Birdwatching is much more than ticking off a list

Brdwatching at Eagleby
Brdwatching at Eagleby

Adding to a “life-list” (a list of all birds you have seen in the wild) can be fun, and can take you to many beautiful and exciting places and offer many hours in the clean air of seaside, desert or forest.

However, just ticking off a bird as seen and rushing off for the next “tick” can cause you to miss out on a lot of enjoyable experiences that give you a much deeper understanding of natural ecosystems.

Little corella, and active and playful species
Little corella, and active and playful species

Birds are not just pretty objects that happen to move around. They are living creatures – quite extraordinary living creatures in fact, with a rather complicated anatomy associated with flight, better eyesight than humans, more intelligence than they’re often given credit for, with a great variety of social structures, and many kinds of ecological relationships with other species. Instead of the “stamp-collecting” approach to bird-watching, you can gain many insights into the life of birds and the ecosystem generally by quietly sitting and watching, even if it is a species you’ve seen many times before.

Male satin bowerbird offering a flower to the female: we watched this during a tour to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
Male satin bowerbird offering a flower to the female: we watched this during a tour to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

One of the most fascinating to watch is the satin bowerbird during breeding season. The male is a few years old before he even tries to build a bower, and often takes a year or two to get it right before the female is sufficiently impressed. With only his bill for building, he lays down a platform of twigs and then constructs an avenue of twigs into which to attract the females (one at a time) for mating. To accentuate the blue sheen of his feathers he collects blue objects – quite a task originally to find enough feathers, flowers and berries of the right colour, but nowadays often including more readily available drinking straws, bottle tops and other such objects. He struts around, singing, dancing and rearranging twigs and decorations, and when a female arrives continues his song and dance, even sometimes carrying flowers or other gifts to her, before finally consummating their relationship. She then has to build her own nest and raise the kids while he attracts more females.

Brush turkey sunbaking
Brush turkey sunbaking

Female brush turkeys have it better: the male makes an enormous mound of leaves and keeps adjusting it to an appropriate temperature, as the energy originally stored by photosynthesis is released as heat as the leaves decompose. All the female needs to do is lay an egg in this every few days. You would be lucky to catch a visit by the females, but the males are often seen scratching more leaves onto their nests and chasing off intruders.

Grey fantail waiting for flying insects to catch
Grey fantail waiting for flying insects to catch

Keep an eye out for birds who follow other birds. When brush turkeys or other strong-footed birds are kicking the leaf litter around in their search for insects, smaller birds such as scrubwrens often hand around waiting for insects that escape the notice of the large forager. If you see a grey fantail, especially out of breeding season, it is very likely to be following a whistler, a treecreeper or some other species that is foraging in the leaves or under the bark, ready to use its tail to facilitate acrobatic manoeuvres to catch insects trying to escape through the air.

noisy-miner-callingYou can also get to know the different calls of a species: territorial songs, the alarm calls and the contact calls between male and female or members of a feeding flock. You can hear different melodies piped by pied butcherbirds in different districts or listen for the highly complex call, complete with amazing mimicry, of the lyrebird. You can head out at night listening for the calls of owls, frogmouths and nightjars (and no, despite a popular myth that was even believed by Banjo Patterson, the frogmouth does NOT give the mopoke call: the boobook owl does that). You can try to tell the difference between two birds having a dispute or indulging in courtship (sometimes this is obvious, sometimes not).You can sit very quietly in the forest for 20 minutes or so, preferably dressed in greens and browns, to see whether any shy birds, which would be disturbed by footsteps, make an appearance.

Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits
Wompoo Fruitdove eating bangalow palm fruits

Many birds depend on plants, but many plants also depend on birds. Take note of any birds feeding amongst flowers or fruits. Most of these will be playing a role as pollinators or seed dispersers, although a few damage the flower to reach the nectar without picking up any pollen, and some either avoid swallowing the seeds or, worse still for the plant, digest them.

You may not always understand what a bird is doing or why. Sometimes it becomes clear just by watching for a few minutes, or sometimes it is an intriguing observation that keeps you puzzled for some time. Maybe others have observed it, or maybe not. There are various Facebook pages and other websites where you can put a question to the group, e.g.: “has anyone seen a xxx do this? Any idea why?”

