As the year begins, and following on from my post last week on Mindful Birding, it is an opportunity to review,and put into action these skills, particularly for those new to birding, the 5 Steps to Better Birding. You will learn how we spotted this rare sighting in an unexpected location, as I share how you can get the most satisfying birding experience. This will be especially helpful if you are a novice birdwatcher becoming a fully fledged birder. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Initially, before you start, it is important to decide what kind of birds you want to find, and best LOCATION where you are likely find them. Local and learnt knowledge is helpful as well as The Australian Bird Guide and Finding Australian Birds both obtainable from CSIRO Publishing.
These books will help locate where particular species of bird are found in Australia and what habitat you are most likely to find them in, Other factors may involve the time of day (low tide for viewing waders, or night time for owls), the time of year or season (for migratory species) and the current weather (very hot, very dry, very windy or very wet conditions can have a negative affect). Otherwise, many of us just do a pot luck bird walk through National Parks, Reserves and State Forests and be thankful for what we might see, often surprised when we find the unexpected bird or birding experience. For our example I will take my daughter and two grand children ( one pictured above) on a stroll through Oatley Park Reserve on a pot luck bird walk. Because many Australian birds are territorial and non migratory, you can usually predict what birds you are likely to see in any given location. The Bird Field Guide will help with the geographic location of each bird (where in which States) including any races (subspecies) that a particular specie may have.
My first instruction to my accompanying family is to quietly listen for bird calls as they walk along the bush track. Most of the time you will hear a bird before you see it. Australia has one of the largest number of songbirds, and many have a very distinctive call which identifies them immediately. One of the skills one gains from mindful listening is to identify each bird one hears from its call. The call can tell you where to look ( nearby or further on, in tree or on ground) as well as what the bird is actually doing at the time. There are Australian birds which are gifted with many different calls, and also the ability to learn and copy the calls of other birds. The Superb Lyrebird and Satin Bowerbird are but two good examples. Listen to this Lyrebird immitate at least 6 different birds, as well as make its own peculiar call.
Eventually, one can identify when mimicry is being displayed by a Lyrebird or other bird, by skillful listening. The greatest aid to the Australian birder is the Michael Morcombe eGuide iphone app. which I have listed on the BirdingInfoTips page of my website half way down the page under Helpful Birding Links. This app allows you to hear the calls of the different birds. Slowly move to where the bird call is loudest, stop moving if the bird stops calling, as it has probably seen you and become cautious, and LOOK for movement in the direction you last heard the call. This is a similar call to what we heard, and what drew us to discover the bird pictured above. We were drawn to a tree by the pond where we could here a strange buzzing sound which I knew from experience was a Satin Bowerbird call. You will need to turn your volume up to hear it.
Be aware that with some birds it will not be their call or song that will draw attention, but careful listening may detect bark being torn and stripped from trees (eg. Crested Shrike-tit, Eastern Whipbird and the Treecreepers), leaf litter being overturned (Logrunner, Whipbird, Bassian Thrush), scratching sounds (Lyrebird, Brush Turkey) or it may be the sound of crunching pine cones and falling debris from the Cockatoo and Parrot family.
One golden birding principle is that ‘If you wait (sitting quietly is best) the birds will come to you.’ Mixed Feeding Flocks (MFFs) are constantly moving through areas of forest and field, and many territorial birds (non flock birds) will also do a circuit and return through the same area several times a day.
You will know the birds arrive by the many birds twittering as they feed and communicate with each other. Our birds are able to learn to communicate in the dialects of bird species other than their own, thus MFFs are common with smaller insectivorous and seed eating birds, and brings the advantages of safety in numbers, and better food and water locating. So wait in a place where you find birds moving, you may find a birdway. Areas that pass near fresh water sources, around lakes and swamps are often the best. Just wait there for a while and LISTEN.
So on hearing the bird, one starts looking in the direction of the call. The most helpful tool at this stage are your eyes and your binoculars. The aim is to look for any movement at all in the vegetation and focus in on it. My grandchildren were spotting the bird high in a tree above the track but we could not see it well.
It sounded distressed because other birds such as Noisy Miners were attempting to attack it, as they are very territorial and this bird was strange to this part of the park, and in fact is not usually seen here at all. My observation revealed what appeared to be a juvenile Satin Bowerbird possibly a fledgling from early last Spring. It is probably checking out the park for food, as these birds are primarily native fruit eaters (figs, berries etc). Both immature sexes look like the female, as it will take seven to eight years for the male to mature to adult plumage but only two to three for the female. Bare in mind also that many birds go quiet and sit in the shade, mainly during the heat of the day. Also particular birds such as the Golden Whistler will go quiet during the Winter (non breeding months) and be heard almost continuously during Spring, making him much easier to find.
This is why early morning and evening are the best times to go birding, as these times are when most birds are calling as they actively feed and move about. Aussie honeyeaters (over 70 species) feed on insects, nectar, small native fruits and lerps. You may notice that particular songbirds sing less when overcast than when the sun is out, they seem to pick up their song as the sun re emerges.
Honeyeaters, lorikeets and Parrots are attracted to flowering eucalypts, Grevilea, Bottlebrush and Mountain Devil, so just wait about 10 to 20 feet from the flowers and birds should visit. Often you will see birds already feeding off nectar rich flowers, so just wait there and watch as different species visit. Birds are easier to see and often more exposed when feeding.
