Itching For Some Twitching
by Bonnie Mary Liston
Images L & R: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Centre: Henry Cook
Birds like Tasmania. Firstly it’s an island, which birds like in general because they can flaunt their ability to come and go as they please to those dumb landlocked mammals. Secondly we’ve got a lush, sexy, biosphere with grassy moorlands, coastal heaths, temperate rainforests and eucalyptus bush, all in one conveniently compact package.
Not only is about 47% of Tasmania covered in forest, nearly 25% of it is protected Wilderness World Heritage Area which birds are particularly appreciative of because, with the Tassie tiger out of the way and the devil being quite a short and clumsy fellow the only predators they really have to watch out for here is that devil known as Man (feral cats are also a bit of a problem, but they’re really a side effect of Man). Nearly 300 different species of birds have been recorded in Tasmania, including 12 endemic bird species (endemic meaning they are only found in Tasmania), 14 if you count a couple of parrots who find Tasmania so romantic they’ll never breed anywhere else.
And where there are birds there comes inevitably birdwatchers. Birders. Twitchers. Not to be confused with the children playing their square games on the internet, twitchers are bird watchers that will travel any distance, brave any hardship, lose friends, family and lovers, just to catch a glimpse of their elusive prey: birds chilling in the wild doing bird things. Birding is a hobby filled with passionate people and, like many hobbies, the more you learn about them, the more you become endeared by their way of life. A lot of twitchers come to Tasmania as tourists but there is a very strong local bird watching community. In 2020 we were one of only three states in Australia to hold a Twitchathon in the midst of Covid-19. The Twitchathon is a race in which teams compete to observe as many different species of bird within a 30 hour period (a weekend minus compulsory breaks for sleep). The Tasmanian Twitchathon also served to raise money for the endangered forty-spotted pardalote and critically endangered swift parrot and orange-bellied parrot.
Many bird watchers consider themselves ‘citizen scientists’ and they’re quite right to. The sheer amount of meticulous data they record is as useful to ornithologists as it would be impossible for them to generate with their own time or resources. Especially with advances in technology – gone are the days of a battered Field Guide to Birds and a notebook and pencil – the internet makes it possible to collate and interpret data from people all around the globe, and mobile phone apps, like BirdData, make it easy to record sightings wherever you are – out in the field huddled under a bush or on your way downtown for a coffee.
The next frontier of birding isn’t in the heart of some untamed wilderness, it’s right here in Hobart town. Urban birding is gaining ground as a subdiscipline just as quickly as urbanisation is gaining ground on natural bird habitats. Birds, like most animals, don’t really understand or respect the notion of human property. They’ll live in the city if the city is close to things they like and Hobart, which touches the sea, the mountain and the rivulet as well as being full of delicious garbage, suits many birds quite nicely. Urban birding is a two pronged beast (or should I say, two beaked bird). Not only is it about spotting birds in the city, it’s about making the city a more desirable and diverse habitat for birds.
And they want you. Birdlife, Australia’s largest bird conservation organisation and umbrella point for twitching communities, invites you and your family to dip your toes into the twitcher whirlpool with their ‘Birds in Backyards’ program. They say it’s about appreciating the nature that surrounds us everyday and learning small tips and tricks to help birds from the comfort of your own home, but make no mistake, they want to get you hooked on the incredible rush that comes from spotting and correctly identifying a bird.
That said… if you did want to give it a try this summer… our very own TMAG has released The Field Guide to Tasmanian Fauna, a free app that helps you identify and learn about the rich and unusual wildlife of our fair state. Good luck and as the birders say, look out for that jizz! (that’s General Impression of Shape and Size, obviously).