Bird of the week (5) Bonus Birds

Platypus Pandemonium has been proud to feature Bird of the Week.  Sadly we’ve run out of weeks, though not of birds.  So here are just a few birds I’d like to have featured.  Enjoy!

 The Forty-spotted Pardalote is a must-see species for birders visiting Bruny Island, and we were not disappointed: tasmania-bruny-40-spotted-pardalote-2016-16

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Also on Bruny we got spectacular views of another local rarity, the Swift Parrot: tasmania-bruny-swift-parrot-2016-15

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We often caught glimpses of the Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike: tasmania-black-faced-cuckoo-shrike-2016-6

In the grounds of the Bonorong Sanctuary we were pleased to see an Australian Wood Duck … tasmania-bonorong-australian-wood-duck-2016-2

… and some Eastern Rosella:tasmania-bonorong-eastern-rosella-2016-1

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Honeyeaters were a regular feature of the trip.  Here’s a gang of Black-headed Honeyeaters on Bruny: tasmania-bruny-black-headed-honeyeater-2016-5

Dirty old town (bah-humbug!)

Let’s not beat about the bush – we don’t much care for Melbourne.  Or, to be brutally honest, and in the spirit of never calling a spade a spade when in reality it’s a bloody shovel, we find the place crowded, chaotic, noisy and dirty.

OK, I admit we’re not in a positive frame of mind.  We stayed the night in a city centre apartment where our sleep was disturbed by the sounds of drunken revelry in the street outside.  Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than the sound of every other bugger in the neighbourhood having a great time at a party to which you’re not invited.

Of course, we prefer places that boast more trees than people, more critters than cars, more bird species than burger joints.  Melbourne fails on all counts.  To make matters worse, after more than a month in Tasmania we’re highly sensitised to the people-to-trees ratio and similar indicators of rural tranquillity, and can’t help looking back wistfully.

Moreover, following the long march prompted by our car breakdown on Flinders we can hardly move thanks to the combined effects of tweaked muscles, inflamed joints and lactic acid overload.  In short we are feeling irritable and out of sorts, and ill-prepared for the urban jungle that is Melbourne.

We are also, I will confess, suffering from a severe case of bah-humbuggery.  Christmas is fast approaching, and signs of it are everywhere.  This evening we sit in a street-side Starbucks, drinking mocha and watching the world go by while we rest our aching limbs.  The streets are rammed with folk getting into the festive spirit, giggling girls in Santa hats, half-cut guys in the full Father Christmas gear, green-uniformed elves roaming the street like gangs of unpaid extras from a Lord of the Rings movie, and screaming kids, all kitted out in reindeer antlers, presumably auditioning for a walk-on part as Santa’s Little Yelper.

I find this all rather distasteful.  This trip to Oz was about getting away from it all, and the last thing I need is to have the modern world in general and Christmas in particular thrust into my face, to be reminded so brutally that the big day is just a fortnight away and I still haven’t got Julie a present.  And anyway, it’s unnatural: the lead up to Christmas is meant to be cold, dank, gloomy and miserable, yet here we are sitting in warm late afternoon sunshine witnessing scantily-clad festive shenanigans all around us.

Of course, the fact that it’s a warm early-summer’s day and the locals are having a good time isn’t strictly Melbourne’s fault, but someone has to be held accountable.  Bah-humbug!

To be fair, Melbourne has two saving graces.  The first is its grand historic buildings, from banks to shopping arcades, which suggest that in its earlier days this was a city of real style and elegance, a place to be reckoned with. The ANZ bank, for example, is imposing from the outside …

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… and stylish inside:

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Here’s an interior from 336 Collins Street:

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And here’s a detail from one of the shopping arcades:

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Even the station is impressive:

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The second thing in Melbourne’s favour is the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are an ocean of calm amidst a sea of chaos.  We take the hop-on-hop-off bus, though in our case hobble-on-hobble-hobble-off might be more accurate, and soon lose ourselves amongst the flowers:

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The lake is a focal point of the gardens:

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The gardens also give us a chance to do some last-minute birding.  The lake sports an old friend from Tasmania, the Pacific Duck:

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We enjoy watching as a Yellow-wattle Bird raids blossoms for nectar …

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… and listening to the ringing call of the Bell Miner, which is sometimes referred to locally as the Bellbird:

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Even butterflies are here in force:

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We spend a happy afternoon wandering the paths of the Royal Botanic Gardens, exploring its grounds and immersing ourselves in its tranquillity.  We really like this place, and probably what we like most of all is that while you’re here you can forget you’re in Melbourne altogether.  I guess that just about says it all.

