The road I have dubbed “forty-spot alley’’ winds its way across north Bruny Island to the hamlet of Dennes Point. Although when I drive the dusty dirt road my focus is on one of the rarest birds in the world, the forty-spotted pardalote, I am always struck by the stunning beauty of the route.
I happened on it by chance one year, going to spend a day with a scientist doing ground-breaking work on the endangered species, and I found myself driving it again this month at the tail end of the Bruny Island Bird Festival.
My mission was to attend an “in conversation” session with cartoonist and author Michael Leunig but I became side-tracked, as always, by the sheer splendour of lush hills, ocean and beach laid out before me and, of course, the proliferation of birds.
As far as I can see the road that leads from the main north-south highway across the twin Bruny islands, a short distance from the ferry terminal, is only known to birdwatchers from interstate and overseas who come to Tasmania in search of the pardalote and the equally rare swift parrot. These and the sparse population of locals, who are mainly shack owners.
But the busy atmosphere at the Jetty Café and Art Gallery on the main, and only, drag of Dennes Point indicates the secret of this overlooked and largely hidden tourist route is already out.
I was fortunate to have a fine sunny day after recent rain for my latest bird-inspired outing before Leunig’s interrogation by poet Pete Hay, in which he explained why birds are such an important influence on his work.
He said they were symbolic of life and placing a bird in a cartoon, as he often did, added another dimension to the work.
Beyond the human world, birds are certainly symbolic of Bruny and the 10-kilometre road to Dennes Point.
Just 100 metres along the dirt road I saw my first dusky woodswallows of the spring, soon to be followed by a swamp harrier, hunting low over a paddock. A butcherbird emerged a little later and then the excited call of swift parrots drifted across the treetops. A glimpse of a forty-spotted pardalote followed as it flitted through open, white gum woodland before the road started to climb over a low range of hills, twisting in tight hair-pin bends as it went.
Within minutes a dramatic vista over ocean opened out – the Iron Pot lighthouse at the entry to the Derwent estuary far down below and, in the distance over a sparkling ocean, the blue hills of the Tasman Peninsula.
A singing golden whistler could be heard as I descended into Dennes Point and, although running a little late for the Leunig event, I couldn’t resist driving down to the jetty with its view across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to the forests of Tinderbox beyond.
Black oystercatchers probed rock pools south of the jetty and then the birding highlight of the day. A white-bellied sea eagle flew right in front of me, struggling to hold an oversized fish in its talons.