Every October for the last five years, Birdlife Australia runs the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. This is a great piece of citizen science. Like the name says, people all over the country go birdwatching over the course of a week and submit their count to a central database.
Although there are a few skews in the data, such as urban populations being over represented, and shy or nocturnal birds being under represented, it still makes for an excellent resource. Shifting population ranges over the years become apparent, and so do changes in population size. Interestingly, the 2018 results show that the three most common birds in Tasmania are all introduced.
Last week we have been going out for twenty minutes at a time on a daily basis and seeing what is in our yard. Twenty minutes is the recommended amount, and it is a good block of time. You tend not to see much more by staying out longer. We use the Morcombe and Stewart Guide to Birds of Australia app. This is great as it is heaps faster than looking through a book, and you can listen to the calls.
We have done our birdwatching sessions in a few different places. It is interesting to notice just how much the species change in just a few hundred metres. We see quite a different group of birds by walking down to the dunes than we do standing in our back yard. Here is a nest of Blue Faced Honeyeaters we found.
These have been great opportunities to get outside and take a close look and listen at what is happening there. I have been teaching the boys to look up and keep their eyes open for movement, and then track the movement to a bird. We also listen a lot. Birds often tell you where they are by calling out. Sometimes when we cant quite make out a bird by sight, we can confirm it by its call. I am pleased that the boys (and myself) are geting better at call identification. It is not an easy thing to do, but you often hear birds without ever seeing them. They tell you what they are up to, whether it is feeding, chasing off a threat, claiming their space or just hanging out.
Many people go birdwatching with the intent of ticking the birds off a list. This aspect doesnt really interest me. I am much more interested in using the birds as an insight into the surrounding environment.
Since the weather has started to warm up, we have been getting a lot of migratory birds appearing here now. Dollarbirds appear, and the rainbow bee eaters have come from the tropics to dig nesting burrows in the sand dunes at the beach. This is what the burrow looks like.
We noticed that although the bee eaters travel a long way to get here, they then live on a tiny area once they arrive. The lewins honeyeater lives in our yard all year round, and never seems to travel more than a couple of hundred metres in any direction. Every morning, we hear a family of kookaburras who do a circuit, calling out their territory. The swallows have the same flight pattern as microbats because they both eat insects on the wing, and occupy the same ecological niche only separated by time – swallows in the day and bats at night.
Birds give a lot of context to a landscape. Urban areas built on drained wetlands still often retain a lot of wetland birds like ducks and herons. Suburbs are often well populated with honeyeaters due to the flowering bushes in peoples gardens.
It has been really nice to be a part of the national bird count. This year, they recorded over three and a half million birds across the country. A couple of hundred of them were from us. I have enjoyed showing the boys birdwatching as an inroad to exploring what is right in front of us. It is a great excuse to aimlessly wander with intent.