The next step is to LOCATE the bird so you can view it and/or photograph it. My wife is the ‘spotter‘ and I am the ‘shooter‘, so for me if I do not get a photograph of the bird I have not truly seen it. This is the case for many birders, we like to see the treasure we have spotted again at home. The value of doing this leads later to our last 2 steps. If you are using a telescopic lens, the secret is to pull back the focus and view in the general direction of the bird and then gradually extend the lens till you have it in focus. It is most frustrating to attempt to focus from a fully extended lens.
A bird will usually move away when it notices you watching it, so the idea is to remain very still and inconspicuous as possible. If the bird is in full sun, try and remain in the shade as you observe it so that it makes you less noticeable. Also remain very quiet and avoid using flash. I almost never use flash on birds as it alarms them and can affect the eyes of some birds such as owls and penguins. The improved ISO technology on my Canon camera allows me to get relative good photos even in reduced light. As we walked by the pond we found this clutch of baby Chestnut Teal resting.
We quietly passed so not to disturb their rest, though they noticed us they did not scuttle to water as they saw we kept our distance and were not threatening. You will find that each species of bird has a different distance of tolerance to another. For example I wan walk right up to a Magpie or Kookaburra and they will not show fear, where as an Eastern Curlew will sound the alarm and fly off if I get within 50 meters of it. Here is one of my best friends patting a Kookaburra he is feeding. The bird trusts him and permits him to enter his safety zone.
These Chestnut Teal (above) were easy to locate as they were visible, as many waterbirds and waders are, exposed near the water or on it, unlike passerines (tree birds) which can be more challenging to capture hidden in among the dark eucalypt trees. One of the reasons Australian bird photography is more challenging then elsewhere is that our trees are very dense and dark green, not allowing much light through, We noticed the difference when birding in Britain, how the lighter larger leaves allow more light in. Once the bird is in focus the photo can be taken. Sadly, most of the time I have to take Manual shots due to the small depth of field of my lens, to make sure the bird is in focus. Many times, people marvel at how I can get shots in very small windows between trees, and the only way is Manual with much effort. Considering my left eye has greatly impaired vision, I give thanks to God when I get a decent photo. Some birds are almost impossible to photograph due to their fast continuous movement or their ability to remain hidden beneath thick shrubbery. IT can take much patience and many hours stalking these ones before success is procured.
Many birders, similar to myself, have said that the greatest delight is going home after the birding adventure and opening their box of treasures, meaning viewing the photographs they have taken. Photographing birds is a very positive and useful way of logging and recording your bird finds in addition to simply recording your findings in a book. The date, place time of day and species found. Many birders keep year round records of their finds, becoming very tuned in to and mindful to various birding areas and their resident birds. So much so that one can take you to a particular bird with a greater than 80% probability. My log is my photos. Each birding outing is a named and dated folder containing my photo treasures, backed up on several drives. My lifers and better photos are also transferred to my Speciated Bird Album of Australian Birds, which is a massive collection of all the birds I have seen, a folder for each specie, on a 2T drive. I set targets for new birds I want to discover each year (lifers) and plan to visit their areas.
In addition to just viewing the bird photograph, it is a teaching tool familiarizing you with the bird appearance and physical features. I also like to capture sound files and video clips of bird behaviour to help me in learning about the bird specie. Each time I find a new bird (lifer), I have not seen before, I study it up in my Bird Field Guide to find out more about it, its characteristics, location, male, female and immature forms, how and where it nests etc. I will venture back out to attempt to photograph the complete set of male, female and juvenile if it is possible, though this is not always possible as lone birds often drift into our forests. So what do I learn from this juvenile Satin Bowerbird? I identified it as juvenile from my Bird Field Guide where it was described having dark patches on head and neck, less colour on chest and dark grey legs. Compare.
Juvenile Satin Bowerbird
Female Satin Bowerbird
Male Satin Bowerbird
Here by comparing my photos of a mature female with the juvenile I can learn to identify not just the bird itself, but its level of maturity, body shape, beak, how it sits on the branch, its calls and what it feeds on. I eventually will have a mind map of where I can find this bird locally as well as seasonally. The mature male is the most elusive of the family and looks quite different. This is the case with many birds. In many species the male will take longer to mature, and when it does its plumage may change to brighter or different colours to female.
Superb Fairy-wren (male in breeding plumage)
Superb Fairy-wren (female)
Superb Fairy-wren (eclypsing male)
Male Superb Fairy-wren in full non breeding eclipse)
The immature always look similar to the female till they mature as a protective form of camouflage. Most of the colour changes and breeding plumage changes all have to do with signifying to both females and males this bird is ready to breed and bring forth offspring. Some birds go through several plumage changes a year passing in and out of breeding (eclipse), the Fairy-wrens are a good example of this. The male retains his blue tail but looses his beautiful blue and black plumage. So finding this juvenile bird as we did, brought further learning and understanding of this species, and opened the way for more interest in birding to my grandchildren who love to accompany us on our birding adventures. last week’s post showed a juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet I discovered, with its parent. Having them side by side helps highlight the developing characteristics of the young bird.
Have a wonderful week and stay out of the heat!
If this is your first visit to my blog, please take a few moments and check out my website and the interesting pages on birding and life skills the birds can teach us. Also, check out my book. You can explore all this and more from my Home page
As I mentioned earlier birds tend to nest near a source of fresh water and a good food source, and the Bible notes this:
‘The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.’ – Psalm 104:12
“Look at [study intently] the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” – Matthew 6:26
Strange as it is, it was only the above verse in the forward of my book ‘What Birds Teach Us’ that stopped my book being used in schools and child psychology work, despite many educators loving its unique teaching method. Many local schools have put it in their libraries and some schools have supported it enough to have me come and speak and sell my book as a fund raiser. It shows how the enemy of our souls works through people’s fear and guilt.
