A Wild Goose Chase - 1st April, 2008
(and we blame it all on Rachel)

Cattle farms produce cattle.
Sheep farms produce sheep.
Chicken farms produce chickens.
So what does the Wind farm on Woolnorth produce - you guessed it - wind.

Actually the beginnings of this trip started back on March 21st. Rachel had been hoping to go sea kayaking again in the summer, but Elli and I were having a white Christmas in New Hampshire. So I offered an Easter trip out to Hunter and Three Hummock Islands for 6 days. Rachel talked her cousin Daniel to come along as well, much against his will I suspect as he has just got a new motor bike to bomb around the paddocks in.

The first day of this trip there was a very light southerly so I opted to go out to Walker Island first, hoping to get across to Three Hummock the next day (Daniel and Rachel hadn't been in a kayak for over 12 months see http://www.laurieford.net/mi7.htm). We camped at the end of the air-strip at Mosquito Inlet. The next morning the wind had gone round to a fairly fresh easterly and I said I didn't think we'd get across to Three Hummock, but would paddle up to the northern end of Walker Island and have a look at the conditions. Battling the wind and tide out through the eastern entrance of the Inlet a rudder wire broke on Rachel's borrowed kayak (mine actually) so we went ashore to try and repair it. There was no way I could get another wire through the plastic tube, must have been sand and/or salt in there. So after a lot of time trying, I drilled a hole through the deck at the side and rear of the cockpit and brought a new wire from the footrest out through the deck and back to the rudder. It was now far too late for the tide to allow us to go across to Three Hummock even if it hadn't been so windy, so we retreated back into the Inlet and set up camp near the old house/shack there. We used the shack to sit out of the wind and cooked in there as well, before sleeping in the tents.

The start near Denium Hill, Robbins Island Rd.

This Black Swan couldn't fly, so I always thought they were immature. Now I have been informed that my picture of an
immature swan is actually an adult - they can't fly when they're in a full moult.

Arriving at Walker Island - Mosquito Inlet.

Mosquito Inlet at low tide - a long way to carry heavy sea kayaks, so try and arrive near high water.

Sea Eagle - one of 2 at Walker Island.

Where we did the rudder wire repair - Mosquito Inlet.

Inside the shack on Walker Island.

The wind was exactly the same next day so I decided we may as well head for home. This would have turned a 6 day trip into a 3 day trip and Rachel asked if we could camp on Kangaroo Island (officially West Kangaroo Island - but on most maps just called Kangaroo Island). Now I have to say that Kangaroo Island is not the sort of place you say "Hey, let's all paddle out to Kangaroo Island and camp for a few days", and get any response from other paddlers. I have camped on it a few times before, but mainly in extreme conditions when it was too hard to go any further. This is not to be confused with that other Kangaroo Island off South Australia. West Kangaroo Island is located off the NW coast of Tasmania in Boullanger Bay, between Woolnorth Point and Robbins Island, along with Clump Island, Short Island, and the Wallaby Islands. There is an East Kangaroo Island at the other end of Bass Strait near Flinders Island.

We could have easily got back to the cars, but went to Kangaroo Island instead - arriving right on high tide on the eastern side, dragging the kayaks above the high water mark across the minature multi coloured succulent samphire plant. On the way along the shoreline of Robbins Island we had seen large dense flocks of some very small bird - wheeling and diving as one - amazing to watch. Shortly after, we passed a rocky island where they were all on the ground and although they flew away again, we still could see they were fairly small birds. I personally would have said they were something like the Rednecked stint, or the Sanderling - but without binoculars they just couldn't be identified properly.

We think they are some sort of Sandpiper.

It was quite windy and cold and we were all wet when we got ashore on Kangaroo Island, so into dry clothes and then found sheltered campsites deep in the scrub - very sheltered. And there pretty well everyone remained for the rest of the afternoon. Except me. I decided to check out the airstrip on top of the island - there had been talk 20 years ago of the Smithton Aero Club building BBQ facilities out there and make it a regular weekend landing place. So I forced my way through the dense scrub behind the campsite and eventually was standing on the old airstrip - covered in bracken fern about half a metre high. Then I decided the scrub was too thick to go back through so walked to the northern end of the strip and thence onto an old 4WD track, then cattle pads - to the old waterhole, and the old stockyards, on the western side of the island. In the old days the property Woolnorth used to walk cattle out here at low tide and leave them to fend for themselves for a few months. There was no fresh dung anywhere, and the waterhole was very green and slimy looking, only a few posts remain of the cattle yard, so I figured there hadn't been cattle here for some time.

Ashore on Kangaroo Island.

Camped on Kangaroo Island.

