Adventure

1900 Footprints: A Journey for the Plight of Threatened Species

This is a guest post by Tristan O'Brien.

With a growing list of over 1900 Threatened species in Australia and an ongoing struggle for resources to combat this issue across the country, what does the future of sustainability and biological diversity look like in Australia? 

As the world’s population migrates into cities and leaves the countryside, our physical and emotional connection to natural places is being broken. Indeed, the first modern ‘urban’ areas in Europe have existed for only around 200 years, a mere fraction of the eons our species has spent living with a much closer connection to the land. Globally, more than half of the world's population live in urban areas, whilst in Australia, the number of people living in cities dwarfs those living in rural areas at a staggering 89%. 

How many people in this country are now able to experience the Australia described by Banjo Patterson? ‘For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.’

Surely, this is having an effect on our motivation for and understanding about why protecting ecological integrity is important here in Australia. In protecting threatened species and responding to climate change, we are struggling to fulfil our responsibility to lead as a developed nation.

Tristan O'Brien will walk 1900km to raise awareness and funds for our threatened species.  Image: Camilo Mateus

Tristan O'Brien will walk 1900km to raise awareness and funds for our threatened species. Image: Camilo Mateus

Reconnecting with our HumaNature for the long term

It is clear to me that as Australians, we have a unique opportunity. We are economically stable, and have a high standard of living, low population density, and some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on Earth.

Developing a greater outdoor culture in Australia will ensure that future generations are equipped with the knowledge to protect biodiversity. Getting our city populations outside and reconnecting with our amazing environment will go a long way towards developing motivation and political will to restore our fragmented landscapes into the future.

This cultural change can happen at a grassroots level, by taking friends and family to our own favourite spots and sharing our enjoyment of natural places. This is why organisations working towards these changes are so important, especially if they are able to reach a wide audience and involve them in environmental issues in an engaging way.

Another exciting movement is the way our understanding of what it means to have nature in a city is changing, particularly by changing cities themselves to contain and function as unique ecosystems. Side effects of including nature in the function of cities include greater social cohesion, a decreased chance of developing a mental illness, reductions in crime*, and increased productivity**.

Logo design: Bel  én Elorietta.

Logo design: Belén Elorietta.

But what about responding now?

Unfortunately, many environmental issues are pertinent now, and cannot wait for future generations to make the first response. For example, historical land clearing in Adelaide’s Mt Lofty Ranges ending in the 1980s has left an ‘extinction debt’ of nearly 50 of the 120 bird species that originally existed in the region, eight of which have already disappeared.

Continued land clearing, mining activities, invasive species, urban sprawl and climate change are just some of the pressures threatening many species around Australia that require immediate action to prevent further species loss.

Therefore, it is important for Australians to support organisations that are actively carrying out restoration works right now.

So what are we going to do about it?

1900 kilometres for 1900 threatened species

In my own efforts to highlight these issues, from mid-September I will be undertaking a long-distance walk called 1900 Footprints to raise awareness and funds for conservation projects in Australia. The walk will take me from Adelaide to Melbourne and across Tasmania.

In walking one kilometre for every species listed as Threatened in this country, I hope to garner interest from individuals, groups and organisations for changing the way we think about our connection with natural environments and to fundraise for on-the-ground conservation initiatives.

Funds raised will go towards two organisations that are making a real-world difference in these areas:

BioR is a volunteer-run, scientifically-informed restoration organisation that reconstructs habitat for declining species in cleared agricultural landscapes. They will use funds from 1900 Footprints to install a nursery and nesting boxes for declining bird species in a 1700ha restoration site near Monarto, South Australia.

Wollangarra is an outdoor education centre that helps young people connect with themselves, their peers and the natural environment by taking them hiking in wild areas of the Victorian High Country. In these places, they perform important, on-the-ground conservation works, including weed removal, track maintenance and tree planting. Funds from 1900 Footprints will be used to sponsor disadvantaged young people to attend these life-changing courses and connect with the wild Australian landscape.

Please help me with 1900 Footprints by sharing this project with your family and friends and by donating to the project.

