Diary from Australia's Natural States


As an island separated from mainland Australia by the Bass Strait, five hundred miles of Southern Ocean, Tasmania, not surprisingly, has a number endemic and specialist species of both birds and mammals. Bruny Island is one of the best locations to see many of these species and our remaining time on the beautiful Bruny was spent doing just that.

Mavista, Tasmania (Rob Jolliffe).

Our first stop was an atmospheric area of mature Manna Eucalypt forest called Mavista. The dense understorey of mixed tree fern and Eucalypt is perfect habitat for our first target species, the shy and incredibly skulking Scrubtit. This rare species, which resembles a Wren, but behaves rather like a Treecreeper, is confined to remote parts of Tasmania where this particular habitat is abundant. Taking a trail into the forest, we managed to dig out nice views of another endemic, the Tasmanian Scrubwren, part of a mixed flock that included Brown Thornbill and a number of attractive male Eastern Spinebills. Tasmanian Scrubwren is a close relative of the more widespread Australian species White-browed Scrubwren, and proved to be an incredibly cryptic and skulking species. In a forest clearing a chattering party of the rare and gaudy Swift Parrots darted around in the high canopy above our heads, but there was still no sign of our quarry.

Tasmanian Scrubwren, Mavista, Tasmania (Mike Unwin).

Just as we were starting to get somewhat despondent (part of our group had even moved on ahead) a mixed feeding flock came through and with them a Scrubtit, staying low and creeping up and down the trunks of the tree ferns. Despite its unobtrusive reputation, this one showed nicely for us, and eventually, for the other members of the group. We even managed a nice bonus species as part of the feeding flock, a small group of Tasmanian Thornbills. Our second Tasmanian endemic, the Tasmanian Thornbill is similar to the more widespread Brown Thornbill, differing in a chestnut cap and the addition of heavily feathered tibia creating a 'knickerbocker' appearance.

Scrubtit, Tasmanian endemic, Tasmania (Mike Unwin).

From Mavista it was on to Inala, the 500-acre private reserve owned by our guide, the exceptionally knowledgable Dr Tonia Cochran. Tonia's reserve is one of the best places in Tasmania to see a wide range of the country's rarest and most enigmatic species, including endemics such as Dusky Robin, the beautiful Forty-spotted Pardalote, Strong-billed Honey-eater, Yellow-throated Honeyeater and Black-headed Honeyeater, all of which we saw within an hour of walking the trails through the reserve. In addition to these great views of endemic birds, the reserve was alive with other new species for our trip including good numbers of the beautiful Scarlet Robin as well as Australian Pipit and Yellow-rumped Thornbill.

Dusky Robin, Tasmanian endemic, Inala Reserve, Tasmania (Rob Jolliffe).

Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Tasmanian endemic, Inala Reserve, Tasmania (Rob Jolliffe).

Scarlet Robin, Inala Reserve, Bruny Island, Tasmania (Mike Unwin).

Having cleaned up on ten of the twelve Tasmanian endemic birds on our first day, we only had Black Currawong and Green Rosella to see for the full house. Evening was starting to draw in so we retired to what would be our base on the island for the next few days. Explorer's Cottages are a cluster of little cottages nestled within a wooded glade 300 metres from the white sand beaches of Cloudy Bay. The gardens and natural pool that form the landscape of the plot attract large numbers of birds and mammals including Tasmanian Native Hen, New Holland Honeyeater, Yellow and Little Wattlebirds and on this occasion our eleventh endemic of the day, a pair of Green Rosellas.

Green Rosella, Tasmania (Mike Unwin).

The next morning we awoke with a sense of true anticipation. We were scheduled to make a light aircraft flight to the remote wilderness of Melaleuca to look for one of the rarest birds in the world, the Orange-bellied Parrot. Melaleuca is a wild and exposed hinterland in the far southwest of Tasmania, six days' hike from the nearest habitation. The site is the last known breeding place for Orange-bellied Parrots, only twenty individuals of which are known to exist in the wild. To say that we did not expect to see them was an understatement as we boarded the compact Britten-Norman Islander aircraft and took off in to the stiff southwesterly wind.

Melaluca from the air (Mike Unwin).

Touching down on the quartzite airstrip, one gets a true sense of the remoteness of this place. With rolling uplands all around, the terrain is mixed wet grassland interspersed with rocky outcrops. Our first birds are all new to us. Bizarre and beautiful Southern Emu Wrens flitted through the tops of the heather. Striated Field Wrens sang like meadow larks from exposed perches.

Southern Emuwren & Striated Fieldwren, Melaleuca, Tasmania (Rob Jolliffe).

After an hour of searching the shout went up — "Orange-bellied Parrots!" — as two birds flew directly over our heads and came to rest on one of the very few Eucalypt trees that stick out of this barren landscape. It was strange and rather depressing to think that the birds in front of us represent 10% of the total world population. Nonetheless, great views were had by all of what was obviously a pair prospecting for a nest.

Orange-bellied Parrot, Melaleuca, Tasmania (Rob Jolliffe).

The sound of turbo-prop aircraft engines in the distance signalled that our time was drawing to a close in this supremely wild environment, so we made our way back to the airstrip in preparation for the return hop to Bruny.

Written by: Rob Jolliffe