Dry Agricultural Land
Dry Schlerophyl Forests
Wet Schlerophyl Forests
South West Wilderness
South West Islands
Bass Strait Islands
East Coast Islands
East Coast Mainland
Hobart International Airport is about three hours by air from Sydney and less than one hour by air from Melbourne. Smaller airports (mostly on the north side of the island) connect to Melbourne with commuter aircraft as well.
Melbourne is also accessible from the north of the island via an overnight passenger/car ferry service.
Moderately sized doleritic mountains cover the western half of the island, with the tallest of these about 1400 meters in elevation. The west and south west is extremely wet and largely uninhabited.
A broad central agricutural valley runs northwest to southeast over most of the length of the island, and the climate there is much drier. This is the only part of Tasmania which resembles stereotypical Australian farmland, with sheep paddocks and gum trees.
Another densely forested highland is in the north-east.
Along the north coast is a fertile red-soil plain, reminiscent or Eire or Prince Edward Island.
The east coast is rolling and covered with dry eucalypt forests and cleared sheep pasture.
In the south east corner is the Tasman pennisula, an area of rolling eucalypt coverred hills, some agriculture, and dramatic coastal cliffs.
To its west is the Derwent river valley and its estuary, where Hobart is located. Hobart is overlooked by 1200m high Mount Wellington, the easternmost of the western dolerite mountains.
South of Hobart lies the farmland (mostly fruit growing) areas of the Huon River valley.
All Tasmanian soils except the red soils of the northern plain are extremely poor, especially in phosphate.
The eastern highlands and eastern sections of the western highlands are "wet schlerophyl", with larger eucalpyt species and an admixture of "southern pine" gymnosperm species such as the celery-top pine, as well as myrtle and sasafras trees. The lowest valleys of the wet schlerophyl forests are home to Eucalyptus regnans, the worlds tallest flowering plant, with historical records of trees (now felled) exceeding 130 meters in height. Wet scherophyl forest can also have amazingly thick and rather primitive looking undergrowth, with large spikey plants that would not look out of place in the mouth of a Stegasaurus.
As one gains in altitude, the eucalupts give way to myrtles, which in turn gives way to subalpine heath forests of "pandanis". Above the pandanis, and almost reaching the mountain tops, are the alpine heaths dominated by Richia species, all of which are famous for their razor-sharp leaf edges.
In patches in the central west and in the extreme northwest is found the Tasmanian rain forest, where eucalpyts give way completely to southern pines and sassafras. These very dark forests have practically no undergrowth, but lots of fungus species, some with spectacular colors.
In the extreme west and south of the island there are large areas where forests give way to button-grass, where the soils are so leached of nutrients and water-logged that trees can not survive.
Coastal vegetation may consist of forests right down to
the water's edge, but heath land can are also found in exposed and rocky
All Tasmanian native plants make for extremely poor browse, with leaves high in toxins and low in nutrition.
The most conspicuous bird of the sheep paddocks is the Australian magpie (not related to the North American or Eurasian magpies). These black-and-white birds greet the spring morning with a lengthy and melodious carol that rolls across the countryside...a sound that means Australia to all her natives, and one that is guarenteed to bring an immediate bout of homesickness to those living abroad. On the other hand, magpies are extremely feisty birds and will dive bomb anyone who approaches their nests. A baseball cap with eyes painted on the back of the head will however confuse the birds and protect you from a rear attack.
Black-faced cuckoo shrikes are also to be seen near the sheep paddocks.
The bulk of birds in this habitat are the honey eaters, which feed on the nectar of eucalyptus flowers and small insects. Most common is the yellow-throated honey eater, a Tasmanian endemic. .
The true jewel of this habitat is the suberb fairy wren, a truly beautiful tiny bird with irridenscent royal blue feathers. They are common and friendly.
The "diamond birds" or pardalotes, are also found in this habitat. These are tiny insectivorous birds that pick bugs off of trees, inmuch the same way oxpeckers pick them off of mammals. The greatest birding prize is the forty spotted pardalote, an endangered species endemic to a few locations on Tasmania and the islands to its east.
The rare Tasmanian subspecies of the wedge-tailed eagle is another prize of this habitat, but one that is much more widespread than the forty-spotted pardalote, and even though it is even fewer in number, the eagles (about 450 of them) are quite a bit more consipicuous.
The forest robins abound in this habitat as well. They are ecological equivalents to the North American wood warblers, and these diminutive birds include some brighly coloured species, including the shockingly bright pink robin.
Several honey eaters, including largest of them (the yellow wattlebird) are also found here.
Bird life is secretive.
