As the light seeped in through our bedroom windows in the quaint Tasmania Club so did the first calls of the Kelp Gulls. For me they immediately evoked memories of childhood seaside holidays on the Yorkshire coast. As we boarded our vehicle Silver Gulls were already checking out the street bins while the Kelps sat sentry-like on the highest points of the highest buildings. So began our Tassie adventure.
Black-faced and Little Pied Cormorants
by Bob Ashford
We were heading to the Pipeline Track on the slopes of Mount Wellington and as we climbed the wind direction changed and swept vast clouds of smoke from the west - smoke from some of the worst fires Tasmania had endured for decades. The haze was to persist until we reached the southern parts of Bruny Island (BI). There was nothing we could do and we resolved to enjoy our birding.
Forest Ravens where common and thankfully the only corvid around making identification easy. But as we started our walk ears and eyes were on full alert for new sounds and sights. A pair of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos "tuned" us in and it wasn't long before we heard and then saw our first Black Currawong, a Tassie endemic. Members of the party - Bernice, Anne, Brian, Dietrich and Janene were all very competent birders (and great company throughout the trip!) so my job was really quite easy! Soon Olive Whistlers, Dusky Robins, Yellow-throated, Black-headed and Strong-billed Honeyeaters and the ubiquitous New Holland Honeyeater made themselves known. So did Brown Thornbills, but try as we did the Tasmanian Thornbill remained elusive until Anne pointed out a lighter, more non-descript Thornbill. Yes, a Tassie...now we were getting the hang of it and shortly after we spotted a small group of Tasmania Scrubwrens. So absorbed had we become that we didn't see the Tiger Snake until almost too late! Fortunately the temperature was still cool and it decided discretion was the better part of valour.
As we headed south to catch the BI ferry we called in at the Peter Murrell Reserve, a spot noted for the elusive Forty-spotted Pardalote. It consisted mainly of tall Manna Gums (Eucalptus viminalis). Viminalis, as we called, is a high yielding sugar source tree whose leaves are eaten by tiny little bugs (Psyllids) who excrete excess sugar in highly nutritious fluffy crystal cages. Tim Low, in his wonderful book "Where Song Began", explains that it is manna (and lerps and honeydew) that accounts for the great variety and abundance of honeyeaters in Australia - and their aggression, as they fight each other and many other species to protect an extremely valuable food source. Pardalotes are particularly adapted to picking these little bundles, especially the Forty-Spotted - if they can get through the army of larger, fractious honeyeaters such as the Yellow and Little Wattlebirds and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters that we saw. We couldn't find any in spite of considerable effort. Dietrich, however, did spy a pair of motionless Tawny Frogmouths.
Away from the Viminalis we did see both Striated and Spotted Pardalotes, Dusky Woodswallow and Welcome Swallows and a noisy Grey Currawong. At the ferry terminal several Tasmanian Native Hens were accompanied by small fluffy black chicks and Kelp Gulls were accompanied by several large brown juveniles. A couple of White-faced Herons were far too busy checking the rocky shoreline.
Australian Fur Seals
The first bird recorded as we arrived at BI were the white-backed subspecies of the Australian Magpie next to a large sign advertising BI as a key home for Swift Parrots. "Goodo!" we said as we rolled southward to Great Bay. There we stopped to admire several hundreds of Tree Martins working a grassy paddock while on the other side of the road along the shoreline were at least 120 Pied Oystercatchers, half a dozen Sooty Oystercatchers and a large number of Masked Lapwings plus the usual entourage of Silver and Kelp Gulls and a lone pair of big bulky Pacific Gulls. As we arrived at Captain Cook Caravan Park in Adventure Bay a dozen Swift Parrots flew over followed by a larger and slower moving King Parrot! Dinner was at the BI Premium Winery. Brian selected a very nice Pinot Noir, Janene rocked to a grand selection of Beatles classics and the rest of joined in on the choruses! It had been a grand day to go birding!