Then I went north around the shoreline of the island, the tide being well out, and the island surrounded by hard wet sand - as far as the eye could see. The whole north end of the island is very flat and covered in samphire, with rows of dead trees a couple of hundred metres back from the shore-line. As I was walking along I was mainly looking out to sea, and took a while to realise that small green parrots were flying up 60 metres in front of me - 10 or 12 at a time. Then a flock of about 40 flew back behind me, and still another couple of small flocks flew up in front of me. I didn't have any sort of binoculars so couldn't look at them very closely - but they were about as small as a budgerigar.

Low tide north of Kangaroo Island.

I am not a bird watcher, but enjoy seeing them when camped in remote places, and I wondered about these. Were they Orange Bellied Parrots (OBP)? This island is on their migration path back to the mainland, and this is about the time of year they probably go. Back at camp Elli thought it extremely unlikely that I'd seen OBPs - they were scarce and endangered - seeing a flock of 40 was asking a bit much.

That night round the campfire Rachel and Daniel and Elli cooked damper (much better than their dismal efforts on Maria Island last year - though I did hear some comments about Daniel's still being very very soggy in the middle).

Quite respectacle dampers - even had butter and raspberry jam to go on them.

The next day the wind was still strongish easterly and a bit of a battle to get across to Robbins Island, Wallaby Islands, and back to the cars. Passing inshore of the Wallaby Islands Elli saw another flock of the birds we'd seen yesterday - sandpipers of some sort.

So when Elli and I got home to Dodges Ferry we delved into our two bird books, and also went on line looking for information about OBP. The obviously similar bird is the Blue-Winged Parrot, but Dave Watts book on Tasmanian Birds says its habitat is grassy woodland, heathland and grassy paddocks. West Kangaroo Island is muddy and salty, and covered in samphire round the shoreline - not what I'd call grassy woodlands or grassy paddocks. Birds In Backyards website says this about the Blue-Winged:

Similar species
The Blue-winged Parrot is very similar to the Elegant Parrot, and to a lesser extent to the Rock and Orange-bellied Parrots.

Where does it live?

The main populations of Blue-winged Parrots are in Tasmania and Victoria, particularly in southern Victoria and the midlands and eastern areas of Tasmania. Sparser populations are found in western New South Wales and eastern South Australia, extending to south-west Queensland and occasionally into the Northern Territory

The Blue-winged Parrot inhabits a range of habitats from coastal, sub-coastal and inland areas, right through to semi-arid zones. Throughout their range they favour grasslands and grassy woodlands. They are often found near wetlands both near the coast and in semi-arid zones. Blue-winged Parrots can also be seen in altered environments such as airfields, golf-courses and paddocks.

Seasonal movements
There is a definite passage of Blue-winged Parrots to and from Tasmania after breeding each year, leaving in March to April and returning in August to October. Some birds, however, over-winter in Tasmania or on the Bass Strait islands.
(it also states they are endangered in Tasmania - but abundant)???????

So now Elli was thinking "Well, they could have been OBPs", while I was starting to think they weren't - particularly after a few emails to various birding bodies, and one phone call. There was only one thing to do - go back out there for at least a day. But first we needed some binoculars. Our requirements inluded being able to use them from a kayak while on the water - so they had to be waterproof (and non-fogging) and smallish (to stuff inside our PFDs) - whereas for serious bird watching you want great magnification and a tripod. So we ordered two pairs of Bushnells 10X42 (waterproof and nitrogen filled). They arrived the next day. Amongst my possessions I have an old 35mm camera with a 600mm mirror lens (and tripod) so we decided to take this along as well - not something that I would normally take anywhere near salt water and a kayak.

(Also on the web we found a breeding report for the OBP which recommended getting the cattle off West Kangaroo Island, which may explain the lack of signs of cattle out there - or maybe the new owners of Woolnorth just aren't interested in using the island anyway.)

So about a week after we got back from Kangaroo Island with Daniel and Rachel, Elli and I were on our way back out there. We camped at Robbins Passage ready for the early morning high tide (8.15) and paddled out in near perfect conditions - despite the forecast of 25 knot NW winds. Landed in the same spot, put the tent up in the same spot - then went off round the north end of the island where I'd seen my parrots. Lugging the big heavy camera and tripod wasn't funny and this is going to be my one and only go at serious bird watching - it's too hard. We'd also brought gumboots with us (Elli had to buy a pair) otherwise we would have had wet feet all day. All day it was overcast and looking like rain, but never quite did - till a bit of a shower at 8pm.

Paddling across to Kangaroo Island. (forecast 25knot winds)

Immature Sea Eagle not far from campsite - eastern side of island.

Had been feeding on this.

Equipped for bird-watching.

Equipped for bird-watching.

Wildlife in the pools at low tide.

