Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A New Site

This will be a brief and final post for this blog-- I've set up a new one for my reports from this year at fieldnotestasmania2014.blogspot.com.au

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas at Corinna, part 3

Boxing Day—also celebrated in Australia—was another sunshine-filled day. The pademelons had gone on holiday, so after a leisurely breakfast the McGuires escorted us to the dock at the Pieman River. They had recommended a cruise to the river's mouth on the Arcadia II, the only Huon pine river-cruiser still working.
The Arcadia II

Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii) yields a lovely golden wood, historically prized by both shipbuilders and furniture makers, in part because its own oil acts as a preservative. In the 19th century Corinna—the northernmost point where Huon pine grows—was known for its pining as well as its mining. But this pine is also one of the slowest-growing and longest-living trees on earth. A tree may take 2000 years to reach full height and live for over 3000 years; it does not replace itself quickly. After decades of careless and widespread harvesting it is now protected. Current Huon pine items are crafted from recycled wood or trees salvaged from rivers and power dams.

Huon pine is not a true pine, but belongs to the Podocarpaceae. I don’t have a good photograph of it but there are images online.

The Arcadia cruised the Pieman for an hour and a half, threading through a gallery forest to ‘The Heads’ where the river encounters the Southern Ocean. 

We passed small, leaf-curtained Love Falls, and the mouths of the Savage and Donaldson Rivers, both named for early prospectors. The boat hauled in close to shore for the skipper to name typical temperate rainforest trees: brown-topped stringybark (a eucalyptus), celery-top pine, Huon pine, myrtle beech, tree fern, leatherwood, teatree. Parts of this rainforest are believed never to have seen fire, an unusual circumstance in this part of the world.

The river is deep and the water’s surface was quite still, offering glorious reflections as we moved between the walls of trees.

Reflection caught by the boat's waves
The boat put up at a dock near the river’s mouth and we were handed lunches to take to the beach, a fifteen-minute walk away. We scrambled along a bit of boardwalk, then a four-wheel track, and finally along sand littered with driftwood till we could see the Southern Ocean thundering into the river. Dunes rose from the beach. We settled on a log and ate our delicious wraps and cookies, then prowled the dunes and the shore till it was time to head back to the boat for the return trip.
Peter walking on the beach below the dunes
Southern Ocean surging in
Of course I was on the lookout for birds—though it’s a characteristic of the Tarkine forest that invertebrates make up the majority of the animal population and only a small number of mammals and birds are found. That said, before we left on the cruise I spotted a yellow-throated honeyeater in the trees near the dock, and we saw gulls and ducks—perhaps Pacific black ducks—along the river. Then a white-bellied sea eagle took off in front of the boat and arced across the river to perch on a tree branch. At the shore, masked lapwings and gulls were calling and flying. On the walk back to the boat I saw a pair of red-capped plovers on a stretch of sand.

Before heading back upriver the boat took a turn past the banks near the mouth. The land is differently shaped there, more sparsely covered with plants and low trees. 
Nearing the mouth of the river and the beach
The ride back was a lazy after-lunch time. We chatted with other passengers and listened to the captain talk about the history of the area and the boat. At the dock we found our friends waiting. We wandered around taking pictures and reading signs that told about Corinna and the forest, but it had gotten hot so we adjourned to the small bar for a beer. 

After the drinks we strolled back to our cottages--it was nearly wine o'clock! Then it was time for a splendid final supper of smoked salmon, goat cheese, ham, salad, with figs in sticky syrup and champagne jelly for condiments. Stollen and cherries for dessert. 

Twilight was setting in and Peter went to the back verandah to see if the pademelons had returned. He came back quickly to say they hadn't--but a snake was there instead.

We think it was a white-lipped snake and about four feet long. It didn’t move while we watched. And we were glad it wasn’t still there in the morning. On the other hand, as Irene pointed out, while it was there we knew where it was …

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas at Corinna, part 2

The West Coast of Tasmania is the wettest part of the country. I’ve heard it rains on average 300 days of the year there, though if it’s like Hobart (it may not be) that might mean anything from drizzle through a light shower to a brief downpour, with only occasional days of steady rain. But on Christmas morning at Corinna we woke to bright sunshine pouring in the windows, the bush outside gleaming and green. After a leisurely and conversational breakfast the four of us were ready for a walk … but a pademelon was once again feeding outside the cottage and watching us so required watching in return. This photo shows its lovely face.

