Round Sheoaks itself we commonly see forest ravens, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, green rosellas, kookaburras, superb fairy-wrens, yellow-rumped and brown thornbills, yellow wattlebirds, New Holland honeyeaters, eastern spinebills, grey shrike-thrushes, European goldfinches, welcome swallows, silvereyes and blackbirds.
Each summer grey fantails (in Tasmania aptly called cranky fans) zip around in the sheoaks and we look forward to the return of the fan-tailed cuckoo with its melodic trill. In autumn and winter scarlet and flame robins are a joy to watch as are the great rafts of gannets which assemble out on the bay. Gannets are unmistakable as they plummet vertically into the water from a great height after fish.
A pair of white-bellied sea eagles live up the Swan River. It’s reasonably common, especially on windy days, for them to soar majestically past, barely moving a wing. The large Pacific gulls also ride the air currents above our house.
On the short walk to our beach in addition to the small birds mentioned above we often see white fronted chats. Down on the beach, common residents include Pacific and silver gulls, Caspian, crested and white-fronted terns, pied and sooty oystercatchers, hooded plovers and pelicans. At low tide a large sandbank appears in the river estuary. This is a favourite spot with gulls, oystercatchers and in summer with migratory waders.
In autumn large hawk moths appear and are around for about 6 weeks. A pair of tawny frogmouths take up residence then on our street light, swooping on this bounty each evening.
Honeymoon Bay is in the National Park. This tiny bay is immediately after Freycinet Lodge. At either end are pink granite rocks, a perfect place for a winter picnic. Just off shore is the tiniest islet where a pacific gull is usually to be found, often in company with a cormorant drying its wings. Above the bay is a picnic and barbecue area sheltered by sheoaks - the site of an Aboriginal midden. You will usually be joined there by green rosellas, yellow wattlebirds, superb fairy-wrens, and in winter/spring by a family of grey butcherbirds and flame or scarlet robins. Out at sea you may be lucky enough to see a pair of sea eagles glide by.
On the Wineglass Bay walk all the small birds we have round Sheoaks will be present plus yellow-throated, black-headed and crescent honeyeaters, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and green and eastern rosellas. In some of the gullies we’ve seen beautiful firetails.
A complete bird list for the National Park is available from the NP Information office or on the web at www.parks.tas.gov.au/factsheets/wildlife/FreycinetBirdList.pdf
At Sea. A cruise on the catamaran Schouten Passage (www.wineglassbaycruises.com) is a great way to see birds, including some pelagic species. Watch out for little penguins fishing near the jetty and a bit further out. In Great Oyster Bay and on and around Refuge Island and Promise Rock regulars include pelicans, cormorants, Pacific and silver gulls, Caspian, crested and white-fronted terns, gannets, white-bellied sea eagles and sometimes a wedge-tailed eagle. There’s a huge white-breasted sea eagle’s nest as you go through Schouten Passage. From October till April short-tailed shearwaters fish the bay in their hundreds; a truly wonderful sight. Out in the Tasman Sea you may find black browed, shy and yellow-nosed albatrosses, southern giant petrels, and less commonly, flocks of fairy prions and fluttering shearwaters. In season thousands of short-tailed shearwaters fish out in the Tasman too.
Moulting Lagoon is a Ramsar site. Although large there aren’t many places where you can reach it from the land. One is off the Coles Bay Road heading for Bicheno, 12 km from Hazards View Road. There’s a car park, its entrance marked by a small triangular green and white sign indicating a Greening Australia project. In winter this can be boggy. If so, park on the road side. From the car park a track runs down to the water. Here you may find thousands of birds, or again you may not, as being wild birds their presence can’t be guaranteed. Moulting Lagoon is home to 8000 black swans, more when most of the rest of Tasmania’s swan population arrive to moult. In spring there are often hundreds of fluffy grey cygnets.
There is usually a good selection of ducks – black, musk, mountain, wood and chestnut and grey teal. Cormorants, terns, pelicans, grebes, and in summer migratory waders, are also to be found. Good binoculars or a scope will be a big help if the birds are all over the other side as happens on windy days.
A closer entry point is down River and Rocks Road. Heading towards Bicheno this is the second road after Hazards View Rd. It ends in a T junction. If you turn left the road ends in a couple of hundred metres at a free camping area. Lots of shells are embedded in the sandy edges of the track down to the water. This is an Aboriginal midden. As you can imagine, Moulting Lagoon was a popular hunting spot with local Aborigines. What a pleasant sheltered place this must have been for them to over winter. The shells indicate the presence nearby of extensive shellfish beds. In fact at low tide you can still gather pipis (clams) without even getting your feet wet. On the little beach you will often find sooty and pied oystercatchers, Pacific gulls and white-faced herons. Some nearby rocks are a favourite perch for several types of cormorants while a raft of pelicans is likely to be sailing round just off shore.
