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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Northern Tasmania, 19th – 28th December 2009,
This trip report outlines a 9-day trip to Tasmania over Christmas 2009. As the only birder amongst five civilians, it was not organised specifically for birding and some of the key sites in the Hobart area were not visited. Even so, the trip was very successful with 93 species recorded in total, including 11 of the state’s 14 breeding endemics. Birding in Tasmania is a real delight, with high quality indigenous forests easily accessible just about everywhere, the birds are tame and inquisitive (pishing works a treat!) and most species are widespread and easy to find (including species, that whilst occurring on the adjacent Australian mainland, have Tasmania as a stronghold). The landscape varies between rather inspiring (think Lake District on a sunny day, without the tourists) to epically sublime and the whole place is imbued with the easygoing ‘can do’ attitude that characterises most of Australia and New Zealand.
Overview and strategy
The trip was based at two localities, both an easy two hours drive (in opposite directions) from Launceston. This is the main town in northern Tasmania, and we flew into here from Melbourne. The first four nights were spent at EaglesNest (http://www.eaglesnestretreat.com.au/) south of Sheffield and within easy reach of Mount Roland (15 minutes drive away), Cradle Mountain (one hour) and Narawntapu National Park (one hour; on the north coast). We then back-tracked to Launceston and headed south-east to Swansea, on the east coast. Here we stayed at Piermont Retreat (http://www.piermont.com.au/display.asp?entityid=1451) and visited Moulting Lagoon (40 minutes), Freycinet National Park (one hour) and Maria Island (40 minutes drive, then a 45 minute ferry trip). A fair range of accommodation was available at both localities and, being Australia and the summer (we had near-perfect weather throughout; despite it being very wet on the mainland), camping would also be eminently possible too. Roads are good and mostly empty; we picked up a car at Launceston from Europcar for about A$ 1000. Costs for commodities such as food were high (partly because of the strength of the Australian Dollar against Sterling and the US Dollar; it was 1GBP = 1.8 A$ at the time of our visit) but entry to the National Parks was outstanding value (look out for the two-month ‘tourist ticket’ for A$ 60 and covering everywhere for up to 6 people).
Despite avoiding the well-known Hobart localities, our route gave us a comprehensive look at a good range of the key habitats on Tasmania. These ranged from rocky headlands and bays to coastal dunes and lakes, semi-alpine heath and a great deal of pristine forest and native bush. Birds were common everywhere and just wandering around the gardens where we stayed produced lots of species. The Achilles Heal of our route (ornithologically speaking) was that it allowed only one crack at Swift Parrot and Forty-spotted Pardalote (on Maria Island, but both sparse). On a breezy, hot day (not ideal) I missed both. The latter is still regularly seen in the Kingston area south of Hobart (a two hour drive from Swansea) if you are more list-inclined than me (or are passing through Hobart anyway).
Bird names used and taxonomic order followed come from my well-worn copy of Birds of Australia by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight (Collins, 1997). This is a great guide and I recommend it highly. The key alternative, Simpson and Day, is less detailed with regard to identification but has a fascinating ‘Handbook’ section that covers evolution, breeding biology and so on.
For site information, as well as a few trip reports from the usual sources, Lloyd Nielsen’s Birding Australia A Directory for Birders (privately published, 2006) was pretty good, despite having only a few pages devoted to Tasmania.
Common and widespread species
The following species are widespread and generally common in suitable habitat across Tasmania and are generally not mentioned hereafter. (I) or (C) indicates a species that appeared to be predominately inland (near Sheffield) or coastal (Narawntapu or Swansea).
Six European species long introduced (and with the rabbits, hawthorns, willows and pastures of Trifolium and Rannunculus greatly adding to the Lake District aura!) are common everywhere and not noted below.
Australian Wood Duck, Black Swan, Chestnut Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Australian Pelican (C), White-faced Heron, Swamp Harrier, Pied Oystercatcher (C), Masked Lapwing, Pacific Gull (C), Silver Gull, Pallid Cuckoo, Laughing Kookaburra, Superb Fairy-Wren, Tasmanian Thornbill (I could find no Brown Thornbills but probably overlooked them: birds in Melbourne seemed, at least superficially, very similar to Tasmanian), Tasmanian Scrub-Wren, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Crescent Honeyeater (I), Eastern Spinebill, Scarlet Robin, Grey Shrike-Thrush, Grey Fantail, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky Wood-swallow (C), Australian Magpie, Forest Raven, Australian Pipit, Welcome Swallow, Silver-eye.