How can one statement that gives hope and value to human life be the reason for not using a book which educators have said has great value for our youth? Sadly, this is the Secular Humanistic age we live in, where our freedoms are slowly being stripped away, and our children are being taught to believe in an empty god of science and evolution, being taught to be politically correct in a Post Christian world. The truth is God is not dead, and continues to make himself known to those who put their trust in him.
‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [power] to become children of God’ — John 1:12 (NIV)
As we all launch into 2019, many of us are using this time as a waypoint from which to examine our life journey and consider what things we can do better and improve on to make our life happier and safer, and thus more satisfying. A healthy attitude of gratitude and thankfulness is vital not only to our emotional health but also in maintaining a healthy immune system. Peace, love, joy and hope are experienced through good relationships, helping to wave off the unhealthy addictive behaviors and habits which may entangled one throughout the year.
Many use the New Year as an opportunity to ‘turn over a new leaf’. The tiny Australian Logrunner is one unusual and very rarely seen Australian rainforest bird which spends its life turning over old leaves, and as you will see is a very fitting bird to launch my blog into the New Year, revealing pearls of wisdom.
Male (white neck)
Female (rufous neck)
These tiny birds are endemic to the rainforests on the east coast of northern to central NSW and southern Queensland, and spend most of their life foraging in the leaf litter. They seldom fly, and if they do it is only to briefly escape danger. Their main protective features, which make them very difficult to see, other than the poor light under the dense canopy: is their size, their camouflage coloring which blends in with leaf litter and their ability to freeze and remain very still for some time when they sense danger nearby. See what I mean…
This makes detection very difficult, but can give good photographic moments. The movement of leaf litter on the forest floor and their unique call to one another may be the only clue to their presence, as they travel in pairs and small family groups beneath bushes, palms and shrubs.
My wife and I needed a walk on one very hot heat wave day last week, so we walked in the cool of the rainforest in the Royal National Park, one of my favorite places. As we approached the surrounding woodland, it appeared and sounded birdless, to our disappointment. As we walked into rainforest loop track near the creek we saw a tiny object flit across the path and soon discovered this pair. We had never seen Logrunners in this forest before, though they have probably always been there. Most Australians have never seen them or would even know there was a bird by that name. The male has a distinct white throat and the female an orange rufous throat.
These birds have a unique digging action whereby they lean back on their purpose designed tail which is reinforced with stiff spines, and rapidly use their legs to kick leaves out sideways. They often dig down in one spot disappearing into a hole beneath the ground hunting for worms and other insects under the moist leaf litter. They get their name as they are often seen on or near old logs or at the buttress roots of native ficus trees as they make their nests there in holes and by the roots protected and out of sight.
Many people who have purchased my book “What Birds Teach Us” have commented when seeing my photos of the Logrunner, that they never knew of this bird. The lesson I gleaned and share is to ‘choose what you need rather than what you want.’The Logrunner can fly if it so desires to, but it gets all its needs met by staying safe on the forest floor out of sight from the clutches of larger hunting birds. My book discusses the need to be wise in our decision making, being able to discern our true needs from the selfishness of wants, and the dangers of placing ourselves in vulnerable situations which may have future repercussions and possibly cause irreparable damage both to our life and the lives of others. As I shared earlier regarding the unhealthy results of addictive behaviour, it starts with placing desire to satisfy excessive wants above satisfying valid needs. The want may or may not necessarily for some thing evil or immoral but may be simply for food, drink or electronic media etc.
My wife and I have taken this first week to consider areas we can improve on in our relationships and our life style, and correct and make changes to improve our lives for a more satisfying 2019. Stay free of addictive, compulsive and obsessive behaviour by forgiving the people in your past who have hurt you and thus make a new start. Forgiveness therapy enables one to let go of the pain of the past which continues to distort their life and attitude causing depression and vulnerability to bad choices in life. Some may need the help of a counselor to do this but many of us can start 2019 determined and focused on changing our habits with the help of an accountability person. This may be your partner, family member, close friend or therapist, that is, someone you can share your progress with who understands your goal and cares about you. However, you might want to explore the forgiveness that brings complete healing and restoration of relationships, by knowing and accepting God’s free gift of forgiveness offered each man, woman and child through faith in Jesus Christ. You can read more about this here.
“Tell your sins to each other. And pray for each other so you may be healed. The prayer from the heart of a man right with God has much power.” – James 5:16 (NLV)
“So I strive always to keep my conscienceclear before God and man.” – Acts 24:16
May you and your loved ones enjoy a truly satisfying and peaceful New Year. If you would like to explore more of the life skills we can learn from our birds visit my Birder Sanctuary page.
One of my primary goals in life is to leave an appreciation of our natural heritage for our youth. Writing my first book (available here online) was one attempt at achieving this, followed by whetting an interest in family and friends to explore our native birds and also our beautiful bush with its unique trees, flowers and animals. Sharing a pair of binoculars many have had their eyes opened to a beautiful living world they had not known, hidden in the very trees they walk past, as they are introduced to the birding experience.
During the recent school holidays one of my grandsons came to stay and my wife and I took him on a bird walk in the Royal National Park near where we live. This park is affectionately known as the ‘Nasho’. You have seen many posts from this park, but it alive at the moment and the birds have returned because of the recent good rains and Spring, the time to court, mate and nest.
