Forewarning: this is not an impressive account by anyone's stretch of the
Call it caving in to peer pressure. What else could possibly motivate a
non-birder, for the first time, to actually log the birds he sees on an
Arriving in Launceston on Thursday afternoon on a hunt for the Tasmanian tiger,
it was a dead certainty that my list of bird sightings would fare better than
prospective thylacine glimpses. I can't believe myself. Here I am, being driven
by my best mate from the airport to Tasmania's remote south-west and I'm asking
for a pen and a scrap of paper so I can write down the word "starling".
It's the work ute, so no pens. Apparently someone else keeps pocketing them.
I'll have to resort to 21st century technology and pull out the smart phone to
create a calendar memo. Hey, this could work! One entry per day called "Birds"
with a funky new notation: Birdname, Birdname, Birdname.
(The full stop means the next bird is at a new location). Twitter it ain't, but
I did get a Twitter account so you can follow my tiger hunt
(twitter.com/youcantry). No bird posts though - I don't think the tiger people
So back to bird one. I tell my friend to hang on with the conversation for a
sec - I've got to punch the word "starling" into my phone. Actually, I don't
tell him what I'm doing just yet - I'm not ready to cop that weird stare like
"what on Earth are you doing now?"
Next up, a sparrow. Dang - I didn't check if it was House or Tree (and I only
learned about the difference a few weeks ago), but I'd put my money on House.
It was a male, that much I knew. Third, a masked lapwing as we move away from
the airport and onto the roads. The masked lapwing's name has, for decades,
evaded my memory banks. I have really had to make an effort to force myself to
remember it this year. I don't know why that is, but at least it's one more
positive ID on this ridiculous excuse for a twitching trip to Tassie.
Funnily enough, at about this point in time my friend starts telling me all
about this new fandangle program he's bought for his iPhone - a list of
Tasmanian birds with all their calls. I'd have a ball playing with it, he says.
Has he read my mind? Okay, time to spill the beans... the subplot in my
Tasmanian tiger expedition is, for the first time, tracking every bird I see
(and can identify), but I'm not really one of *those* kiinds of people. You
see, *those* kinds of people are the kind that would fly across the country at
the phone call of a friend just to check out some bird that's blown in only to
turn around and fly home again. I don't do those kinds of crazy things. I just
fly across the country to walk for days on end sticking cameras in trees
looking for animals that nobody believes exist any more, so stop looking at me
Raven. All black, of course, but a few days later his iPhone tells me that
currawongs are all-black in Tasmania. Doh. So are they ravens or currawongs by
the side of the road? One calls out as it flies by: Argh, Aarghh, Aaaargghhh.
That answers it, for one bird at least. I decide all the road-side black birds
are ravens. My mate's convinced they're a smart bird: they're always off the
road well before your vehicle reaches them. All bar 1 on this weekend, I might
So back to the drive down to the south-west. Next up is what I call the
white-backed magpie. There's probably some other proper name for it, but I know
what I mean, and at least I know that that race exists, although I thought they
were in Victoria. Come to think of it, I've seen them in Victoria. They must be
in Tassie too.
No real prize-winning birds in the list so far, and sulfer-crested cockatoos
aren't going to shake that up. Next up are some brown ducks with black crowns,
as far as I could tell. No idea what they were and I discover my friend's
iPhone list doesn't include any waterbirds (although I note the photo credits
remind me of a name on this mailing list...)
As bad as it is to have listed simply "brown duck with black crown" due to my
ignorance of species, how much worse to see a "green parrot" take flight from
the road up into the trees and not have a clue which species it is. I mean,
come on - I know all of the parrots close to home. I know Tasmania has green
and pale-headed rosellas. After the fact I sadly discovered (via my friend's
iPhone) that the orange-bellied parrot, swift parrot, bluewinged parrot and
musk lorikeet could all equally have vied for the 8th place on my list: green
Further south now and we cross the Ouse River. A lone swallow flies by. Well I
think it's a swallow; it could be a swift. Or a martin. Or some other bird on
that annoying little iPhone app that keeps making me realise: I really don't
have a clue!
Nine birds on Day 1. We hit our destination and pack our backpacks: First aid
kit, check. Emergency beacon, check. Wildlife cameras, check. Shortly we're at
a river crossing and there's a platypus at play. After packing the video
camera, my gaiters and long pants into the waterproof inner liner of my pack
it's time to cross this creek barefoot (and in shorts, ahem). I reckon if I
hadn't packed all the extra gear in the top of the pack, just to keep it dry in
case I fell in the drink, I wouldn't have overbalanced backwards because of the
suddenly over-top-heavy pack and, well, fallen backwards into the drink. Damn.
Wet clothes, wet pack, and because I was so confident, wet boots too, which
were only strung around my neck.
