How to become a birder just in time for Kakadu’s Bird Week

I like the idea of bird watching. When I think about the cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets that make my neighbourhood home, I love how they fly and shred eucalypts in community, I think their plumage is magnificent, and they have so much character in their eyes. But how do I make the most of this? I know I need binoculars …

With Australia being home to close to 800 bird species, getting on my way to becoming a bird expert was a little daunting. Ahead of Kakadu’s Bird Week in early October, I enlisted the help of Northern Territory-based long-time birder and brilliant photographer, Laurie Ross of Tracks Birding and Photography Tours to show me the ropes.

Why did you become a birder and bird photographer?

“I became a bird photographer about 11 years ago when I moved to Australia from New Zealand, I really enjoy the challenge of photographing birds, especially when there are more than 750 different species in Australia. They should keep me busy for many years to come.”

Do you have a favourite Australian bird guide?

“I recently received my copy of The Australian Bird Guide which is my new favourite.”

Binocular advice – what specs do you recommend for someone getting started?

“For someone getting started, I would recommend 10x42, the optics quality and brand is all going to come down to your budget. My wife carries around a pair of Nikon Monarch 5 10x42 and I own a pair of Swarovski EL 10x42.”

What cameras / tech do you use in capturing birds?

“I’m a huge fan of Canon cameras,  I currently use the new Canon 1Dx II combined with a Canon 600mm F4 IS II, this is the best set up for bird photography if you can afford it. By far the most popular set up is the Canon 7D Mark II with the Canon 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II.”

What other equipment do you need?

“It’s always good to have a tripod with you as well as an extender and maybe your wife or girlfriend to keep you company.”

Forest kingfisher. Photo by Laurie Ross.

What is your record keeping process?

“I’m a huge fan of eBird. This amazing website and app allows you to log and record all of your sightings. It is also a great way to find out where other people have seen birds recently.”

Do you have some tips for finding Kakadu birds?

“My biggest tip for any bird watcher looking for birds in Kakadu is get to the bird sites nice and early. The birds are usually very active first thing in the morning and there is also less people around.”

Are you a member of a bird club? Are there birding magazines you subscribe to?

“I’m a member of the Northern Territory Field Naturalist Club Inc. and subscribed to Birdlife Australia magazine.”

Where is your favourite bird-spotting location in Kakadu?

“My favourite location in Kakadu to go birding is at the top of the falls at Gunlom. Not only do you get one of the best views in Kakadu, you can also find all of the sandstone endemics, it’s also a great place for a swim after a long morning of birding.”

Which Aussie bird is your ‘white whale’?

“For many birders/bird photographers in Australia (including me) the white-throated grasswren has to be the White Whale. This special bird is only found on the Arnhem Land escarpments including Kakadu and is extremely difficult to find and even harder to photograph.”

Partridge pigeon. Photo by Laurie Ross.

I looked into the elusive white-throated grasswren. This unassuming little brown bird lives in the under growth of tropical areas like Kakadu and is a threatened species, predominantly affected by fire and feral cats and pigs. But this little fella is on Australia’s Threatened Species Strategy list, which sets out the Australian Government’s plan to protect and recover our threatened birds. It includes commitments to improve trajectories of 20 threatened birds by 2020.

While it takes time to reach Laurie’s level of proficiency, the benefits of bird watching extend beyond the satisfaction of tallying up each bird species sighted. It would seem that bird watching is actually a lesson in mindfulness and patience as you observe your surroundings in the hunt for spectacular Australian birds.

Kakadu, in particular, is a bird lover’s paradise – home to more than a third of Australia’s bird species. This October, you can join traditional owners, Parks Australia and local birding specialists to celebrate the Top End’s diverse birdlife during Kakadu Bird Week 1–7 October 2017. With a week full of expert-guided events, you’ll be an ornithologist in no time.

by Keren at Parks Australia