Mudlark and nestling
Mudlark and nestling

A final note: some avid life-listers get so carried away with their hobby they forget the welfare of the bird. The occasional recorded call in a seldom-traveled area may not bother birds too much, but when male territorial calls are repeatedly played to the same birds in a popular birding spot, especially during breeding season, it can waste a lot of a bird’s much-needed energy in defending his territory, with the potential of stressing it to the point where it shifts home, possibly to a less optimal habitat, or is so drained of energy it is more vulnerable to disease, parasites or predation. Waking up a diurnal bird at night or a nocturnal bird during the day can cause it to blunder off clumsily, possibly into danger. Getting too close to a nest may cause temporary desertion by the parent, exposing eggs or chicks to predation and uncomfortable or even dangerous temperatures. Different species and different individuals within the species have different temperaments, but it is better to err on the side of caution than risk the welfare of the individual bird or, in the case of rare species, their conservation chances for the future.

To Adelaide and back. Part 5. Central NSW (Parkes and Dubbo)

Through central New South Wales

On the road

Crossing another  important river, the  Murrumbidgee, made famous in the song "The Road to Gundagai"
Crossing another important river, the Murrumbidgee, made famous in the song “The Road to Gundagai”



Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

This was the first free-range zoo in Australia, opened in 1977, now harbouring over 1000 animals..


White rhino and youngster. Some are suggesting wearing more rhinos to Australia's outback (contained of course, but in enormous enclosures) to protect them from poaching inter hime countries.
White rhino and youngster. Some are suggesting wearing more rhinos to Australia’s outback (contained of course, but in enormous enclosures) to protect them from poaching inter hime countries.
The female needs a rest.  They had a very energetic mating session right in front of us.
The female needs a rest. They had a very energetic mating session right in front of us.



The Parkes Telescope


The Dish stands about 15km from where my mother was born (Parkes) and spent most of her childhood years (a sheep and wheat farm near Alectown)
The Dish stands about 15km from where my mother was born (Parkes) and spent most of her childhood years (a sheep and wheat farm near Alectown). It achieved fame when asked film Armstrong’s first steps onto the moon, an event later to be made into an entertaining  movie, “The Dish.”.

TheDish TheDish2

Within the information centre are other signs letting us know the fact and the fiction in the movie.

Passing through Alectown, we made a very brief stop at the little church where my parents were married in the 1930s


Many years ago I visited with my parents. Each signed the visitor’s book, and each of my parents wrote “married here.”  I wanted to put “result” after my name but wasn’t allowed


Then back to Mullumbimby to return Axel to his mother and dog, and on to Running Creek, to be greeted by our dogs and Denis




To Adelaide and back. Part 4. Lake Mungo

We had wanted to see Lake Mungo in western New South Wales – famous for Aboriginal history and palaeozoology – for many years.

An early start from Adelaide and a very sleepy look at Australia’s largest river- the Murray



Crossing the RiverMurray, SA
Crossing the RiverMurray, SA


By the time we got close to Lake Mungo it was obvious we were now truly in the outback, especially the last 60km or so along a bumpy dusty road with saltbush and other semi-arid shrubs to either side.

A kangaroo hopes through the saltbush shrubland
A kangaroo hopes through the saltbush shrubland


Emu near Lake  Mungo
Emu near LakeMungo



Lake Mungo

Well, it used to be a lake, until about 20,000 years ago, when it rapidly dried out. You can still clearly see the ancient sand dunes along the edge (even from the air – I saw them on a flight to Adelaide earlier in the year).

Before then it was alive with active Aboriginal communities as well as diprotodons and other now-extinct megafauna (and some not so mega). 20,000-year-old human footprints surprised and intrigued researchers and others. There was even more surprise when the remains of Aboriginal people found there (especially Mungo Man and Mungo Lady) which proved to be 40 – 45 thousand years, and decorated to suggest a ritual burial.  Two surprises here – first that humans had been in Australia for such a long time (recent discoveries elsewhere have now suggested over 60,000 years) and secondly that ritual burial had such a long history.

The remains of Mungo Man have recently been returned to his home country of Lake Mungo.