There is much song in the bush. Scientists have recently found that our birds not only sing in Spring to attract and communicate with their mate, but also sing both in and out of season for the love of it. Singing stimulates the release of feel good endorphins in the birds brain, making singing a very enjoyable experience. We heard and saw several male Golden Whistlers calling.
My grandson Joel, started enjoying spotting these birds high in the trees, seeing how beautiful they are, and how the binoculars bring them so close. His father had warned us not to take him birding too long, as he might get bored easy, but we kept asking him and he said he was enjoying the experience with us and we went further into the bush spending several hours exploring together. He saw several Golden Whistlers but only the male, as the female is possibly sitting on the nest. Click on photos to enlarge them.
We need to help our youth discover the benefits of birdingto save them from the tyranny of the electronic devices that preclude them from healthy exercise and an appreciation of their natural heritage. This grounding has therapeutic effects in actually lowering stress levels.It is not just birds we see but the beautiful Spring flowers high in nectar and food for our many honeyeaters.
We were quite amazed to find several flowering Waratah flowers, a rare treat, as many of these plants have been stolen from National Parks for their beauty. This is the floral emblem of our state NSW and its botanical name Telopea speciosissimameans ‘bright red beauty seen from afar‘, and that is exactly what these flowers are, they are iridescent flower heads made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. It is a difficult plant to grow in your garden at home and can not tolerate transplanting or being moved.
NSW Waratah (State floral emblem)
Another large red flower seen in the park is the Gymea Lily a plant indigenous to the Sydney area. It also has many smaller flowers that make up the large flower head. It stands majestically over four metres tall,,,
Most of the birds we saw were honeyeaters feeding off the flowering eucalypt trees. In Australia, unlike Europe, pollination is performed by the birds, not bees. Most of our pollinating bees were introduced. The Australian native bee is very tiny and is not the main pollinator. So it is a buz to see this Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding from flowers along with this Yellow-faced Honeyeater.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater feeding.
Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding on Spider Grevillea
Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding on Spider Grevillea
Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding on Spider Grevillea
The beautiful Eastern Spinebill was moving rapidly around the flowers and calling to its mates. This honeyeater has a long curved beak enabling it to reach deep into tubular flowers such as Bush Fuchsia (seen above) and larger flower heads.
This tiny Silvereye was also getting in on the action but was after insects…
It is always a delight to see and hear the Brown Thornbill, another tiny insectivorous bird as it moves around the tree’s lower canopy making its unique call…
By now Joel has seen and heard many birds and been introduced into a whole new world of discovery which we can only encourage him to continue to explore. Not many young people find it their cup of tea, but our desire is that at least some may be given the opportunity to sample the experience and learn the value of conserving our natural heritage for the future years when they will be the voters.
A highlight of the walk was to firstly hear and then site a White-throated Treecreeper as he was making his way up a eucalypt tree. He found an insect in the bark and proceeded carrying it, possibly collecting food for a nestling. The sound file below lets you know what you hear as he climbs the tree.
The sound of Yellow-tailed Cockatoo passing overhead caused quite an excitement, but we could only see their silhouette as we were deep in the forest.
So the message is, purchase two pair of binoculars, one for you and one for your birding guest then take your family and friends on a bird walk and share your love and knowledge with them. Your passion and love of birding will have a contagious affect on those who walk with you. Our prayer is that children will appreciate their natural heritage from a young age. I have enjoyed talking at seminars and schools in the past promoting this along with my book, and have had wonderful responses from both parent and child. I love talking to people who share my passion to save our youth from addiction to electronic gadgetry and the physical, social and emotional illnesses that accompany this.
Royal Spoonbills WORKING
Royal Spoonbills RESTING
We may need to help our youth strike a balance between work and rest, as spending time with electronic media etc is stressful work involving active mind and eye activity. The birds know how to work and rest but our modern coffee society has adrenal overload helping to bring on many chronic illnesses, simply because they are over stressed and not allowing enough time for rest and sleep. Self control and developing healthy habits, such as taking a walk in the park or bush each week can help to lower your stress level, reducing the chances of both physical and mental illness. Birding takes resting to the next level with endorphin release in the brain as an added enjoyment factor when a bird is sighted and appreciated. This is similar to what a bird experiences when it sings for the pure joy of it. We have the blessed honor of leaving a positive and memorable influence on our youth, a priceless legacy that may be passed on from generation to generation.
“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12
“Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.”
“Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (NEV)
Have a wonderful week! I have been asked to continue working on my existing agreement to assist training staff before my full-time position is filled, so my second book writing remains on hold.
If this is your first visit to my blog, please take a minute to check out my website Homepage menu and helpful birding and counselling info. Check out my unique book which can be purchased through secure PayPal here online on my BirdBook page.
Aussiebirder birdwatches an Eastern Yellow Robin – truly ‘a bird in the hand’
It has been a couple of years since I visited this topic, and I continue to meet many people who ask me to explain the difference, it is timely that I reiterate, but with more information from more of a counselling and lifestyle perspective.