Then we saw she was a female and had a joey feeding nearby. It was curious and restless, grazing for a few moments, suddenly bounding away and leaping back to graze again. A third pademelon appeared—a family. When the young pademelon got tired it disappeared into its mother’s pouch. But then we saw its small head protruding from the pouch, grazing as the mother grazed. Alas, I didn’t get a picture of that!

When our friends camped at Corinna last year they walked the Whyte River trail—a loop that followed the Pieman River to where the Whyte River flowed into it, and then arced back to the retreat. They recommended it and we all set out. It’s timed at an hour, but we knew we’d take longer. We’re not really bushwalkers, but amblers with cameras and binoculars. We like to stop and look at things closely or try to find the birds calling from the treetops.

The walk took us into forest almost immediately, with the river frequently in view through a screen of trees and undergrowth. Overhead foliage was thick, but the sunlight streamed in where it could, reflecting from surfaces of leaves and reeds. 

We heard lots of birdsong, but weren’t able to spy any of the singers in the sparkling foliage. The trees towered above us, some slender, some huge. 

The trail wound among them—we saw myrtle and laurel and sassafras, others we had no names for. Moss covered fallen trunks and roots and sprawled up standing trunks. I saw what looked to me like a giant’s foot—root and trunk cased in moss and other plants. 

Spider webs stretched between trees, and were woven into crannies in bark. Green seed cases stood up like blossoms on the laurel. The day grew warmer, birdsong came and went. At the Whyte River we came to a platform for viewing platypus and/or fishing, but there were no animals and we’re not fishers. The track then started to climb and grew stony. It twisted and rose and required some effort, the sunshine grew brighter as we got higher. Then it leveled off and soon we were back at the cottages.

It was early afternoon and we’d earned our Christmas lunch and the champagne we’d brought to drink with it. But first we had a small exchange of presents—and here’s the gorgeous gift the Harrises received:
Cross stitch by Irene McGuire

Corinna includes a restaurant that offered a special Christmas lunch—and it got a very fine review in the Hobart paper a week or so ago. But we planned from the beginning to self-cater, and packed the car tight with food and wine. Irene even brought her lovely Christmas platter. We set out ham and smoked salmon and rocket salad on it, with bread and condiments on the side, a cork was popped and we settled to serious eating. 
The Christmas lunch

Lunch ended—much later in the afternoon—with stollen from the Bruny Island Cheese Factory and delicious fresh juicy cherries, a standard Christmas food here. We took more wine to the back verandah, where we talked and read till it was time for a late supper of … leftover ham and smoked salmon. More talk as the day darkened, then time to read till our eyes wanted to close … as a wonderful Christmas Day came to a relaxed and quiet close.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas at Corinna, part 1

On Christmas Eve we left Hobart before 9:AM to drive to Corinna, once a thriving gold-mining town on the Pieman River in northwest Tasmania. In its heyday the place boasted two hotels, a post office, and a population of 2500 people. Today it's a ferry crossing, and the Corinna Wilderness Experience, a wonderful certified eco-tourism retreat with both campsites and cottage accommodation.*

We took the long way to Corinna, driving roads that curved and swooped, and stopped at Lake St. Clair to walk the Watersmeet Trail and the Larmair Remener Tabelti. In September and October 2009 I walked those tracks often. The place looked surprisingly different to me now, in summer. I remember it as mostly wet and fairly dark, the mosses and foliage thick.

Myrtles on the Watersmeet Trail

We stopped at the Hungry Wombat Café in Derwent Bridge (I knew they made wonderful soups) for a late lunch, but the place was full and very busy. So we made do with muffins and bottled iced coffees, and a picnic table outside. Then back into the car and onto more twisty narrow roads. We reached the Fatman Barge crossing on the Pieman not long after 6:PM, and summoned the barge from the other side.

