Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tasmania: the Tasman Peninsula

Tasmania dawned bright and cheery, with a stiff south-east breeze (brr!) and glaring southern sunshine (mmm!). The roads were pretty quiet, so we headed off towards the Tasman Peninsula with light hearts. The countryside reminded us of parts of Scotland and south-west England, with rolling hills, open pasture and rugged rocky coasts; though the patches of Eucalypt woodland aren't so familiar-feeling.

The Tasman Peninsula from the Devil's Kitchen

The drive to the Tasman Peninsula was pretty uneventful, and in due course we arrived at the beautifully-named (and beautiful) Eaglehawk Neck in time for a restorative ice-cream. The view from the lookout near the carpark treated us to our first Black-faced Cormorants, a couple of Kelp Gulls and a flock of shearwaters offshore which proved on closer inspection to be mainly Short-tailed, with a handful of Sooty and Flesh-footeds mixed in. The telescope revealed that rather than the apparent couple of thousand birds milling around, there was a constant mass of birds as far as the eye could see - easily tens of thousands, constantly wheeling up and down the face of the waves; all apparently just killing time before heading in to their next burrows after dark.

Dry sclerophyll forest

A walk in the woods was clearly in order, so we set off south. Passing the spectacular crevice of the Devil's Kitchen, we headed along the track towards Waterfall Bay. Coastal heath, not unlike that in Queensland, dominated at first. The air was occasionally pierced by the shrill squeaks of Brown and Tasmanian Thornbills, Tasmanian Scrubwrens and Eastern Spinebills - a honeyeater which looks and behaves somewhat like a hummingbird. Gradually the woods closed in. The occasional pair of Green Rosellas bounded past to sit high in the treetops and regard us suspiciously. Black Currawongs carolled and warbled in the trees above us and a variety of lizards waddled or scurried away through the dead leaves, depending on their relative size.

Pygmy Sundew (Drosera pygmaea)

Again, almost no-one around to share this walk with us; it was half shocking and half pleasant: here in Britain the track would have been heaving with people, but then again, there would probably have been less wildlife to see too. We finally reached a stream and campsite where the track led off to the lookout over the bay. Just as we rounded the corner, we almost fell over a small ball of woolly-looking fur and spines, huddled against a treestump. Clearly it was an echidna, but it wasn't going to show us any glimpse of it's face. We left it in peace and walked to the viewpoint, settled down for a bite to eat and enjoyed a fine view - complete once again with Humpback Whales breaching.


Heading back up the track, the echidna had emerged from it's stump and was bumbling around the forest floor near another rotting treestump. This time we were able to stand and watch it as it stomped around, pausing periodically to shove its beak deep into the soil; presumably sniffing for or licking up ants. Every so often an exploratory sniff must have yielded something worth pursuing, as the front feet were used with formidable force for such a relatively small creature to rip out a hollow about 10cm deep. Eventually it swaggered off around the stump and we regretfully picked up our bags and continued on our way.

Echidna, emerging

We stayed at the Norfolk Bay Convict Station, a friendly and characterful bed and breakfast with enthusiastic and knowledgeable owners.

Norfolk Bay Convict Station: now a pleasant B&B

The next day saw us head out along the Mount Raoul peninsula, in order for a proper walk to do. A drive out to the end of the road took us through increasingly Dartmoor-esque countryside, complete with clumps of Juncus, conifer plantations, rough grazing - and European Gorse. Although adding a touch of homeliness for the European traveller, this is - in this part of the world - a hideously invasive species. By the time we arrived at the end of the road, it seemed so much like Britain that the sight of a pair of Chestnut Teal on the nearby pond threw me completely for a moment. Fortunately a kookaburra began laughing and put me back in my senses.