Birding locations visited with key species
A Inland (Sheffield / Cradle Mountain area)
1 Around EaglesNest, Sheffield The rolling, pastoral landscape in the vicinity of Sheffield and West Kentish, dotted with farm dams and patches of native woodland had plenty of birds. A maze of little lanes, mostly gravel, cover the area. I worked a wooded slope about 1km east of EaglesNest on several mornings and had a good range of species, including five endemics. Lots of other similar patches in this area are likely to be equally good.
Key species: Brown Falcon, Australian Hobby, Tasmanian Native-Hen (look for this one at dusk especially, anywhere), Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Green Rosella, Tawny Frogmouth, Striated Fieldwren, Dusky Robin, Satin Flycatcher, Grey (‘Clinking’) Currawong, Beautiful Firetail (once).
2 Gourie Park – Mount Roland Hike
Despite never having read about this walk anywhere, this proved to be the best birding hike we took on the whole trip. It is easily a whole-day exercise (I took over 8 hours, with continual stopping) and a decent climb (the peak is at 1233 metres). The hike begins at O’Neill’s Creek Campground (14km from Sheffield; free camping) and the forest is superb quality all the way up, starting with temperate rainforest at the Gourie Park nature trail (there should be Bassian Thrush and Platypus here, but I didn’t see either). Eventually the forest becomes treeline scrub and semi-alpine moorland on the plateau approaching the summit. Bird variety and density were both excellent (far higher than at Cradle Mountain) and included eight endemics and five species not seen anywhere else on the trip. Highly recommended.
Key species Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Green Rosella, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Fieldwren (on moorland), Flame Robin (on the plateau), Dusky Robin, Yellow Wattlebird, Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Golden Whistler, Satin Flycatcher, Black Currawong (common).
Species recorded here but not seen elsewhere: Pink Robin (in rainforest near the bottom), Strong-billed Honeyeater (half-way up, in approachable flocks), Olive Whistler (sparse; two only), Scrub-Tit (I thought this one was going to give me trouble and, indeed, only found one, on mossy stumps in thick forest not far below the plateau), Southern Emu-Wren (on the plateau moorland).
3 Cradle Mountain National Park (Dove Lake and the Cradle Valley)
This national park encompasses some of the best scenery in Tasmania, and we had another great walk here, in excellent weather. The forest is rather more rugged and weather-blasted than on the Mount Roland ascent, with a lot more moorland. It was well worth a visit, but bird numbers, compared to Mount Roland, were significantly lower. On the other hand, mammals were much more obvious, and we saw 5 Wombats and an Echidna. Others saw a Quoll by climbing higher above Dove Lake and Tasmanian Devils (which have declined rapidly in the last decade) are still being seen regularly at dusk by a lodge near the start of the access road.
Key species Green Rosella, Crescent Honeyeater (common), Flame Robin, Yellow Wattlebird, Tree Martin, Black Currawong (again common).
B Coastal Locations
1 Narawantapu National Park
Narawntapu National Park is a 50 minute drive north of Sheffield and has fine beaches edging the Bass Strait, just across the channel from Port Sorrel. A lot of the park is duneland, with coastal woodland, grassland and an extensive (although seasonally variable) dune lake that provided the best wetland birding of the trip. As well as an excellent variety of birds, it is renowned for mammals; we saw Forester’s Kangaroos, Tasmanian Pademelons and several Bennett’s Wallabies as well as more Wombats. The only disappointment was the extensive mudflats and beaches of the estuary oddly (but common to almost everywhere in coastal Tasmania) held no shorebirds other than Oystercatchers.
Key species: Hoary-headed Grebe, Tasmanian Native-Hen, Hooded Plover, Crested Tern, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Little Wattlebird, White-fronted Chat, Grey Butcherbird.
Species only seen at Narawantapu: Musk Duck, Latham’s Snipe
2 Piermont Retreat area (3km south of Swansea)
Staying here, I spent several mornings birding the grounds and surrounding fields and scrub. Like everywhere in Tasmania, not bad at all.
Key species: Short-tailed Shearwater (late evenings), Brown Falcon, Hooded Plover, Kelp Gull, Caspian Tern, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Musk Lorikeet, Striated Pardalote, Noisy Miner, Black-headed Honeyeater (feeding a Plaintive Cuckoo juvenile!), New Holland Honeyeater, Little Wattlebird, Tree Martin, Grey Butcherbird.