Waiting for the barge

It was good to get out of the car and find our neighbouring cottages. All the cottages at Corinna are modeled on the old miners’ houses. A larger building, the visitor centre, contains a small bar, a dining room, and a tiny shop with some souvenirs and a few foodstuffs.

One of "our" cottages
We settled into our respective cottages quickly, and met for drinks (it was long past wine o'clock!) in one. On our way back to the other for dinner we say a small pademelon grazing beside the cottage--apparently unfazed by our presence--so we stood on the verandah and watched it. Then another appeared from behind the cottage and we watched the two for some time before going in for dinner: a delicious onion tart we bought at Hill Street Grocery in Hobart. 

December in the southern hemisphere offers long, light-filled days and evenings. We sat over our meal, and then over conversation and more wine till twilight settled. It was hard to believe it was Christmas Eve, but not at all hard to believe that we’d stumbled into some version of Paradise. 

*(If you want to know more about the Corinna Wilderness Experience check out their detailed website at: http://www.corinna.com.au) 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dicksonia antarctica

Facing south from Tasmania, say at the mouth of the River Derwent, or from the outlook at The Neck on Bruny Island, I’m looking towards Antarctica, a place that hardly seemed real to me before coming here. This year the hundredth anniversary of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914 was widely celebrated in Hobart. Mawson and his party spent two years on the icy continent, initiating Australian involvement with the place.

Both Australian and French Antarctic research stations are supplied from Hobart, and tours to Antarctica often dock here. At the moment the Australian research icebreaker and supply ship, Aurora Australis is sailing to the rescue of a Russian research and tour boat that became locked in ice on its way there. Yesterday a  Chinese ice-breaker itself became stuck in an attempt to break through to the Russian ship.

But the Antarctic is present here in other ways too. Dicksonia antarctica is the largest of three species of tree ferns found in Australia. Antarctica here refers to the southern polar region where the fern grows. Dicksonia honours James Dickson (1738-1822), a Scottish nurseryman who ran a business in Covent Gardens. He was one of the original members of the British Linnean Society, and a frequenter of Joseph Banks’s library and collections.

Tree ferns are one of the most spectacular plants I’ve encountered in Tasmania. D. Antarctica, the only one I know for sure I’ve seen, grows up to 15 metres in height, spreads a canopy up to 6 metres wide, and looks to have a trunk. The trunk is really the stem, where older fronds have dried and fallen away. These ferns grow 3.5 to 5 cm per year and take about 20 years before they produce spores.
I first encountered tree ferns when I was here in 2009, and heard them called man ferns because of their size. They have a remarkable presence. Other common names are Australian tree fern, Tasmanian tree fern, hardy tree fern, soft tree fern, woolly tree fern. I encountered them again on Christmas Eve, when we stopped for a short walk to Nelson Falls on our drive to Corinna. (For more about Nelson Falls see http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=1568)
Tree fern on the walk to Nelson Falls
In poet Gwen Harwood’s letters she describes man ferns lining the streets of Hobart when the king and queen came to visit. In later letters she notes their decline in the forest on Mount Wellington. These spectacular giant ferns have long been in demand for landscape gardens in Europe and North America. They are keystone species in wet forests, and have been sold by lumber companies clear-cutting in rainforest and old growth tracts. 
Tree ferns growing in the rainforest along the Pieman River

Tree ferns flanking cottages at Corinna Wilderness Resort

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Seasonally disoriented …

December 21, the solstice, is always an important day for me, sign of the year about to turn—although winter is still only settling in— and make its way slowly away from the short, dark days. The trek towards summer has begun. But this year, and in Tasmania, I find myself already in summer, celebrating the longest and brightest day of the year on December 21. It seems impossible that we are only four days away from Christmas. The gardens and forests are full of blooms, and everywhere I see green growth.

Hobart is cooler than most of Australia. The temperature on the solstice came close to 20 degrees, perfect weather for an outing. We drove to Bruny Island and spent the day exploring its rumpled terrain. We drove through a mix of forest and pastoral lands, past small villages, alongside stretches of beach, up and down mountainy slopes. We chose mostly gravel roads that followed the contours of the land—curving, rolling, rising, sinking—so our passage also reflected those contours. And we stopped often.

