booked Toyota Corolla from Mr Hertz. I asked the operator was there any chance of an upgrade and he immediately offered us a Nissan X-trail! Wow! Brilliant! With 2 large bags, assorted jackets, ‘scopes, bins, books, water bottles, camping gear etc the extra space would be very welcome and the 4WD option provided a bit of peace of mind if we encountered snow or ice. We eagerly accepted and loaded up, heading out of the small airport towards Hobart itself. Just down the road a line of trees beside a field and a small flock of Eastern Rosellas lifted into the lower branches. We stopped to confirm and noticed a large number of Galahs on the opposite side of the road – not exceptional, except we wouldn’t see anymore until Launceston and no more after that! A couple of Australian Magpies strutted around the field and we noticed their very white napes and backs – race Hypoleuca. Again not a bird we were to see a lot of over the coming fortnight.
Heading in to Hobart via the 110km/hr highway we crossed the Tasman bridge and had an awesome sight over the harbour/bay area. Hobart is a small town in reality although the residential area is widespread. Traffic is not really an issue but the one way system around some of the central streets may be confusing. We headed for Mt Wellington and our first ‘site’ Fernglade, Ferntree and Spring Falls. We found the turnoff to Mt Wellington but decided to bird first before sightseeing. Continuing we passed the hotel on the left and a fairly full car park on the right that we suspected was the walk we wanted. Rounding a corner a few hundred meters further on a bird in the middle of the road caused us both to shout ‘SCARLET ROBIN’ and coming to a quick stop we jumped out and started birding. This stop proved fruitful as within a few minutes, as well as a pair of Scarlet Robins, we had Brown Thornbills and Grey Fantails – but, more excitingly, our first of many TASMANIAN THORNBILLS (E). Once correctly identified this bird proved easy to pick in future, despite its close similarity to Brown Thornbill. The fluffy white undertail or vent feathers are obvious and appeared to be flicked continually – especially, we noted, in darker habitats. Possibly a means of maintaining contact as they were rarely found singly – more usually in small numbers of 4 – 6. A slightly larger bird flew across the road and followed by S turned out to be our first YELLOW-THROATED HONEYEATER (E) – only a fleeting glimpse but enough for confidence. As we returned to the car, keeping a cautious eye out on the surrounding area, a call attracted out attention and a flock of Currawongs appeared flying high across the road. At first we assumed they were Black Cs however on closer inspection we observed they had white undertail coverts, but were, in fact, black in colour! We decided they were the dark form of the GREY CURRAWONG (S). (Race Melanoptera).
We were keen to find Silver Falls and I approached a car to ask the driver for help. He didn’t hear me coming and nearly jumped out of his skin when I spoke – it helped break the ice, but didn’t help us find our destination. So, turning the car we headed back down the road to squeeze a parking spot at the start of the Ferndale walk. This track takes one up through a densely forested gully alongside an apparently dry but very damp creek bed. Walking quietly along we started to find the odd bird here and there among the trees. Grey Shrike Thrush caused a bit of interest as we ensured it was not anything more exciting - then a small dark bird appeared darting between the branches and roots and eventually a pair of TASMANIAN SCRUB-WRENS (E) gave themselves up. We moved on up the track and another pair of Scrub-wrens made themselves known – as we watched we moved separate ways along the track and as a result I missed our first sighting of SCRUBTIT (E)! How frustrating!! To say I was disappointed would be a dramatic understatement. I have seen other trip reports where this has occurred and often wondered how? Now I know and it is so …… my words are not printable. And it happened TWICE!! TWICE – you can imagine my mood the second time!! Sucking it up after a further 20 minutes of watching an empty area of forest we walked on to emerge on a wider track that curved back down the hill side.
We followed this down, Stuart was very quiet as we walked – probably questioning his decision to travel with me for two weeks…. Then a flick and we had our first PINK ROBIN – a male glowing like a jewel in the dank forest.
We continued on to the road and found we had exited at the entrance to Silver Falls on the Mt Wellington road. A flock of birds high in a towering eucalypt caught our attention and we excitedly found they were BLACK-HEADED HONEYEATERS (E). As we watched these, another honeyeater type bird flew in and we ticked our first CRESCENT HONEYEATER (E) – a female, followed by fleeting glimpses of a male in a nearby bush. I mean how good is that ? 8 lifers (6 for me) within 90 minutes of arriving?
We walked back to the car – a surprisingly longer distance than at first thought - and headed up the mountain. It‘s a steep and twisting track to the top and the habitat changes quite dramatically ending in bare rock for the most part. Half way up and S called a “STOP”, we disembarked, partially blocking the road and probably imperilling our own safety, to see the first of many and our 10th collective lifer for the day – 2 GREEN ROSELLAS (E). A honeyeater flew past and this time was a New Holland Honeyeater – probably the commonest HE in Tasmania followed shortly by the first of many Eastern Spinebill. We watched the Rosellas for a few minutes feeding quietly on low shrubs some meters below us on the hillside and I managed a couple of poor photos, then returned to our vehicle and continued to the top.
We had flown from Brisbane in long bush pants (lots of pockets) and long sleeved shirts and had donned our Colombia (in my case) and Gortex (for Stuart) jackets somewhere along the way. When we exited the car we were rudely reminded that this was no longer sunny Queensland! A bitter, biting gale slammed into us and we hurriedly searched our bags for thermal underwear, pullovers, beanies and gloves and donned them as quick as we could – well not the lower part of the underwear, but the upper part was a necessity! It was freezing! There were patches of snow among the rocks and the wind was a killer. We basically ran around from look out to look out taking pictures of the scenery and each other and then returned hurriedly to the warmth and cover of the car. (Note: I was initially worried as I had been unable to lock the car with the remote and had used the key. It turned out that the radio tower on the mountain interferes with electronic communication and so had affected the remote – it worked perfectly afterwards but just be aware – you may think you’ve locked the car but you haven’t!)