A group of tourists have an unexpected sighting, a family of Tawny Frogmouth
Most people in our community are only familiar with the term Birdwatcher and what that entails. A person who actively seeks out birds to view them and study them as a recreational pursuit.This title or description, to most people, could be used to generically include all who look at birds as a past-time both recreationally and ornithologically. However, to us who pursue birdwatching as a recreational pursuit and have done so for several years or more, birdwatching is but the first stage or introduction, where interest in birds and their presence begins to ignite a delight and desire within us for more…
Glen, acclaimed naturalist, birdwatching a male Regent Bowerbird
We start to include looking at birds as part of our nature/bush walks and family picnic experiences, this begins as the birds make their presence known or demonstrate some unusual behaviour and we start to have an awareness that the birds are there, and for the first time in our life we start looking for them and expecting them to be in particular places because we have seen them in the same places when passing. Picnic areas and car parks are some of the best places one can see and get close to Australian birds, as they have learned that humans have food.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo at the Royal NP – they know how to get a free feed
However, it is better to feed them their own food if you can.
Hand feeding seed to wild Eastern Crimson Rosella
The Cafes can be good birdwatching places also…
Australian Raven drinking milk at Cafe in the Royal NP
Pied Currawong at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Cafe also drinking milk
For me personally, photographing nature and beautiful vistas was my prime delight for most of my early years, producing My Beautiful Series and the website by that name which many of you may have followed but was recently deconstructed. When my interest turned to birds more specifically, after a visit to Lord Howe Island years ago, in search of the Red-tailed Tropicbird, a whole new interest took my heart. I took less interest in landscape and nature photography and more in photographing birds. I was transitioning into the next stage and becoming a Birder.
A large percentage of Birdwatchers become Birders, a term which is mainly used by Birders themselves to describe their passion or differentiate themselves from others with greater or lesser enthusiasm in the recreational vocation. A Birder is a person who deliberately and passionately pursues birdwatching, particular bird species and bird habitats to actively engage with and view birds in their native habitat. The birder studies the birds and seeks to gain an active practical knowledge of bird species, their appearance, their call, their food, their habitat, their breeding, their migratory patterns and their peculiar characteristics. You could possibly use the term a recreational ornithologist.
For me personally, I call myself a Birder, along with my wife. The change to Birding meant a change in my camera lens from 18-250mm to 100-400mm. It also meant purchasing some books on where to find various birds including several different kinds of Bird Field Guides, taking interest in native bird conservation groups such as Birdlife Australia, joining a local bird observer club and checking on latest local sightings on eremaea birdlines or ebird websites. Many an avid birder, but not me, wear bush camouflage clothing, and purchase camouflaged binoculars, telescopes and camera lenses. Another sign is that the equipment used becomes more expensive some moving to high powered lenses including tripods and telescopes.
I started meeting other people, singles and couples, armed with binoculars and cameras with long lenses like mine. I would usually greet them and get right to the point by asking the question ” Are you a Birder?” or ” Are you into Birding?” The conversation would then include latest sightings and what was seen so far on the current walk. It could include name sharing of Birders we may share in common. You know your family know when all your gifts for whatever occasion have something to do with birds.
It was not till on our Honeymoon that my wife and I first seriously understood the term Twitcher, which is when one takes birding to the next level. When we shared with a lady how we met and found out later we were both Birders she gave us a copy of the movie The Big Yearand said it was a must see for us. If you have not seen it is is as humorous as it is sad, starring the three funny men, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black but depicts a nonfictional story from a 2004 book called The Big Year. In a nutshell a Twitcher is a person who has an active addiction to Birdwatching and has become an obsessed Birder. These people seek out particular birds including rare bird species at any cost to themselves, their relationships and their health. They may devote a whole year to tick off a list and try and see the most birds in that year.
From the movie ‘The Big Year’ available on DVD – 3 Twitchers on their Big Year
The term originated in the 1950s in reference to a British birdwatcher Howard Medhurst who would get showing nervous shaky behaviour when he started thinking of and pursuing a rare bird. His mate would say he is ‘on the twitch’. He is thought to have started the idea of travelling long distances purely for the purpose of seeing a particular bird species. Read this interesting article on the origin of the term ‘twitcher‘. Some have said it comes from the term tick hunter as they would be trying to tick off their list of birds to be seen, These people have taken the joy of birdwatching to an extreme, where it can become a quite competitive task, rather than a delightful enjoyable experience. Watch the above mentioned movie to learn more.
The above mentioned person may need personal counselling to rectify their behaviour when it starts to place important life relationships and care for one’s self and others on a lower priority to their bird quests. Sadly, as the movie shows, as with any addition, the lies that are told, the moody behaviour with its accompanying anxiety, is ultimately destructive, and also to those in relationship with the Twitcher. It is said that the natural hunter instinct of man is enacted in the process.
It easy to get overly passionate about birding – the hunter instinct
I have to confess that there was an occasion where I almost crossed over, and this can so easily occur as we begin to become passionate about our new found hobby, if we do not check our behaviour at regular intervals, or have not been trained to do so. People living stressful lives, driven to achieve, with extreme goal orientation, are more prone to become Twitchers. I pulled back as I saw I was being consumed by my obsession to find new birds, and I listened to my wife tell me the changes that she was seeing in me that were not healthy for our relationship. I thank God I pulled back and saw what she saw, and established guidelines for my behaviour.
I pulled back from almost ‘crossing over’ – almost becoming a Twitcher
I have drawn up my own comparison here for you to consider. I pray this will be helpful, even if only for one Birder on the brink of crossing over for I speak from experience, but not just as an almost victim, but also as a self assessing family counsellor. Please note: My definition of Twitcher may not agree with all who call themselves Twitchers. My main purpose is to highlight healthy from unhealthy behaviour, as the term Twitcher encompasses many displaying addictive behaviour.