Looking towards Three Hummock Island at low tide - no water in sight.

The north end of the island where we saw most of the birds - out on the sand banks, or on land.

Birds!!! Did we see birds????  Birds are there in their hundreds (but all very common).
Black Swans - too many to count.
Sooty Oyster Catchers - almost too many to count - several flocks of 40 or more. There was just a sprinkling of Pied Oyster Catchers in the flocks, 5 or 6 in a flock of 40.
Pelicans - 20.
Forest Raven - 7.
Pacific Gull - 50? Too far away to identify properly from Kelp Gull.
Silver gull - many.
White Faced Herons - big flock flew off just as we arrived at the island - 30 or 40.
Welcome Swallows skimming over the long tussocky grass - half a dozen close to our campsite, a dozen or so round the southern end of the island.
Sea Eagles - 2. One flying overheard as we approached the island, and one on the ground standing over some remains (a pelican we think).
White-fronted Chat - A dozen or so feeding amongst the samphire quite close to us at one stage. They also could have been some of the unidentified flying flocks we saw in that area that afternoon. Some fluffy greyer juveniles amongst the ones on the ground.
Blue-winged Parrots - plenty of them. Flock of 40 in the air at one time, with another couple of smaller flocks of 10 or so flying in slightly different area. Quite often perching in dead trees (almost looking like fruit on the trees) when not on the ground amongst the samphire. These were on the north end of the island. Then we went straight back to the camp and noticed similar sized flock just south of the campsite. Fairly sure this was a different flock to the northern flock.(so at least 120 on the island).
Orange Bellied Parrots - nary a one. We searched amongst the flocks of Blue-winged in the middle of the day, then went back there again late in the afternoon when they seemed to spend more time on the ground feeding. The whole flocks all seemed the dull olive green - not a sight of a brighter green parrot amongst them - it was a bust.
Saw what looked like 3 bigger parrots in the trees - perched in the same spot for a long time. Looked much bigger than the Blue-winged, and I got the impression of a mottled greeny yellow  back.
We also heard a lot of twittering birds around the campsite, particularly just on dusk, but never saw them at all in the dense scrub.

It had been a pretty still day all day, we walked right around the island at the high water mark in the middle of the day, and went back to the northern end late in the afternoon. I half thought we may stay another day. But the next morning the 6.35am forecast was for Hurricane force winds in SW Tasmania, with Storm warnings where we were in the NW. Elli thought we'd be staying in the tent for the rest of the day, but the actual report from Cape Grim (a stones throw away) was 20 knot northerly - so I said "we're getting out of here".

Beating a hasty retreat before conditions worsened - need I say it was early morning.

Forty minutes to pack up and we were away, nearly two hours before high tide due at 9.00am. We sailed all the way across to Wallaby Islands - one of the best sails we've had for a long time. Then I suddenly remembered the GPS, and couldn't remember packing it. I normally never take it kayaking, so wasn't looking for it when packing up. We were just about to slip inshore of the Wallaby Islands so I told Elli to keep going, while I turned around and slogged my way back out to Kangaroo Island - the wind increasing all the time. In fact the toggle on my chin strap wasn't strong enough, and the hat kept blowing off the top of my head. In the end I gave up putting it back, and let it hang behind my neck. It was easier to land as soon as I could get close to shore (rather than keep paddling into the wind), and I walked a couple of hundred metres to where we'd packed the kayaks, and sure enough there was the GPS in the long tussocky grass. (Since getting home we have fitted it with a bright red lanyard).

The weather map for the day.

But what a blast after that. The tide was now high enough to cover all the shallow sand banks and I steered straight for Denium Hill/Robbins Passage where the car was. Never paddled at all - just blasted along downwind under the smaller of my two sails, the downwind paddle blade skating over the surface of the water for occasional support. It was only after I'd passed Wallaby Islands and was halfway across Robbins Passage that I needed to paddle slightly, to warm up as well as to speed things up.

Driving home to southern Tasmania the wind was extreme, huge dust clouds sweeping across the midlands landscape, and also down past Campania. We are failures at Bird Watching so will stick to sea kayaking in future.

These are the better of some of the photos taken with the 35mm camera and 600mm mirror lens (I won't be carting them around again)

Two of the White-fronted Chats.

At least 4 of the Blue-winged Parrot

White-faced Herons

Laurie Ford.

Note: There was a slightly funny sequel to all this the next morning after we got home. That was the night that 40,000 homes were left without power in Southern Tasmania - the storm was wild. When we rose in the morning (before sunrise) there was not a light to be seen anywhere - no street lights - no nothing. I childishly went round and turned on all our outside lights, and put a light on in every room. Being independant of the power grid (solar and wind) we have been waiting for this moment.

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