[10 December]

On Flinders: a game of two halves

First half: Ah, but your land is beautiful

A few months ago we visited the Isle of Man, which is overwhelmingly rural and sparsely populated.  Flinders Island is over twice as big, and its population is about 1% that of the Manx-land.  Flinders is very sparsely populated, very rural.

The island setting, the wide-open spaces, the tranquillity and to some extent the landscape are reminiscent of our favourite place in the whole world, Orkney.  We feel strangely at home and at peace here, this tiny island lying all but unknown between the Australian mainland and Tasmania:

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A man could be happy here, an island where motorists greet one another with a friendly wave as their cars pass, as long as he doesn’t crave the bright lights of the city, the hustle and bustle of 21st century living:

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Like Orkney, nowhere on Flinders is far from the sea, and nowhere is more beautiful than the coastline.  This, for example, is Allport Beach:

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Killiecrankie Bay gives its name to the Killiecrankie ‘Diamond’, which in reality is a type of topaz.  The ‘diamonds’ are much sought after and although we don’t find any (we don’t have the time or the energy to look), later in the trip we encounter a guy who has a pocketful thanks to his fossicking endeavours.  Ourselves, we’re happy just to see the magnificent bay:

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Once again, parts of the rocky coastline are coated with red and orange lichen, adding an exotic twist to the landscape.  Julie takes this photo at North East River:

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Some of the places we visit are simply stunning.  This is the white, sandy beach of Palana Bay, with the Sisters Islands in the distance:

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Sawyers Beach is equally beautiful, though here our enjoyment is cut short by swarms of biting flies that send us scurrying back to the safety of the car:

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Beyond its visual beauty, Flinders Island has a darker secret.  The Visit Flinders Island website says:

In 1834 one hundred and thirty-five Tasmanian Aboriginals from the mainland were settled on Flinders Island, where as George Augustus Robinson said they were to be ‘civilised and christianised’.  The settlement was called Wybalenna which means ‘black man’s houses’.  They were forbidden to practise the old ways and were homesick for their lost country.  Many died of respiratory disease, poor food and despair.  In October 1847 the forty seven survivors of this group were transferred to Oyster Cove, near Hobart.

We visit Wybalenna.  All that remains is a restored chapel and a graveyard containing unmarked aboriginal graves along with graves of some of the first European settlers.  In the nearby cemetery, the Young Farmers’ club has erected a plaque to commemorate the death of over 100 Aborigines at Wybalenna:

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Wybalenna is a sobering place.  Throughout our month in Tassie I’ve struggled to make up my mind about the official attitude to the Aboriginals who once called this place home.  Superficially everything is respectful, even a little contrite, honouring a lost race and culture that died at the hands of the White Man.  But I’ve been around the block a few times, I know that you would say this anyway even if you didn’t feel it, the marketing men would want you to clean up your image through a show of political correctness.

I simply don’t know what I think about the Aboriginal issue, but I do know how I feel as I look at the field of unmarked graves and reflect on the fate of the innocent people buried here: I feel sad, so so sad.  Let’s move on.

Second half: A road less travelled

Overnight, the weather breaks.  Greeted by leaden skies, low cloud and rain, we rearrange our itinerary, opting to take a dead-end gravel road to Lackrana Wildlife Sanctuary where, hopefully, we can birdwatch from the car.

We birdwatch our way down the road, deeper into the sanctuary.  In two hours or more we see just one car.  We reach the end of the road and decide to call it a day.  We’ve seen little of interest, the weather is foul and the visibility rotten so we’ll head into Whitemark, the biggest settlement on the island, for a hot drink and something to eat.  I turn the car round and begin the journey back towards town.

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After a few hundred metres Julie tells me to stop.  There’s a flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos working their way through the trees to the left.  This has been a bogey bird for us, and now seems like a good opportunity to get a decent photo, particularly as the rain has eased.  I pull off the road and Julie stalks them for about twenty minutes.  She gets views of the flock in flight, but not the shot she was hoping for:

Damp and disappointed Julie gets back in the car, and I prepare to set off.  I turn the key.  Nothing.  I turn it again.  Still nothing.  I take it out, re-insert it, and try again.  Absolutely nothing.  The electrics have failed completely.