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Tristan O’Brien has worked in ecology, sustainability, outdoor education and eco-tourism. He is passionate about communicating environmental conservation through design, writing, photography and outdoor education. He completed an Honours year in Environmental Biology, investigating habitat use changes of woodland birds following controlled burning.

You can find him on Twitter at @TristanAvella


Banner image courtesy of Tristan O'Brien.

*Wolfe, M.K. and J. Mennis, Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA. Landscape and Urban Planning, 2012. 108 (2–4): p. 112-122. 

**Nieuwenhuis, M., et al., The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 2014. 20(3): p. 199-214.    

Hiking Lerderderg State Park (With a Dog)

This is a guest post by Fam Charko.

If you want to get out of the city for a day or a week, Lerderderg State Park has it all. It’s only 1 – 1.5 hours to the west of Melbourne and provides outdoor experiences for all types of visitors. It has free car camping spots right on the river, 4WD and motorbike tracks, challenging hikes up and down steep razorback ridges, mountaintop vistas, wheelchair-accessible day picnic areas and hard-to-get-to hiking trails that leave you breathless with effort. This park has been a spiritual refuge for me for years, and I want to share with you a challenging two-day pack-hiking route that includes some beautiful riverside camping.

The reason I personally like this park is that despite its proximity to the city, it is very easy to get away from the motorbikes and really feel like you are miles away from civilisation. It feels much more remote than you would expect from a State Park. Every year there is at least one news article about an unprepared day hiker with no map who gets lost and is forced to spend an uncomfortably cold night in the park, before being airlifted out by helicopter the next day. How embarrassing. Don’t be that person. Bring a paper map, a compass (and learn how to use it), spare rations and water in addition to your GPS and phone maps. Mobile coverage is okay in most of the park, but certainly not available everywhere. 

The Lerderderg River snakes right through the park and when it runs, its waters run cold and tan-coloured, forming many great swimming holes along its length. The park’s more remote areas very much resemble a national park, with the gorge sporting gigantic pile-ups of logs and organic debris from countless flash-floods, lined with stunning wildflowers like native heath, orchids and bush peas. There are birds, wombats and swamp wallabies galore. Some threatened species can be found here too, like brush-tailed phascogales, common gliders and common bent-winged bats. Unfortunately, there are also goats. Lots of goats.

A side note on hiking with dogs in Lerderderg State Park

A big plus for me is that in this park there are areas where you can bring your dog for company. Hiking with my Aussie Shepherd is one of my favourite things in the world. The first time I took Loki hiking was in this park. You should have seen his face when it dawned on him that the place was full of sticks - priceless.

Your pooch is allowed on the lead in the sections of the park that are not marked conservation or reference zone. They are not allowed in the Mackenzie’s Flat day visitor area, but you can pass through to get to the trails. 

If you are hiking the razorbacks, it is advisable to have your dog wear an outdoor harness so you can help him climb any steep sections. Another heads-up is on snakes: I once had the great fortune of seeing a beautiful eastern brown sunning itself on a log right next to the trail. I also had the great fortune that my dog didn’t notice it before I did. Always stick to the trail, and consider restricting hiking with dogs to the colder months of the year, when our slithery friends are hibernating. 

Loki the Australian Shepherd ready for adventure.

Loki the Australian Shepherd ready for adventure.

This route starts down the south side of the park, at Mackenzie’s Flat picnic ground, where you can park your car overnight. 

My canine sidekick and I were there in May and the river was dry as a bone. This happens a lot, so always make sure you carry enough water with you. I bring a few litres plus a very good water filter and iodine pills, so I’m able to take water from rock pools. Loki carries his own water in his backpack, together with his food, bed, snacks, poo bags and of course my hip flask of rum. 

The first few kilometres to Graham’s Dam follow the river in a north-westerly direction, passing many riverside campsites and wombat holes. In summer and early autumn the river is dry, making it easy to cross, but in other seasons be prepared for multiple river crossings and getting wet feet. As this part of the walk is flat and close to the car park, I spot bits of rubbish left behind by campers and day hikers. This is often the unfortunate reality of easily accessible areas, but don’t let that deter you if you want to bush camp without hiking a long way: the campsites themselves are all quite stunning. They are flat and grassy, with amazing views of the gorge and some even have their own private swimming holes.

