Tasmania Trip, Jan-Feb 2021

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.

European Starling is one of the most widespread birds in the world
Tasmanian Nativehens are found all over Tasmania, but nowhere else in the world!
Strong-Billed Honeyeater near our cabin just up from Cloudy Bay
Olive Whistler also found in the forest near our rustic cabin
A Sooty Oystercatcher at Cloudy Bay. That’s “sooty”, not “snooty”.

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…?

Two Forty-Spotted Pardalote cruised into the gardens, landed on this post for a photo, then flew off like the rock stars they are. Talk about luck!
Dusky Woodswallows are super cute whether you see them in Tasmania or anywhere else
A Shining Bronze Cuckoo added to the variety of birds seen at Inala Reserve gardens
New Holland Honeyeater. “Ubiquitous” doesn’t even begin to describe how common this bird is.
Remarkable flower in close-up
The Yellow Wattlebird is another of Tasmania’s dozen endemic bird species
Forest Ravens are just like crows, but more raveny

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.

White-Fronted Chat
Tasmanian Scrubwren. Alone. In the rain.
The Dusky Robin is only found in Tasmania, and seen quite readily on South Bruny.
The Flame Robin has some amazing colours. Soooo cute!

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!

Chestnut Teal on the calm early morning waters of Adventure Bay
Those famous Tasmanian cliffs, almost seems worth taking a boat cruise to see them in all their glory…
Black-Faced Cormorant. Plenty of these around if you look hard enough. Even if you don’t, actually.
“I SAID, did you watch the footy last night!!”
Short-Tailed Shearwaters form massive flocks and go after fishy treats left right and centre
Buller’s Albatross, one of two super-exciting albatross species we saw (the other was Shy Albatross)
Gannet makes off with its prey

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.

Green Rosella, with that friendly look you have come to expect from parrots
Black-Headed Honeyeater does indeed have a black head. Good naming job there, ornithologists!
Yet another amazing robin, the Scarlet Robin
Not all robins have bursts of red or orange on them, but they are still cute as.
Fan-Tailed Cuckoo with the “I’ve just woken up” plumage look

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.

Glad this Pacific Gull (quite a big bird) didn’t decide to steal our fish and chips, ‘cos I reckon we wouldn’t have any fish and chips left
Kelp Gulls: also very likely to steal your fish and chips. Keep a good eye on ’em, people!
New Holland Honeyeater, trying to look suave whilst holding on for dear life, at the Port Arthur gardens
Silvereye in the gardens. Tiny bird, so to get this shot you gotta be close. Reeeeal close.
The Common Blackbird is indeed pretty common if you happen to be in Tasmania… not so in Brisbane…

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!

The diminutive Hooded Plover, vulnerable to human impact on beaches and coastlines
Red-Capped Plover… with a red cap.

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”.

Satin Flycatcher, so named for its satin-y sheen. Probably. Surely.
The iconic Wine Glass Bay
Yellow-Throated Honeyeater, another – you guessed it – Tasmanian endemic bird, and a pretty looking one at that
Eastern Spinebill, photographed in the garden of our accommodation house on the rainy day where it rained all day, a lot.

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.

Wooden boardwalks chain together three islands on the Tamar River. Super nice on a sunny day.
Swamphen, being oh so serious.
At this point I’d like to thank Tasmania for having just one species of fairywren – the Superb Fairywren; makes ID’ing in the field sooo much easier.
Welcome Swallow is an endearing little floofball

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.

Wet-eyed marsupial at Narawntapu National Park
Black Swan and cygnets seen from the bird hide at Narawntapu National Park

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.

Yellow-Throated Honeyeaters were numerous around the lodge. Pretty easy bird to look at, I reckon.
The Black Currawong is restricted to Tasmania, but looks quite similar to the Pied Currawong of mainland Australian’s eastern states.

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.

This bird’s name is Australasian Shoveler, you can probably guess why (hint: look at the bird’s bill…). At Gould’s Lagoon.
Ever seen a Masked Lapwing in the water? Neither had I, until now. Turns out they like a bit of splashy. At Gould’s Lagoon.
More sleepy Chestnut Teal action than you can shake an Australian Bird Guide book at. Gould’s Lagoon.

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…

Close-ups of Common Starling reveal startlingly ornate plumage. Good job, bird!
European Goldfinch, another introduced species that might be a pest if they weren’t so amazing looking.

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.

The gorgeous Bassian Thrush, denizen of the rainforest floor
Trust me, it’s a Pink Robin. See the pink? SEE IT???

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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