This is, to say the least, a bit of a problem.  We are many kilometres up a dead-end gravel road along which no car has passed for a couple of hours.  Nobody lives out here, so we’re on our own.  Also, we have no food and very little drink with us as we weren’t expecting to do anything more adventurous than some casual birding from the car.  We try our UK mobile phone, but inevitably there’s no reception.  And, to add insult to injury, the heavens have opened again.

We have two choices: to stay put and hope that a mad birder will brave the deluge to visit the Lackrana Sanctuary, or to attempt to walk out along the gravel road in the pouring rain until we reach a busier road where maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a vehicle we can flag down.  Reluctantly, we decide to walk out.

The rain teems down and a cold wind gets up.  Our backs, our legs, our feet all protest painfully, and we’re running out of drink. We understand the term walking on water. The road is alive with froglets celebrating the arrival of wet weather, but we’re too miserable to share their enthusiasm.  At one point a Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo lands in a tree just yards from the road, and appears to laugh as we squelch past.

After several hours and over 7km we at last spot a car approaching us and flag it down.  Never in my life have I been so pleased to see a Volkswagen.  I’m close to tears, the relief is so profound.  The occupants are shocked to encounter us, but come willingly to our rescue.  One of them has a working mobile phone.  We call Rob, and within 40 minutes he’s with us.  He scratches his head, curses under his breath and twiddles under the bonnet, and eventually gets us going.  We limp back to the farm with Rob following close behind, just in case.

Rob is mortified.  “Nothing like this ever happened before,” he says miserably.

In reply I mumble polite disclaimers.  “No worries,” I say, “nobody died.”

The delicate dance continues for a while, soothing declarations are exchanged, reassurances offered.  In due course a bottle of Scotch changes hands, is accepted in the spirit in which it is gifted, and honour is duly satisfied on both sides.

Everything we’ve worn or carried today is sopping wet and needs to be dried out before tomorrow morning’s flight to Melbourne.  Lorraine lights the log stove in our cabin and lends us a clothes horse, and we get started on the job in hand:

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The only way we can get the insides of our shoes dry is with the hair dryer, and I’m forced to dry out my leather wallet and the British £10 notes it contains on a heated towel rail.

As we reflect on the day’s events we recognise things could have turned out a lot worse.  There are definitely some lessons for us to learn, should we ever be crazy enough to contemplate a trip like this again:

  1. Make sure you have a mobile phone that actually works in the place you’re visiting
  2. Carry plenty of food and water in the car, even if you’re planning to spend the day in said car
  3. Do a course in car mechanics.

To be brutally honest, today’s experience has taken the edge off our visit to Flinders and, to some extent, off our Tasmanian adventure as a whole.  It was scary, very scary, I don’t think we’ve ever felt so totally alone as we did on that gravel road, a road less travelled than any we’ve been on since we arrived in Tassie.  On top of that, we’re not particularly fit and once the adrenaline begins to wear off the pain really kicks in, and there isn’t any part of us that doesn’t hurt like hell.

But let’s look on the bright side: we’re still in one piece (just) and tomorrow’s another day.  At least in Melbourne we can be confident that our car won’t break down … we’ll be travelling by hop-on-hop-off bus instead.

[8 December]

Rob the Builder

Today we leave mainland Tasmania, taking a short flight from Launceston Airport to Flinders Island.  Over the past 30 days we’ve driven 4,269km and it seems like we’ve explored every corner of Tassie; it’s surpassed our expectations and we are sorry to leave.  Flinders, however, is off the beaten track, even by Tasmanian standards, and offers us a chance to chill before the mayhem of Melbourne and the horrors of the flight back to the UK.

We know we’re in for an experience when the guy at check-in tells us our hand-luggage is too heavy.  We re-pack, shifting stuff into suitcases until the weight meets the airline’s rules.  But we needn’t have bothered; when we try to take it on the plane the captain says it’s too big, and will have to go in the hold anyway.  As we clamber on board we take his point.  It’s a 19 seater, and we’re packed in like sardines.  I never thought I’d be dreaming wistfully of the creature comforts in a British Airways economy class cabin, but plainly we’re playing by different rules here in outback Oz:

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In Flinders we are staying in a self-contained cabin on a farm, with great views of Franklin Sound beyond the trees:

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Free-range guinea pigs and partridges roam the farmyard, kept in line by Jess, an eager and friendly sheep dog.  This seems like our sort of place:

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Our genial hosts, Rob and Lorraine, are in the habit of treating new arrivals to a barbecue in an outbuilding that Rob has built himself from salvaged materials.  As well as running cattle and sheep on his smallholding Rob is a builder by trade, plainly a skilled and versatile one.  He points to various bits of the building, explaining proudly where they’ve been sourced.  As the barbecue gets going some bats are flushed out of the roof space, circling madly for a few seconds before exiting via a convenient gap in the eaves.