Thinks about birds occasionally and does not distract from normal life.
Thinks about birds daily, possibly talks about them, this may only occasionally distract and interfere with normal life, but rarely.
Thinks about birds most of the day and takes up most of their conversation, and may interfere and distract them from normal life on a regular basis.
Seeks birds occasionally when on an outing, not necessarily to reason for the event.
Seeks and pursues birds recreationally on a regular basis, birds being the prime purpose of the outing.
Seeks birds and pursues them as the prime focus of thir life, always thinking of the next encounter and how & where they will view them.
May or may not use or even be aware of an ebird app. This will have little impact on weekend plans unless the sighting is nearby and unusual.
May use an ebird app at least once a week or more to help plan a weekend birding adventure, and may travel several hours or more to location but minimise cost.
Will most definitely use an ebird app and other means to access live and recent sightings. This will help determine their next day. They may travel long distances at great cost.
Weekends away & recreational walks may include bird watching, Binoculars may be optional unless kept in the car. Only done outside work hours.
Weekends away and day trips prime focus on finding birds. Always brings binoculars and camera. Only outside work hours with very infrequent day off during the week.
Any time during the week when rare birds and rare sightings seen, may interrupt normal work week and family functions to pursue birds on a regular basis.
Stress level Low to Moderate – seeing birds adds an interesting dimension to the outing and assists in lowering stress levels. They share their delight with those with them.
Moderate stress level – birding a healthy distraction from busy & stressful life. Excitement or disappointment with pursuit of birds mostly lowers stress levels but can at times be stressful. They love sharing their delight and knowledge.
High stress level – driven with high expectation and personal achievement. Addiction is stressful causing anxiety lacking peace. Hence the ‘twitch’ in Twitcher. Can be very selfish, guarded, not wanting to share.
Birding is an enjoyable experience most of the time. It is good and healthy to be passionate about people we love and things we love to do, but only when we have control of our passion, not allowing it to take control of us. Addiction encourages and paves the way for demonically inspired behaviour, which is physically, emotionally, socially (relationally) and mentally destructive. When I look at Jesus I see a man who was passionate for the good of others (unselfish love), having a totally balanced character, always in control of his person. Jesus was man as God had intended him to be, growing in all 4 aspects of life – healthy mind(pure loving thoughts with emotional stability), body(stature or health), spirit (with God) and relationships(with man). He trusted God’s Holy Spirit to guide him through life.
“And Jesus grewin wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” – Luke 2:52
May your week be peaceful, satisfying, full of joy and enjoyable birding experiences.
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Travelling further north in Far North Queensland we spent a night at Mission Beach where it is known one would see the world’s most dangerous and Australia’s second largest flightless bird, the Southern Cassowary. All visitors to the top end are warned ‘Be wary of the Cassowary’ not so much because of the bony head piece or casque, but because of their huge clawed feet with three toes, the innermost having a huge claw which it uses to attack. After tearing open the victim they jump on them. They have been known to bang on doors and break glass to get entry, or to attack their own reflection.
It is one of the few birds that can and has killed humans and animals when provoked. We were at Mission Beach on the weekend of the Cassowary Festival, but not one bird could be seen. However there are signs all along the road warning of recent Cassowary crossings. A friend gave us a tip off to go to nearby Etty Beach and that is where these photos came from. A pair quite tame birds, did the rounds for food in the caravan park, hiding out on nearby private property. This video shows how tall they can stand when picking fruit.
Humans driving cars are the reason numbers are depleting, including depleted habitat. When people feed wild animals they come to them for more food. A car means humans means food, to a unsuspecting Cassowary, which results in death, as you can see by the sign warning below. These birds are fruit eaters, and it has recently been realised they are most important in maintaining the integrity of rainforest by pooing out the seeds from the fruit they eat at various locations. When these birds are gone the rainforest may start to deplete itself of new growth and die.
Another lifer, the Pheasant Coucal, was sighted from quite a distance coming out of the rainforest for a moment and I managed to get one shot before it saw me and fled. I had seen these beautiful birds several times flying off into the forest as I drove along the road A tourist from the Czech Republic joined me as we tried to find the bird. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Leaving the coast we made our up into the hinterland of the famous Atherton Tablelands where the thickest rainforest exists, and the home of the Tree Kangaroo which we managed to see in the pouting rain. We had to go over unsealed rough roads with the hire care at only 20 km/hr, but we were determined and praying the whole way that the car would be OK, and thankfully it was. It was pouring rain most of the time up there, and this footage was taken high up in the light deprived canopy.
Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo is the species found almost exclusively in this region. Papua and New Guinea also have their own species. They feed on leaves and fruit from the native forest. Their very long tail has no visible function as it does not grab or hold, it just hangs down. This was a lifer in the wild for us both. Unlike other kangaroos it spends its life in rainforest trees where it seldom comes down, but to relocate to food sources.
While up in the Atherton area we actually stayed in an Eco Lodge deep in the rainforest, where each morning and night we not only heard the rain and the the strange sounds of the rainforest birds calling, but actually got to feed some of the regular visitors to our cabin. The two lifers that came to visit were the Spotted Catbird and the female Victoria Riflebird. Sadly the colorful male Riflebirds are usually further north this time of year. The chubby Lewins Honeyeater, a rainforest bird we are well acquainted with down south was our most frequent visitor, eating pieces of fruit we put out on the railing, as we sat and sipped our wine and cheese.