We drove back down the hill and into Hobart again, searching for a supermarket. We stopped and asked a ‘local’ who was Scottish (go figure, once there was an Irishman, an Englishman and a female Scot…). She wasna sure but the closest Woolworths was a long way away – anyway she gave us directions of a sort and we headed off to eventually discover the supermarket and complete our purchases. It was now after 5.30 and darkness had settled. We returned to Hobart and the waterfront, parked and had a dinner of (average) fish ‘n’ chips at the Elizabeth Street Pier for $20.
Leaving Hobart we headed southwest in the general direction of Kettering – the ferry terminal for Bruny Island. Having no place booked for the night we tried a couple of small seaside type towns for camping facilities – and eventually found one at Snug. ($10 per night each). We set up our tents and sat and drank coffee/tea watching TV in the communal kitchen/dining room while completing our daily log and bird list. This was to become a ritual each evening, as, I suspect, most birders do when involved in such a trip.
6.5.09 Up at 7.15 – it wasn’t light till then! We had a quick look around the camp site. The bay was at our doorstep – a lovely view across the water to the sun rising behind the distant hills – it’s a very nice campsite, but they are a bit short on kitchen cooking utensils. The toilets and showers were very clean and tidy though. We had porridge for breakfast – my suggestion that we repeated each morning - and at some stage during this period a large bird emitting a strange call turned out to be our first YELLOW WATTLEBIRD (E). What an amazing honeyeater! We were astonished at its large size and those wattles! Wow! What a hassle to have them swinging in your face all the time!
We had a short walk on the narrow beach and in the distance a KELP GULL (S) stood out among the Silver Gulls. We headed back towards Hobart to find the famous Peter Murrell Reserve – it took us a while, but we did locate it after a couple of false starts. (Note: Coming out of Hobart take the first turn left after the Australian Antarctic Headquarters, Huntingdon Rd, and go about 500 meters. The track down to the reserve is on the right hand side of the Vodaphone Call Centre). We found pardalotes in the eucalypts on the far side of the first (there are two) pond. High in the canopy it took some time for us to feel confident we were seeing 40 SPOT PARDALOTES (E) as well as Spotted and Striated. We wandered around the reserve seeing a pair of BLACK CURRAWONGS (E), 1 Eastern Rosella, a couple of Yellow Wattlebirds, Yellow-throated Honeyeaters and Chestnut Teal. As we came around the left end of the pond I noticed a movement in the field opposite and there were 6 TASMANIAN NATIVE HENS (E) striding through the rank grass towards the water. They picked up a surprising speed as we approached looking almost like some strange long-legged game birds! Back at the hide two were swimming in the pond and allowed close approach. We met a local birder who pointed us in the direction of the second pond – continue past the end of the first one keeping it to your left - and we wandered down there to look for more pardalotes – without success. We did however have a Platypus swimming in the second pond.
As the wind picked up we decided to give it away and drove to a nearby Mitre 10 store to purchase gas cylinders to go with the small stove I had brought with me. Then to Big W to get a couple of cheap cushions to act as pillows, then, finally, off to Kettering and the Bruny Island ferry. A much quicker journey than we expected but we had a 45 minute wait for the next boat. (Note: $25 return, the ferry goes every hour or thereabouts from 8.00am to late afternoon, it’s only a 15 minute crossing and the only ferry I believe that one can legally take a hired car on. Get in Lane 1 to be the first on the ferry! We got in Lane 3 and although we were the second car waiting, we were the last car to board and the second last to exit!)
While we waited for the ferry we had an adult HOARY-HEADED GREBE (S) beside the dock – crippling views – and while we had coffee in the ferry terminal BLACK-FACED CORMORANTS preened and dried themselves within easy camera range.
Unexciting crossing, although we scanned the water and watched intently the only bird worthy of notice was a poorly seen PACIFIC GULL (S) as we docked.
Up the road a few kilometres later and we pulled over to scan a marsh pond in a field to our left. Yellow-rumped Thornbills attracted our attention initially, but we were more interested in the 4 DUSKY ROBINS (E) hoping around the dead wood and low plants in the field. Just a few meters further down the road and a pair of Scarlet Robins caused another stop – the result was at least 4 males and up to 6 female Robins and a flock of about 10 Goldfinches in the immediate area! We headed for Denne’s Point, the most northerly point of North Bruny Island – more Dusky and Scarlet Robins, Native Hens, Green Rosellas and, at one random stop on an unsealed section of road, Crescent, Yellow-throated, Black-headed and New Holland Honeyeaters. We drove around Denne’s Pt and took the road back towards Killora and stopped to look over the beach. As we did so, S spotted some Pardalotes and within a few minutes we had absolutely stunning views of a 40 Spot Pardalote at less than 5 meters range in a bush at waist level – brilliant!! Further along we found 6 Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding in some conifers, a White-bellied Sea Eagle crossed the road in front of us and a Wedge-tailed Eagle circled above (a significant sub-species here in T).
Bruny Island is two islands – north and south – joined by a narrow neck of land comprising sand dunes and, more importantly to us, a Little Penguin and Short-tailed Shearwater colony. The latter had all left for the winter, but we hoped for some Penguins still to be present – we stopped to investigate, but the colony was empty, however the presence of little webbed footprints gave us real hope. We had a couple of Australian Gannets off shore and Sooty Oystercatchers and Pacific Gulls, in various plumages, on the beach.
Continuing on we established camp at the Captain James Cook Memorial Caravan Park at Adventure Bay. ($18 for the two of us, but $1 for 5 mins of hot water in the shower and very limited utensils in the cold, corrugated iron community kitchen.) There was a TV which was some compensation!
We had dinner and then headed back to the ‘Neck’ arriving around 20.00. We climbed the track and found several Little Penguins standing around their burrows in the sand dunes. We waited on the main beach but after 30 minutes decided we had missed the main arrival and returned to our camp. On the way we rounded a corner heading towards Adventure Bay and in the headlights ahead a cat like animal stood in the middle of the road – excitement! An Eastern Spotted Quoll! Wow! We had only a quick view as it ran off the road and disappeared into the bush.
