Fluted Cape and Bruny Island Cruises, Feb 2021

Summary: A compact area with varied and worthwhile birding opportunities including cape and forest walking and a worthwhile boat cruise

Date of visit: 1 Feb 2021 [A stop on the Tasmania, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]

If you find yourself at Adventure Bay, on the eastern side of South Bruny Island, not only are you in a very picturesque – and historic – part of Tasmania, but you are in reach of a few good – and very different – birding experiences. In this post we cover Fluted Cape Walk, Bruny Island Cruises (departing Adventure Bay) and Mavista Nature Walk, which are possible to do in the span of a day with a little forward planning.

Fluted Cape Walk

Our cruise was a 10:00am sailing, deliberately chosen to allow us time to explore Fluted Cape beforehand. The main walk is a pleasant – though at times quite steep – circuit track that can be done in around two hours. We aimed to do this counter-clockwise.

The 6km loop can be started from the beach, or from the car park area behind the Bruny Island Cruises building. We opted for the beach and were treated to some lovely water birds enjoying the morning sun. We had started off at 7am.

The section of track that hugs the eastern side of the cape is called Grass Point Track and it was in deep shade from the sun for quite a while; for this or whatever reason we found very few active birds along this section even though there were plenty of trees (including a lot of she-oaks) and undergrowth.

Things picked up as soon as we neared the tip (northern end) of Fluted Cape, named Grass Point, with some wallabies sighted (probably Bennett’s Wallaby), then a Superb Fairywren and a Tasmanian Scrubwren. The latter two birds were hopping around on the ground in the open between mossy rocks.

We expected to see some seabirds at some point and were not disappointed with a roster of 20 Silver Gulls on the rocky tip of the cape, a Kelp Gull and 10 Black-Faced Cormorants across the short “gulch” to Penguin Island.

From this point the trail turns south and starts to climb quite steeply towards the eventual 272m summit, with a good number of very scenic viewpoints and a couple of “false summit” moments along the way. It was quite dry for us the day we walked this section, with intermittent shade from she-oaks and not many birds. The scenery more than made up for it though; you can see along the cliff-lines at times and thereby gain some iconic views.

At the summit area we watched a Green Rosella, resplendent in the morning sun. It was around 8:30am by this time, and we had allocated about an hour to make the descent and thus finish the circuit. Soon after the Rosella (the first of three we would see), we had an encounter with what was either a Brown Thornbill or a Tasmanian Thornbill. The Brown supposedly has a “shorter tail, grayer flanks, and a pale instead of rufous-brown wing panel” according to eBird, and even though I took a bunch of photos of the bird, I wasn’t confident to definitively ID it.

The descent featured sandy, fairly easy paths with not a lot of birds, though we were moving fairly quickly.

At the bottom of the track, very close to the end, there was a New Holland Honeyeater – a fixture of pretty much any Tassie birding outing – but also four Tasmanian Nativehen, a bird which I was coming to like a lot after seeing it a handful of times now. A final unexpected bird was a White-Faced Heron, in the same area not far from the car park.

We had checklisted 12 species in just over 2 hours, with no super-exciting bird encounters, but at least we’d had a memorable landscape experience with a mixture of beach, forest, rocky coastline and dramatic cliffs. It’s hard to find fault with a sunny summer’s day in Tasmania!

Boat Cruise

Bruny Island Cruises operates a range of different tours, not all by boat, and we had booked a cruise hoping to see some cliff scenery from an oceanic perspective, and maybe some aquatic wildlife. But we attained so much more than that!

There were two boats, one following us, and they kept close to the clifflines for quite a while as they followed the coast of Fluted Cape and points further south, which was great for picking out birds – Black-Faced Cormorants in good numbers, Crested Terns, Kelp Gulls, and even a Great Cormorant.

Soon after we saw our first Gannet and then – most excitingly – a Shy Albatross.

Beyond the southern tip of Bruny Island are a few small rocky islands covered in basking seals. The cruise operators were not shy about getting close to these animals. There was also a soaring White-Bellied Sea-Eagle in the distance.

On the way back the captain decided to motor quite a way off-shore (to the east), which proved the highlight of the cruise from a birding perspective and one of the most memorable moments of our time in Tasmania. This was because the crew had spotted a lot of Shearwater activity, with many hundreds of birds in attendance. Once we were in amongst it and had cut the engines we could see why – the surface of the water was veritably fizzing with untold numbers of small fish. It was a feeding frenzy!

More albatross cruised in to join the feast – we later ID’ed these from photos as Shy Albatross and Buller’s Albatross.

A couple of Gannets were seizing fish as well.

The crew were just as excited as the passengers at witnessing this spectacle of nature, though they also lamented not being able to drop a fishing line – they could also see larger fish by radar (sonar?) below the boat. Reluctantly (and running late) they fired up the motors and we made our way back to Adventure Bay.

The Bruny Island Cruise from Adventure Bay was very rewarding from a birding experience point of view. Although it is not a pelagic per se, it has its own eBird location and other checklists show up all sorts of ocean birds – Giant Petrels, Black-Browed and Yellow-Nosed Albatross, different types of Shearwaters and more. On a good day probably anything is possible.

Mavista Walk

Near to Adventure Bay – in fact only a few kilometres south – is a different birding experience again, where very thick wet forest prevails and bird sighting and photography can be challenging in the dense, dim foliage.

The start of the walk is easy to find as it is marked by a set of steps leading to a picnic shelter; from here it is 1.4km to the end of the trail and you return the same way. I have not included a map as the trail is a simple out-and-back that follows an obvious creekline.

Due to the conditions (and probably time of day – it was around 2pm), we struggled to find many birds, in fact only picked up 5 species. However, one of these was a difficult target Tasmanian endemic bird, the Scrubtit, which we were lucky to locate foraging around the base of the ferns. It would be the only time we saw this bird on the entire trip, and we were equally fortunate to get a usable photo or two of it.

Other birds included a bird I was more confident to ID as a Tasmanian Thornbill, while we also saw (and got terrible photos of) a Green Rosella, a Tasmanian Scrubwren and a Silvereye. Slim pickings, but it was maybe not the best time of day for birding. The cool fern-dense track made a marked change from our morning’s other outings and provided an easy and short stroll to end the days adventures… at Adventure Bay.

Hotspots: Fluted Cape (73 species), Bruny Island Cruises ex Adventure Bay (58 species), Mavista Nature Walk (66 species)
Checklists for these visits: Fluted Cape (12 species), Bruny Island Cruises ex Adventure Bay (10 species), Mavista Nature Walk (5 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ At least three good birding options that can fit into a day
+ Bruny Island Cruise might well become a highlight of your entire Tassie experience
+ Adventure Bay is a pleasant all-round locale
– Some sections of Fluted Cape and Mavista Walk quite patchy for birds
– Possible seasickness on the cruise if the weather is bad or the water choppy

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