If you drive to the right at the T junction you will reach Meredith Point, named after an early settler. Drive slowly as Bennett’s wallabies often dash across this road. We have several times been fortunate to see a pair of white-bellied sea eagles perched in a large dead tree half way along. Meredith Point is another spot where you may or may not see lots of birds and it is especially good for waders at low tide in summer.
The final entry point to this side of Moulting Lagoon is down Flacks Rd. - the third road on your left after Hazards View Drive. The road is unmade and corrugated. Drive slowly as again wallabies often dash across. The road ends at a car park. Climb the stile and follow the fence down to the water. If it’s low tide and the migratory waders have arrived from the northern hemisphere this is a good place to see them. Failing that there are almost certain to be pelicans, (the rocks here are actually called Pelican Rocks) black swans, chestnut breasted shelducks, oystercatchers and cormorants. Once we saw a flock of about 350 chestnut teal here. Ditto 2 eastern curlews.
More information about birds on Moulting lagoon is available on the web at www.parks.tas.gov.au/factsheets/parks_and_places/MoultingLagoon.pdf
Loon.tite.ter.mair.re.le.hoin.er.walking track at Waterloo Point, Swansea. This is across the bay from us and is a 45 minute drive in daylight, longer once it’s dark. Take a jacket and a torch with you. You may also want to have dinner somewhere in Swansea beforehand. Drive into Swansea on the Tasman Highway. Just past where the highway takes a 90º turn to the right, turn left into Wellington Street. Continue on until you reach the Esplanade, turn left again and park in the car park at the end of the street. Here you will find information boards about the nearby Catholic and Anglican cemeteries (worth a look) and the walk through the mutton bird (short-tailed shearwater) rookery. During the day there are great views across the bay to the Freycinet Peninsula. However, the best time to do this walk is at and just after dusk from October till April when the mutton birds will be returning to their nesting burrows.
There is a period from mid October till mid November when only a few will return each night. They have by this stage re-bonded, repaired their burrows and mated. For about a month they go out to sea fishing to store up energy for the breeding season when they will take turns at incubating the egg and for a while, at minding the chick. If this is the only time you can see these amazing birds, then seeing a few is better than not seeing any, so still go. Keep to the path to avoid crushing their burrows and only use your torch to shine down to prevent tripping. Shining it on the birds will confuse them. Stay low (there are seats) and keep very quiet. You will be rewarded with marvellous close up views of the birds as they glide in on their long wings and crash land near their burrows. The waiting birds and as they get older, the chicks, make quite a racket as the other birds come home. Eventually all will be silent once more. During the shearwater season you will see them fishing if you go out with Wineglass Bay Cruises.
Bicheno, a half hour drive away, is the best place to see little penguins come home to their burrows at night. Nick Wardlaw and Paul Males saved this penguin colony from destruction by trapping the feral cats and dogs which had reduced it to a mere 40 birds. Even now vigilance must be constant. The National Parks rangers run an ongoing program with local primary school students, ensuring that every child becomes a champion of the penguin colony and understands the importance of keeping cats inside at night and making certain that dogs are not allowed to roam at any time, but specially after dark. Now there are up to 700 penguins with over 200 birds returning to their nests of an evening at peak times, from September to November, and about 100/night for the rest of the year.
We recommend the commercially run tours. You will always see some penguins as it's a large rookery – www.bichenopenguintours.com.au You will be in a group of only 15 accompanied by a knowledgeable and often amusing guide. Observe in silence as the penguins walk by only feet away and occasionally right over your feet. If a penguin family is occupying one of the lidded wooden nesting boxes watch as the chick dives into its parent’s throat to feed on regurgitated fish. As groups are small book in advance to avoid missing out. The penguins come in after dusk giving you time for a meal in Bicheno first, or in winter, afterwards. Tours presently cost $30/head.
Governor Island is just across The Gulch from the wharf. During summer Tasmania’s largest colony of Crested Terns (Sterna bergii) nest there, safe in the knowledge that they will be undisturbed as landing on the island is banned. While we see them on our beach from time to time, for a guaranteed sighting in summer, Governor Island is THE place.