Summary: Unexpectedly good birding amongst the garden areas of this historic site
Date of visit: Feb 3, 2021 Feb 2, 201 [A stop on the Tasmania, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]
Port Arthur is a famous – though more precisely, infamous – historic site in the south-east corner of Tasmania. Its storied past includes a beginning as a penal settlement (in 1830) where thousands of convicts (most re-offending criminals) passed through its gates, and it was also the site of a mass shooting in 1996 that led to changes to the gun control laws in Australia.
A ticket to the site (at the time of writing) costs $45 and includes a group introductory walking tour. We very much enjoyed our tour guide for this who did a great job bringing to life the colourful past and brutal conditions of this very southerly penal outpost. So too the 20 minute harbour cruise which passes by the “Isle of the Dead” which was a burial ground for those who died at the site.
However, when on an extended birding trip, one finds it difficult to “switch off” from looking at birds, and we were to be amply rewarded within the grounds of the historic site. To start with, the large grassy areas hosted Masked Lapwings and Wood Ducks, and interestingly, a lone Pied Oystercatcher.
After exploring the Penitentiary (the largest structure) and doing the boat cruise, we then sauntered around the smaller cottages and churches, most of which had some form of associated lawn or garden. The “police station” and Officer’s Garden in particular is more of an orchard, and attracts plenty of small birds like sparrows and goldfinches to the trees and fence lines.
At one point we sat on a handy park bench watched another introduced bird – a Common Blackbird, one of half a dozen seen – catching a grub.
Soon after came one of the photographic moments of the day when a couple of New Holland Honeyeaters came very close in one of the flower gardens. Thank goodness for those fine black and white striations around the face, it makes it very easy for the camera to gain focus!
The main formal gardens, which is laid out in a rough cross pattern and sports an ornamental fountain in its centre, was a magnet for birds and we were loving it. There weren’t too many people around to scare them off, though there was occasionally a worker or a noisy piece of machinery going.
A Grey Fantail and more New Holland Honeyeaters showed up as well as plenty of Superb Fairywrens.
With the sun out and the temperature balmy, the stage was set for the encounter of the day, when a clutch of Silvereyes roared into the gardens and flitted around madly (most near eye level). It’s always a challenge to capture these small, fast birds but today luck was with us and we gained some wonderful close-up shots, where we could see the brown flanks that distinguish this southern subspecies of Silvereye from the ones we were more used to in South-East Queensland.
We didn’t get nearly as good images of Green Rosella or the pair of Thornbills that were (inexplicably) out in the open, nor the bird which we identified as a European Greenfinch, but spirits remained high. A few Black Cockatoos made a flyover at one point about this time as well.
We had some food at the café in the main building and called it a day soon after, having been mightily impressed by the number and proximity of birds that we’d found through the garden areas of the Port Arthur historic site. This is birding at its easiest: there’s plenty of places to sit, many different plants and trees to enjoy, and being a paid tourist site of course it has all the facilities you’d need.
Pluses and minuses:
+ Amazing bird life up close throughout the garden areas
+ Interesting historic site, enhanced by group tours and short boat cruise
– Entry fee required
– Can get quite busy with tourists