20,000 years ago saw an episode of climate change causing Australia to become colder, drier and windier, gradually drying up the lake

Read more here about Lake Mungo’s history

In the museum at Lake Mungo

In the museum at Lake Mungo

MuseumMungo MuseumMungo2

Driving towards the old lake (dry for the past  20,,000 years)
Driving across the old lake (dry for the past 20,,000 years)



Scenes from Lake Mungo

An interpretive signal the start of our walk
An interpretive signal the start of our walk

MungoLandscape3 MungoLandscape4 guide-group-Mungo


photo-middenMungo MungoLandscape

backalonggullyAxelDarrenMungo Mungoscape


Next: on to Parkes and Dubbo …



To Adelaide and back. Part 3. Adelaide

Our main purpose was to spend 4 days meeting travel agents from around the world and explaining our tours to them, at Australia’s biggest annual trade show, the ATE. It is very tiring, a bit like four straight days of speed-dating,  but also very enjoyable meeting a lot of friendly and interesting people, making potentially valuable contacts and gleaning new ideas, and also sampling foods from the various states and territories.


the Araucaria stand at ATE
the Araucaria stand at ATE


This is small part of the crowd
This is a very small part of the crowd


Environmentally-friendly transport
Environmentally-friendly transport


ATE street entertainment
ATE street entertainment


It does get a little tiring
It does get a little tiring


After the ATE we collected my grandson (Darren’s nephew) Axel from the airport after his first-ever flight in a large plane so that he could have his first-ever meeting with his Adelaide cousins and first-ever experience of Australia’s outback on our drive back to Queensland.

Axel arriving in Adelaide
Axel arriving in Adelaide


We met my niece Britta and her two boys Niki and Alex at the Adelaide Zoo . Lovely see them again. The boys seemed to quickly make friends and enjoy exploring and playing together.

R to L Axel, Niki, Britta Alex, Darren
L to R  Axel, Niki, Britta Alex, Darren


squirrel monkey
Axel meeting a squirrel monkey
Giant panda, part of the only pair in Australia, part of a conservation breeding and research program


Giant Aldabra Tortoise- vulnerable species from the Seychelles, hatched at the Zoo in 1976
Giant Aldabra Tortoise- vulnerable species from the Seychelles, hatched at the Zoo in 1976


Eclectus Parrot
Eclectus parrot from north Qld: unusual in that the female (pictured is the brighter-coloured (to our eyes at least – the male has an ultraviolet pattern visible to his mate)


squirrel monkey
Axel meeting a squirrel monkey
We wondered why we lost Darren for a long time. He was filming a lengthy video of a superb lyrebird displaying, with lots of mimicry


Meerkat - possibly Axel's favourite
Meerkat – possibly Axel’s favourite


Then a family reunion dinner

Around table from left: Paul (Britta's husband), Britta, me, Peter (brother, Alison (Peter's wife), Darren, Axel, Niki, Alex
Around table from left: Paul (Britta’s husband), Britta, me, Peter (brother, Alison (Peter’s wife), Darren, Axel, Niki, Alex


Next day a family visit to the SA Museum, which I was forever dragging my mother to as a child and later exploring frequently ion my own, followed by the art gallery and a stroll through Adelaide city streets.

fossilmegafauna dinosaur&boys Darrenmuseum

As a child I used togas at the malachite until I felt I was being absorbed into its depths

Radioactivitydisplay mineralsBH

Important fossils from the Flinders Ranges
Important fossils from the Flinders Ranges


SA Art Gallery

artgalleryNiki arttgalleryboys


Rundle Mall,  Adelaide

Adelaidesilverballs AdelaideArcade



Next day we (3 generations: myself, Darren and Axel) met with lecturers from the new ecotourism course being offered at Adelaide University (where I graduated with Honours in zoology many years ago), followed by a personal tour of the University, especially the science areas and library, some of which I remembered but much of which was new.


Axel's turn to be tired
Axel’s turn to be tired


Many hours were spent in the Barr-Smith library  during my undergraduate and Honours year, usually with great enthusiasm for exploring so may aspects of our planet.
Many hours were spent in the Barr-Smith library during my undergraduate and Honours year, usually with great enthusiasm for exploring so may aspects of our planet.


unilibraryAxel unilab

I remember being quite enthralled by the large models while studying botany
I remember being quite enthralled by the large models while studying botany: not sure if these Arte the same ones


Next day it was off towards that site so famous for Aboriginal history – Lake Mungo …….


To Adelaide and back. Part 2. Flinders Ranges


See previous post for travel to Pilliga and Siding Springs

On to the Flinders Ranges

We settled into the quaint and cosy hotel “The Mill” in Quorn and took a walk just before sunset  along  a very small section of the 1200km  Heysen Trail.


HeysenTrail SunsetQuorn

I was pleased to find we could still buy my favourite ice cream – Golden North honey – in the region. At the time I used to visit, many years ago, it was the only place you could in fact buy it.  It arrived in Adelaide some time later.


