Lake St Clair, Feb 2021

Summary: Good network of trails and amazing visitor centre with reasonable birding

Date of visit: Feb 9, 2021 [A stop on the Tasmania Trip, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]

Lake St Clair is a large lake that sits at the southernmost end of the famous Overland Track, a multi-day hike that begins many miles north at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. We only did a smaller double-loop walk here so this is a summary of our limited experience.

The visitor centre is pretty amazing, with great facilities including food and hot beverages, which you might find yourself tempted by as it can get very chilly outside. For most of this walk we were feeling cold even as the morning progressed – be warned! The centre also has an excellent array of interactive interpretative displays that one can get quite absorbed browsing in.

Some of the best birding is to be had near the visitor centre – we picked up good looks at Tasmanian Scrubwren and Crescent Honeyeater in the centre’s grounds almost immediately (we started at 7:15am, about 40 minutes after sunrise).

Tasmanian Thornbills were also in attendance in the morning sunlight, so too a Strong-Billed Honeyeater and a Black Currawong.

We had a quick look at the lake before embarking northwards on our double-loop walk, starting with the southernmost endpoint of the Overland Track.

Dense woodland and much rushing water were the order of the day to begin with, plus a Grey Fantail to enliven the scene.

At one of the junctions featuring a picnic table we came across a robin – our very first Pink Robin of the trip. It was a female, so lacking the incredible colours of the male, but still exciting nevertheless. The bird was quite confiding in the typical Australian robin way.

The Platypus Bay Track offered an extra little circuit with some rougher trails and more lakeside views, where we found a Black-Faced Cuckooshrike as well as Crescent Honeyeater males foraging for nectar in the brilliant white flowers.

An hour followed with barely a bird sighted (merely a far-off Green Rosella), but with more bridges and rushing streams. The overcast conditions kept the morning feeling cold and wintry even though we were visiting in the height of summer.

The Woodland Nature Walk is the long way back to the trailhead at the Visitor Centre, and we eventually came across some Silvereyes and a Yellow Wattlebird with – to my mind – a rather demonic look with its pale face and creepy wattles. The Yellow Wattlebird is the largest of Australia’s 75(ish) species of honeyeater, and its call is hard to describe but definitely fits its eerie appearance.

We saw another Grey Fantail and a Yellow-Throated Honeyeater and then the walk passed through some interesting bushland with understorey of ferns, occasionally breaking out into tussocky fields. These looked delightful in the re-emerging morning sun and were protected from marauding hiking boots by a sturdy boardwalk.

Back near the Visitor Centre came the bird encounter of the day, a lovely Yellow-Throated Honeyeater (a Tasmanian endemic species, genetically closely related to the White-Eared Honeyeater on the mainland) offering amazing views and singing its heart out. Truly a special experience and a reminder of the pure and unscripted moments that one pursues birding for!

There’s a little track that connects the visitor centre to the wharf to the north-east, and this area gave us a chance to sit and enjoy the sunlight shining on the water and also observe the fish swimming below.

Half a dozen Welcome Swallows were found here too, maybe waiting for the airborne insect action to heat up before sallying off to catch them.

We enjoyed our walk around the tracks close to Lake St Clair visitor centre. Admittedly partly this was due to the sunshine which teased us initially and then came out in full force for the latter part of our time there. Outside the visitor centre grounds there were virtually no other people, just serene nature and atmospheric forest to enjoy at leisure. The tracks are well-maintained and marked with clear colour-coded signposts so there’s little danger of getting lost. You can get a little taste of the Overland Track, and a couple more trails give access to Mount Rufous (to the west) and further lakeside exploration as well. We were coming off a poor birding expedition at Cradle Mountain where we circumnavigated Dove Lake and saw just one bird the entire time (a cormorant in the lake), so even though we didn’t see too many birds at Lake St Clair, every sighting was appreciated! And the 13 species we saw were a good mix of larger birds (Currawong and Cuckooshrike) and smaller (thornbills and Welcome Swallows) and of course several honeyeaters.

Hotspot: Lake St Clair Visitor Centre (67 species)
Checklist for this visit: Feb 9 (13 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Nice network of tracks encompassing a variety of habitats
+ Some birds to be found (quality over quantity, with Tassie endemics included)
+ Excellent visitor centre and serene lake views
– Long stretches without seeing any birds
– Can get very cold!

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