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Time for the Tarkine

The Tarkine region of northwest Tasmania contains the largest expanse of temperate rainforest in the southern hemisphere.

Here, hidden deep in river valleys and wild uplands, huge myrtle trees are festooned with epiphytes and mosses, and in their cool shade thrive an understory of tree ferns. These forests are ancient - they once covered much of Australia, and date as far back as the time of the dinosaurs and the primordial supercontinent of Gondwana.

Our recording begins at daybreak, with birdsong drifting between the trees. Moving deeper into the forest, we pause by a rippling stream, and encounter Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos calling as they fly overhead.

But there is much more to the Tarkine region than the rainforests - vast areas of it are actually open heathlands and buttongrass plains. We hear the vibrant song of Crescent Honeyeaters and Flame Robins drifting over these open landscapes.

Finally we come down the wild coast, where the roaring 40s gust in off the open ocean. At a location known as The Edge of the World, we face west with giant breakers rolling ashore. At this latitude, there is no other landfall westwards until South America's Patagonia - that other fragment of ancient Gondwana.

"We made this recording in response to the threats from mining and other exploitation that continue to hang over this extraordinary region."

"Journeying throughout the Tarkine, we experienced first hand what so many environmentalists have been saying - it really is the most remarkable place, an outstanding part of Australia's natural heritage, and in desperate need of protection and recognition.

"To promote awareness of what is at stake, we made this recording available as a free download. In the first week, over 1700 listeners accessed the album. This showed us how many people wanted to hear the Tarkine's wildlife and landscape."

"Since then, this recording has contributed to the soundtrack of an environmental documentary film, and as a sound installation in the 'Tarkine in Motion' art exhibition."

0:00 - Tarkine Dawn; First Light

The Tarkine is an iconic temperate rainforest, with moss and epyphite draped Myrtles and huge old tree ferns. It is the second-largest, contiguous temperate rainforest in the world (the largest being America's Pacific northwest).

These Tarkine forests are relics of an ancient world. The ancestors of these Myrtles and Beeches are found in the fossil record dating back some 150 million years - the time of dinosaurs, and the supercontinent Gondwana of which Australia was a part. It feels ancient, and when you're there, with a little imagination, you could easily picture yourself encountering a dinosaur padding watchfully through the gloom of the forest.

So this is where we begin our listening journey through the Tarkine, with the first glow of dawn in the sky. Under the dense canopy it is dark, and as we stand listening, we can just glimpse an occasional star here and there through gaps in the foliage overhead. From far off, the sound of a stream is softened and diffused by the forest.

The delicate tinkling song of Pink Robins begins the dawn chorus each morning. On this occasion, several can be heard calling from their respective territories. Pink Robins are a moist forest species, and commonly encountered in the Tarkine. They are relatively silent throughout the year, but this is spring, and they are in fine voice.

Another early riser is the Grey Fantail, also heard here (high-pitched silvery call) but not quite as prominently. A Boobook Owl gives a last call or two (1:11) before settling to roost, while Kookaburras awake to join the early chorus (2:01).

The calls of Black Currawongs are exhilarating; loud, musical, and full of character. They ring through the forest for great distances. Suddenly one takes off, calling, from nearby, and is responded to by others in the distance (2:18 & 3.47; in flight, 2:58; alighted).

A Superb (Blue) Fairy Wren has been trilling nearby, and comes closer (5:24). The soft twitters of Tasmanian Thornbills can also be heard throughout (right channel).

6:51 - Tarkine Dawn; The Dawn Chorus

The dawn chorus, when birds sing to advertise their territories, is really building now. A flock of Silvereyes has joined in with delicate twittering melodies (from 6:50 on).

The Golden Whistler is another species characteristic of these forests. It has a clear and penetrating song, with a recognisable 'whipcrack' at the end of each phrase. It calls from the canopy, and you can hear it moving around the forest from one song perch to another (from around 7:52… getting closer around 8:43).