7.5.09 It rained during the night but we emerged to a bright sunny, if slightly damp and windy morning. Wandering the camp site prior to breakfast we had Little Pied and Great Cormorants off shore, Crested Terns, Pacific and Kelp Gulls, Pied Oystercatchers and Masked Plovers on or over the beach. New Holland Honeyeaters and yet another Scarlet Robin in the camp ground itself. We drove up to Ma Vista Nature Walk (unsealed access road) and within a few minutes in the very damp, mossy, overgrown forest we had very acceptable views of SCRUBTIT (Thank God!), T Scrub-wrens, T Thornbills and a stunning Pink Robin male. A Bassian Thrush also flew off the road and another was seen briefly on the track. Despite trying hard we could not find Olive Whistler, although we were confident we did have one calling, but distantly. We continued on the road to Mt Mangana and set off in very wet, windy conditions to climb the rough, boulder strewn track to the top. At one point S dropped behind and I returned down the track fearing the worst – all was OK, he had just found a couple of Scrub-wrens but as we watched another bird flew in and we realised we had found another of our target birds – OLIVE WHISTLER (E). Quick, flitting views in the low canopy were all we had, but in the conditions were all we could expect. We struggled on to the top to find the view completely invisible – mist and stinging rain encouraged our retreat! A quick resuscitating chocolate break and we were off to Cloudy Bay.
Somewhere along the road we had a Brown Falcon perched in a nearby tree. A dead dolphin and a red algae stained sea greeted us. We stayed in the car to avoid the smell and the squally rain and then when it cleared – the rain that is – we headed off east around the headland and across a tide swept beach and over the wet slippery rocks and up, up a steep grassy promontory to – a further climb and walk we decided to forgo and so, back down the slippery slope, rocks, watery beach and wind swept headland and a cheese sandwich and …. What was that down the beach? ‘Scope please. They look like… they are … HOODED PLOVERS (C)! Let’s go! A flock of 20 birds, 18 adults, 2 immatures and 2 Double-banded Plover alongside. Hooded Plover - a bird I have wanted for a long, long time and just as I imagined they would be! ‘Scope views at 50 meters had to be sufficient and it was. We headed rapidly back to the car chased, once again, by driving rain. (We also had a flock of approx 20 GREENFINCHES at the back of the beach – a new addition to both our Australian lists.)
Although late in the afternoon we headed out (on unsealed road for the most part) to Cape Bruny via Lunawanna getting there at 15.45 – the lighthouse car park closes at 16.30 incidentally, but its only a short walk from the gate to the car park. As I parked, a mouse-like bird? mammal? ran across a track in the heathery bush in front of the car. It quickly became evident it had been a TAWNY-CROWNED HONEYEATER and what a great bird! We had terrific views of the species immediately around the car park before heading up the track to the lighthouse itself and a view of the ocean. We saw a few Australian Gannets and a couple of ‘Alberts’ (Albatrosses) but they were too distant to identify. The Cape is very high above the ocean surface and the lighthouse some distance back on the highest point – not the best place or situation for a seawatch compounded by the island closely placed in front of the headland it puts the birds very far away.
S chatted to the lighthouse keeper as he shut the gate and we drove down to Jetty rd (the only turnoff about 500m – 1km from the gate) on his suggestion of the possibility of Firetail on the first half of that track. We drove slowly down to the campsite at the end of the track, but saw nothing exceptional. The bay at the end was still as a mirror and it would make a lovely place to stay. There were a pair of Hooded Plovers further along the beach and a couple of Pacific Gulls hung around.
As darkness fell we headed back to camp via Lunawanna again and found the general store still open. Needing a few basic supplies we dropped in and spent some time chatting to the very friendly and enthusiastic lady behind the counter – there is also a real coffee machine here incidentally!
We wanted to try again for the Penguins so ensured we were at the neck by 19.00 – an hour earlier than last night. Alone on the beach under the almost full moon it was a great way to see two groups of birds (3 and 4) shake themselves free of the surf and waddle up the beach and into the sand dunes. There was a continuous braying sound all around the colony as the 15 or so individuals stood around apparently communicating their thoughts and feelings!
Heading back to Adventure bay for a late dinner we again encountered a Spotted Quoll on the road – at almost the same place as the previous night! Bennet’s Wallabys stood around in the local front gardens and a few very dark Brush-tailed Possums were also seen on the road.
Watched TV for a while we ate dinner (pasta) and crashed around 22.30.
8.5.09 Headed straight for Jetty rd again at Cape Byron – the possibility of Firetail too much to resist.
On the unsealed road not far before the turnoff we spotted a dead, squashed, bird form in the road and stopped to examine it – it was a bit of a mess but we agreed it was an Olive Whistler – a little unusual for a Whistler to be out on the moorland-type habitat, but it appears Olive W’s are regularly seen in this type of environment.
We parked in a clearing at the top of the road and walked down the sandy track. Almost immediately we had a flock of STRONG-BILLED HONEYEATERS (E) feeding in the trees above us – excellent views as they hung upside down at times stripping bark in their search for food. Other birds seen in our 1 km walk – Yellow-throated, New Holland and Black-headed Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills, Grey Shrike-thrush, Golden Whistlers, Brown Thornbills, a pair of Scarlet Robins and Green Rosellas, but, alas, no Firetail. We drove the rest of the track again to the beach – the Plovers were not present, but we did have good views of a pair of Crescent Honeyeaters and a White-faced Heron and a pair of Pied Oystercatchers graced the beach while Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos called higher on the ridgeline.
We headed up to Cape Byron lighthouse again but the Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters of yesterday were more difficult to find. We did, however, much to my delight find 3 female WHITE-FRONTED CHATS (C) in the lighthouse garden! This was another bird I had long wanted to connect with and it didn’t disappoint even though there were no males present. We walked up to the lighthouse again – with the same outcome as yesterday, although the wind had dropped somewhat. We did have a female Crescent Honeyeater, a Dusky Robin, New Holland Honeyeaters and 2 Scarlet Robins in the area.