Next day was devoted to a whirlwind trip to Wilpena Pound and Brachina Gorge in the FlindersRanges, where ancient rocks have been uplifted and folded into dramatic shapes.

I had very often camped and hiked here with the Adelaide University Mountain Club many years ago but Darren had never visited.  I was glad he immediately fell in love with these rugged ranges and started missing them as soon as we left


To Wilpena Pound








To Brachina Gorge

I wish we could have had a day or two to explore the time trail here, and just to wander around, and sit in the gorge taking in the whole atmosphere .drivetowardsBrachina





More soon …

From Brisbane to Adelaide and back – with outback and other detours

Instead of simply heading by plane to the Australian Tourism Exchange in April 2018, Darren and I decided drive to some places we’d never been to and re-visit some we had. I also arranged for my grandson Axel to join us by plane and drive back with us for his first-ever flight in a large plane and first-ever visit to the outback, plus a first-ever meeting between cousins (my brother’s grandsons)



Our first stop: the Pillaga

This is the largest remnant of dry woodland in NSW,  on Jurassic-age Pilliga sandstone, and the traditional country of the Gamilaroi People, about halfway between Narrabri and Coonabarrabran.



Here we had out first glimpse of the world’s largest model of the solar system:


Planet models and the distances between them are all to scale, and you drive many kilometres between them.  We found most of the others on our way to Coonabarrabran and on to Siding Springs Observatory.

Hot and tired when we reached the entrance to the caves walk, we decided to just walk as far as there first cave, but when we saw it we were rather tempted to goon to the second, and continued on to visit them all.


Various etchings can be seen in some spots – e.g. of emu and kangaroo tracks






Are you starting to see why we kept walking from cave to cave?


A few of the birds we saw in the Pilliga:

White-eared honeyeater (one of the study species during my Honours Zoology research on Kangaroo Island years ago – it does eat nectar but also many insects gleaned from leaves and -more unusually for honeyeaters – very often from  bark)White-eared-honeyeater-Pillaga

Common bronzewing pigeon:Bronzewing-Pillaga

Apostlebird (they and Australian choughs belong to a family with no other members, and both are exclusively Australian)Apostlebird


Fracking for CSG

All may not be well for the Pilliga in the future. Santos has been doing some quite extensive searching for CSG extraction possibilities, and already has established pipelines through the area.  Potential problems include excessive water usage  in an area already subject to drought and possibly increasingly so as climate change progresses, possible contamination of  water sources (including underground), habitat destruction and noise of fracking stations disturbing wildlife


Local farmers are also concerned:


Through Coonabarrabran to Siding Springs Observatory

As we continued driving, we saw more of the planets in this gigantic model






This brought us finally to the observatory itself, which represents the sun in this model.



More coming soon!





Coochiemudlo Island overnight?

Sunrise on Coochie
Sunrise on Coochie

We have led many day tours to this lovely little island, but that way we miss out on the charming sunsets, sunrises and early morning birding.  There is now the possibility of staying overnight in comfortable cabins near a picturesque  beach and a walking track  through the coastal woodland.


Unlike some other islands nearby, the shores are protected by the “Emerald Fringe” of native woodlands.  –  no high-rise buildings or indeed any buildings coming right to the beach (and there are no high-rise buildings anywhere on there island). The Coochiemudlo Island Coastcare group work hard to keep introduced weeds under control and to prevent foreshore erosion.



If you’ve never seen a bush stone-curlew and would like to, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding them here. They have an unforgettable stare with those big yellow eyes, and there’s plenty wandering around the island, sometimes with chicks following.

There are plenty of bush stone-curlews wandering around the island, and their weird, wild calls at night add to the atmosphere.There are plenty of bush stone-curlews wandering around the island, and their weird, wild calls at night add to the atmosphere.


CrabBurrowingCMIAs the tide recedes we see hundreds, sometimes thousands, of blue soldier crabs marching across the beach.  If you go too close you’ll startle them and they quickly bury themselves in the sand, but if you then stay still and quiet for a few minutes they’ll slowly re-emerge.


Meals can be at the cabins, picnics on the beach, or the Red Rock Cafe, with fresh seafood and many other options.

Red Rock Cafe, Coochiemudlo Island
Red Rock Cafe, Coochiemudlo Island


The name “Coochiemudlo” refers to the red rock from these cliffs (below) that were important to the local Aborigines, who used them for painting their bodies for ceremonies and trading for other goods far inland on the mainland.



