Wattlebirds

Soon after my visit to Southern states in December 2017 I wrote about “honeyeaters and their next-nearest kin, mainly because I have … seen species which don’t live around Townsville” and I’m doing it again now.

Wattlebirds are the Southern equivalent of our Friarbirds: big, noisy, gregarious (and often aggressive) honeyeaters. The Red and Yellow are the largest of five species at 38-48 and 31-39cm respectively; the Yellow (Anthocaera paradoxa) is restricted to Tasmania but the Red (A. carunculata) occupies a broad coastal arc from Shark Bay in the West to Brisbane.

wattledird on bottlebrush
Yellow Wattlebird in a South Hobart garden

Continue reading “Wattlebirds”

Seals and Cormorants on Bruny Island

During my recent Tasmanian holiday I spent most of a day on Bruny Island, off the south-central coast of Tasmania (map). Its two halves are separated by a remarkably high, narrow isthmus and the northern part of the island is mostly farming land while the southern part is mostly wilderness.

bay, jetty, powerboats
Adventure Bay with boats like ours

The eastern coast, facing the D’entrecasteaux Channel, is protected but the south-west coast is exposed to the rigours of the Southern Ocean and is dramatically rugged, with high cliffs, sea caves, rocky islets and off-shore rock stacks. We took a small-boat cruise from pretty, tranquil Adventure Bay down to the islets off the southern tip of the island, hugging the coast on the way down to see the scenery and the wildlife and travelling almost straight back.

Bruny Island cliffs
Beyond the bay – Bruny Island cliffs

From a wildlife point of view the highlights of the cruise were the Black-faced Cormorants and the Fur Seals, both of which are restricted to southern coastlines.

black and white birds on rock slope
Black-faced Cormorants in a typical cliff-side roosting area
birds on rock
Close-up of Black-faced Cormorants

The Black-faced Cormorant, Phalacrocorax fuscescens, is the least common of Australia’s five species of cormorant and I have put a couple more photos of them here.

The Australian Fur Seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, has close cousins in South Africa (another sub-species of A. pusillus), New Zealand and Antarctic waters (other species in the same genus), as per this page on the site of the federal Department of the Environment and this one from the Australian Museum.

seal colony
A typical haul-out location, a flattish rock platform
seal at ease on a bed of kelp
At ease on a bed of kelp
two large seals facing each other
Chat or challenge?
rocky islet with seals
A dozen seals have chosen the platform at the foot of this crag as a resting place

Mount Wellington

landscape with rocks and alpine heath
The peak of Mt Wellington is a low ridge on the edge of a high rocky plain covered in low alpine vegetation

Mount Wellington dominates Hobart’s skyline as Castle Hill dominates Townsville’s, but more so. It is also an extension of wilderness into the city, since the city face of the mountain is the Eastern tip of the vast South-western wilderness, as this map shows. Here are two sets of photos I took on the mountain on my recent holiday in Tasmania.

Waterworks Reserve

Waterworks reserve, looking over the upper dam towards Mount Wellington
Waterworks reserve, looking over the upper dam towards Mount Wellington

The Waterworks Reserve was a key part of Hobart’s water supply in the early years. A stream running down from the mountain feeds two dams, and the reserve comprises the dams and the valley in which they nestle. Most of the valley is forest, as seen above, but there are walking/cycling trails, picnic areas and the necessary access roads and pumping stations.

Waterworks reserve, looking over the lower dam towards Hobart
Waterworks reserve, looking over the lower dam towards Hobart

Waterbirds love the dams and a visitor is sure to see gulls (they fly in from the Derwent estuary over the ridge), several species of ducks and a scattering of other birds. On this occasion I saw White-faced Herons, a dark cormorant which I think was a Great Cormorant rather than the Little Black Cormorant I am more familiar with, and a pair of cute little Australian Wood Ducks, Chenonetta jubata. 

grey duck with chestnut head
Australian Wood Duck Chenonetta jubata, male

The Summit

Rocks and a beautiful sky
Rocks and a beautiful sky
Cloud drifting up the gully which is the top end of the Zig-zag track
Cloud drifting up the gully which is the top end of the Zig-zag track
shrubs and rocks
Misty moody landscape

The summit is above the tree-line and is a world of rocks and low scrubby alpine vegetation. It is always ten degrees colder than the city, and clouds can sweep across in minutes even on a day which looks bright and sunny. This visit was in late January and it was, rarely for the mountain, shirt-sleeves weather and with many of the plants in full bloom it was as pretty as it ever gets – but “pretty” is not a word that comes to mind up here. “Beautiful”, yes; “awesome” if you like; often “harsh”, “bleak” or “raw”; but not “pretty”.