By now it was 10.25 and the next ferry was leaving north Bruny Island at 11.35. We had 70 odd kilometres to drive to catch it, or we’d be waiting until after 13.00 for the next one… We made it with 5 minutes to spare - but it was an ‘interesting’ drive.
Heading back again towards Hobart we stopped to get a groundsheet for S from the Mitre 10 store and food and fuel from Woolworths in Margate, then on through Hobart and out the east side to arrive at Port Arthur on the Tasman peninsula at 15.30. (As we drove into Dunalley a small flock of green lorikeets flew fast overhead. We tried to stop, but it was a difficult stretch of road and they were gone very quickly).
At PA we immediately booked into the Tasman Island Cruise for a trip the next day at 9.15 ($100 each) and then retired for coffee at the gourmet café opposite the booking office – highly recommended! As we sat there a Grey Goshawk (white phase as all Tasmanian GG’s are) flew in and landed briefly on a nearby tree.
We had a quick drive around to get the lay of the land – there’s not really very much apart from the convict settlement/exhibit which requires payment – we made enquiries – and so we shortly headed to the Port Arthur Caravan Park and booked into very a comfortable bunkhouse at $19 each per night. The girl who served us was very knowledgeable re wildlife and very helpful. She had occasionally seen Firetails in the driveway to the park… we walked down there immediately but no results. We did have Green Rosellas, New Holland, Black-headed, Strong-billed and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills, Scarlet Robins, Black Currawongs and T Thornbills. As dusk fell Bandicoots and POTOROOS ran riot in the campground.
We had showers (20 cents for 5 minutes hot water) and dinner (chilli) and then went for a drive in the dark towards Nubeena. We ended up driving the complete circuit and saw our first COMMON WOMBAT beside the road, not far from PA.
9.5.09 It rained through the night and was still falling when we arrived at the booking office at 9.15. (Little Wattlebird at the camp site before we left) We met the deckie for the trip, Ben, an enthusiastic participant who listened to our birding enquiries and provided lots of information regarding the possibilities. Once all the voyagers were present and we were dressed in our bright red overall type ‘dry’ suits we boarded the bus and were driven to the harbour at Pirates Bay. We boarded the boat and Mike the skipper took charge heading us out to sea. It was a wet and windy trip for 3 hours along the coastline, into sea caves, around cliff faces and eventually arriving at the beach near Port Arthur where we returned to the bus for the short journey back to the booking office. The boat can take 43 passengers – there were only 9 on this trip. We saw a number of SHY ALBATROSS (one particularly well as it sat on the surface and allowed close approach), a larger number of BULLER’S ALBATROSS and a smaller number of YELLOW-NOSED ALABTROSS at close quarters and were geologically and biologically educated along the way! This boat trip is well worth taking even if you have organised a pelagic. We also had White-bellied Sea Eagle, Pacific Gulls and Black-faced Cormorants.
We had a coffee in the, relatively for us, up market Stewart’s hotel and then into the penal colony for the afternoon. ($28 bronze pass includes a harbour boat trip and a short guided tour and you can use it over a two day period) Most interesting birds in the colony were 1 Dusky Robin, 3 Scarlet Robins and large numbers of Green Rosellas. We stayed until the exhibit closed and then headed back to camp to check for Firetails again – none - and dinner before doing another slow drive in the dark. Once again we had 1 Common Wombat on the road.
10.5.09 Waking to a brighter, calmer, sunnier morning we decided we would go on the boat trip again so planned to arrive at the office at 9.15. Before we did we drove further down the road towards Nubeena and turned off on Safety Cove Rd which leads to Carnarvon bay. In a long, short grassed front yard on the right hand side about 100 meters from the main road there were a number of birds. Scanning S called ‘FLAME ROBIN’ (S) and to our surprise there were a total of 11 birds scattered across the lawn! Intermixed with Starlings and Blackbirds there were 5 males and 6 female Flame Robins. It was very satisfying to see this bird at last. We drove right out to the golf course at the end of the road but nothing else of interest showed itself. Twenty two people on board this time and we went the ‘other’ way around – i.e. from Port Arthur to Pirates Bay. Ben told us they had had a whale and, more frustratingly, 2 Giant petrels the previous afternoon. ‘I was thinking about you guys’ he said, which didn’t help us much!
The sea was much friendlier this morning but still wild enough at times to be daunting! Shy, Buller’s and Yellow-nosed Albatrosses in much the same numbers as yesterday and a flock of Australian Gannets lifted off the water at one point. A large dark bird heading south was quickly identified as a NORTHERN GIANT PETREL (S) (C) and we had another 2 in similar circumstances before the boat trip ended. All were moving very quickly and despite Mike’s best efforts there was no way we could catch the birds as they banked between the waves and casually, almost, disappeared over the horizon.
Thanks to the relatively calm weather and to help satisfy our desire for birds Mike took the boat out to the Hippolyte Rocks about 3 kms off shore. Here we saw NZ FUR SEALS and a Humpback Whale surfaced nearby a few times much to the delight of the punters. We also saw a probable Short-tailed Shearwater, but it was gone very quickly between the swells and no definite identification was achieved.
Back on land at Pirates Bay and a 85 kg Blue-fin Tuna was displayed on the wharf. A Shy Albatross was circling very close to the shoreline just off the blow hole and as we were driven back to the office we anticipated a good seawatch from that area later in the day. As we went I was gazing out the window and there on a patch of grass beside the road – a pair of CAPE BARREN GEESE! We changed out of our suits and I dropped S down to the penal settlement for a second go at the place. I was less interested in old history and more interested in seeing a Firetail so I drove down the road and took the second turn off to the left after the PA turnoff. I drove about 10 kms at about 10 kms/hour but saw nothing different or unusual so returned to pick S up and headed towards Pirate Bay. On the way S spotted the geese in a field on the opposite side of the road and we stopped to see them properly. Although we did expect more further north these would be the only CBG we would see on the trip.
