|Subject:||TR: Southeastern Australia/Tasmania Jan '03 (7)|
|Date:||Mon, 17 Mar 2003 15:38:29 EST|
21 Jan 03 (cont'd)
We arrived in Tasmania after one of the bumpiest, scariest landings I've ever had. No one's fault--the pilots actually did a good job, considering--it was just extremely windy. I think they even had to bank around and make a second attempt to line the plane up with the runway before they could get us down, but by that time I wasn't looking out the window anymore--just looking straight ahead and saying the Serenity Prayer. Anyway, we survived.
And there we were--Tasmania! One of my dream destinations. We were met at the gate by our guide for the next 5 1/2 days, Dr. Tonia Cochran of Inala on Bruny Island. Tonia was wonderful. She is a superb guide--very nice, very well-organized, very professional and also casual and friendly--we had a great experience with her for the next few days. We started out with a life bird right outside the doors of the airport terminal building as we were loading Tonia's truck with our luggage--MUSK LORIKEETS in some flowering trees right in the car park.
We drove then around Hobart, with Tonia pointing out the sights, to the South Haven Marina ferry terminal. We had a great lunch here, arranged by Tonia ahead of time, followed by the short but scenic ferry ride to Bruny Island. Bruny lies to the southeast of Hobart, really almost two islands connected by a very thin isthmus. The islands are quite different in character, North Bruny being flatter and more agriculturally developed, while South Bruny is higher and more forested, with fabulously scenic coastline and a beautiful isolated lighthouse at Cape Bruny, its southwestern tip. According to Tonia, Bruny has only about 600 permanent residents, and I measured it as about 50 kilometers from ferry terminal in the north to the lighthouse in the south (in contrast to Long Island where I live, where there are probably 600 people at this very moment between here and the next traffic light....) The island is a big tourist destination, especially for day-trippers from Hobart, so there are thousands of people riding around during summer holidays. But it seems, like the rest ot Tasmania would seem to us also, to be beautifully unpopulated.
We started for Inala, which is on South Bruny, about 2pm. The weather was cooler than it had been, thanks to a southern cool front, but it had left a howling gale in its wake. The wind was fairly steadily blowing at probably 40 to 50 kilometers/hour, with gusts even higher. Not too great for birding. I had spent some time on the plane flight compiling a list of birds that were on the Tasmania list that we had not yet seen, and had given this to Tonia--trying to be helpful, I think, rather than presenting a list of demands. Many of the species we hadn't seen yet because they were just truly difficult! but surprisingly, our first life bird on Bruny was one of these new and difficult birds. We stopped at a small pond, and a small lively bird feeding on the mud out in the open, amongst groups of rushes, turned out to be our life LITTLE GRASSBIRD. Tonia seemed as amazed as we were that this skulker would be so obliging about giving us such great looks.
A little further down the coast and we saw our first KELP GULL, with nearby Pacific Gull for comparison. The two were pretty easy to distinguish, the Kelp with a smaller bill, white wing windows, and a white tail, and the Pacific with that huge honker, very little white in the wing tips, and a black subterminal tail band. My impression, from memory now, is that we saw both birds in small numbers regularly on Bruny, and with about equal frequency.
Our next life bird, and our first good look at a Tasmanian endemic, was a GREEN ROSELLA feeding along the roadside as we passed through a small settlement. There are 12 Tasmanian endemics, according to most current taxonomy schemes. Some folks had hinted that we didn't need to spend so much time in Tas, since you could in theory see all 12 species in one day. Given the weather on our arrival though, we're glad we had the schedule we did, because it would have been almost impossible for Tonia to have found quickly all of the endemics for us in that howling wind. We didn't feel pressured with this schedule, since we had several days to search. And now, we had one down and 11 to go.