Rob puts a vinyl record of Abba’s Greatest Hits on to an ancient turntable, and we’re ready to rumble.  We talk about the death of Andrew Sachs a few days ago.  We say we are amazed that it was mentioned on Australian radio news, and Lorraine explains that Fawlty Towers is massively popular over here.  She and Rob both enjoy British TV comedy, and can’t get the hang of US sitcoms.  We share their sentiments.

The tricky subject of mutton birds raises its head.  Driving us back from the airport Lorraine had told us about the menu for the barbecue, including mutton birds.  These are better known as Short-tailed Shearwaters; they are common birds in Tasmania, and are regarded around these parts as a culinary delicacy.  I politely declined, explaining that we are birders and came to Tassie to watch the local wildlife rather than to eat it.  No offence was intended, but we appear to have scored an own goal.

Rob makes the case for eating mutton birds, and he too scores an own goal: they’re very common, he says, and we’ll probably like them as they taste like minke whale.  We are truly sorry if we have offended two decent people who are giving up their evening to cook us a barbecue.  We are not criticising their customs or way of life, but we have principles and must stick to them if we are to be true to ourselves.  An awkward silence descends across the proceedings.

By unspoken agreement everyone quickly moves on, determined to make the most of an evening without mutton birds.  Lorraine cooks well, and we tuck in eagerly to her home-made sausages and pesto, washed down with Rob’s excellent home brew.  Julie doesn’t much care for lamb, but Lorraine serves some which is sourced from the dorper sheep Rob has raised on the farm and she is won over.

Soon we are swapping travellers’ tales.  Rob and Lorraine prove to be the best-travelled Aussies we’ve met, and are frequent visitors to Europe.  They know Orkney and Shetland well, as do we, though they prefer the latter while we could easily spend the rest of our lives on the former.  They even know Holt in Norfolk, which Julie and I visit most years.  How many Brits, let alone Tasmanians, can claim to know Holt?

The evening draws to an amiable close; the guinea pigs are safely tucked up in bed for the night, and we need to follow their example.  Flinders is surprisingly large – more than twice the size of the Isle of Man – and we have just two days to explore it so tomorrow we’ll need to make an early start.

[6 December]

It makes you sick

We’re staying at a luxurious eco-lodge on the Freycinet Peninsula.  The view from the property is spectacular: tasmania-freycinet-lodge-view-2016-1

And we are at one with the wildlife living here, including this lizard who calls our bedroom home: tasmania-freycinet-lizard-in-the-bedroom-2016-3

The Freycinet Peninsula is another of Tassie’s coastal gems, with breath-taking views around nearly every corner, such as here at Honeymoon Bay:tasmania-freycinet-honeymoon-bay-2016-2

But there’s no time to spare, we’re off on another cruise.  Today the boat’s much bigger than on our trip to Maria Island, a catamaran in fact.  This is no bad thing as, despite the brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies, the sea’s rockin’ and rollin’.

We set off towards Wineglass Bay.  The catamaran is comfortable, verging on the luxurious, and we settle back to enjoy the scenic coastline of the Freycinet Peninsula: tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-53

However the sea begins to take its toll, and pretty soon sickness is rampant amongst the assembled passengers.  The crew are attentive, brilliant in fact, circulating endlessly amongst the sufferers offering sympathy, advice, ginger tablets and, when all that fails, a discrete paper bag.

We sail on, admiring dramatic cliffs painted in vibrant shades of orange and pink: tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-23

As with so much of our Tassie experience, the weather is everything.  On a grey, wet, windy day this trip would be a miserable mistake.  Today, with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky and the ocean molten cobalt, it’s magical:tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-26

The sea doesn’t seem too bad to us and we prove immune to its sly mischief.  For us the experience is exhilarating: the warmth of sun, the wind tugging at our hair, the choppy challenge of the waves:Tasmania, Wineglass Bay cruise, 2016 (42).JPG