But wait, there's more! As dark descended we arrived at the Neck viewing spot. First came in the ghostly quiet Short-tailed Shearwaters and then the Little Penguins. They were difficult to see as they came ashore but from the raised boardwalk under dim red lights they preened, cuddled and chuckled. As I said, a great day for birding.
The morning "walk" on Day 2 was a joke. I'd be surprised if we managed 50 meters there was so much to see! Stepping out of our cabins we were immediately distracted by busy flocks of small, very fast Swifties and we enjoyed some stunning views as they settled briefly in the nearby gums. Black-headed and New Holland were the most numerous Honeyeaters and they were joined by a Grey Shrike-thrush and a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. Silver gulls were squabbling over a dead rabbit in the road risking a similar outcome from passing cars. Kindly, I thought, I moved the carcass to the grass verge where it was disdainfully ignored by the gulls. "They like it on the plate" said Janene. Blackbirds and Flame Robins bounced along the tracks. Dusky Woodswallows, Welcome Swallows and Tree Martins worked the lawns and lower branches joined by several Green Rosellas. Swifties ruled the canopy! And above them all circled a female Brown Goshawk.
Toasted Sandwiches at the General Store were rated 10 out of 10.Through the window there were easy sightings of Superb Wrens and House Sparrows. The beach across the road provided our first sighting of Hooded Plover. And then we headed up to Mount Mangana in search of Scrubtit and, hopefully, Pink Robin and Forty-spotted Pardalotes. It was windy though and birding was a challenge. Undeterred Janene started making kissing noises and it being St Valentine's Day Brian and I politely offered our cheeks only to be told that she was trying to attract birds. Hey! It was an easy mistake to make.
We did spot a fleeting Bassian Thrush, Tasmanian Scrubwren and Thornbill and then Brian called "Pink Robin". We hoped for a male but it was a rather gorgeous female with its very distinctive buff-golden wing bars. As we descended we hit a hot spot. Midges and moths seemed to be super abundant during our time on BI suggesting a very healthy environment. This time the incessant chattering of flocks of Tree Martins and Welcome Swallows filled the air competing with the tinkling of Goldfinches and Yellow-rumped Thornbills and considerable numbers of Silvereyes. Green Rosellas, Dusky Woodswallows even Forest Ravens seemed to be determined to join the feast. A family of Dusky Robins ignored us and a Fan-tailed Cuckoo flew in to see what on earth was going on. There was a short burst of activity from us as we heard the call of a Boobook only to discover it was the message alert for Anne's phone! Further on we squeezed off the narrow road to check a family of Scarlet Robins while passing motorists called out to encourage us - I think.
Buller's Albatross by Bob Ashford
At Cloudy Bay the scenery really was magnificent - a great spot for lunch. As we watched a pair of Hooded Plovers we also spotted the distinctive "blue" plumage of a Prion. It was resting on the beach and obviously in trouble. By the time we had the scope on it Bernice was already shouting out "The Ravens are at it". Six of them had descended on the poor bird and it was all over very quick. We had managed to identify it as a Fairy Prion, the commonest off the coast of BI, but we were a rather despondent bunch as we headed north to Cloudy Bay Lagoon.
Spirits lifted when we arrived and spotted, unbelievably, our first cormorants - Little Black, Little Pied and Black-faced. On the sand spits were numerous Crested Terns, all three gull species, a dozen Australian Pelicans, half a dozen Black Swans and a few White-faced Herons. In the trees Black-headed and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters dominated.
As we returned to Adventure Bay we stopped for a stroll along the track to Cape Queen Elizabeth. Initially it was very quiet. The day was drawing to a close and the sun was low giving beautiful light over old paddocks. Up on to the fence popped a Blue-winged Parrot, then a pair of White-fronted Chats, then two beautiful male Scarlet Robins - all in one binocular view. That was a sight to behold. A passing Brown Goshawk did spoil the tableau but flushed a flock of eight Blue-wings in to the sun's rays. Magnificent! By the time we left we had seen many Blue-wings, Grey Fantails, both Thornbills and the final bird of the day was a Kookaburra. We did chase a calling Golden Whistler and Common Bronzewing but without success. But no one was complaining.
