Skip to Content

The art of birdwatching

Published 21 Dec 2010 

If you hear some strange sounds escaping Glen Norris’s lips, don’t worry – he’s just practising his birdcalls!

chestnut-breasted whitefaceChestnut-breasted whiteface – South Australia's only endemic bird species. Photo: Graeme Chapman

Glen Norris admits he almost laughed the first time he watched Dr Andrew Black mimic a bird call.

But these days, when Glen, Reserve Manager at Bon Bon Station, is out working on his own in the vast expanses of the South Australian reserve, he isn’t averse to giving it a go.

His knowledge of birds has grown dramatically over the last year thanks to some one-on-one training with Andrew, a highly regarded ornithologist  as well as retired neurologist.

How Andrew caught the bug

Andrew first got the birdwatching bug on a camping trip to Central Australia about 40 years ago, which he soon followed with a course on identifying Australian birds.

Andrew BlackBirdwatching expert Andrew Black: 'I never think of myself as a volunteer, because what I do for Bush Heritage is part of my enjoyment of birdwatching. I enjoy visiting these wonderful places.' Photo: Andrew Black

'I was totally hooked and joined various birding organisations, including the South Australian Ornithological Association' (now Birds SA), says Andrew.

In 2000, he received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for Contributions to Medicine, in particular epilepsy, and to Conservation, the Environment and Ornithology.

Andrew's association with Bush Heritage began in 2006 after Bush Heritage supporters rallied together to purchase Boolcoomatta Reserve.

Having previously spent time on this property, he was familiar with its birdlife and immediately offered his time. It was a similar situation in 2008 when Bon Bon Station became the 24th Bush Heritage Reserve.

How Andrew has helped Bon Bon and Glen

Bon Bon is 217 000 hectares and is unique for its diversity of vegetation.

Its desert landscape is dotted with shimmering salt lakes, freshwater wetlands, gracefully twisting western myall trees and expanses of pearl bluebush. Birdlife includes the thick-billed grasswren (nationally vulnerable), Bourke’s parrot, Gilbert’s whistler and the chestnut-breasted whiteface (only found in arid parts of South Australia).

Andrew helps Bush Heritage by identifying birds, taking part in annual surveys, and teaching Glen the basics of bird identification. Other things Glen now looks out for are the size, shape and colour of the bird, any unusual behaviour, and the sounds they make.

'One of the highlights was seeing the chestnut-breasted whiteface,' says Glen. 'By the end of the week I was very confident that I could identify this bird.'

Glen says Andrew’s contribution to Bush Heritage is priceless. 'He’s well respected in all bird circles throughout South Australia and I feel privileged to spend time with him. His contribution to the bird work out here has been amazing.'

Bird watching is for everyone

Andrew believes anyone can take up bird watching. 'All you really need is a bit of ingenuity, a pair of binoculars and time.'

'Birds are beautiful creatures. In some cases the beauty is subtle – such as patterns on feathers and wings. That's the appeal; it’s an opportunity to observe some of the wild creatures that share this planet and it's truly wonderful.'

Could you be a birdwatcher?

Andrew Black at Bon Bon Station ReserveAndrew Black at Bon Bon Station Reserve. Photo: Glen Norris

Andrew Black’s top tips for bird identification:

  • Bring binoculars to the eyes, not vice versa, so that the bird is in view immediately.
  • Observe size, shape, colour, markings and flight pattern.
  • It takes time to learn bird calls but it's worth the effort.
  • Some birds have characteristic behaviours including feeding methods and mode of movement.
  • Make detailed notes before looking in a field guide.

Want to try your hand at birdwatching?

Join us for a Guided Tour of Yourka Reserve on 3–6 June 2011. More than 100 bird species call Yourka home, including the red goshawk, the tawny frogmouth and the white-bellied sea eagle. Don’t forget your binoculars!

Bon Bon Station Reserve was purchased with the assistance of the Australian Government. The reserve is managed for nature conservation as part of the National Reserve System. Thanks also to the Besen Family Foundation for supporting conservation management of Bon Bon Station Reserve this year.

By Karen Graham

Bush gift cards
Got your newsletter?