Our hike starts out great with Loki sticking his nose in an old wombat hole occupied by a wasp nest and promptly getting stung on the forehead. As I mutter curses under my breath and pull out the stinger, he looks up at me with a stupid grin on his face and his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. Dogs… it’s a good thing they’re cute. 

At Graham’s Dam we cross the river and hike half a kilometre to the start of one of the park’s more challenging trails. The aptly named Spur Track quickly rises a steep 400 metres and follows a razorback ridge. The map says it will take me 1.5 hours to hike all of the 2.5km. I don’t believe I will take that long, but I’m wrong. Within a few minutes I’m sweating and panting as I haul myself and my big pack up the shale slope, using my hands more than once for the steep sections. Loki has no problem getting up there. He engages his 4PD (four-paw drive) and climbs up like a mountain goat, hopping from one rock to the next. 

When I finally make it up the steep section and the slope becomes more gentle, I can hear a faint bleating. I climb onto a big boulder next to the track and am treated to a breathtaking view of the river. The gorge walls on the other side rise a near-vertical 200 metres from the water.  I can see some struggling little saplings trying to get a foothold, imagining larger trees eventually getting too heavy and falling into the river below. Those pile-ups of logs in the gorge all of a sudden make a lot more sense. 

I am using my binoculars to look at some small, inaccessible caves when I see them: a herd of goats happily chewing away on tough shrubs. They balance effortlessly on the steep rock face, never disturbing the treacherously loose shards of shale as they navigate the ravine on tiny hooves. As always when I see feral animals, the trained ecologist in me wrestles with the compassionate animal lover. I watch cute piebald kids chase each other up and down the rocks, fearing for their safety every second. Of course they never fall. Eons of natural selection have perfected their mountaineering skills in this inhospitable landscape. Inhospitable to their predators, that is. For them it is a comfortable home and they are thriving at the expense of Victoria’s native species. With a sigh, I move on and give silent thanks that I’m not the one who has to do the very necessary annual cull.

Continuing up the slope, the vistas only get better. I frequently stop to catch my breath and take advantage of large boulders sticking out over the valley to enjoy a raptor’s view of the gorge. One time, I spot a small peregrine falcon gliding on the updrafts below. My shirt and the back of my pack are drenched with sweat by then. I’m glad I brought enough water. 

The author and her dog.

The author and her dog.

About halfway up the spur, Loki alerts me to human traffic coming up the back of us. I’ve barely cleared off the narrow path when a trail runner passes me with a cheerful ‘hello!’ He continues speeding up the hill, shirt off and gleaming with sweat, a cloud of aftershave trailing behind him. I feel like I’ve just seen a ghost. Was that really a guy running up the hill that I just took an hour to climb? He wasn’t even out of breath! I resolve to become fitter this year as I soldier on to the end of the track. 

When we make it to the top, Loki and I celebrate with lunch and a dried pig’s ear. The Lerderderg Tunnel Access Track is an uneventful service road lined by young eucalypts obscuring any views of the gorge. But at least it goes downhill. A short way to the north, the track veers right and on the left there is a locked gate that allows access for hikers and management vehicles. We squeeze through and follow the service road down to the river. At the bottom, we marvel at the large structure that is the weir. This concrete giant diverts the river to the Merrimu Reservoir, which supplies Bacchus Marsh with water. We hike a ways up the river and make camp near the only waterhole that is not green with algae. The water filter is doing a good job here and soon we are enjoying our dinner.

Night falls and Loki and I bask in the warmth of a small fire. Every now and then sparks land on his thick fur, but he doesn’t care. He’s curled up next to me, alert, staring into the dark, always on guard duty. I watch the microbats fly their feeding patterns along the tree line, their tiny silhouettes projected on a background of a million stars. The gorge is silent and beautiful.

It’s a rough awakening to the screeching of sulphur-crested cockatoos the next morning. I moan and pull my sleeping bag over my head. I love being woken by a dawn chorus, but these guys are more like the avian version of the Sex Pistols; good fun, just not first thing in the morning. Grumpily reminding myself that nature is beautiful, I get up to make our breakfast. 