On Day 3 we started early at the Mavista Nature Walk in search, again, of the elusive Scrubtit and Forty Spotted. Unfortunately we were unlucky. We did get a Collared Sparrowhawk and another female Pink Robin though. En route we saw a small group of Tasmanian Wallabies including several of the striking white versions. Then it was back for the much admired Toasties before heading down to the wharf and loading on to boats for an exciting trip down the coast. This was a slick and impressive operation and BI Adventure Cruises certainly deserves its excellent reputation. The snag for birders is that the boats are fast! So while we saw lots of sea birds it was very difficult to separate the species on the move. In the end we saw Buller's and Shy Albatross and possibly a Wandering. We saw several species of Shearwater, especially Short-tailed and large nesting colonies of Black-faced Cormorants. We also drifted into a large raft of Australian Gannets which, seen that close, are truly beautiful birds.
Hooded Plover by Janene
The scenery was dramatic: - 300 metre high, straight up cliffs, many caves (where in one we spotted a lone Welcome Swallow working the water surface!) and rock pillars. A small New Zealand Fur Seal was seen having fun in the kelp but it was just a tantaliser for what was to come. It was great fun and the adrenaline was pumping.
The objective was a small group of high craggy islands known as the Friars home to haul-outs of the Australian Fur Seal - hundreds of them. They were big, bulky, sleepy young males, and the occasional adult, taking it easy while the females fed well off-shore and fed the pups born in December/January at separate colonies. On the rocks the seals did little or struggled to move on or off shore but once in the water they were masterful, but boy, did they stink! Even so seeing them was the definite highlight of the trip.
A lone Swamp Harrier worked the sloping grassy tops. It was difficult to imagine much living there other than unprotected chicks and we suspected that the Harrier was a seasonal visitor. Our return trip was fast and direct and hot soup was the order of the day - after we had checked the beach and had a good look at a pair of Hoodies with a young chick!
The late afternoon was spent exploring BI, in particular Dennes Point where again we searched for the elusive Forty Spotted. The weather had turned and it was wet, windy and cold but we did watch a pair of Chestnut Teal surfing and several groups of crazy Native Hens chasing each other grunting like pigs! Then we watched Starlings coming in to roost and decided that's exactly what we would do.
Tasmanian Wallabies by Bob Ashford
After a night of pouring rain, howling winds and a constant hail of branches hitting our cabin roofs all of us were up early!
Our objective was Peter Murrell's Reserve and we were intent on finding the Forty-spotted Pardalote. We spent serious effort there, mostly craning necks up in to the high canopies, only to discover that we were chasing young Striated Pardalotes! We decided the solution for our sore necks was to spend a week or two focussing on Logrunners. We found nest boxes and camped near them in hope. Nest Box 133 produced nothing. Nest Box 183 produced nothing. The Tawny Frogmouths were still in the same place, probably wondering why we were back. So we accepted our fate and headed back to Hobart and Pitt Water Nature Reserve.
Drifting on the choppy waters were close to forty Musk Duck and several Great Crested, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebes, plus our first Great Cormorants and a pair of Swamp Harriers. As we headed back to the Botanic Gardens we added Noisy Miner - the only one of the trip! After a quick late lunch we walked the gardens picking up Spotted Dove, Eastern Rosella, Grey Butcherbird and some wonderful close-up views of Musk Lorikeets preening each other. Then we hit the home-time traffic.
In all it was a great trip, even if we didn't get the Forty-spotted Pardalote (not for the want of trying!). We enjoyed a lot of laughs and some wonderful birding and it was a real pleasure to be travelling with the group. Thank you all.
by Bob Ashford birding for FTB