We placed ourselves at the top of the path above the blow hole for the sea watch and we did see Alberts – but they were a long way out to sea and, although I spotted a probable Northern Giant Petrel, S could not get on to it in time – it too was a long way off. In rough weather, though, this would make a very good seawatch spot – and is probably worth a visit anyway as they sometimes come in very close to the shore. Several Crested Terns and Aust Gannets passed by as we watched until the sun had almost set.
We headed off at 17.00 and drove north taking an unsealed turnoff before Sorrel at Copping we ‘cut the corner’ and arrived at Coles Bay on the Freycinet Peninsula at 19.30 – very little traffic made the journey easy and quick. We booked into the Coles bay Iluka Caravan Park in YHA accommodation – basically bunkhouse with, again, a room to ourselves at $28 a night each. The owner was very informative regarding walks and where to see ‘birds’ in the area.
11.5.09 Up at 6.30 and we drove out to Cape Tourville looking forward to a decent sea watch. The Cape is very high and once again, there are islands off the coast – The Nuggets. Once again there were lots of Alberts – once again, most were very distant and, once again, in bad or rough weather….. but the sun was beating down (for Tasmania!) the sea was calm, the sky clear, the breeze mellow.
We decided to climb Mt Amos for the promised views of the area – it’s not an easy climb – one needs good boots or strong joggers. It is not a walk to take the kids or the oldies on! There are sections of exposed granite boulder and steep cliff-like spots that require confidence and some scrambling skills but it is worth it. The views of Wineglass Bay and the bays on the other side of the peninsula are excellent. We had a brilliant day for it, clear and warm and spent a half an hour or so on top taking photos.
As we came back down I was leading and as we approached a section of bush a small dark bird with a bright red rump lifted off a wet soak and disappeared into a bush. It had to be a Firetail but despite our urgent looking and pishing for some time it did not reappear. We did see plenty of T Thornbills and Yellow-throated and Crescent Honeyeaters.
We packed up, paid our bill and drove to the Freycinet Lodge for coffee and muffins before heading off north again. We stopped a couple of times along the way at likely spots or for a ‘what was that’? We had a couple of Brown Falcons beside the road and at Scamander approx 15 Red-capped and 10 Double-banded Plovers on the sandbar at the river mouth. No sign of the hoped for small terns….
Arriving at St Helen’s, our destination for the night, we had an hour or so of daylight left so drove out the south side of the river to the boat ramp at the very end. It’s a much longer drive than we first thought but we could see Alberts not very far off shore from the ramp and grabbing the ‘scopes we dashed up the track at the end of the car park and eventually found our way out onto the rocks. We didn’t have much light left, but could see at least one of the wheeling birds was a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS (S) (C).
Promising ourselves we would return for a seawatch at first light we purchased some supplies in town and then booked into the backpackers for $55 for a room. This was to be the most disappointing stay of our trip – while the accommodation was average and the facilities adequate the manner of the (ex-pom) manager was to be regretted. The lights in the lounge were so dim I had to use my head torch to read. There was an unlit space heater log fire – and it was quite cold – which we were instructed not to touch. Some Asian students were advised, quite demeaningly, that ‘this was Australia you know and taps should be turned off, water is precious’ – which is all fairly valid except the tap washer needed replacing. He also insisted that we did not use our sleeping bags – we must use his linen because of the ‘bed bug problem all over the country’ – news to us. Anyway we were only there for one night but will not be returning in any hurry, so we used the can opener that was chained to the kitchen wall and had dinner before retiring for an early night and an early start.
12.5.09 Up at 5.30 and out to the southern headland before dawn. We sat in the car until there was light enough to see then made our way out to the rocks again. Good seawatching spot – low enough to limit our horizon reasonably, yet high enough to give us a good view of passing birds. Immediately a Black-browed Albatross showed itself and soon after a Shy Alb also put in an appearance. The former sat on the water approx 200 meters away and provided excellent ‘scope views. We also had Sooty Oystercatchers and a White-bellied Sea Eagle, Pacific Gulls, Black-faced Cormorants and Aust Gannets We stayed until 8.00 the headed back to the backpackers to have breakfast (the kitchen was locked until 7.30?).
We headed north and were soon on unsealed roads as we went for Eddystone Pt in Mt William National Park. Arriving at the lighthouse we parked up and walked down to the rocky point. Setting up we soon had Black-browed and Shy Albs again, not very close but identifiable views certainly. The sea was quite calm – almost oily and most of the birds were just sitting around. Once again a potentially good seawatching point – easy access, low rocks, good horizon – and a large bay (Bay of Fires) to the south which would encourage birds to swing in in rough weather.
We stayed until 11.15 and then moved a few meters back into the brush to look for field and/or emu wrens – the habitat looks good there for these species. We weren’t successful but as we watched Thornbills and Silvereyes S glanced back towards the sea and excitedly called ‘large brown seabird coming in’ – we scrambled to get it in the bins and saw a Pacific-gull sized brown petrel with a distinctly pale bill flying leisurely past about 50 meters off the rocks! WHITE-CHINNED PETREL! We dashed back to our seawatch site and looked everywhere but it had disappeared into the bay. Setting up we waited another hour with fading hopes, but lots of enthusiasm, for no further results, so we left and with many a backward glance (!) headed back to the car and north towards our next planned stop – George Town on the north coast. On the way we disturbed our first Tasmanian Swamp Harrier feeding on road kill and shortly afterwards came to an abrupt halt when S spied a pair of AUSTRALIAN SHELDUCK (S) in a nearby field. We also saw Grey Butcherbird and another Brown Falcon on this leg and had our first Welcome Swallow in Tasmania at George Town. I had hoped to snorkel at a seal colony from this location ($120 per person) but the weather put it out of the question – a strong westerly wind chopped the sea and river mouth. We found a camp site ($20 per night per site – we only used one) semi-sheltered by a fence and did our laundry in the caravan park laundry. On returning to my tent I discovered a pool of liquid inside my open flyscreen door and found my tent had been visited by a local cat in my absence. An unpleasant thing to find, let me tell you! I cleaned it up as best I could – luckily it had not targeted my sleeping bag – and after dinner we found a bar in the Comfort Inn and spent the evening drinking coffee and watching bad TV. It was a cold night with spitting rain at times and the wind made sleep difficult.
