The Big Twitch- A Fishing Boat Named Frustration

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: The Big Twitch- A Fishing Boat Named Frustration
From: "Sean Dooley" <>
Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002 15:00:16 +1000
The Big Twitch- A Fishing Boat Named Frustration.
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 shelf.
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 wire.
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.
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