Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, Feb 2021

Summary: Lovely gardens with terrific bird activity right in the middle of Hobart

Date of visit: Feb 11, 2021 [A stop on the Tasmania Trip, Jan-Feb 2021 trip]

Botanic gardens can be fantastic for birding and especially for bird photography: they’re usually easy to get to, easy to navigate and explore, there are plenty of interesting trees and flowering plants for backdrop, and the birds tend to be quite habituated to human presence. Such is the case at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens in Hobart, 14 hectares of lush greenery established back in 1818 (just two years after Australia’s first botanic gardens in Sydney).

We started off at about 8:15am heading to the north-west section of the gardens, seeing some Grey Currawongs as soon as we arrived, and soon after some House Sparrows, and Pacific Black Ducks in the Lily Pond.

A much more intriguing bird gave us only tantalising glimpses until we realised it was an Eastern Rosella, and so too some intriguing bird noises from within a very bushy tree were eventually revealed to be a Little Wattlebird. We should have known from the calls, but it was only the second Little Wattlebird we’d seen in Tasmania (the first was at Prosser River Spit on the east coast a full week earlier), so we weren’t exactly expecting one!

When you’re strolling around botanic gardens, especially a garden as lovely as this one, you might be tempted to admire the beauty of the flowers as well as the birds, and such was the case here. Flowers and shrubs are certainly much more obliging photographic subjects than birds…

Coming around the north part of the gardens where it draws close to the highway we saw some restive Silver Gulls (a reminder that the river was not far away) and some more Pacific Black Ducks, before coming across an altogether less common bird – a Tasmanian Nativehen (right in the middle of Hobart!) The bird was ambling along the grass in a very carefree manner in the sunlight and we bagged a bunch of shots.

After perusing the Japanese Garden on the north-east side of the park, there followed one of the most sustained high-birding-activity experiences we’ve ever had. It started with a look through the wire fence to some sort of agricultural field that is adjacent to the botanic gardens (on the eastern side) – possibly a patch of vineyard? It was teeming with Common Starlings – we think at least 40.

A thornbill (either Brown or Tasmanian) crept around the trunk of a large tree, while a couple of noisy flocks of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos flew over (totalling about 20 birds); a few Common Blackbirds foraged along the ground near the east fence line.

A European Greenfinch sat atop a coniferous tree – it was the second time I’d seen this bird on our Tassie trip (the first being at Port Arthur’s gardens), but it wasn’t too near and my view of this bird wasn’t any better than the first time. Oh well!

After thoroughly scouring the area near the east fence line, we emerged into a more open lawn and here many birds were drawn to a few swarms of insects just above the tops of a couple of the trees – seven Silvereyes, and a couple of Little Wattlebirds to boot. They were sallying from the tree tops to catch insects and returning to munch them down. Great stuff.

A Grey Fantail watched the mayhem unfold from nearer the ground, while European Goldfinches were right down on the grass. Goldfinches mainly eat seeds (like most finches), but apparently also eat insects in summer (again, many finches also do this at various times – today I learned…). I managed a good look at an adult bird on the ground feeding a juvenile (the latter lacking the striking red face of the parent); it seemed to be passing a seed to the youngster.

I can’t get enough of Goldfinches, though I’m yet to obtain a truly satisfying photo of them – this botanic gardens sojourn was a good opportunity to try though.

Little Wattlebirds aren’t exactly little. I feel that ornithologists missed the brief on naming this bird, surely “Noisy Wattlebird” would fit the bill if nothing else…

After the commotion had diminished we wandered through the community food garden and Cactus House, taking photographs mainly of flowers and insects.

Another feature of the gardens is Sub-Antarctic Plant House, a building whose interior emulates the chilly sub-antarctic environment with particular emphasis on Macquarie Island – quite fascinating, but quite cold so you might find yourself hurrying through if you didn’t bring a jumper!

The last few birds seen were Masked Lapwing and a feral mallard, not exactly finishing on a high, but the whole experience of wandering through the gardens and finding and photographing its birds and flowers was very satisfying. Introduced species were jostling for food and space with native birds but this bothered me a lot less than at Cataract Gorge, where the balance was tipped towards the non-native birds. Apart from the Little Wattlebird, honeyeaters were conspicuously absent, though Crescents and Yellow-Throated (and Yellow Wattlebirds) are common on other eBird checklists for this location. You’ve a chance of seeing a couple of Tasmanian endemics here which is always a bonus.

A visit to these gardens is well worth while.

Hotspot: Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens (84 species)
Checklist for this visit: Feb 11 2021 (19 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Gorgeous gardens with plenty of variety
+ Quite good birding with periods of high activity
– Can get busy with people
– Lots of non-native birds

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