"Ash Island - bird heaven" Top 5 Page for this destination Australia Favorite Tip by iandsmith
Australia General: 527 reviews and 649 photos
Favorite thing: Until I learn otherwise I'll claim this as Australia's greatest bird watching spot.
The islands in the estuary, including Ash Island, were explored and surveyed by Europeans in 1801. Ash trees were abundant, with mangrove and swamp oak and species of eucalypt also recorded. Within about 20 years, most of the valuable timber, such as red cedar and ash (that gave the island its name), was removed from the island.
In 1827, Ash Island was granted to Alexander Walker Scott. The grant included 2560 acres of prime land that retained much of its forest, despite losing its profitable trees, and would be a paradise to naturalists. He settled there in 1831 with his mother and sister, although shared his time between the island and other properties in the Hunter and Sydney. He made Ash Island his primary residence after his marriage to Harriet Calcott in 1846, moving there with her, his step-daughter Mary Ann (his other step-daughter Frances had married) and two daughters Helena and Harriet.
Under Scott, Ash Island was a social and learned community. Despite its relative isolation, visitors included travellers, artists like Conrad Martens, scientists and collectors such as John and Elizabeth Gould, and the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who stated in 1842 that the island ‘... is a remarkably fine place, not only to enjoy the beauty of nature, a broad shining river, a luxuriant vegetation, a tasteful comfortable cottage with a plantation of orange trees but to collect a great number of plants which I had never seen before … It’s a romantic place, which I like well enough to think that – perhaps – I’d be content to live and die there ...’.
For many years a wooden bridge linked Ash Island to the mainland at Hexham (replaced today with a short concrete bridge), but most traffic came and went by boat, docking at a long jetty built on the point of the island facing upriver. This jetty, with the Scott house in the background, appears on the cover page of Scott’s two-volume work Australian Lepidoptera and Their Transformations.
In 1866, AW Scott went bankrupt and sold his Ash Island property. After the family left, the island changed significantly. It was subdivided, cleared and drained in the late 1860s for agriculture and dairy farms. Over 50 families and a school were part of this agricultural community until 1955 when the island was devastated by a massive flood. It fell under State control and was leased for grazing and prepared as potential industrial land.
Industrial activities already existed in the Hunter estuary, with the south-east areas being used for these purposes since the late 1800s. However, from the 1960s large-scale industrial development took over the majority of the region and most of the islands were amalgamated as part of the Industrial Islands Scheme to form Kooragang Island (named in 1968). The name 'Ash Island' now refers to the land at the western end of this larger island.
Concerns about pollution and environmental degradation led to the Coffey Inquiry in the 1970s. This inquiry highlighted the importance of retaining a natural habitat in the Hunter estuary, particularly for the native wildlife that relied on the area. In 1983 the Kooragang Nature Reserve was formed, encompassing the north-east parts of Kooragang Island. In 1992 a feasibility study led to the inception of the Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project, launched in 1993.
This project’s role was to restore and rehabilitate Ash Island and create new habitat for the diverse wildlife of the estuary.
Fondest memory: This island is now undergoing rehabilitation and, as such, is attracting birds, lots of birds. While I was on my last trip there I was handed a sheet that indicated 184 different types of birds have been confirmed on the island.
How pleasing was it then that, after the bird being spotted by my friend Jenny, I was able to get a picture of a scarlet honeyeater - and thus take the count to 185! To say we were excited would be an understatement. We were doing high fives behind the confirmer's back when we found out. To think that we were the first people ever to record an official sighting was a big head swell for us both.
I compounded that only three days later when I spotted a pheasant coucal and a variegated wren, both photographed and recorded at the centre. Numbers 186 and 187 - I'm on a roll!
Still, there are a lot of other birds to see that will keep you occupied for as long as you want.
Here is a sample of some of what you can expect over there
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