Around us, however, others are less resilient.  Some of our fellow passengers are turning a whiter shade of pale, others as green as the grass back home, and in private corners embarrassed chunder monkeys are compelled to review the morning’s breakfast.  We shrug it off, and enjoy views of the majestic Shy Albatross wheeling above the waves:tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-2016-51

At another point, we pull close to the shoreline to inspect a White-bellied Sea Eagle sitting atop its massive nest.  These birds mate for life and return to the same nest every year, simply building an extension to previous years’ efforts.  The results are hugely spectacular:tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-white-bellied-sea-eagle-2016-3

Finally we reach our destination, Wineglass Bay, where we drop anchor in its sheltered waters to eat lunch.  The food showcases the best of Tasmanian produce.  It’s attractively presented in bento-boxes, though many of our fellow travellers are too ill to be seduced by its undoubted charms.  Julie and I, however, tuck in ravenously: tasmania-wineglass-bay-bento-box-lunch-2016-1

As we eat we take in the view.  Wineglass Bay has a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.  It certainly looks the part today: tasmania-wineglass-bay-cruise-wineglass-bay-2016-11

And what a romantic name, someone says, conjuring up comforting images of happy hours spent in the company of loved ones on an intriguingly curved stretch of pristine coast.  As if the observation has been overheard the PA system clicks on and the guy who’s been doing commentary during the journey pipes up again.

“And in case you’re wondering where it gets its name, Wineglass Bay has nothing to do with its shape or even with the local wine industry.  It dates back to the whaling days.  The dead whales were hauled in to be processed at whaling stations dotted all around the bay.  So many whales were butchered here that the sea in the bay would be turned wine-red by the blood.”

Now there’s something to really make you sick.

 [5 December]

Bird of the Week (4) Cape Barren Goose

The Cape Barren Goose is an Australian endemic, meaning that the species’ survival is entirely in Australian hands.  It was driven to the brink of extinction in the 1950s before being given government protection from the excesses of the shooting fraternity.  Thankfully the Cape Barren Goose is now on the road to recovery and is no longer considered endangered, although it remains one of the world’s rarest species of goose.

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This is a very large, pale grey bird with a relatively small head, rows of large dark spots on the wings and splendid pinkish-red legs.  Most noticeably the bill appears greenish-yellow, although strictly speaking it is the cere, or skin above the bill, that’s coloured this way.  It’s definitely distinctive:

One plank in the conservation programme was to introduce Cape Barren Geese to Maria Island, which was not part of their natural range.  Here they have done well and become very confiding, enabling Julie take this great close-up photo:

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[4 December]

A perfect day

(1)  Down on the farm

We’ve stayed the night in a comfortable B&B on a farm near Little Swanport.  Carrying our bags back to the car I find my path blocked by a female wallaby.  She has a big joey in her pouch and they watch, alert and curious but unafraid as I struggle with the suitcase.  I pass within feet of them, and they continue staring for a minute or two before mum turns and hops off in the direction of several companions browsing by the fence.

Looking around there are wallabies everywhere, plainly very much at home down on the farm.  The owners, Tom and Jane, are into their wildlife.  Jane explains that in a drought some months ago the grass wasn’t growing and the wallabies on the property were starving.  Tom and Jane fed them until the crisis was over.  For a while the wallabies had become tame and confiding.  Once the feeding stopped most had gone back to their old ways, but the female with the joey is still hanging around the farmhouse, hoping – in vain – for treats.

We’d love to stay longer on this wildlife-friendly property to get to know the wallabies better but we have an all-day boat trip booked and must get to the wharf in time for an early departure.

(2)  Seal Island

Our boat pulls up to the wharf, scattering a flotilla of pelicans.  We board with a degree of trepidation: up close it’s a small boat and we’re told there’s a bit a swell going on, enough to unsettle delicate stomachs:

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Our first destination is Ile Des Phoques (Seal Island), a rugged granite outcrop of around 20 acres.  This island is known as a haul-out spot for bachelor male Australian Fur Seals, but in recent years a few mothers and their pups have also been seen.  This is encouraging news: the Australian Fur Seal was hunted to the brink of extinction in the twentieth century, but thanks to being wholly protected numbers are slowly recovering, forcing mothers to find new spots to give birth to their young.

tasmania-maria-island-cruise-isle-des-phoque-2016-55As we approach it’s clear that Ile Des Phoques lives up to its name.  There are seals all over the rocks that line the shore, some loafing, others sparring or chasing one another.  The noise is cacophonous, an unholy mixture of barks, yells, wails and snorts.  And the smell leaves us in no doubt that these guys eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We scan the rocks, enjoying the action.  Mostly, as expected, we see young males posturing and pouting, giving it some for the benefit of any of their brethren who might be watching.  We’re pleased to spot a few mums and their pups a little further up the rocks.  They have wisely distanced themselves from the mayhem at the water’s edge, and keep a wary eye on proceedings.  There’s also an older male; he’s a big boy so the teenagers give him his space, aware that if they get too close he’ll work them over until they’re bloodied and bruised.