A full change of clothes on the other side (which quickly soaked through
courtesy of the wet pack and one wet shoe lining) and we were back to the task
at hand: naming birds... I mean chasing tigers. In fact, I don't think we
actually saw too many birds once we were in the bush. I reflected on how a true
twitcher would probably stop and sit for hours with binoculars in hand until
that chirping thing presented itself out in the open. I had to make do with
simply laughing at the folly and being content knowing that the brown
featherball that just flashed across the path was simply that: an L.B.B.
(Little Brown Bird). That will do. And when I announce the first sighting of a
TBB (Tiny), my mate just asks if it was brown or black. I tell him blue. It was
brown. We both agree what we really need to see is an LSM, or large striped
marsupial. A devil wouldn't qualify, being only an MSM.
Speaking of the devil, one crossed our path. Well we think it was a devil - it
was darn fast compared to what I've seen on videos. I only caught a glimpse of
its rump and chocolately dark brown colour. It wasn't wombat brown and my mate,
who was in front, caught sight of the bushy tail which basically precluded the
Tasmanian tiger and meant it had to be a devil. You know, it's funny that there
are still 30,000 devils in the wild in Tamania (despite numbers crashing from
100,000 just 10 years ago) and yet I can count the number of *seconds* I've
seen a devil in the wild on just one finger. Now given I've visited Tas about 9
times in 16 years and bushwalked for half of those, if Tasmanian *tigers* are
still out there in numbers of about one thousand, I can expect to have to visit
Tasmania another 261 times during the next 464 years before I'm entitled to
catch a single one second glance at one crossing my path. That's the infurating
thing about this
allegedly mythical beast: there's plenty of habitat, plenty of food, plenty of
space to survive without being seen, but just having room for them is not
enough - they actually have to be there, which means they actually have to have
survived our specicidal bounty regimes with enough of a population to make a
recovery. One Norwegian statistician reckons they did, but I digress...
We camp for the night at 9pm to an impromptu electrical storm. We glance
nervously upwards, double-checking that we're far enough away from all the
widow-makers *and* any tree that might be felled by a bolt from the blue. In
the middle of the night I glance outside to be greeted by the happy glow of
luminescent fungi. Come morning and as we pack up, we remark on the strange
gusts of warm wind that lick past every so often. Could it be a bushfire? No
way - there's no smell or smoke at all; it must be one heck of a heatwave back
on the mainland!
That day we get done what we have to get done as far as our tiger hunt goes.
And then, at lunch-time I hear a call I definitely can identify: the ground
parrot! This one's a winner! I heard one back in February, but further south,
and have definitely played that call many times on my PC. Before the audio file
on his iPhone has even finished playing my mate falls over laughing at the
expression on my face as I realise I've just been duped!
Apart from landing one foot within an inch of a white-lipped snake as I came
crashing over a fallen tree, and dozens of fascinating animal tracks, the rest
of the day passes fairly uneventfully as far as wildlife is concerned. In fact,
a grey goshawk is the only new bird I can list. Mid afternoon and we're back on
the road, heading to our next walk which is only a few kilometers away. The
Parks Department has other ideas however, and has shut down the entire area due
to a bushfire which was started by lightning strikes the night before.
Lucky for us the fire didn't chase us to a crisp. We missed out on the same
walk back in May - then it was floods, now it's fire. What will the Good Lord
send us next? It can't be flies, surely! We had gazillions of those back in Feb!
By the time Parks is planning to re-open the area there won't be time to get
our hike done. With our walking plans thwarted I now had a day to spare. Far
from dedicating it to bird-hunting, we took a trip into Tasmania's famous
Marakoopa Cave. Can you imagine it was discovered by 2 fourteen year olds who
kept it secret for 4 years, then bought the land they found it in, only to sell
it back to the government for a small fortune years later? Wish I was that
entrepreneurial at age 14!
Cave spiders, check. Cave crickets, check. Cave shrimp - nope. Apparently the
creek dried out last year and the shrimp haven't been seen since. Glow-worms,
And finally a few more birds: rock pigeon (woo-hoo, that one's sure to
impress!); what I'm claiming as the yellow-throated honey-eater, Australian
wood duck and black swans (no doubts there). I tell my friend I've never seen a
Tasmanian Native Hen. He says "you're kidding me!" because they're all over the
place. We have lunch at a raspberry farm and the Native Swamp Hen is a check.
Yes friends, that's it: the tally stands at 15 species and 16 if you count the
L.B.B. (which is 16 more than the TT tally!)
Starling, House Sparrow, Masked Lapwing, Australian Raven, "White-backed"
Magpie, Sulfer-Crested Cockatoo, "Brown ducks with black crowns", "green
parrot", Swallow, Grey Goshawk, Rock Pigeon, Yellow-throated Honeyeater,
Australian Wood Duck, Tasmanian Native Hen, Black Swan.
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