13.5.09 We were glad to put George Town behind us as we drove alongside the Tamar River to Launceston, turning back down the east side of the river we began looking for Trevallyn Reserve as we had read that Firetails had been seen there by others in January. We were misdirected by a local resident and ended up at Cataract Gorge for an hour or so. Eventually on to Trevallyn and a scouring by car of the three parts of the reserve – Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Scarlet & Dusky Robins, T Scrub-wrens a plenty but no Firetails. Also Grey Butcherbird and Currawong.
As we returned onto south Tamar rd I spotted a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike on the overhead wires, the first, again, in T. Just as the lights turned green and I turned into the main road S shouted ‘green parrots’ and a flock of small lorikeets shot over the car swooped down and appeared to land in trees on the other side of the split 4 lane road. I managed an illegal U-turn at the next set of lights and returning to the spot, we bailed from the car grabbing bins and looking frantically in the nearby trees. It was a golf course and an inaccessible area from where we stood – there were groups of large trees here and there and, although we could hear them, we couldn’t see the lorikeets except for an occasional burst as they moved from tree to tree or went back overhead into the residential area on the other side of the road. We were pretty sure they were Musk Lorikeets but it would be a new bird for both of us and we wanted to be 100% confident, besides which we wanted a good view of them! One bird did give us great views and much to our surprise turned out to be a Rainbow Lorikeet! A vagrant or an escape?
After a half an hour or so we decided to call it quits and turned again at the set of lights to head down river – we had driven a hundred meters or so when yet another, larger flock of green birds screamed overhead and landed in a garden beside the road! Jamming on the brakes, again we bailed and this time were successful in gaining exceptional views of a flock of MUSK LORIKEETS feeding on apples in someone’s backyard. We met a couple gardening who allowed us to use their yard to gain best access – they were originally from Queensland – go figure! We scoped the birds as they described them as ‘green rats’. The flock moved on after a while and so did we – to Tamar Wetlands.
We met one of the volunteers at the front door and chatted for a few minutes. After making our ‘donation’ we walked on down the boardwalk and round to the first hide. There was not a lot to see from her so we moved on until we reached a bridge over a channel and setting up the scopes, scanned the massed wildfowl. There were dozens of Australian Shelduck, Chestnut and Grey Teal and Masked Plovers. The most dominant bird was the Black Swan – maybe 1000 birds? 4 Great Egrets were our first in T, 3 White-faced Herons and Little Black Cormorants flew past and we had distant views of a White-bellied Sea Eagle while S saw a Swamp Harrier briefly. We also had Black-fronted Dotterels and 1 Grebe we believed to be an Australian Grebe. The wetlands are quite extensive and we didn’t really have the time to explore more fully so we returned to the car and headed towards Cradle Mt.
The road out of Launceston west is a major highway and we sat on 110 kms/hr until we turned off for Sheffield, We stopped there for a good meat pie and an excellent cream bun at Lara’s bakery in the main street and spent a few minutes poking around the ‘antique’ store opposite. As we left Sheffield 2 Wedge-tailed Eagles soared overhead.
Heading towards Cradle Mt the road began to climb, the vegetation changed and the weather descended. By the time we reached the Discovery caravan and camp site it was windy, raining and cold. We checked into the ‘bunkhouse’ accommodation ($30 per night each) and found to our delight a heater already on in the four bed cabin. The kitchen and bathroom facilities were very close, the only issue was parking was a bit limited. We dropped some stuff off in our cabin to ‘claim’ our beds and headed on up the road to the visitor’s centre – it was closed so we drove on up to Dove Lake (7.5 kms) for a quick look. The rain was horizontal and stayed that way for the time we were in Cradle Mt. We never did get to see Cradle Mt itself – it was completely blocked out in the mist and drizzle.
We returned to the kitchen and had soup and toast as it seemed very appropriate in the weather, then well after dark, drove slowly back down the road towards Strahan looking for wildlife. We were in luck – despite the wind and rain we saw 3 Common Wombats, 1 Spotted Quoll and best of all a TASMANIAN DEVIL! Just outside the kitchen on our return a couple of Brush-tailed Possums were begging for food much to the entertainment of the foreign backpackers.
14.5.09 Wild, wild weather overnight – howling (literally) wind and driving rain and it continued the next morning so we didn’t rush out! Eventually we decided that we had to have a walk so putting on everything waterproof we drove to Dove Lake again and hiked up the trail to Marion’s Lookout. It took us about 2 hours to negotiate and was worth it to see the habitat and experience the mountain in probably some of the worst conditions, and certainly the wettest conditions, we could have. Despite our precautions we were pretty damp throughout when we returned so decided to stop at Rooney’s Creek car park and take a walk on the boardwalk alongside the raging creek. Quite spectacular views and we had T Thornbills, a pair of Pink Robins and a couple of Yellow-throated Honeyeaters. That took us about an hour and then we went up the side road to Waldheim and Weindorfers cabin and had a 15 minute walk in the forest there. No birds but as we exited we found a Wombat feeding in the field beside the road. We were able to approach quite closely and I got some photos and video of the occasion.
We went to the Cradle Mt Lodge tavern for coffee around a lovely log fire and dried off. Then back to the communal kitchen for dinner and again out on the road after dark. We had another Quoll and a Wombat inside the park and 2 Wombats on the main road – no Devil this time.
15.5.09 The wind had eased a little overnight but the rain continued in its persistence. I didn’t feel like getting wet again but S wanted another walk on the boardwalk so I left him to it and spent the time taking photos, wandering through the visitor centre and trying to make a booking for our next night’s stay. (We did, surprisingly, have a flock of about 10 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in the trees as we drove up to Rooney’s creek for the drop off.) After another couple of coffees at the very pleasant tavern in the chalet we left Cradle Mt and headed west.
