Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach Circuit, Feb 2021

Summary: Stunning scenery, with quality over quantity when it comes to birdlife

Date of visit: Feb 4, 2021 [A stop on the Tasmania Trip, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]

Wineglass Bay is one of Tasmania’s iconic regions, and little wonder: it is an incredibly scenic place. It’s part of the Freycinet National Park, Tassie’s oldest park founded in 1916, a sprawling peninsula of white-sand beaches, swampy lagoons, rocky coves and granite mountain peaks.

A little back-story is in order to set the scene of our summer 2021 experience here. We had driven up from Eaglehawk Neck that morning and made leisurely stops at Orford, where we strolled along the beach to find Hooded and Red-Capped Plovers and diving Crested Terns, as well as at Devil’s Corner Winery, where there was rather less birding and more wine- and pizza-tasting.

At this point we checked the weather forecast for the following day and found it was abysmal, with plenty of rain and wind expected, despite that the current afternoon was beautifully sunny and warm. We therefore decided to expedite our birding/hiking plan for Freycinet National Park and sped straight to the Wineglass Bay Track trailhead, arriving around 3pm, thinking to squeeze in our intended loop walk in before nightfall. The loop – to Wineglass Bay, crossing over to Hazards Beach on the west side of the peninsula and then back around the headland to the starting point – is 11km and takes an estimated 4 to 5 hours walking time, but with sunset around 8:30pm we thought we could make it.

As it turned out, our walk took less than 3 hours; we probably unnecessarily rushed it a little. Consequently we didn’t linger to find or observe birds as much as we would have liked.

The first section of the walk is an ascent to Wineglass Bay Lookout. The climb could prove a little arduous for some, but this being a significant tourist destination, the track is very well maintained with railings and places to rest. There were plenty of other tourists and walkers on this section, but curiously, very few birds. In fact, we didn’t take a single photograph until we arrived at the Wineglass Bay Lookout, a series of stone and metal viewing platforms positioned between two of the granite peaks of The Hazards range (Mt Amos and Mt Mayson), that offers grand views over the blue waters of Wineglass Bay.

From the lookout the track descends to sea level, through dense but mostly dry forest, dumping you out at the northern end of Wineglass Bay. Again on this descent (supposedly comprising 1000 steps) there was a conspicuous lack of birds. Checking the time and keeping an eye on the weather (it hadn’t deteriorated at all, luckily), we pushed on with the next section of track, which traverses south-west across the isthmus to Hazards Beach on the western side of the peninsula. This track is sandy and in places quite narrow, but is mostly flat and pleasant enough to walk on.

A gorgeous male Satin Flycatcher was seen quite early on this isthmus track, affording great views with its feathers gleaming in the afternoon sun. It was the second (and last) time we’d see this bird on our Tasmanian trip, the first sighting being at Saintys Creek on Bruny Island.

Some way along the isthmus track the swampy lowlands of Hazards Lagoon comes into view on the left.

The next significant bird encounter was a Yellow-Throated Honeyeater, an endemic Tassie bird and again one only seen a couple of other times on our trip (at Saintys Creek, and Lake St Clair). It’s a shame this bird is a little uncommonly seen, as it is quite good-looking!

The isthmus track only yielded a couple of bird sightings, but they were of high quality, so we didn’t feel disappointed. It felt like a habitat that would potentially hold lots of birds… possibly in the morning there is more to see. Also, as previously mentioned, we were hurrying along pretty quickly, which is never a good way to spot birdlife.

By 4pm or so we were setting eyes on the dazzling blue waters of Hazards Beach and experiencing its cool ocean breezes, and were surprised to see a number of people enjoying the sand and sea here (the previous bout of walking having been largely solitary). Apparently there is a boat tour and water taxi that can carry you straight to the beach rather than having to walk to it.

We followed the beach northwards until it eventually headed into bush again, following around the headland of Fleurieu Point. The terrain here is rocky with plenty of dry scrub and casuarina-style trees (Drooping She-Oak, I think). Thornbills – either Tasmanian or Brown – were the order of the day bird-wise. We also saw a robin but even until this day I am unsure whether I think it is a Scarlet or Flame Robin.

Late in the walk a trio of New Holland Honeyeaters flew near to the track, with one landing supremely conveniently on an exposed dead tree branch. I couldn’t press the camera shutter button quickly enough!

The stunning scenery and variety of walking terrain and surroundings on this circuit more than made up for the low number of birds we saw. That’s not to say you won’t find some excellent birds – at Wineglass Bay, for example, birders have seen Scrubtit, Bassian Thrush, and various ocean birds including a Royal Penguin (photographed right on the beach in Feb 2020!). Our experience was more a result of rushing the walk (we ended up completing the loop in around 3 hours) and probably the fact that it was during the afternoon, which is usually a quieter time than morning for birding. If the predicted rain hadn’t arrived the next day (and oh boy, did it deluge…), I reckon we would have done the loop walk again or some other variant involving the other nearby trails.

Hotspots: Wineglass Bay (79 species), Isthmus Track (55 species), Hazards Beach Track (48 species)
Checklists for this visit: Isthmus Track (2 species), Hazards Beach (2 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Absolutely stunning scenery
+ Excellently maintained trails with great signage and facilities
+ We had quality bird encounters…
– …though there were very few actual birds seen
– Ascents could get strenuous for some
– Can get very busy with tourists and walkers, especially on the track up to Wineglass Bay Lookout

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