Apologies for the visual noise in the video clip as it was quite dark facing into the rainforest most of the time, especially in the rain. Most of the rainforest birds, and in fact most Australian birds are fruit eaters, nectar eaters, insect eaters and Lerps eaters, but for rainforest birds native fruits and insects are thew main diet..
Each morning we were awakened to the sounds of the Catbird calling and the Orange-footed Scrubfowl. You can’t mistake the loud Catbird sound which woke us up, and the Scrubfowl is making the unusual loud warbling cackle occasionally and some other bird is making the regular single note chime. It sounded like this…
We did manage to see an Orange-footed Scrubfowl digging outside of the forest while the common Australian Brush Turkey wandered around. The Brush Turkey is very brazen and has no fear, it would try and steal the food we put out for the shy rainforest birds. They are a problem in Sydney also for destroying gardens and building their mounds in unpopular places.
Australian Brush Turkey females
Australian Brush Turkey females
The Little Shrike-thrush was a common bird here in the rainforest also, it was frequenting the gardens of the Eco lodge.
While near Atherton we took drive to famous Hastie’s Swamp a great haven for waterbirds, and always full of Plumed Whistling Ducks, they were there in their hundreds whistling away.
They are a beautiful looking bird, the males have the larger longer plumes, and a true flock bird. We saw many of these birds in various places on our travels far north.
Plumed Whistling Duck male
Plumed Whistling Duck
Plumed Whistling Duck
Plumed Whistling Duck
Plumed Whistling Duck
Plumed Whistling Duck
Plumed Whistling Duck
Several families of Pink-eared Duck and a few only of Australia’s rarest endemic waterfowl, the Freckled Duck, which is not normally seen this far north. Freckled Duck but they like usual, being shy of humans were some distance and sleeping on the water as you will see in my one good shot below..
Freckled Duck sleeping
You can learn more about the Pink-eared Duck from reading my book “What Birds Teach Us” which you can order here online. Visit my BirdBook page to find out more. Thank you so much everyone for your wonderful reviews, so glad it is blessing people of all ages.
Also, if you have not visited my new Special Sightings page and seen my latest entrythePowerful Owl(male and female), Australia’s largest owl, we saw last weekend, with Possum prey hanging on display from beneath the talon of the maleclick here.and I’ll take you there.
You may remember this sequence of events in the first video clip of this post…
The lesson I learn from the Southern Cassowary is that so called human kindness can be to the dire detriment of the bird. No matter how tame the bird might appear to be, this camper is doing the right thing in preventing the bird from stealing his food, he as the saying goes being cruel to be kind by discouraging the bird from coming to humans for handouts, which is the main cause of them being killed on roads, as well as attacking people and destructively breaking into houses. Notice how this man wisely rebuked the bird standing behind the table and making minimum eye contact. It was the following picture, my wife took, which caused me to see the spiritual aspect in all this.
Here in this photo man and wild bird have respect and lack of fear for each other, the man appreciating this special moment with this bird which is capable of killing him if it felt threatened or become aggressive demanding food. Many of Australia’s territorial birds are aggressive. As an aside: Australia has the largest percentage of aggressive birds in the world, and it is partly due to their diet and their territorial controls, as they compete for nectar, lerps and fruit. You are more likely to be attacked by a bird in Australia than any where else, and other birds and other animals are included as victims.
Interesting enough, the above picture occurs after the above series of the man chastising the bird for trying to steal his food. Today, sadly, we are seeing many problems with youth not having respect and consideration for others. This selfishness is partly due to the lack of discipline the parents have not employed during the child’s formative years. The secular humanistic philosophieswhich have departed from the life principles of the Creator has contributed to this. The spare the rod and spoil the child has come about because many parents disciplined out of anger, frustration and cruel punishment instead of out of loving correction, which uses a bare minimum of physical corrective contact while the child is very young. As with the Cassowary, when a child is allowed to always have its way, and becomes dependent on us to give it what it wants, we set a pattern for their future downfall in life, leading to possible depressive and loveless mindset, and in some cases suicide (internalized rage) or violent anger (externalized rage). As parents we need to firstly model the behaviour we want for our children by loving them, and the most important way we can do this is to love our spouse, for this is what they will learn more so than words, as the old adage says: it is better felt than telt. We teach our children and grandchildren more from how we live and speak than from anything we tell them to do, or even discipline them for. All discipline is meant in to be loving correction of bad behaviour BEFORE it gets out of hand, not for our own gain, but for the overall future good of the child. The types of discipline change with the growing child. God himself does the same with me, as she shapes my life and disciplines me when I become selfish and do things in a way detriment to his best for my life.
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ – Hebrews 12: 5-11 (NIV)
Leaving Townsville, we drive a hire car up the coast northward to our next stop, the Tyto Wetlands Centre in Ingham. Birders had told us this was a must visit place and we were not disappointed seeing several lifers, the first being the Crimson Finch, pictured above. These tiny birds were constantly flying and landing in the tall grass where they find their seed diet. The male is bright crimson and the female mainly around the head and tail. and juveniles mainly grey/brown. Click on photo to enlarge it.
Crimson Finch (male)
Crimson Finch male
Crimson Finch (male)
Crimson Finch (female)
Crimson Finch (juvenile)
Female Crimson Finch
The name Tyto is named after the rare Eastern Grass Owl (Tyto capensis) which is found there in the grassland during the latter part of the year. This wetlands is well cared for by the local council and has well marked walks, including crocodile warnings, which concerned my wife, though the only croc we saw while up north was a baby one in Reef HQ (the largest coral aquarium in the world, at Townsville). Crocs are river dwellers mainly, and can get washed out into coastal areas during the wet season.
