Tamar Island Wetlands, Feb 2021

Summary: Intriguing bird-filled riverside wetlands with excellent walkway and island

Date of visit: Feb 7, 2021 [A stop on the Tasmania Trip, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]

Wetlands are typically of interest to keen birders, but less so to the average punter, who just sees swampy marsh and a few ducks and wonders what all the fuss is about while they slap away midges and mosquitoes. Rare is the wetland area which is an attractive destination in its own right, but Tamar Wetlands, just 10 minutes north of Launceston in the middle of Tasmania, is one such place.

It’s super-easy to reach, just go north from downtown Launceston on the West Tamar Highway for around 7.5km and pull into the car park, which has capacity for 30 vehicles. A large entry gate heralds the start of the main pathway.

There are a lot of ponds, and the first big pond on the right held some happily paddling Chestnut Teals. More intriguing were the high peepy calls I was hearing which I was almost certain were Little Grassbirds, but they weren’t making themselves visible, so I couldn’t verify.

A new bird for me here was the Australasian Shoveler, unmistakeable with its huge shovelly bill, which it uses to filter feed. In fact we saw several of these birds in the next 20 minutes, some of them in flight.

Black Swans and White-Faced Herons were also found in this lagoon….

…as were Masked Lapwings and Swamphen families.

The Wetland Centre is a building that lies just a hundred metres in from the entrance gate and its deck commands a good view over one of the lagoons. We could see from this deck area the day’s sunlight was struggling to break through (it was 7:30am at this point, about an hour after sunrise).

The walkway takes a left turn and about 400 metres in there is a side-track which leads through some very dense trees growing in the swampy ground. We heard a number of bird noises in here but conditions were very gloomy and it was almost impossible to spot anything. I did find a Grey Fantail and a couple of European Goldfinches, which didn’t grant good shots. In fact I was starting to wonder if I would ever be able to get a decent shot of the striking colours of the goldfinch on this trip.

More obliging were the Superb Fairywrens found on the edges of the walkway. This walkway is a superb way to explore the area, and crosses over two smaller islands on its way to the more sizeable mass of Tamar Island.

Another Swamphen, possibly quite habituated to humans, posed on the side railing of the walkway, seemingly unworried about flying off.

One of the downsides (though, probably the only downside) of a prime lens (in my case 500mm f/5.6) is that you sometimes have an issue fitting larger birds or close birds into the frame, and in these situations are forced into taking portrait (ie. head) shots. In this case I also took some shots of its feet, as these were near eye level! You might call this “Swamphen: A Study of Anatomy” if you wanted to be fancy. Those claws are used by Swamphens to help them capture and eat frogs and snails, eggs and even baby ducklings, though they also consume reed shoots. Quite the omnivore.

The boardwalk also hosted several Welcome Swallows, one of which was an absolute little floofball.

The boardwalk really does make this wetland a pleasure to traverse, especially on the gorgeous bluebird-sunny day that had developed once the morning cloud had dissipated. It’s almost surreal how you’re walking just a few feet suspended above the flowing waters of the Tamar River. Said river revealed a large scattering of Black Swans and plenty of Pelicans – all birds that are adept at feeding in deeper water. The fringing reeds and grasses here were also home to more Swamphens and Chestnut Teals, and a Kelp Gull flew overhead at one point as well.

Partway along the boardwalk there was a stretch lined on both sides with Silver Gulls; this part had the look of an intimidating gauntlet, and it was all but guaranteed the gulls would scare and take off as we passed through. Which they did – indignantly and with much squawking.

The wooden walkway lets you out on a regular trail leading into the wonderful natural haven of Tamar Island. The trail forms a small circuit with the eastern fork climbing up a shallow forested hill.

This hill was alive with small bush birds, most prominently Silvereyes, Grey Fantail and Common Starling. This was one visit where I wasn’t checklisting on eBird, which now that I’m writing this up find I regret… because I know I saw other birds on that island!

The eastern edge of the island has one final stretch of boardwalk across yet another tiny island until it finally terminates at a wooden platform looking over the Tamar River – you’re over three quarters of the way across to the other side by this point!

On the walk back we found a little bird which at first blush we assumed was a Welcome Swallow but on second look had the characteristics of a Tree Martin. I posted the photo to the ABID (Australian Bird Identification) Facebook group, but there wasn’t a consensus reached on what it was. Oh well! There were also some closer Black Swans on the walk back – another chance for some portraiture practice.

With 123 species recorded on eBird, Tamar Wetlands is the #6 birding hotspot in Tasmania. The entire walkway is about 2.1km from car park to the final viewing platform, with plenty to see in between, a few bench seats to rest on, and there is even a public toilet on the penultimate island. We would have liked to have spent more time there but alas, we had to rush off to get to Seahorse World by 10am – meaning we had little time to wait to see if the birds emitting intriguing calls would pop out of their reed hideouts; we instead prioritised getting to the end of the walkway and back. Definitely a hotspot to return to with more time someday.

Checklist for this hotspot: Tamar Island Wetlands (123 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Very well set up for watching birds, especially water birds
+ Awesome walkway system
+ Close to Launceston
– Generally only one main path
– Skulking birds won’t reveal themselves 🙂

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