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It’s a two-way process, this wildlife watching.  We watch the seals, and the seals watch the tourists.  They can’t resist diving into the water and dashing towards the boat for a closer look, ducking, diving and leaping.  It’s a performance worthy of a gang of crazed Olympic gymnasts.  Soon we are surrounded by dozens of lively, curious critters, all intent on enjoying the show.

But Ile Des Phoques has more to offer than seals.  There are plenty of birds, including nesting sea eagles and these Black-faced Cormorants:

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The island is also famous for its sea caves, carved by the Pacific waves from the unforgiving granite rock.  Here our little boat comes into its own, being small enough to edge deep into the caves, so deep that in one we can see sunlight shining through a small opening from the other side of the island:

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(3)  The Little Prince 

tasmania-maria-island-pademelon-2016-1From Ile Des Phoques the boat takes us north to Maria Island, pronounced to rhyme with ‘pariah.’  The whole of Maria Island is a National Park, protecting endangered wildlife, stunning scenery and ruins from the convict era.  After landing we enjoy an excellent picnic lunch under a hot sun before taking a guided walk to explore the ruins and search for wildlife.  Due to the protection afforded by National Park status the wildlife here is unafraid, so it’s no surprise when we see this nocturnal pademelon in the early afternoon sunshine.

However, it’s another critter that we’re really hoping to see.  Our guide eventually tracks down the King of Cubes but he must be in a bad mood, standing with his back to us and refusing to have his photo taken.  Julie waits, hoping he mellows, while I wander off in search of other pleasures.

tasmania-maria-island-wombat-2016-14A short distance from Julie is a large tree with low hanging branches, and snuffling around in the grass growing beneath I spot a second wombat.  But she’s not alone.  Next to her is a youngster.

It’s a strange thing about young animals, how obvious they are.  The size difference between them and adults is clear, but in countless other ways youngsters look slightly different.  They share an indefinable delicacy of form.  All young critters, in my experience, are somehow softer, less angular, fluffier and, dare I say it, cuter than their parents.  This pair conform to type, the mature Queen of Cubes and her exquisite, perfect Little Prince.

I call Julie over as mother and child go about their business, grazing contentedly.  We are spellbound by the beauty of the Little Prince.  He is a photographer’s dream, and Julie takes full advantage:

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And then, to our dismay, the Little Prince is startled when one of us steps on a twig and it snaps.  He stops nibbling and rushes full speed for the undergrowth.  Mum carries on as if nothing has happened.  Her son doesn’t return, and we worry that they won’t find each other again, but when we look more closely we can see that he has run towards the entrance to a burrow.

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The Little Prince has gone to ground to await his mother’s return.  We must leave Maria Island in a few minutes to begin the journey back to the mainland, so we know we won’t ever see him again.  A cloud slides before the sun and drains all colour from the day.  Sadly, we turn and trudge towards the waiting boat.

(4)  The Painted Cliffs 

Maria Island is famous for its stunning coastline, and we take in a couple of the highlights on the return trip.  We sail past the spectacular Fossil Cliffs rising vertically from the sea:

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… and then close to the equally impressive and improbable Painted Cliffs:

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(5)  A fitting end

As soon as we’re back on dry land we return to the car and head north.  We have around 100km to drive before we get to our accommodation.  As we go along we reflect on the day’s events and agree that we should round it off with a bottle of Devil’s Corner, a Tasmanian Pinot Noir Chardonnay for which we’ve developed a taste during our month of travels.  It’s not cheap, but then nothing in Tassie is, so we put the cost out of our mind and dive into a bottle shop – the local version of an off-licence – to do the business.

A couple of hours later we are holed up at our luxury eco-retreat on the Freycinet Peninsula, contentedly quaffing Devil’s Corner while watching a wallaby grazing outside the window.  We raise a glass to him, and to the wombats and seals and scenery we have enjoyed over the past 12 hours.  It is, we agree, a fitting end to a perfect day.