At this point, however, I will own up to misleading you (just once!) with my camera: my misty moody landscape has not been photoshopped but was taken from ground level and the trees and boulders in the foreground are actually only knee high. Here are some more of the plants, shot from a more familiar viewpoint:

grass clump and small tree
Alpine vegetation
Shrub in full flower
Shrub in full flower

I took a lot of photos of insects, as my regular readers will have expected, and the best of them are on my flickr photostream – click here and scroll through the set to see craneflies, a black cicada and more. (The birds and other wildlife I’ve added since then are also Tasmanian but not from Mt Wellington.)

The Tasman Peninsula

burnt trees with green fuzz of new foliage
Tall eucalypts beginning to recover from bushfire

Driving from Hobart towards the Tasman Peninsula these days provides sobering reminders of the bushfires which devastated the area around Dunalley in January.

There are huge areas of burnt bushland although it is good to see that much of it is already coming back to life. I stopped beside the road on the Hobart side of Dunalley to look at the regrowth. The town itself looks far better than it does in these photos taken immediately after the event but there are still burnt-out buildings to be seen.

Dunalley sits just north of the narrow neck of land joining the Forestier Peninsula to the rest of Tasmania (see map). The next narrow isthmus, between the Forestier Peninsula and the double-lobed Tasman Peninsula, is Eaglehawk Neck. It became famous because it is where the 1830s colonial administration set up its final barrier between the Port Arthur convicts and the uncertain freedom of the mainland, a heavily patrolled dog line. Some of the convict-era buildings are preserved but the Neck is now a popular holiday destination because of its natural beauty. The Tessellated Pavement is a little to the north and the Blowhole, Devil’s Kitchen and Tasman’s Arch are a similar distance to the south, around the capes bracketing the Pirates Bay surf beach.

grey weatherboard buildings
Stables (in the distance) and other outbuildings of the guards quarters at Eaglehawk Neck
white sand beach
Pirates Bay beach, Eaglehawk Neck, looking south
rock shelf
From sea level is is clear that the Tessellated Pavement is a tidal rock shelf beneath sandstone cliffs
Tessellated Pavement showing structure
Part of the Tessellated Pavement from above

A sign near the Pavement explains its formation: silt became stone, then was split in three different directions by movement of underlying rocks; the mineralised cracks are eroded by wave action near the edge of the rock platform to leave “loaves”, but resist the effects of salt (which stays longer on the surface nearer the cliffs) better than the sandstone to form the edges of “pans”.

trees against the sky
A serendipitous shot of trees on top of the cliffs above the Pavement
sandstone cliff
Fossil Cliffs, near the Blowhole at the other end of Pirates Bay
Dunalley Bay
Dunalley Bay, very late in the afternoon, looking south. The rusty colour of the small trees at left is neither autumn foliage nor sunset’s golden glow but fire damage
Dunalley Bay sunset
Dunalley Bay, looking north-west from the same vantage point as before

Tasman National Park

Tasmania has some spectacular scenery and plenty that is not so dramatic but is very beautiful. When I escaped from Hobart for a day just after Easter, I went down to the Tasman Peninsula for a bit of both. This gallery showcases photos I took at a gorgeous bay on the east coast of the peninsula and the next one will show contrasting locations between Dunalley and Eaglehawk Neck.

The beach backs onto a section of the Tasman National Park, so there is a small camping and picnic ground (and walking tracks for those with more time than I had), and there is nothing but State Forest behind the park boundary. The helicopter I saw may have had something to do with logging operations but it was the only jarring intrusion onto the natural landscape. And the weather was gorgeous – paddling-in-the-ocean weather even for a North Queenslander like myself!

stream running past rocks
A small stream runs into the bay midway along the beach
sand and calm sea
Fine white sand delicately decorated by the wavelets
rocky coast backed by forest
Looking from the beach towards the headland
scrub behind beach
Most of the beach was backed by impenetrable scrub like this, with tall eucalypt forest behind it
black-backed gull
Adult Pacific Gull, Larus pacificus, on a rocky reef
two gulls
The juvenile Pacific Gull at left is far larger than the adult Silver Gull, Larus novaehollandiae.
brown gull flying over beach
Juvenile Pacific Gull, Larus pacificus, in flight.
currawong
Grey Currawong, Strepera versicolor, drinking from a puddle beside the campground track

I didn’t have time for a real walk – not even a two hour walk, let alone the two or three day walks that people plan for weeks ahead – but I did try the beginning of one walking track and was rewarded by the sight of a couple of wallabies, one feeding beside the track and the other placidly grooming itself in a nest-like space in the scrub. They were still there when I came back, and posed for a couple more photos.

wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby aka Red-necked Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus, near the walking track
wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus, grooming itself in a retreat beside the walking track
wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby aka Red-necked Wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus, on a walking track near the campground