We decided we would go to Granville harbour on the west coast on our way to Strahan and so turned of the main road near Macintosh Dam. This road was virtually empty – I think we saw one car before Granville Harbour – and it was a pleasant drive as the weather continued to brighten. Coming over Mt Livingstone we thought the habitat looked good so pulled in at the ‘viewing spot’ at the top. Disembarking into the gusting wind, we immediately heard birds calling and within 2 or 3 minutes had excellent views of STRIATED FIELDWREN! There were about 4 birds present immediately in front of the ‘lookout’ and on the other side of the road. We flushed what we believe was a Ground Parrot too, it took off and blew away very quickly in the wind. Within 10 minutes or so it began to rain again and it was rain turning to sleet so the birds vanished and so did we – continuing on to Reece Dam which was quite spectacularly overflowing. 2 Wedge-tailed Eagles glided casually by overhead.
On to 8 kms each way of unsealed road – and this was a bit rough – to Granville Harbour and wild, wild seas! The ‘harbour’ was, in reality, a rock strewn bay partially protected by low rocky headlands and backed by what appeared to be fisherman’s cabins and not much else. The waves were monstrous at the mouth of the bay and the kelp piled high on the shore had attracted a multitude of birds – 100+ Forest Ravens, 100+ Welcome Swallows, 50+ Black Ducks, 50+ Chestnut Teal, 20+ White-faced Herons, Pacific Gulls and flocks of Starlings all, I presume, feeding off the insects on the exposed weed on the rocks. We drove around to the northern headland as it seemed to have the best track and tried to do a seawatch, however, in avoiding the wind and rain we were too low to get over the wave tops and the ‘alberts’ - and there were a few out there – disappeared inside the troughs. We tried for a while but it was relatively useless and incoming rain squalls caused a retreat. I noticed a movement on one patch of rock and ….. we had 5 White-fronted Chats, 2 males and 3 females, in good clear view, seeking protection from the wind. It’s a place I would love to go back to, find a protected corner somewhere and watch the sea – I reckon Granville harbour has real potential in terms of land-based seawatching.
We arrived in Strahan at 17.30 – had expected to be there earlier but had had to detour eventually from Zeehan to Queenstown due to flooding. Found the caravan park and our pre booked accommodation – there was no need as there was virtually no one else there anyway. The most expensive at $35 a night each and one of the poorest in quality. We had a small bedroom with 2 single beds and a blow heater, the beds too short for S to stretch out. The kitchen was large and cold, the heaters on the walls didn’t seem to do much so we lit several of the gas rings on the stove top. The worst aspect was the exposed walk to the shower/toilet block with a door that one struggled to close - in the middle of the night with the weather we were experiencing it was pretty awful. We had dinner and chatted with a group of backpackers who had followed us from Cradle Mt.
16.5.09 Firetails, firetails where are the firetails? I was beginning to believe we would not see them. How embarrassing would that be – EVERYONE else saw them here, even those who came for 3 or 4 days seem to see one or two! Yet here we were on a two week, count ‘em, 15 days, trip and we couldn’t find them anywhere!
We got up late - the wind and rain had howled around the wooden building all night so we didn’t get down to Strahan sea front until 8.45. We wanted to go on a boat trip up the Gordon River and I had hoped to kayak from the cruise boat. Unfortunately our late arrival put paid to this possibility and anyway the weather was awful but it is something I would still love to do.
The Gordon/Franklin river was the scene of major protests in the 80s when authorities wanted to dam the river for a hydroelectric project. There were mass demonstrations on the river and subsequently around the country in support. It was Australia’s first real environmental protest and, thankfully, was successful in stopping the proposed action - the area has now been heritage listed.
We boarded the Eagle at 9.00 ($85 each for the blue seats – you can wander anywhere on board but don’t sit in the red seats!) and were entertained and fed for the next 6 hours as the boat went to the river mouth we saw the salmon& trout fisheries, then to Sarah island for a very entertaining guided tour by a Chilean, one Patricia Silva, (the boat trip is worth it for this guy alone!), up the Franklin to the heritage Walk (I saw a Pink Robin) and then back to port. We heard all about the convicts and, yep, the Huon pine, that’s right, folks, the only oil known to man that sinks in water, you get the picture? It was an interestingly live commentary – but quite educational.
We didn’t see many birds from the boat – 2 White-bellied Sea Eagles, a flock of about 40 Black Currawongs, a distant Grey Goshawk sat in a tree on the ridge and assorted Gulls - but it was when we were returning back down the river and had just cleared its mouth that a white and grey/black bird flew past to our stern. We were powering forward and the wind was blowing it back so it was a pretty quick view and then it was going away with no hope of recovery, but we got the bins on it and are confident it was a WHITE-HEADED PETREL. In an unusual location, it was obviously wind blown into the bay and right up to the river mouth, the white tail and rump, grey/black wings, white mantle and head with dark markings, stiff winged flight and size clearly marked it as such.
Returning to the dockside we purchased some Huon pine bits and pieces and then headed out to the airfield to try for the Striated Fieldwren, Southern Emu-wrens and Ground Parrots we had heard were there. We did find the first two but had only poor views in the windy conditions. It would appear, however, that a stop anywhere along the unsealed road would produce the goods. Thanks to the recent rain the ground was quite waterlogged and, I suspect, the parrots may have moved to higher ground as a result. We investigated the end of the ‘peninsula’ trying to get somewhere for a seawatch, but gave up when it became clear the south side of the mouth of the bay was only sand dunes and gave no height above sea level. The northside is inaccessible by road.
We returned to ‘camp’ and had a quiet dinner before a stroll in Strahan revealed everything closed except the hotel.
17.5.09 Once again the wind had eased overnight and the rain had stopped – in fact it was looking almost like sun! We headed out towards the coast via the Ocean View Road (unsealed) and setting up the ‘scopes had a look at the ‘alberts’ off the coast. They were a fair way out and showed no signs of coming closer so we turned our attentions to the flock of Double-banded Plover on the beach, the White-bellied Sea Eagle overhead and the various honeyeaters in the surrounding bush.