Our first challenge ensues as soon as we start our hike. I check my map for the Long Point Track trailhead, but it’s not detailed enough to show the exact location. We walk upriver for a while, but the path quickly disappears into a thicket of inaccessible underbrush. I switch on my phone and check my GPS map. Still no love. We walk the same stretch of river a few times, right in between the razorback and the steep cliffs on the south side. When I pull out the map once again and follow the altitude contours with my finger, I realise I need to go up somewhere. I scan the area around the weir for the faintest sign of a trail and my heart sinks as I realise I’ve been looking at it the whole time: it is a 30-metre vertical climb up the razorback. 

“Okay mate,” I say to Loki, “We wanted adventure. We got it.” He looks up at me happily. I briefly consider tying him to me by his lead in case he slips, but quickly decide that would be super stupid. He weighs 26kg and I’m already carrying a 16kg pack on my back that makes climbing a vertical wall challenging enough. If he falls while attached to me, we both go. After examining our options, there’s nothing else for us to do but climb. 

The Lerderderg River when it is full.

The Lerderderg River when it is full.

Loki goes first. Turns out he’s actually quite capable of climbing. It does help that he is a young, healthy working breed with plenty of energy. If your dog is large and less spirited, I do not recommend taking this route. On the steepest sections I have to help Loki by lifting him by the handle on the back of his harness. I won’t lie: lifting a dog with one hand while holding on to a vertical rock face with the other is tricky. By the time we reach the top, we are both panting and the adrenaline is making my hands shaky. But hey, what is an adventure without ever getting out of your comfort zone? Another boring day in the office, that’s what.

The view from the razorback, however, makes up for it in spades. The windy 360° views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s a really narrow trail with ravines on either side, so I can recommend keeping your dog on a short leash as you make your way over the loose shale. The trail keeps rising steadily until we reach marker 510 and Blackwood Ranges Track. This well-maintained management track is part of the 280km-long Victorian Great Dividing Trail, also known as the Goldfields Track. To give you an idea about the effort it takes to hike Long Point Track, it has taken us about 1.5 hours to hike a little over 2km. 

Turning south on the Blackwood Ranges Track, it’s an easy hour downhill until we reach Link Track No. 1, which descends steeply back into the gorge to connect with Graham’s Dam. I love this part of the hike. It’s a bit challenging going downhill over the loose shards of shale, but there are many places to veer off the track for a rest and a spectacular view of the river. On one of those breaks I look down on the backs of not one, but four wedge-tailed eagles flying in the ravine below me. Two parents and their chicks are surging upward on a thermal, swooping straight past me and out of the ravine, as if they are being shot up into the sky by invisible slings. I whoop at them as they ascend and shade my eyes until I see nothing but small specks drawing circles against the cloudless sky. There sure is magic in this place, and it has feathers and mottled wings.

The last few kilometres back to Mackenzie’s Flat are blessedly horizontal and allow a cool-down for tired legs. I feel tired yet satisfied and am a little reluctant to leave this amazing place. In an hour I am back home, enjoying the memories of the wild and my sore calf muscles for a long time after. Loki sleeps for two days straight.

Tips

  • You and your dog both need a reasonable level of fitness.
  • If you bring your dog, make sure it’s wearing a sturdy outdoor harness so you can help it through steep sections.
  • Good hiking boots, water and navigation tools are essential.
  • Binoculars are a great addition for wildlife watching.
  • Check the weather predictions and the state of the river before you go; unexpected flash flooding in the park happens regularly. Use common sense when choosing your campsite.

Fam Charko is a marine biologist, environmental educator and science communicator. She helps people reconnect with nature using science, storytelling and immersive experiences in the local environment.


All images courtesy of Fam Charko.

Cathy's Five Favourite Runs Around Melbourne

I never, ever, ever thought that I would enjoy running. I was the type of sprinter that thought the 200m was a cruel joke, and the thought that people might deliberately just run for fun or fitness seemed ludicrous to me. To my mind, distance running was an actual form of torture.

