Last week I took part in the Great Aussie Backyard Bird Count – an annual citizen science event that monitors the diversity and numbers of birds across Australia.
Over the course of the week, bird-lovers around the country submitted around 84,000 bird surveys to BirdLife Australia, and counted nearly 2.8 million birds in total.
I managed eight surveys, took in around 40 species, and counted nearly 300 individual birds – a drop in the ocean, but everyone’s combined efforts add up. Each survey is 20 minutes long, so 84,000 of those adds up to about 28,000 hours of combined effort. Go team!
Who showed up to be counted?
I surveyed in a various habitats – including my immediate neighbourhood, wetland and woodland habitats at Flinders University and nearby Warriparinga, and alongside the Field River.
I saw many of what I would call ‘the usual suspects’ – common native birds like Rainbow Lorikeets, Noisy Miners, Australian Wood Ducks, Red Wattlebirds, and introduced birds like and Starlings and Sparrows.
Unsurprisingly, the most numerous bird I saw was the ubiquitous and noisy Rainbow Lorikeet – the commonest species in last year’s Backyard Bird Count.
But I was delighted to see some species that are less ‘everyday’ for me: busy little Superb Fairy-wrens, a White-browed Scrubwren (which was intent on eating a caterpillar bigger than its head), Grey Currawongs (confusingly, the local sub-species is black), and a Royal Spoonbill (always fun, because who doesn’t like a bird with a built-in set of salad tongs?).
By good fortune, I also had a couple of bird species show up in my garden for the first time this week (they must have known they were bound for fame and glory!). A small group of Silvereyes visited my courtyard, and a Collared Sparrowhawk caused a commotion among the small birds. The Sparrowhawk left with feathers stuck to its feet, but I didn’t see who was at the bottom of the food-chain on this occasion.
What I learnt by taking part
I need to lift my little brown bird (LBB) identification game.
I got better at identifying anonymous LBBs during the week thanks to field-guides and by listening to bird calls on Graeme Chapman’s excellent website. But I still missed out on recording a few species because I couldn’t tell what they were quickly enough. A work in progress.
My neighbourhood is a deeply unpopular spot for birding.
Taking part prompted me to check out the local records for some of the species I don’t usually see, by searching the Atlas of Living Australia, which combines recent and historical species records from a variety of sources.
Interestingly, most of the species I searched for have either no records in the immediate area, or at least not recent ones. This suggests to me that bird species in my local area – even in open spaces such as the Field River – are going under-recorded.
I don’t blame local birders for not making a beeline for the area – why would you when you could head to a pretty conservation park nearby, like the Onkaparinga River National Park?
But many of the species that I saw – especially woodland birds like fairy-wrens, thornbills, white-plumed honeyeaters and currawongs, which I never or rarely get in my garden – I found in highly urbanised and decidedly unsexy spots, including weed-dominated habitats right next to the noisy Southern Expressway.
I therefore suspect that there is more birdlife hanging on in this south-western region of Adelaide than you would guess based on dots on the map in the Atlas of Living Australia. It might be worth checking out your own area on the map too.
It’s vital to record what species are present where in order to conserve them – and of course that is the whole point of the Backyard Bird Count. So I’ve vowed that this year, I will make an effort to do more surveys in my local area to fill in some of those gaps on the map.
Get ready for next time!
While BirdLife Australia is busy crunching this year’s numbers, you can download the Great Aussie Backyard Bird Count app ready for next October.
Or if you can’t wait a whole year, hop on board with the Birds in Backyards Seasonal Surveys! That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming 12 months, so wish me luck with those little brown birds…