A little further along the coast and we saw our next lifer, PIED OYSTERCATCHER. Then, FOREST RAVEN, the only corvid on Tasmania. A bit later, TASMANIAN NATIVE-HENS, our second Tas endemic. These turned out to be abundant at Inala. Tonia jokes that she is raising them, and the cattle are just a sideline. They formed small congregations there, sometimes right in the dooryard garden. They did seem to be in charge of the place sometimes. Somehow they seemed to have a generally suspicous and disapproving attitude regarding us and our movements, and became outraged the one day I tried to sneak a little closer to get a close-up photo. But, they never ran far.
We arrived at Inala and set up our things, and then Tonia showed us around a little bit of the vicinity of the cottage. The cottage itself is a cozy retreat, peaceful and perfect. The property is a wonderful area managed for wildlife, and also a working cattle farm--but the best way to know more about Inala is to visit Tonia's web site, at www.inalabruny.com.au. (And by the way, Phil Maher also has a great web site at www.philipmaher.com) We walked around the grounds a bit while the light was still good in the evening. One of the beautiful things at Inala was the drifts of blooming Crocosmia, a South African exotic. It is not native, and seems invasive, but it has tall panicles of beautiful orange flowers, and the EASTERN SPINEBILLS loved them. Spinebills are really great little Australian honeyeaters, the Aussie answer to hummingbirds and sunbirds.
We saw some more great birds for the day, too. We saw all three of the endemic honeyeaters--BLACK-HEADED HONEYEATERS were first, in a flock including a number of juveniles. Later in the evening we saw STRONG-BILLED HONEYEATERS, which act like nuthatches, feeding along the tree branches. Shortly after, we saw our first YELLOW-THROATED HONEYEATERS., bringing our Tas endemic total to 5. I also spent some time myself in the small grove of Tasmanian gums which grow just over the Inala bridge and which host a group of endemic FORTY-SPOTTED PARDALOTES. I got some good looks at these guys several times over the next few days, but only by sitting near the fence and waiting. They are tiny birds, and they much prefer the treetops of these very tall trees, but they occasionally came down to feed in a lower foliage clump. Endemic #6--halfway there!
This evening, we decided to go out for a mammal outing. Tasmania has a much better mammal fauna than much of mainland southeastern Australia, apparently due to a lack of foxes, which have been introduced to the mainland. This story is complicated and interesting, though, like most introduced-species stories, a little depressing. For example, foxes were apparently introduced to Tasmania as well, but the aggressive Tasmanian Devils killed them, or at least their kits, and prevented them from becoming established. The Devils themselves apparently live in Tasmania and not on the mainland, where they had historically lived, because the Dingo, introduced by the Aborigines 6,000 or so years ago, had wiped them out on the mainland. But the lack of foxes has allowed some of the mammals to continue to flourish on Tassie. Bruny, being an island off the coast of an island, has many but not all of these mammals--for example, no Devils on Bruny, sadly.
We were hoping to see some of these Tassie mammals, and it meant a long drive to the north end of Bruny, which is the best area for them. So, we left about 8pm or so. We flushed a Southern Boobook from a fencepost, but unfortunately I think only Tonia really got to see it. We also flushed a Tawny Frogmouth in a similar way. We arrived at the north end of Bruny and had our strategy perfected, after a couple of practice runs--stop the car whenever we saw a mammal scuttle off the roadside, and the Keepers of the Torches would shine a spotlight from whichever side of the vehicle it was on. At first, this resulted in several sightings of the dark-pelaged Tassie form of the COMMON BRUSHTAIL POSSUM. But shortly, one of the mammals caught in the light turned out to be our first EASTERN QUOLL, a carnivorous dasyurid marsupial related to the Devil, and one that has become extinct on the mainland. They are about the size and build of a house cat, and they come in two color morphs--tannish, with white spots, or a rich dark blackish brown, again with large white spots. We ended us seeing some of each--my favorite mammals of the whole trip. They didn't give us a chance to get very long looks, but they were very cool little predators. We also went through an area with a large population percentage of a pale color morph of BENNETT'S WALLABIES, very interesting to see. Another really great day.
Old Brookville, NY
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