Birdwatching for beginners
Workshop 1: Birdwatching for beginners 2nd August, 2014
About The Session:
On Saturday 2nd August over thirty people gathered in the Castlemaine Botanic Gardens Tea Rooms to learn about birdwatching for beginners. I presented this workshop on behalf of Connecting Country’s Habitat for Bush Birds program. It was a wonderful turnout and some of the participants had never been to an environmental education workshop before!
Beginners often need to spend a fair bit of time flipping through the entire bird book to find “a small bird with yellow on it” – how do we move from this, to being able to go to the section of the guide where the bird is most likely to be? If we can classify birds into groups such as honeyeater or whistler or thornbill, then it is that much easier to then drill down into various species. We can use tools such as shape, size and behaviour to start to get to know our local bird groups.
By using scanned images of each different bird guide, I compared the pictures and text illustrating the Yellow-rumped Thornbill. We could see that the paintings were quite different from each other, and some more useful than others in highlighting key differences. A comparison of the text revealed that only some of the guides described all-important behavioural features. Conclusion: Pizzey and Knight for the excellent text, and Slater for the beautiful paintings and good text.
I then threw everyone in the deep end with a quiz, using photos and field guides to identify two birds – a New Holland Honeyeater and a Striated Thornbill.
By a happy coincidence, it was the Swift Parrot Survey weekend that weekend, so we thought would have a walk up to the bushand section of the Castlemaine Botanic Gardens and have a look for any Swift Parrots. Chris Timewell gave a short presentation on Swift Parrots and their identification. Unfortunately time was a bit tight for the walk, but we did have some lovely views of Eastern Yellow Robin enjoying the native vegetation which has been planted by the creek.
Many thanks to Chris Timewell and Janet Barker for their assistance on the day. In true Connecting Country spirit, Naomi, Max and Emma pitched in and helped as well.
Resources and Links from the Session:
- Unfortunately there is no official branch of BirdLife Australia in Castlemaine. However, the Castlemaine Field Naturalists are very much into birds, and carry out both the Swift parrot counts, and the Annual Bird Count in December. http://castlemainefnc.wordpress.com
- Birdlife Ballarat often has excursions up this way, for example to Maryborough. http://www.birdlife.org.au/locations/birdlife-ballarat
- Keep in touch with all things natural history related in the Mount Alexander region by becoming a member and subscribing to the Connecting Country blog. http://connectingcountry.org.au/
- BirdLife Australia. Australia’s peak birding organisation http://birdlife.org.au
- Birdata. The gateway to BirdLife Australia data including the Atlas of Australian Birds and Nest Record scheme. http://birdata.com.au
- Birds in Backyards. A research, education and conservation program focusing on the birds where people live. http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/
- Birdline. Visit the Victorian section if you are interested in rare bird updates, such as Swift Parrot sightings. http://www.eremaea.com/BirdlineRecentSightings.aspx?Birdline=1
Field guides and apps: Everyone has a favourite field guide – and indeed it is best to have a range of guides as each has different things to offer. It is widely agreed that the ‘pizzey’, as it is affectionately known, is one of the best. However, they all have something to recommend them, so try your local library if you wish to compare guides. For example, Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds is great because it has a comprehensive section on nests and eggs, and the Simpson and Day Field Guide is good because it is fairly compact and the illustrations are very clear.
A recommended app for iphone or android systems is by Michael Morcombe and David Stewart, The Michael Morcombe eGuide to Australian Birds. The app is useful for its calls, and particularly for when you want to compare two similar calls, for example a Golden Whistler or a Rufous Whistler.
Photos from the day ( click on an image to enlarge): by Janet Barker