That is until a friend conned me into doing a fun-run with them and I realised it was actually possible to run and enjoy it. To other non-runners, this probably sounds like a lie, or the result of brainwashing. I swear to you it is possible. I might have hated them for dragging me along, but I was falling in love with the trail.

Since then, I’ve found out that because I can cover more ground while running, it’s the perfect way to see more of my surroundings when I have limited time. Moreover, because I can call it exercise, I don’t have to try and jam more fitness activities into my week, when what I really want to do is be out in nature.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

When I run, I can be completely absorbed in my environs. I don’t have to carry gear; I don’t have to have a plan. I can just run, and when I see something I want to look at, I can stop. I never let the thought of a PB record stop me from checking out some cool fungi or a bird I’ve spotted, or talking to someone else’s dog. When I get home, the good vibes that come from being in nature plus the endorphins produced by my body equal a grin that doesn’t leave my face or my mind for several hours.

There are plenty of great places to run in Melbourne and Victoria. Here are five of my favourites.

The Mornington Peninsula Coastal Walk (Cape Schanck to Portsea Surf Beach)

I don’t know why it took me so long to start running here, because I’ve been walking here since I was a little kid. This track is 30km long, so regardless of where you start, you are pretty unlikely to run out of trail. The sandy path traces along the edges of impressive craggy cliffs, wends its way in and out of gorgeous coastal scrub and past incredible, secluded beaches. I like to get out here before the sun rises in the winter, and marvel at the softness of the colours in cliff, sand, sea and sky. This run is an absolute feast for the eyes, but since almost stepping on a little jacky dragon asleep on the path, I’ve learnt to keep one eye on the trail ahead. Because much of this track is soft sand, it can be a bit punishing sometimes, but if you wear your bathers and bring some water, there are plenty of amazing beaches to rest at along the way.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Conservation Hill to Rhyll Inlet

This run starts at the Conservation Hill car park between Cowes and Rhyll on Phillip Island. From Conservation Hill to Rhyll itself is a 7km run, but I usually turn around on all my runs about 3km in. My favourite thing about this trail is the constantly changing scenery. The trail starts with wallabies in the paddock, heads through bracken heath and a paperbark forest, over a stunning saltmarsh and along a mangrove boardwalk. After checking out the mangroves, I usually run up the hill to the cliff tops, from whence the trail runs between farmland and coastal woodland, and overlooks the incredible Rhyll Inlet. This is a lovely morning or evening run, with plenty of bush birds to listen to and lovely sunsets over the inlet. You can also join this trail from the opposite direction in Rhyll, or close to the middle of the track at the McIlwraith Road lookout. The beach and mudflats of Rhyll Inlet are very popular with our migratory waders, so it’s worth chucking a pair of binoculars in the car.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

The Merri Creek Trail

I don’t think people realise how lucky we are to have trails like those of the Merri Creek, Main Yarra, Capital City, Maribyrnong and Gardiners Creek. The Merri Creek Trail is where I learned to run again after years off post-injury. I loved finding new rapids, new bridges, and massive new trees as I pushed myself further along the trail. I used to love running down to where the Merri Creek joined the Yarra River. Called a confluence, the joining of these two different coloured rivers can be quite spectacular. Just after this is Dights Falls, which have some interesting history and is a good spot to see adorable little red-browed finches.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Main Yarra Trail

The Main Yarra Trail between Victoria Street and Studley Park Road is another favourite urban run. With yellow-tailed black cockatoos, massive old eucalypts, and plenty of little scrub birds, it is easy to forget how close you are to the centre of Melbourne. I love this area, because apart from the main trail there are tonnes of tiny, one-person-wide trails that loop down to the Yarra and back up again through beautiful bushland. You always have a view down to the Yarra, and the steep hills and trees keep the sound of the road traffic out. The added bonus with the Yarra Trail is that if you run far enough (in the right direction) you can get a well-deserved breaky on Southbank, and then just hop on the train or tram home. Winning!

