I’m sitting in a shack at the end of the earth, sipping a steaming cup of tea and viewing one of the rarest birds in the world.
I never thought it would come to this, achieving a life-long ambition to see the orange-bellied parrot in relative comfort.
For years the only place to observe the parrot with certainty has been the button-grass plains of Melaleuca at the far south-western tip of Tasmania and here I am now.
In the past I had resisted the temptation to board a Par-Avion tourist flight which advertises the parrot as a highlight. The small, elegant parrot can be viewed not more than a 100 metres from the white quartzite runway at Melaleuca where the flight lands but I considered this twitcher-style birding, in which a bird merely becomes a tick in a checklist of birds spotted without any real effort to find it, and time to study plumage and behaviour.
So I searched for the parrot not at its last confirmed breeding ground but in the areas where it spends the winter on the mainland, in the saltmarsh along the western coast of Victoria.
Over several winters I drew a blank, although I did come close one afternoon when a birder told me he had seen an orange-bellied parrot at the very spot I was standing at, in the Werribee wildlife refuge, not 30 minutes previously. As if to heighten my pain, plunge a knife into the wound of disappointment, the birder sported a smile as he showed me a picture he had taken. It showed a striking male in crisp light-green plumage clearly showing the smudge of orange on the belly which gives the species its name.
Forever the optimist, I firmly believed I would find the parrot on the mainland one day. Parrot experts, though, had warned me in recent years I better be quick, numbers were in freefall and their worst fears were realised in the spring when only 15 birds – three females and 12 males – returned to Melaleuca. It was time to become a twitcher for the day and book that flight.
As luck would have it, I was invited on behalf of tasweekend magazine in December to join a party of travel journalists on a promotional trip for the Odalisque luxury tourist vessel, first port of call being the orange-bellied hides at Melaleuca.
Each trip around the wider Bathurst Harbour has expert guides, who know the Aboriginal and pioneer history of the area, along with its wildlife. And our guide for this trip, Peter Marmion, enthusiastically led me to the parrot feeding stations – we saw five parrots at these – and another location, a privately-owned shack which is made available to ornithologists monitoring the parrots. Along with spotting three parrots at a bird table in the garden there, as I drank my tea I also spotted a female entering a nesting box.
I hope that young from this box will find their way to the mainland this winter and, still the optimist, I’m already planning to take off the twitcher’s cap, to do the hard yards at Werribee in July to find out.