After a while we headed back along the road towards Strahan intending to try the airfield again but stopped approximately 2 kms from the bitumen as the habitat looked as good as further out. Within a few minutes we had several pairs of Southern Emu-wrens and had excellent sustained views of both male and female birds, Silvereyes and Golden Whistlers. We strolled up and down the road checking out the verges and low brush when S called a possible Firetail. He had seen a red-rumped bird disappear into a patch of brush but although we watched and scanned and pished for 15 minutes there was no sign of it. We returned to the car and were about to give it away when suddenly, at last, S spotted the target bird about 30 meters away on the roadside and we had very acceptable views of a male BEAUTIFUL FIRETAIL in a low tree and hopping on the ground beside a pool of rainwater before it appeared to collect a strand of grass and fly off into the same patch of bush as earlier. It seems unlikely it was nest building so it may have been taking the grass to a more secure location to feed? We high-fived and were ecstatic as at long last we had found our errant species!
Returning to the bitumen we decided not to try the airfield again but checked the corners of the harbour (Hoary-headed Grebe) before we headed into Strahan for a celebratory pastry and coffee fix before fuelling up and heading east back towards Hobart.
Through Queenstown – yeuch, how can a state like T have a place like that and worst of all, no sign of any attempted reclamation? No stopping there!
On to Nelson Falls and a river in spate meaning an exceptional waterfall. We had stunningly close views of Scrubtit and T Scrub-wren here. I almost managed to get some photos! On to Lake St Clair and a walk into the platypus viewing area – no platypus, but a bit of pishing and a pair of Olive Whistlers put in a performance so close that I did actually get some quite acceptable photos! We also had Black-headed, Strong-billed, Crescent and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters in our relatively brief visit.
We reached Mt Field NP just before dusk. We had considered camping for our last night before Hobart, however, the camp site was so wet and waterlogged there were Native Hens walking around feeding on the sites… so we went looking for an alternative. I tried the first set of cottages - $100 a night. (Well, what if we used our own bedding? Make it $70?” “ Nope – its all there already it’s a $100” “OK, thanks.”)
We finally found a backpackers about 10 kms further out at Maydena (left hand side of the road, the house with a front verandah, similar to a Queenslander, $25 a night). Unfortunately he was closed as he was renewing the floor, but he did re-direct us to Celtic Dawn and rang them to confirm for us. $30 a night each and we had our own little room with twin beds, coffee & tea making facilities, a separate bathroom and shower and a ‘bush’ kitchen, which was pretty basic and quite cold until we lit the barbeque. It was very pleasant actually and we had dinner before heading off into the National park 200 meters away to look for Owls – that was unsuccessful, but at least we tried!
18.5.09 Up at 6.30 coffee only for breakfast as we had run out of milk. Into the National park again and we drove to the top of the road (16 kms unsealed) to Lake Dobson. Snow everywhere except on the track – it had been cleared. A beautiful sunny, clear skied morning, the snow crisp and clean.. and icy. I fell over in the first few yards but that was expected….. Not much bird-wise but lovely to walk through the Pandanni Grove Walk up to Eagle Tarn, then we swung right and headed back down the 4wd track to the car park. A narrow gutter beside the track held some trickling water a few cms deep. Concentrating on not falling over again, something caught my eye, a movement, a brown object, in the gutter, it was a Platypus! We watched it within touching distance for about 30 minutes as it fed in the shallow water. We felt very privileged to see such an animal at such intimate distance. Many photos and videos later we left it to its breakfast and headed back down the mountain to Lyrebird Nature Walk – no Lyrebirds but we did have a Bassian Thrush, Pink Robin, Grey Currawongs and an immature Golden Whistler which gave us pause for a few minutes. Returning to the visitor centre we walked through it and up to Russell Falls. Although spectacular I think Nelson Falls was more impressive. We had another Pink Robin returning from there and lots of T Scrub-wrens and Thornbills on both these walks.
Feeling peckish at missing breakfast we stopped at the Possum Shed beside the river in Westerway and enjoyed pancakes and home made scones while watching Yellow Wattlebirds and Grey Butcherbirds in the nearby trees. (Highly recommended for excellent coffee and the food was brilliant!)
As we left Westerway after re-fuelling again (the most expensive fuel $1.41 a litre) a pigeon like bird lifted off the road, pulling to a stop we had a brief view of one of the flock – a Common Bronzewing. The only Bronzewing we positively identified in the two weeks – we had flushed several off unsealed roads in our travels, but they had always disappeared before id could be confirmed.
We arrived back in Hobart around 14.00 receiving all our txt messages of the last week as we came back within range. Parked in Salamanca and wandered the shops and had a close look at Aurora Australis the Australian polar ship. We booked into the YHA in Argyll st ($28 each per night) and then as dusk fell drove up Mt Wellington for a night time viewing of Hobart. There was lots of snow on the ground, but only a light breeze so it was very cold, but quite pleasant.
19.5.09 We visited the Antarctic headquarters at Kingston and spent a couple of hours wondering what it would be like to spend a year on the frozen continent – what birding would be like in minus temperatures before returning to the airport, checking in the X-trail and boarding our flight for home. As we left Welcome Swallows and Musk Lorikeets flew overhead….
I think we covered Tasmania pretty well and did very well as far as the birds were concerned. I would like to do things like swim with the seals at George Town or kayak the Gordon River, get the jet boat on the Huon and abseil the Gordon dam. There’s a lot to see and do.
So far as birds are concerned I would love to get a couple of pelagics – I think that is where we were unlucky, even though we did get 4 sp of ‘Alberts’ and 3 petrels. The time of year was wrong for the two parrots – Orange-bellied and Blue-winged - that neither of us has seen. That could not be avoided, and it gives us a reason to go back and get them - and walk the Overland trail from Cradle Mt to Lake St Clair (5 days) and get a pelagic out of both Eaglehawk Neck and St Helens and fly into Melaleuca for the OBP. Yes, we’re planning that trip already!