Walking the circuit we saw several types of habitat including bush, open forest, grassland, lake, and pandanas forest.
The red-backed Fairy-wren was again a great delight.
One of the common birds seen up here quietly sitting in trees is the Spangled Drongo, which is usually identified by its classic tail and shimmering bluish/black metallic plumage.
We were surprised to find two kinds of Shrike-thrush next to each other in the woodlands both different races of Little Shrike-thrush, both lifers. These races (subspecies) are found only in this part of Australia.
Little Shrike-thrush race rufogaster)
Little Shrike-thrush race rufogaster)
I had wondered where the Rufous Whistlers had gone during the drought, finding one here.
But another lifer brought excitement to my wife, the White-browed Robin which is only found in Far North Queensland, her namesake. The English have a Robin but we have 17 different species of Robin. No these are not the same photos notice the tail, a feature of the robins is how they flick their tails up and down while perched.
Another bird only seen this far north was this White-gaped Honeyeater. I guess when you have over 70 honeyeaters and many have white markings on their face, it gets difficult to name them accordingly, so this one is gaped.
Another passerine lifer was this Brush Cuckoo, which has the feature of looking like a cuckoo but without the usual white tips on the upper tail being obvious. If you look closely you can detect bands showing through the brown upper tail, this can make it difficult to call.
The most prolific bird seen here by the lakes is of course the Forest Kingfisher, beautifully attired in his bright blue vest, standing out against the brown mud and reeds. I managed to convince him to fly so you can appreciate his full beauty.
Forest Kingfisher resting
Forest Kingfisher resting with Peaceful Doves
Forest Kingfisher in flight
Other classic waterside birds included the Australasian Darter and the Intermediate Egret, one we do not see much of down south.
So we come now to the lakes, the actual wetlands. Here is a panorama of the area, which includes the Comb-crested Jacana who was my first bird seen here on the water, and quickly hid from me.
But the most exciting find on the water was not the Hardheads which were close to shore, but the unusual looking birds afloat, way out in the middle of the lake, well away from us. My wife trained her trusty binoculars, which she proudly purchased from the London Wetlands Centre a few years ago, on these birds which turned out again to be lifers. The Green Pygmy-Goose and the Cotton Pygmy-Goose were peacefully together with the Hardheads and the Wandering Whistling Ducks. The Cotton Pygmy-Goose was a lifer for me not just in the wild but ever.
Green Pygmy-Goose pair
Green Pygmy-Goose with Hardheads
Cotton Pygmy-Goose and Wandering Whistling Ducks
Green Pygmy-Goose pair
Hardheads landing near Cotton Pygmy-Goose
Green Pygmy-Goose flying off
Notice the black eye marking of the male Cotton Pygmy-Goose and the lack thereof in the females, one fore and aft of the male.
And of course, there is always one lone Australasian Grebe, this one with some breeding plumage, in the lake. I am sure there are others somewhere else.
Our visit here had been a great delight, though the fear of crocs was a little off putting for my wife. We had seen several lifers. We would now make our way further north to the rainforest areas visiting Mission Beach and the Atherton Tablelands for some very unique birdlife, but that will be in my next post.
Check out my NEW Special Sightings page.which shares special local birding highlights, unique and rare sightings. See my latest shots of thePowerful Owl with prey. Check out my HomePage for more birding tips, inspirational and info pages.
At Reef HQ in Townsville we saw many species of coral and tropical fish including the most unusual Clownfish which spends most of its time swimming in among the tentacles of the Sea Anemone. Sea Anemones are predators that attach themselves to rocks or coral. There, they sit and wait until a fish swims close enough to attack with its tentacles. Clownfish are one of the only species that can survive the deadly sting of the Sea Anemone.
By making the anemone their home, Clownfish become immune to its sting. These fish will gently touch every part of their bodies to the anemone’s tentacles until it no longer affects them. A layer of mucus then forms on the clown fish’s body to prevent it from getting stung again. This relationship reminds me of living under my Father God’s loving care. As I grow from a child to an adult I am initially disciplined so as to learn to live a good life.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” – Hebrews 12:7
As I remain under the care of our loving Father we remain protected from the Enemy, that is not the Anemone, who we are warned, lurks about the world around us, seeking to lead us to destruction.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaringlion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8
Abnormal, selfish, destructive addictive behaviour results when I make myself vulnerable to bad decisions and thoughts. I am only safe in my loving Father’s own prescriptive plan for a good life, which he designed and created for,when I remain in his loving protection close to Him, knowing He is always close to me. His Love Letter the Bible contains all I need for His best for my life.
‘Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. “I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” – Psalm 16:1,2
Now that I have cut back from full-time work, my second book is under way, featuring more Australian birds and their unusual characteristics. In a similar way to the first book, it is set in a counseling context, but for families, many of which are also in crisis and need of life skills to assist them with proven life experiences and life skills for making good life decisions. This book “Birds of a Feather – Family Forever.” will again be a unique work presented in a simple readable format similar to my first book. I have been greatly encouraged by many important people in my life, who are awaiting this much needed work, and hopefully will become another non-confronting counseling tool for all ages. This book will be an asset for young adults planning for relationship and family giving helpful tools and insights for a Together Forever life.
Please Note: Increases to postage, packaging and handling fees required the small increase in purchase price. However, buying here online remains the least expensive place to buy your copy compared to most retail shops which sell for $35 in Australia.