This a pleasant little town offering superb views across the bay towards Freycinet. The ornithological highlight here is undoubtedly the Short-tailed Shearwater colony on the headland just south of the town. It is easily reached by walking the beach path fringing the golf course. In late December, birds were gathering offshore by 2100 and by 2200 dozens were crashing onto the path all around us. Although numbers (several hundreds) are peanuts compared to the blizzards of many thousands that may be found elsewhere (for example, on Phillip Island near Melbourne) the whole experience was amazing.
The adjacent golf course yielded Green Rosella, Noisy Miner and, notably, Musk Lorikeet (check the gardens near the recreation ground or wait for birds coming into roost from early evening onwards).
4 Freycinet Peninsula
There are several sub-sites here, all easily visited on a day trip from Swansea.
A Moulting Lagoon
This vast lagoon is a Ramsar site for its large numbers of Black Swans and Australian Shelduck. It is mostly inaccessible but bits are viewable close to the C302 north of Cole’s Bay. Again, waders are hard to find but notable species included Great-crested Grebe, White-bellied Sea-Eagle and White-fronted Chat.
B Friendly Beach
A vast and wild stretch of beach and duneland north of Cape Tourville. Hooded Plover (3 pairs in about two miles) was easy here, and other species recorded included Shy Albatross, a Giant Petrel (sp.), Red-capped Plover, Sooty Oystercatcher and a few passing terns.
C Wineglass Bay walk
This is one of the most famous hikes in Tasmania, and with good reason. We spent Christmas Day doing it. Views are continually sensational, apart from when you are passing through awesome forest and then there are plenty of birds to look at instead. I found the birdiest areas to be on the slope down towards Wineglass Bay from the viewpoint and then in the taller, moister forest on the isthmus between the bay and Hazard Beach. Spotted Quail-Thrush is sometimes reported on this hike, although not by me!
D Cape Tourville
This is a marvellous viewpoint on a spectacular headland east of Cole’s Bay. A scope is definitely needed and you might just be lucky with seabirds; my first visit coincided with a vast, oily slick of shearwaters (many thousands) and over 500 Shy Albatrosses, mostly becalmed. In contrast, very few of either were present on a return visit two days later. Black-faced Cormorants, Australian Gannets and nesting Caspian Terns were also obvious, and a White-bellied Sea-Eagle was seen once.
The forest on the approach road to Tourville is in very good nick and well worth a look. I found a sunny patch in the late afternoon about 1km short of the headland and had plenty of birds. These included notables such as Yellow Wattlebird and Eastern Spinebill plus Golden Whistler, Beautiful Firetail and Satin Flycatcher (latter three very sparse anywhere else on the trip and were only seen at either one or two other sites).
5 Maria Island National Park
We spent Boxing Day here. At least in summer, a boat departs from Triabunna at 0930, returning at 1700, although at least one other departure was available on the day we went. The fare for the 45 minute crossing was A$ 50, with diversions for bow-riding Common Dolphins at no extra cost. Maria Island is a justly famous birding destination and is covered in pristine forest. That said, I struggled a little bit here, perhaps because of the weather: hot sun and a gusty breeze was not conducive to looking for 3-inch pardalotes in 20 metre White Gums. The recommended site for 40-Spots (here at their most northerly station) is the start of the Mount Maria trail, a brisk 30 minutes tramp from Darlington where the boat docks (although apparently the reservoir loop trail is also worth trying). The best strategy would be to get here as early as possible, i.e. before the wind gets up. To this end, overnighting at Darlington is probably necessary; it looked like a great place to camp.
Key species: Black-faced Cormorant, Cape Barren Goose and Tasmanian Native-Hen (both conservation (re?)-introductions and now slam dunks), Sooty Oystercatcher, Hooded Plover, Kelp Gull, Green Rosella, Striated Pardalote, Yellow Wattlebird (common), Black-headed and New Holland Honeyeaters, Black Currawong, Tree Martin (also very common).
C Around Launceston: Tamar River Wetlands
I had a quick smash-and-grab raid here to avoid trailing round Launceston window shopping, or, even worse, actually buying things. The site is about 10 minutes from the town centre, obviously signposted on the northbound A7 (West Tamar Highway). Although I had only a bit over an hour here, it was enough to suffice. I was here at midday; an early or late visit might yield a crake or two. Again, oddly no wintering waders despite acres of luscious mud. Still, a significant improvement on recreational shopping.
Key species: Chestnut Teal (nesting), Australian Shoveler, Great White Egret, Purple Swamphen.
If you require any further information about anything above, please contact me at the email address provided.