A distant group of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos call as they fly high over the canopy on their way from their roost to a feeding area (12:10-13:16). The strong voice of a Grey Shrike-thrush has been heard in the background, but comes closer (16:08…), and a trailing Black Cockatoo can be heard following after its family group (16:41-17:24).

18:21 - Birdsong of the Great Southern Rainforest

The dawn chorus is subsiding now, and the light growing. Time to go exploring.

As we walk quietly through this ancient forest, you'll notice how, as some species have ceased calling, others have begun.

An Eastern Spinebill has a very high-pitched chipping call, heard in a short song-flight as it darts around the forest mid-story (18:21, 19:11 & again at 20:08). A Black Cockatoo perched overhead, gives a lovely contented call, a sort of 'whinney' (20:37… 20:45-21:18).

The Grey Thrush comes closer again (21:23…) singing strongly with a variety of phrases. This seems to arc up the Golden Whistler, who joins in, almost seeming to sing antiphonally with him; notice they both start their phrases on the same pitch. Co-incidence? or are they actually responding to each other? A female Thrush alights on a branch near the male, who launches into some very animated vocalising (24:18...), bobbing up and down as he sings.

An upslurred series of whistles from a Shining Bronze Cuckoo can be heard in the distance (24:45). A Green Rosella flies in, calling (24:53…), and settles in the crown of a tall tree, still piping loudly, with a few chimes (25:13…) added in. Pink Robins (26:03), Grey Fantails (26:06), Thornbills and Wrens are occasionally heard in the background, whilst the Silvereyes have largely fallen silent.

26:44 - Streamside in the Depths of the Forest

We've now walked down to where the stream is flowing gently in the depths of the forest. Trees hang overhead and huge treeferns line the streambanks.

This dense habitat is favoured by Pink Robins, and several call repetitively but pleasantly nearby. A Spinebill can be heard feeding and calling every now and then (28:30, 29:15, 29:31…), plus a Grey Fantail (27:05) and there is some more chiming from our Green Rosella (28:24).

This thicker forest is the haunt of another of the Whistler family; the Olive Whistler. Its song is somewhat similar to the Golden; a series of notes leading to a 'whipcrack', however it is less silvery in tone, and lower in pitch. We first notice it giving an ethereal sequence of measured whistles (27:11….), which are quite ventriloqual, making it difficult to tell where they are coming from. They get steadily louder until the bird transitions to its full call (30:24). Olive Whistlers are much more drab in plumage than the Goldens, and also seem more vocally relaxed than their showy cousins.

Unexpectedly, a deep baritone of a Forest Raven comes from a perch high in the canopy (30:28, 30:56). This is the only member of the corvid family (Crows and Ravens) found in Tasmania, so the usual confusion about which species of corvid is not an issue here.

A Grey Fantail flits by, landing on a branch overhead. They can be very tame and trusting, and this one comes close. It gives a series of sharp 'sneezes' (34:48…), which lead to an outpouring of song; stutters preceding a clear upward series of notes (35:09...).

A group of Silvereyes appear (35:41…) and from upstream come more cries of a group of Back Cockatoos (35:30).

37:10 - Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos on the Wing

Now that family of Cockatoos fly down the valley, winging overhead singly or in groups of two or three, alighting overhead briefly, and calling all the while. It is an experience to put a smile on your face, these magnificent birds giving their wild, exultant cries as though they are calling out the spirit of the old forest. More than any other sound, this sums up the Tarkine for me.

A Pink Robin is still nearby, and a pair of Black Currawongs call again (40:42). A last Cockatoo flies over (42:20...) - "wait for me!".

43:38 - Forest Giants in the Southwest Wind

It is now later in the morning, and we move on from our streamside stop. The wind has picked up, a steady southwesterly so prevalent in this part of the world. As it stirs the treetops, an old Myrtle tree is drawn back and forth, its trunk grinding against a neighbour.

A small flock of Tasmanian Thornbills move among the lower canopy, giving brittle contact calls and snatches of song. A Grey Fantail, Black Currawong and Golden Whistler call in the background.