[4 December]

All creatures great and small

tasmania-forester-kangaroo-drive-2016-108We drive north from St Helen’s to the Mount William National Park, 14,000 hectares set aside to protect beautiful scenery and a wealth of interesting wildlife.  In particular we’re heading for the Forester Kangaroo Drive, so you can guess what we’re hoping to see.  Our hopes rise when we spot this this sign all over the place as we enter the Park.

Having said that, similar signs normally depicting wallabies, but sometimes wombats, Devils or even echidnas, are everywhere in Tassie.  This reflects the fact that conflicts between wildlife and motor vehicles are commonplace, and driving in some areas you come across roadkill literally every few metres.  The sad thing about Tasmanian wildlife is that it’s often not alive at all by the time we get to see it.  Partly this is because most of the critters are nocturnal and therefore difficult to spot on the road, but it’s also a result of what one might best describe as the cavalier night-time driving habits of many Tasmanians.

The Mount William National Park was originally set up to protect the island’s last remaining population of Forester Kangaroos.  All the other populations in Tasmania were wiped out by settlers in the early nineteenth century – the Forester Kangaroos we saw at Narawntapu National Park are there as the result of a reintroduction programme in 1975.  The Forester Kangaroo Drive traverses large areas of coastal heathland, open grassy plains and dry woodland:

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Thankfully the Kangaroo Drive lives up to its billing and we’re pleased to get views of several individuals, though none of them particularly close:

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It’s also good to re-acquaint ourselves with some old friends: this King of Cubes is out and about, foraging happily and apparently unaware that he’s supposed to be nocturnal:

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We’re also pleased to see this echidna giving the local ants and grubs a hard time:

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But Mount William National Park also gives us a chance to make some new friends, including this Banded Plover:

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We stop to eat lunch at the Stumpys Bay campground and quickly find ourselves surrounded by dragonflies:

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As we leave after just a few hours we reflect on a what has been a great visit.  The area of the National Park covered by the Kangaroo Drive is all but deserted – we saw was one other visitor car and a couple of workmen in the campground – but was teeming with wildlife.  Most definitely it’s our sort of place.

[2 December]

Getting back to our roots

Although this trip has its origins in birding, through the information that Susie from Tasmanian Odyssey and Tonya from Inala on Bruny shared with us at the British Birdwatching Fair, its scope has grown to include a range of other topics including other wildlife, history, vegetation and landscape.  Although we are always on the lookout for birds, since leaving Bruny Island they have rarely been centre stage.  A morning’s visit to the Tamar Island Wetland Reserve is therefore a welcome opportunity to get back to our roots.

The reserve lies on the outskirts of Launceston, Tassie’s second city, and protects around 60 hectares of lagoons, mudflats and islands.  There is an excellent, modern visitor centre, and a series of paths and boardwalks giving birders access to and views of a range of habitats.

Our first notable sighting however is not a bird, but rather a pademelon and her joey.  Something I had not understood before coming to Tassie is that as the joey begins to mature it leaves the pouch to explore its surroundings and forage for food, but returns when feeling threatened.  Walking to a bird hide we get good views of this mother pademelon:

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Then we spot a joey, out of the pouch, some distance from mum.  It sees us, panics, and dashes for the safety of the pouch and dives in, executing a manoeuvre not unlike an Olympic swimmer doing a tumble-turn at the end of a length.  It all happens too fast for Julie to photograph, but you get the general idea.

In the same part of the reserve as the pademelon is this White-faced Heron.  This is the commonest heron species in Tassie.  We’ve already seen several on our travels, mostly at a distance or flying away from us at speed so it’s good to be able to enjoy this individual which proved very confiding:

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To be fair, with the exception of a Grassbird we don’t see any species here that we haven’t seen elsewhere in Tasmania, but it’s nice just to spend time doing some relaxed birding.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the twitcher’s mentality of constantly chasing rarities is not one we embrace, so for us it’s a pleasure to re-acquaint ourselves with old friends such as the Black Swan.  We’ve seen lots of these wherever there’s a decent patch of water, including – to our surprise – many on the sea.  I particularly like this photo, which reveals the white primary feathers that are often invisible when the bird is at rest:

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Another bird we enjoy at the Tamar Island Wetland Reserve is the Chestnut Teal.  They are common in Tasmania and we’ve seen a few already, but this one came close enough for a decent photo.  This is a male, and can be distinguished by his distinctive green head and chestnut body plumage:

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Welcome Swallows are another species we’ve seen at various locations in Tasmania, skimming low of water and fields in their endless hunt for insects.  There are a number of birds with nests under the bridge that connects two of the islands that make up the reserve, and these two youngsters are content to sit on a bridge strut to be photographed:

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Welcome Swallows are migratory, and leave for mainland Australia at the end of the summer.  We are therefore here at just the right time to enjoy them.  We also enjoyed, while walking the reserve, the sound of skylarks.  They are the same species that we get in the UK, and were presumably introduced by homesick colonists who wanted a reminder of the Old Country.  And what better reminder than a skylark belting out his beautiful song, a gift for anyone with the ears and good sense to stop a while and listen.

Talking of old friends, we once again enjoyed watching the Superb Fairy Wren while walking around the reserve.  What a fabulous bird the male is in his summer breeding plumage:

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[30 November]

The edge of the world

Today we take a boat trip up the Arthur River, into the Tarkine rainforest. The Tarkine is a cause celebre for Tasmanian conservationists, who are determined to see it protected.  It is named after the local tribe of aborigines who lived in the area at the time of the first European explorers, and is now said to be the most pristine example of rainforest left in Tassie.  The Arthur is one of Tasmania’s seven major rivers, and is unique because it’s the only one that has been neither logged nor dammed.  Conservationists want to keep it that way.

To start our river cruise we must drive for nearly an hour from Stanley to the remote western corner of Tassie, which officially has the cleanest air of any settlement in the world (the prevailing wind is westerly, so air pollution would have to come from Argentina, half way around the globe). As we approach the town of Arthur River we start to pick up signs telling us we are in Tasmanian Devil country, where un-diseased animals still roam free.  We are therefore urged to drive with particular care.  However the Devils are nocturnal and will be safely tucked up in bed on this cool November morning.

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We press on, and reach the wharf ahead of schedule. The boat captain is still setting up so he suggests we nip along the road to the Edge of the World.  If you were to sail due west from this rocky coastal promontory you would not hit land again until you reached Chile.  It is a lonely place today, bleak and cold in a buffeting wind.

The Edge of the World is also the mouth of the Arthur River, and as we look at the shoreline we see a tangle of logs and branches, the bleached bones of trees torn from the ground and washed downriver in the terrible storms that hit Tassie a few months ago.  The locals say they’ve never seen such carnage, so many skeletons on the beach.

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This is a dark, brooding, timeless place. On a small stone cairn is a poem by Brian Inder, who was plainly inspired by the Edge of the World.  The poem, which we later discover is also reproduced in the boat taking us up the Arthur River, reads as follows:

I cast my pebble onto the shore of Eternity

To be washed by the Ocean of Time

It has shape, form and substance.

It is me

One day I will be no more

But my pebble will remain here

On the shore of Eternity

Mute witness for the aeons

That today I came and stood

At the edge of the world.

We return to the boat and board with a dozen or so other people, and soon we are cruising upriver.

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We are being watched.  White-bellied Sea Eagles know that a couple of dead fish will be tossed into the river from this boat to entice them down.  One plays his part to perfection, swooping down from his vantage point high in the trees, grabbing a fish from the water with sharp talons and flying off triumphantly with his trophy.  Cameras click appreciatively.

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The eagle’s mate however is nowhere to be seen, so the fish is retrieved in a net and will be offered up again when we return downriver a few hours from now.

We continue to head upriver at a leisurely pace, the captain at the intercom telling us about the luxuriant vegetation all around us, and sharing stories of the men who lived, and loved and died on the river in the old days.

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After a couple of hours we tie up at Turk’s landing, Turk being one of those old-timers who called this place home. The captain takes us on a short guided walk through a section of rainforest, naming and explaining the various species of tree.  Meanwhile the other two crew members prepare a barbecue in a small clearing.

While we eat a pademelon hangs around, begging pieces of lettuce and other scraps.

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She has a joey in her pouch, though he mostly keeps his head down and is difficult to see.   Just occasionally we catch a glimpse:

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Her older son also makes himself known.  He’s left the pouch now and should be away by himself, making his own way in the world.  But he knows a good thing when he sees one, and tourists with lettuce to spare fall into the category so he stays around looking hopeful and is rewarded for his cheek.

All too soon the barbecue is over, the pademelons disappear into the undergrowth and we must start on the return trip, immersing ourselves once again in the utter peace and tranquillity of the Tarkine rainforest.

[26 November]