Tawny frog mouths are present, but because they pretend to be tree stumps all day (a ruse they pull off extremely well), they are very hard to find.
Suberb lyre birds have also been introduced to Tasmania and have a patchy distribution in the rainforests. They are also secretive but announce their presence with a variety of calls that would put a mockingbird to shame (if you hear a train whistle in the forest it is probably a lyre bird).
All and all, you will enjoy a walk in the rain forest much more if you put away your bird guide and bring out a fungus guide, as some spectacular bracket funguses can be found there.
Vinticulture is most prevalent in the red soil area of the north-east. However, vinyard owners so jealously guard their grapes with netting, that few birds can make a living there.
In and immediately around the City of Hobart, there are representatives of each of the previously mentioned habitats except rain forests. So dry pasture, dry schlerophyl, wet schelorphl, and fruit growing habitats are all within an hour's drive of downtown... making Hobart an ideal base from which to operate.
The dry pasture land is to be found just east of town, to the north of the airport. And just west of the "heritage" village of Richmond (about 20 minutes north of the airport) one can find sulphur-crested cockatoos and galahs. And of course magpies carol throughout the district.
The dry schlerophyl forest spreads east from the airport to the Tasman pennisula, and north of Richmond as well. It can also be found by driving north from Hobart along the west side of the Derwent river toward the town of Cambridge. This route is especially wonderful, as it follows the Derwent estuary to the village of Bridgeport, where there is a broad expanse of marsh supporting abundant water fowl, including hundreds of black swans.
South of the airport lies the expanse of Frederick Henry Bay. This sand-bottom bay supports a rich fishery, and numerous sea birds. In the winter raffs of tens of thousands of mutton birds sit in the bay. Gannets and gulls are also in abundance. Betsy island, at the mouth of the bay, is a nesting island for gannets and others.
A drive up Mount Wellington (about 1/2 hour to the top from downtown Hobart) will take you through wet schlerophyl forests and alpine heath. A stop around the village of Ferntree is a great idea for wattle birds and wrens. Many walking trails are to be found on the north side of the mountain around Ferntree. And just west of Ferntree (on the road that continues west, not the one that turns up to the top of Mount Wellington) you can find the trail head of "the pipeline track", which contours around the west side of Mount Wellington to Wellington falls. As this is a perfectly flat walk it gets you a lot of birding territory for little effort.
Driving south from downtown Hobart through the suburbs of Sandy Bay and Taroona quickly gets you into the fruit trees that can be found in the yards of these affluent suburbs. And especially noteworthy is Nutgrove Beach Park, in south Sandy Bay, where a large resident flock of eastern rosellas can be found among the cyprus trees. Continuing south will get you to the village of Kingston and then to the Huon valley in short order.
An even more difficult prize is the ground parrot, a denizen of the button grass plains. These nocturnal and secretive birds are an extreme challenge to all. Unless you are extremely devoted and willing to sit out in the button grass several evenings in the hope that a bird will finally arise out of the grass, you can pretty much forget about seeing one. Their whistled notes are however a lot easier to hear than the bird is to see, and you will likely have to be content with that.
These islands are also home to the large and distinctive Cape Barren goose, one of the largest and rarest wild goose species in the world. About the size of a barnyard goose, but with a much smaller bill, these fully protected birds are almost never seen except on their nesting islands. They will fly to remote corners of Tasmania and the Australian mainland outside of the nesting season, but they are still a rare birders' prize.
Unfortunately, a trip to the Bass Strait islands is not an easy undertaking...as they are no where near the tourist mainways. Their birds will likely remain the domain of only the most devoted birder for some time to come.
Located off the east coast of Tasmania, it is home to the southernmost colony of Cape Barren geese. There is also an introduced population of the flightless Tasmanian native hens. Forty-spotted pardalots live in her forests as well as the usual assortment of dry schlerophyl birds. Sea birds are also to be found on the island's eastern shore.
Being a national park, the animal life (especially the Bennets wallabies) are very approachable. The Cape Barren geese strut about looking for all the world like so many domestic geese, and treat humans that venture too close to their nests in the same manner as any barnyard gander would. Which is to say, keep your distamce unless you are a very fast sprinter.
A full-day trip to Maria Island is definitely a great experience...take the first ferry from the town of Triabunna over and get the last ferry back for a great day, but make sure you bring a lunch and LOTS of water as there are no facilities of any kind on the island.
Sea bird rookeries can also be found on rockier islands off the east coast, but these are much less accessible than Maria Island and will require a boat charter. A trip to the fur seal rookery and nests of Isle de Foques, to the south of Maria Island, may be suitable for the keen. The Hippolytes to the east of the Tasman Pennisula is another site of note.