Wet sclerophyll forest

The walk proved to be through more mature forest than the previous day. Dry sclerophyll gave way to wet sclerophyll, and in both the range of flora was superb. Perhaps a highlight of the walk out to the cape was the sight of a large Black Tiger Snake, which uncoiled from it's basking spot and slid smoothly and calmly away across the path in front of us. As we dropped over the side of Mount Raoul, the vegetation suddenly changed to a mixture of head-high heath and whispering groves of sheoaks. Like the conifer plantations here that they resemble so well, there was little wildlife within these groves, although a Tasmanian Pademelon startled us both by bounding away from the edge of the path suddenly.

Coastal heath flowers

More unidentified flowers...

Pink powder-puff-type flower

Tasmanian Pademelon

We finally reached the end of the path at Cape Raoul, where we settled don for lunch, admiring a young White-bellied Sea-eagle, the Pig-face flowers at our feet and the abundance of Brown Cutworm moths littering the ground; not to mention the spectacular columnar cliffs.

Cape Raoul

Coastal heath on Cape Raoul

Brown Cut-worm

Native Pig-face (Carpobrotus sp)
White-bellied Sea-eagle
When we rose to go, we realised we weren't alone: another family had joined us and were busily exploring the small pond for frogs - the children informed us with some importance thet there was a little echidna around that bush, which we might see if we were lucky. We wandered around that bush, and there it was, head-down in the scrub.

I wandered in to try for a couple of close-ups, but there was too much vegetation in the way - and then it decided that it was coming out, so I moved off to give it space to go where it would, and in the hope of a picture uncluttered by twigs. Crouching back on my heels, I was surprised when it headed towards me - and more surprised still when it walked straight up to me and dug its beak into the ground under my instep! As is of course the rule, Na's camera was in the bag on my back. It then moved over to investigate the ground under my other foot - and then seemed to settle down to sleep, tucked in close between my ankles.

Eventually I could see myself being there all day, so I levered myself carefully up and stepped back, at which point it looked up at me, perhaps in some bemusement, and decided to wander off in the opposite direction. Strangely, the walk back to the car was rather uneventful in comparison.

Echidna, en route to my ankles

Echidna, shortly after vacating the space between my ankles

The lone echidna, wandering off across the heath

Our final day on the Tasman Peninsula was taken up with a trip around the peninsula on a Tasman Eco-tours boat, steered by the chirpy and chatty duo of Damo and Damo. A brisk southwest breeze had built up a decent swell for the first part of the trip, so the initial 40 minutes were a rather rollercoaster-like series of runs across the Tasman Sea. An inshore fare of Black-faced Cormorants and Kelp Gulls was rudely interrupted when a Shy Albatross glided impassively past, in true clich├ęd fashion, not beating a wing as it slid effortlessly over the waves.

Black-faced Cormorant
Soon we were rounding Tasman Island, where a small hangout of young male Brown Fur-seals (a.k.a. Australian Fur-seal) took great exception to the boat-load of tourists pointing cameras at them, and flopped
inelegantly into the water to escape.

Brown Fur-seal
We then turned our attention to the open waters, partly to look for Humpback Whales, and partly to enjoy
what was becoming an awe-inspiring flock of shearwaters. In all, there must have been close to half a million birds in the general area. Mainly Short-tailed Shearwaters, but with a smattering of Sooty Shearwaters and the occasional Shy Albatross to dwarf them both, the whole sea seemed to be in constant flux, as parties of birds took off, wheeled away and settled again nearby. As far as the eye could see, there were shearwaters. Had this been a fishing trip or a bird trip, we could happily have stayed out there for hours, searching for a little more variety in the flock, enjoying the sheer mass of birds present in the area; but unfortunately we were on a scheduled tourist trip, so carried along steadily until we came close enough to shore for the birds to peter out. A final wildlife-moment, as we stopped off to admire some New Zealand Fur-seals - the polar opposite of their Brown cousins in their laid-back attitude, and we were soon bumping gently at the jetty at Eaglehawk Neck...

New Zealand Fur-seal

Short-tailed Shearwaters.

Short-tailed Shearwaters

Crested Tern at Eaglehawk Neck

1 comment:

fishing in tasmania said...

What a great story of your travels in Tasmania.Very nice picture which you share above..Thanks