Quiet beaches beckon. We often have these to ourselves even during the day, but even. more so by staying overnight and walking early in the morning or late afternoon.

Several mangrove species grow along some shores. These ones almost  look as though if we turn away they’ll start approaching us like Triffids.



Getting up early on the island allows for good birding experiences.

Blue-faced honeyeater


Brahminy kite
Brahminy kite
oyster catchers
Oyster catchers


Walking along the beach at low tide reveals shells of many local molluscs and fragments of local coral.

Seashells on the shores of Coochie


Sea-grass – important for dugongs and green turtles – is sometimes also  washed ashore

seagrass-coo chie


Staying overnight gives an opportunity to see fruit bats when they visit the island to feast on nectar in certain flowering seasons, and sometimes also frogs, frogmouths, owls and the intriguing (and harmless) net-casting spider.



There is also the delight of moonlit nights and wonderful sunrises

The Melaleuca Wetlands are on the edge of an east-facing beach, and we were rewarded on our very first night by a beautiful moonrise.



So, if you’d like to not only  spend a day on this scenic little island so close to Brisbane but also stay overnight in a comfortable little cabin close to a quiet beach and a woodland trail, please let us know.



Outback, forests and coastal tour.

An American family with only a few days to spend in southeast Queensland asked for a whirlwind 6 day tour of outback, rainforest, wildlife park and beaches at the end of winter (late August).  A French intern working fir Wildlife Tourism Australia also joined us.

The surprisingly good little council-owned zoo at Queen’s Park in Ipswich was our first stop, to see animals we would not be seeing in the wild, such as billies, wombats and quolls.  This also gave me a chance to talk with Frank Manthey (founder of Save the Bilby Fund) who will be opening the Scenic Rim Wildlife Bioblitz in October, while Darren showed our guests around the zoo.

As usual, our first night was spent in St George. We consider the western end of the bridge as the beginning of the true outback – past all sorghum, cotton and other crops, into free-range grazing or wilderness, red soils, red kangaroos, lot of emus, Major Mitchell cockatoos etc.





Next day took us through Cunnamulla to Bowra, a former cattle property well-known as a birding hotspot and now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

We were delighted to be welcomed at our arrival by not just one but two echidnas!


Here are just a few of the other species we saw over the next few hours and following morning

Yellow-billed spoonbill, Bowra. These and other waterbirds are easily seen at the waterhole near the accommodation.


Major Mitchell Cockatoo. They are regular dawn visitors to the waterhole.
Major Mitchell Cockatoo. They are regular dawn visitors to the waterhole.


Sunset at Bowra
Sunset at Bowra

One night is never enough in Bowra, but our American family only had 6 days to explore southern Queensland, so we moved eastwards again to the rainforests of Lamington National Park, the glow worms of Tamborine Mountain, woodland-lined beach at Fingal and captive-breeding programs and platypus aquarium at David Fleay Wildlife Park.


Brahminy kite startles cormorants

While waiting for dolphins at Fingal last year, a group of three little black cormorants  were quietly watching the waves from the basalt columns.

 Little Black Cormorants at Fingal
Little Black Cormorants at Fingal, New South Wales

Suddenly a beautiful brahminy kite appeared above us.

Brahminy Kite
Brahminy Kite

He delighted us but startled the cormorants by suddenly plunging to the water to catch his dinner




and then the dolphins arrived….

I tend to think of Fingal as the Gold Coast before it became the Gold Coast (although there are a few natural parts of the Gold Coast as well).

Wildlife Tourism conference, South Australia

Where the Wild Things Grow.

Wildlife tourism conference to be held in  Adelaide, 6 to 9 November  2016
Filming shingleback in Queensland's outback
Filming shingleback in Queensland’s outback

Organized by Wildlife Tourism Australia Inc.

Explore how to “do it right”, discuss what kinds of research have been useful for wildlife tourism and what research will now be most valuable, what kinds of training are currently available and what more may be needed in Australia and elsewhere. How can tourism businesses best work in cooperation with researchers, governments, local communities, NGOs and traveling citizen scientists or conservation volunteers? What ethical responsibilities do tour operators have towards tourists, local communities, other operators, animal welfare and biodiversity conservation?
Enjoy quality presentations, join in round-table discussions, visit wildlife attractions old and new near Adelaide, promote your own business, conservation cause or research …
For details visit: