The Covid-19 pandemic made travelling fraught with anxiety and we’d booked a Tasmanian trip months in advance only to have the state close its borders when it came time to fly there. Fortunately the scare passed and they opened up to interstate visitors literally the week we were to travel… so off we went!
Bruny Island: Starting off in style
Bruny Island, a mere 20-odd kilometres south of Hobart as the crow flies, is reachable by car ferry and consists of two parts: North Bruny and South Bruny, connected by an isthmus of land locals call “The Neck”. Actually everyone calls it that. The Neck is a reliable place to see fairy penguins coming in to their sandy nesting burrows at dusk.
Anyway, South Bruny is where we started our birding in earnest.
Inala Reserve: Tasmanian Endemic Bird Paradise
On South Bruny Island is Inala Reserve, a 600 hectare conservation property that is famed for its birds, especially the elusive and endangered Forty-Spotted Pardalote. Ten years ago surveys estimated a mere 1500 birds remaining.
You can only explore the full property of Inala Reserve by staying on site, which we weren’t… so we were restricted to just their small but pleasant “Jurassic Garden” area. I mean, what were the chances of spotting a Forty-Spotted Pardalote there…?
To the lighthouse: not just a Virginia Woolf novel
Bruny Lighthouse lies at the southern edge of Cape Bruny, on South Bruny Island (are you getting a “Bruny” vibe yet)? It is seriously quite far south. You can’t quite see Antarctica. Maybe if you squint.
Fluted Cape and an unscripted pelagic cruise
On the extreme eastern edge of Bruny Island lies Adventure Bay, which has a 7km beach, a township of a whopping 200 people, an intriguing headland called Fluted Cape, and a launch point for Bruny Island Cruises. Our cruise was initially focused on cliffs and rock formations, then we took a close-up look at a seal colony, and then on the way back the captain went a way off shore and we ended up in a part of the ocean where there was a veritable feeding frenzy – you could literally see the water surface fizzing with fish. And where there’s fish, there’s birds keen to nab them!
Cape Queen Elizabeth Walk: let’s do something on North Bruny!
Cape Queen Elizabeth Track is on North Bruny Island just north of The Neck, and makes for a pleasant, sandy hike with a few choice birds to enjoy. We were actually lucky enough to see Forty-Spotted Pardalotes again as they briefly flew into a huge white gum, but the best photo opps belonged to Green Rosella (yet another of Tassie’s endemic species) and a slew of robins.
Port Arthur: Something something penal colony something birds
We left Bruny Island and scooted all the way over to the eastern coast of Tassie, to the Tasman Peninsula which includes the former penal colony of Port Arthur (Australia has a convict past, who knew?!) We had our tourism hats on, enjoying our tour guide’s entertaining evocation of Port Arthur’s storied past, but then the day somehow turned into a birding expedition… and a quite good one at that, especially around the sculpted rose gardens they have there.
Orford, Freycinet and Wine Glass Bay: Get yer birding in before the rain hits…
The eastern coastline of Tasmania has many good birding spots, and we stopped at one of the best at Orford. You can see Maria Island from there!
In the afternoon we stopped at the Devil’s Corner winery for a pizza and one of those wine-tasting paddles (I dunno, seemed like a good idea at the time), then did a casual check of the weather forecast to find that apocalyptic rain was forecast for the following day. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent definitively answer the question: “can we drive to Coles Bay, check in to our accommodation, tear down to Freycinet National Park and do the half-day Wine Glass Bay/Hazards Beach circuit hey it’s daylight till 8pm we should be right let’s go because it’s going to rain all day tomorrow and we’ll be playing table tennis and watching bad movies all day”.
Launceston and various points north, plus also, of course, thousands of Seahorses
Launceston has a lovely natural area called Cataract Gorge with some wonderful walking tracks… and some birds.
North of Launceston is another very interesting spot called Tamar Wetlands, which has a lot of good birds, though some are of the “skulking, I’m not gonna come out so you can see me” variety, and you have to settle for just listening to the unusual calls.
After stopping at Seahorse World, where there are gazillions of tiny seahorses, we drove to the northern coast as far as Narawntapu National Park, and there were some birds there… though not too many… the general scenery was more interesting.
Whereupon we see absolutely no birds at Cradle Mountain so we rip down to Lake St Clair
Actually not quite true. We did see a cormorant on Dove Lake at Cradle Mountain, though it was far off. Good lake circuit walk, but bugger all birdies.
The south end of Lake St Clair features a lodge and visitor’s centre and is where the famous Overland Track finishes. It was a very chilly morning when we were there, but with enough birds and quality bushwalking to keep things interesting.
Hobart: The Big Smoke
Hobart, apart from being a rather lovely place to while away a few days (perhaps you’ll visit the quirky and amazing Mona museum…), has a good slew of birding hotspots, which we sampled. The slopes of Mt Wellington, the huge mountain that towers over the city and provides truly stunning views, is certainly the most scenic of these.
The Royal Botanic Gardens in the middle of Hobart is a spectacularly beautiful set of curated gardens, and there were birds there too, though nothing super exotic. Well, European Goldfinches could literally be called exotic when you’re in Australia, so scratch what I just said there…
We visited some temperate rainforest near the base of Mt Wellington to look for the Pink Robin, and with persistence we did manage to see that bird, though we got the world’s worst photo of it. Fortunately there were other birds there too.
And In Conclusion…
Birding locations in Tasmania don’t have the huge species counts of some of Australia’s other hot spots, but Tasmania does have a dozen endemic birds you won’t see anywhere else in the world, and the apple isle proved to be a pretty decent place to enjoy birds in their natural environments. Bruny Island was a definite highlight (both on land and by sea), as was (weirdly) Port Arthur’s gardens, and Hobart’s botanic gardens and nearby Mt Wellington. And we’ve left a few birds to see next time: there are very reliable places to go in Tassie for the critically endangered Orange-Bellied Parrot, the Cape Barren Goose (plenty of which are resident to Maria Island), Swift Parrots (Tasmanian migrants) and various Albatross and other amazing sea birds that could be found on further pelagic trips.
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