One of our first stops was at the Bruny Island Cheesery, where we ordered cheese platters for a picnic lunch. I discovered they also had stollen for sale, so I bought one for our Christmas meal. The factory is set into the woods with a lovely garden in front of it. When I visited it in 2009, I heard and watched two young laughing kookaburras practicing their calls just outside the door to the sales room and café.

Enough said.
I love the way the bark peels away on many eucalyptus.
Bruny Island is almost two separate islands, joined buy a very narrow isthmus known as The Neck. At the Neck there's a penguin rookery. Short-tailed shearwaters also nest there. Both species spend their days at sea, feeding, so one might see penguin footprints in the sand, but no bird. Though the chicks will be deep in the nesting burrows, and silent. 

Although the Neck is narrow, it includes the Big Hummock, a very high stretch of grassed sand with a wooden staircase that leads to a fabulous view of the island and its sea setting. A pair of ravens in conversation with each other perched near the top as we climbed those stairs. A memorial to Truganinni, one of the last Aboriginal women, is by the viewing platform.

The Neck, Bruny Island
View across Adventure Bay
Raven conversation
We ate our lunch at a picnic table beside Adventure Bay, the bay where Captain Cook landed. The cheeses were wonderful, the baguette glorious, and the tiny olives and spiced cherries perfect accompaniments. While we ate we were visited by a superb blue fairy-wren—my favourite Tasmanian bird. (Unless that's the grey fantail...)  Their blue colour is electrically iridescent, and they are not skittish around humans.  

The superb blue fairy-wren
Welcome swallows darted back and forth, and then I spotted several small mottled birds I didn’t recognize feeding in the lawn. Later I was able to identify them as yellow-rumped thornbills—a new species for me.

Yellow-rumped thornbill
We prowled the sunny beach for awhile looking at plants and listening to the sea wash in.
Unknown beach plant

From Adventure Bay we drove through the Mavista Reserve to Cape Bruny and its lighthouse. The old light is no longer in use, but a modern, electronically-managed one is set into the large hill not far from it. Here the sea spread out in a blue distance to become all there was. We were looking south, towards Antarctica. 
Cape Bruny Lighthouse.
Sea from the lighthouse.
On our way down from the lighthouse we were watched by a New Holland Honeyeater-- another new bird for me!

New Holland Honeyeater.
The afternoon was waning and we headed towards the ferry, stopping for wonderful milkshakes on the way. The day had felt timeless, never-ending, and the feeling continued as we rode the ferry to Kettering and took the highway to town. Back in Hobart we added left-over cheeses to our supper and lingered at the dining room table watching the evening come slowly. The sun set a few minutes before 9:PM

The sea's blue distance

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Poets Road, West Hobart. I look down and across the city. Bright-roofed houses on tree-lined streets fall towards the Derwent River, or rise towards Mount Nelson. The Derwent is very wide here, and Hobart welcomes large cruise ships from time to time, ships that dwarf most of the buildings in the city. The sky is high and wide, and the light that falls on the city changes throughout the day. When I was here in 2009 I spent a lot of time staring at this view. Seeing it again makes me happy.   

We have supper, chattering with our friends, and watch the view changing as the light shifts towards evening. A small cloud blows in with a wave of rain and then is gone, leaving a rainbow—then a double rainbow! I feel welcomed back.
A double rainbow welcome

The Derwent River under cloud

 After eating we go for a brief walk. I can’t tell what time it is. The days at home now are dark before 5:00. Here it’s nearly 7:PM and the light is still clear and bright. In the garden shrubs are blooming and buds forming. Poets Road rises steeply from the east towards Knocklofty Ridge, an outcrop of Mount Wellington. We follow the street west to its end at the entrance to Knocklofty Reserve. The park gives access to the network of trails that vein the mountain. I remember trying to find out where the name “Knocklofty” came from, with no success. I’m struck by how green and flowering the forest is. A eucalypt shedding bark looks like it has opened its arms to us. It’s very good to be back here!
Buds on New Zealand Christmas bush
Entrance to Knocklofty Reserve

Blooming forest