The Big Twitch- A Fishing Boat Named
There was indeed a fishing boat named "Frustration" bobbing
about in the Pirates Bay Harbour at Eaglehawk Neck on Sunday the ninth of June,
summing up how all those who'd made their way down to Tasmania were feeling. As
it bobbed around the harbour, with Kelp Gulls wheeling above it, smaller tuna
boats putted out to face what should have been six metre swells in forty knot
winds. I had been watching the forecast for days and it certainly looked bad.
I'd never seen those isobars so close together on the map.
Yet on this bright, sunny morning, the swell was minimal, the
waves tolerable and the wind fresh but far from a howling gale. I set up the
scope from the lookout at Tasman's Arch and could see dozens of albatross on the
sea between the mainland and the Hippolytes Rocks. If it was that good within
sight of the shore, imagine what it would have been like out at the
And it had all started so promisingly.
The ferry trip across Bass Strait was remarkably smooth.
Here's a tip for the budget traveller: its worth forking out the extra forty
bucks or so to get a bed on the ferry. I was in the "Cruising Seat" section
which is a room full of uncomfortable airline-style seats. I thought I would be
surrounded by noisy, partying backpackers, but they all went to sleep
immediately. It was the locals who kept me up. Seems like the whole party had
the flu and were coughing and spluttering all night. Two old boys across from me
who had never met before spent the entire night comparing fishing places around
Tasmania, recalling every single fish they had ever caught. At one stage my
pillow dropped behind my seat. It was 3 AM. I reached around to retrieve it and
had it handed to me by a wide eyed, grizzled bearded Bikie type who informed me
intensely "I haven't been to sleep. I've been awake all night you know." And he
kept on staring at me wildly.
I survived the night, throat uncut, and drove off the ferry at
Devonport. Never having been to this part of the world, I basically meandered
along in the vague direction of Cradle Mountain. I saw a sign to a place
called "Tasmania Arboretum" and thought maybe it might have some trees and would
therefore be would be worth a look. Turns out that sure enough, though in its
infancy, it did have trees, and even some remnant bushland. They are trying to
establish examples of plants from all around the globe. Interestingly, the
bushland next door had been clearfelled along the Arboretum boundary- just to
give it that authentic Tasmanian feel.
There were heaps of birds about including six Tasmanian
endemics: Yellow-throated, Black-headed and Strong-billed Honeyeaters,
Tasmanian Native-hen, Green Rosella, and Dusky Robin
as well as Beautiful Firetail and Brown Thornbills acting like
Yellow-rumped Thornbills by feeding out in the middle of a paddock. I also
thought I had picked up an Olive Whistler- it seemed large, with a heavy bill
and had a strong white throat, and a bird had given an Olive Whistler type call
nearby. Only trouble was that this bird was a very plain grey brown with not a
hint of colour. Once I had got back to Melbourne and looked at more references I
realised I had most likely seen a male Golden Whistler that hadn't achieved any
colour yet. That's the great thing about birding, there's always something that
comes along to challenge your complacency.
Up to Cradle Mountain and as I was booking into the cabin, I
was asked by the person at the desk whether having seen the area I really wanted
to stay two nights. Not a ringing endorsement from the locals for their patch.
As it was I only needed to stay one night because all the target birds I was
after I saw within a couple of hundred metres of the cabins. Black
Currawongs were everywhere, and in a Myrtle Beech grove I had
great views of Scrubtit, Tasmanian Thornbill and a beautiful
male Pink Robin. That night I spotlighted for mammals but
despite what I had read, was unable to locate either Quolls or Tasmanian Devil,
but I did manage to see Bennett's Wallaby, Tasmanian Pademelon, Common Wombat
and two colour phases of Brush-tailed Possum.
The next morning I left Cradle Mountain without actually
entering the National Park. Sure it may be one of Australia's most precious and
breathtaking landscapes, but such is the nature of my quest I had to move on to
give myself the best chance of seeing new birds elsewhere. I drove across the
plateaud heart of Tasmania, seeing the rare Tasmanian form of the Wedge-tailed
Eagle circling above the crags, and made it into Hobart just before the winds of
the cold front hit. Spotlighting at the Waterworks Reserve I had seen Eastern
Barred and Southern Brown Bandicoots and Southern Bettong and had just heard a
Masked Owl calling when the gusts hit with a ferocious blast. Any hope of seeing
the owl now dissipated, I headed back for the safety of my motel room and
when I awoke Mt Wellington had a smothering of snow across it that
hadn't been there the day before.
The next day was very blowy and perhaps because of this
I managed to get very close to a Forty-spotted Pardalote at the
Peter Murrell Reserve a few kilometres south of Hobart. Normally confined to the
highest White Gum tree tops, one bird was down out of the wind, feeding in a
sapling at eye level, almost within touching distance. I'd always thought of
these rarities as rather drab, but at such close range, you realise how
beautifully dainty they are, washed in their pastel lemons and greens. Just as I
got my camera out, a rain squall belted through and virtually every bird in the
reserve went quiet and disappeared. On the fence of the adjoining Vodafone
factory on the way out I was treated by way of consolation, to the sight of
three species of robin (Scarlet, Flame and Dusky) perched together on the
Making my way to the Eaglehawk Neck area, the blustery
conditions didn't seem to be improving- a Yellow Wattlebird at
Dunalley, completing my Tasmanian endemics, failed to lift the gloom about the
prospects of getting out to sea the next day, and then at around six I got the
bad news from Chris Lester that the boatman was not prepared to risk taking the
boat out given the forecast.
And so it was that I came to be standing watching the tuna
boats in frustration. Apart from Olive Whistler and Masked Owl, both of which I
could get on the mainland, I had cleaned up on everything needed in Tasmania and
now I had two days to kill. What to do?
Find out next time.