Birding in the backyard counts

I lift the cup to my lips, breathing in the earl grey bouquet as it mixes with the scents of my garden in spring. My laptop sits open with unread emails to attend to but I relish the moment. It is quiet, peaceful. I know that it won't be quiet for long.

Moment by moment, my ears attune to the sounds of the world around me. A large dragonfly drones by, a magpie carols in the distance, and closer at hand an eastern spinebill calls its peeping song. A flock of tiny brown thornbills makes its way along the native bushes that line our fence. More and more, the world comes to life around me, and I muse that I wouldn't have seen it this way had I not brought my cuppa out with me and sat down for a moment.

The companionable twitterings and cheeky bickering of brown thornbills along our fenceline is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

The companionable twitterings and cheeky bickering of brown thornbills along our fenceline is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

As a kid, the backyard was my habitat and my domain. These days, even with two dogs I hardly spend any time out there. Because of this, I miss out on so much. 

Sitting, quietly contemplating the world about me, I begin to pick up and recognise behaviours in the birdlife. The spinebills make a predictable circuit around the flowers they feed on. Day by day, they give away the location of their nest, perched high and deep in the neighbour’s cypress. My mum informs me that around five each afternoon, a female gang gang flies through. Sometimes we hear her and her mate feeding in the neighbourhood, but they always leave to roost for the night. A chance glance across the side fence one morning reveals an Australian hobby sitting silently atop our neighbour’s aerial, buffeted by the spring gusts.

Spring visits from eastern spinebills have brought joy to my family for years, but their presence at our place has recently become permanent. Last year we had chicks raised in the garden. Will they succeed this year? 

Spring visits from eastern spinebills have brought joy to my family for years, but their presence at our place has recently become permanent. Last year we had chicks raised in the garden. Will they succeed this year? 

Our birch trees have seen a succession of parrots. The crimson and eastern rosellas of my childhood rarely call their bell-like toll these days, replaced instead by the cheeky rainbow lorikeets.

Our birch trees have seen a succession of parrots. The crimson and eastern rosellas of my childhood rarely call their bell-like toll these days, replaced instead by the cheeky rainbow lorikeets.

Spotted doves. The fact that they are an introduced species does nothing to diminish the pleasure spent watching them.

Spotted doves. The fact that they are an introduced species does nothing to diminish the pleasure spent watching them.

The more I notice, the more interested I become, and the more I feel an affinity for these individuals as they go about their day around me. We spend so much time indoors that we are cut off from the myriad other lives buzzing about us, a fact which removes them from our minds and puts them low on the list of priorities to protect. The more time I spend outside, the more connected I feel to this little patch of earth, the busy, functioning ecosystem of my yard and the life it supports.

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Two years ago, the Aussie Backyard Bird Count forced me to sit outside for 20 minutes at a time to record birds in the garden. I thought I'd be bored in my urban habitat, but was surprised to find the peace it brought me, and the number of species I found. These days it is a feature of my life. As much as I can, I take a tea outside, or my breakfast, and sit, watch and listen. Tuning my senses to the birds and beasts brings me out of the inner monologue that usually dominates my life. We so rarely sit quietly that we forget how restorative it is, how vital for our functioning. It's only when we're forced to do so that we remember how good it is.

Try it sometime. Head out the back door with a cup of tea, coffee or your lunch, and just wait. Even if the only thing you see is an ant crawling across your table, I dare you to say you’re bored.

The Aussie Backyard Bird Count takes place from Monday 23rd October to Sunday 29th October. Register here to participate.


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Cathy Cavallo

Cathy is a PhD student and science communicator with a passion for natural history, environmental engagement and photography. When she isn't running the Wild Melbourne social media, you'll find her working with little penguins on Phillip Island or underwater somewhere.

You can find her on Twitter at @CavalloDelMare


All images courtesy of Cathy Cavallo.