50:23 - Chorus of Green Swamp Frogs

Now we come to a low-lying area of the forest, where the ground is always damp. The soil is not suitable for tree growth, so it is quite open, with a tangle of reeds and rushes. Several of the trees bordering have fallen due to the sodden soils, creating a tangled mass, through which can be glimpsed areas of stagnant water.

From the whole area comes a chorus of frogsong. These are Green Swamp Frogs, Litoria raniformis, sometimes called Warty Swamp Frogs (they're actually quite beautiful). They are quite large frogs, and have this lovely deep growl. In among them, can be heard the sharper and higher creaking calls of Crinia tasmaniensis (around 52:20-53:54)

54:55 - Sunrise over the Buttongrass Plains

Now we move location altogether, from the temperate rainforests that are iconic of the Tarkine, to the Buttongrass plains. For many visitors, it is a surprise to find so much of the Tarkine, mostly the more coastward side, is this open, drier country.

But it is no less significant or precious. Among the low heaths and grasses are many species of plants and animals found nowhere else. And significantly, this open country is the last refuge of a disease-free population of Tasmanian Devils.

And here, we are encountering a whole new community of bird species.

It is a new day, and (as usual!) we are up early to hear the dawn. A last few Swamp Frogs are still calling as the birdsong begins.

The first species we hear is one characteristic of this habitat; the Crescent Honeyeater. Their sharp explosive calls can be described as sounding like "Egypt!" or "Choc Chip!", but of course they're far more complex and varied than that. I love the scratchy texture of their voices. One begins a spirited solo from a bush close by (56:20).

There are also Superb Fairy Wrens out here (56:08…), and one of Tasmania's three endemic Honeyeaters, the Yellow-throated (distant 'chop, chop', eg: 56:25…59:03…), and a Grey shrike-thrush (57:11… ).

This is also robin country, and here it is the Flame Robin we find, with its musical song phrases (59:25… ). Not only the Flame, but another Tasmanian endemic, the Dusky Robin, with its far-carrying call (63:12, 63:20, 63:25…), given from a commanding perch overlooking the surrounding country.

In the distance are Black Cockatoos, Currawongs and Fan-tailed Cuckoos. There is also some quiet song from a Thornbill (64:29, 64:47…), but I think it is a Brown this time, as it has the Brown's characteristic ending trill (eg: 65:04, 65:27), and Tasmanian Thornbills are a more heavy forest species.

65:29 - Coastal Heathlands in the Roaring 40s

Now we move on, just inland from the coast. The country is still open heathland with stands of stringybark. At this latitude, the winds can really howl. On a morning like this the wind sounds quite evocative as it whooshes through the vegetation.

And birds still sing, probably hunkered down deep in a protective shrub. You can hear Crescent Honeyeaters, Superb Wrens, and way off, those plaintive whistles of an Olive Whistler.

70:17 - Surf Crashes at The Edge of the World

Finally we come down to the ocean itself. It is a wild place, with wind often roaring in off the open waters, whipping the tops of the breakers into salt spray.

Locals here call this west coast of the Tarkine 'The Edge of the World'. As you stand at the surf's edge, looking west, there is no land at this latitude until the other side of the world, and Patagonia - that other fragment of old Gondwana.

By 2012, those who care about the Tarkine felt that the battle to protect it was being won. After several decades of raising awareness, gathering scientific data, and open discussions with locals and interested parties, agreement was emerging. The Tarkine had finally been acknowledged as having World Heritage values, and the government had a conservation listing on it. Local communities were building ecotourism businesses for a steadily growing number of visitors.

However in the meantime, the government had allowed its own conservation status to lapse, and has since failed to support a World Heritage nomination.

There are currently 10 proposals for mining developments within the Tarkine. These aren't small proposals, but Pilbara-style open cut mines. You can imagine what this will do to the place. If they are allowed to go ahead, the Tarkine that we experienced when we visited will be gone.

So we'd like you to get a sense of what is at stake. Hence this sound recording.

This recording has always been made available for free. Download it for the finest audio quality, the convenience of offline listening, and adding to your music library.

Also links to photo gallery for this album

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