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Surf Beach, Phillip Island

There is seriously nothing like a good beach run. If you’re lucky enough to be standing alone on an empty beach, looking at the sand stretching forever before and behind you, relish that moment. For me, that beach run is at Surf Beach, Phillip Island. It was almost always empty when I ran, morning or evening, and the pounding of the surf, the colours in the cliffs, and the patterns in the sky were all mine. A simple landscape like this always mesmerises me. A short run in the Cape Woolamai direction will take you to Forrest’s Caves, which are worth checking out at low tide.

NB: If you are in it for the fitness, the stairs at the Surf Beach carpark are a great way to test yourself.

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Image: Cathy Cavallo

Running beautiful and interesting trails makes it so much easier to forget that you might be tired or have sore legs. Give one of these trails a try and see if you get hooked too. Even if you have to stop and walk home, you at least had the chance to enjoy some beautiful natural surroundings.


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


Banner image courtesy of Cathy Cavallo.

The vagaries of vagrant-chasers explained

It’s a compulsive obsession. There’s no turning back once you begin. A bird that is missed could be a blocker for life. When word comes through that a vagrant has been spotted, twitchers all over the country consider how much annual leave they have up there sleeve, check their bank balance and scramble to clean their bins.

There is currently a submission being reviewed by BirdLife Australia's Rarities Committee to verify that this is a genuine Red-billed Tropicbird. If accepted, this will become only the second record of this species in Australia. Photo: Rowan Mott. 

There is currently a submission being reviewed by BirdLife Australia's Rarities Committee to verify that this is a genuine Red-billed Tropicbird. If accepted, this will become only the second record of this species in Australia. Photo: Rowan Mott. 

If that sounded mostly like gobbledygook, let me explain a little better. I am talking about ‘twitching’, the pastime practiced by bird watchers at the extreme end of the hobby. People who do twitching are called twitchers and twitch can also be used as a verb for doing the activity. But what exactly is it that twitchers do and why are they cleaning their bins because of it? Twitchers are bird watchers who specifically aim to see birds that are unusual because of where they have been seen or, in some cases, ones that are so rare that when they do turn up (even where they are supposed to be) it is a noteworthy sighting. In most cases, a twitcher will be travelling to see a bird from another country that has been blown off course during migration and ended up here. Sometimes freak weather isn’t responsible and the bird in question may instinctually follow the wrong flightpath, perhaps due to a genetic mutation. These birds are referred to as vagrants. To a twitcher, the reason for the bird being here matters little; it is seeing the bird that is important. To aid observation they use binoculars, just like any other bird watcher might. This is where the term bins comes from. To fully clarify the opening paragraph, a blocker is a bird that is unlikely to show up again anytime soon and hence blocks the people who missed out on seeing it from catching up to those who were lucky enough to see it.

The rarities are sometimes adorned in mute tones of greys and browns, but chasing rarities, such as this Phylloscopus warbler, always gets you out to interesting places even if you don't see the bird. Photo: Rowan Mott

The rarities are sometimes adorned in mute tones of greys and browns, but chasing rarities, such as this Phylloscopus warbler, always gets you out to interesting places even if you don't see the bird. Photo: Rowan Mott

As you can see, there is a rich terminology associated with the pastime of twitching. There are positive words such as tick (seeing a new species and hence being able to tick it off) and mega (a bird so unlikely to be seen that it is deemed a mega-rarity). There are also terms that a twitcher never wants to be associated with, like dipping (travelling to see a bird, but not being able to find it when you get there) and stringer (someone who claims to have seen something that they have not). No twitcher wants to get a reputation for being a stringer. At the end of the day, the twitching world operates on an honesty system. A reputation for honesty cannot be easily regained once lost. In today’s era of smart phones and digital cameras, most claims of a rare bird can easily be verified with photographic evidence. There is even a rarities committee that you can send reports of sightings to to get them officially accepted as an Australian record.

Throughout this article, I have said that vagrants arrive ‘here’. This could mean anywhere in Australia, hence the need to check the status of annual leave and bank balance. While I am writing there is a Laughing Gull at Venus Bay, west of Adelaide and a Eurasian Wigeon (a type of duck) somewhere near Port Headland in Western Australia. So how does a twitcher in Melbourne find out about these sightings? The twitching community is pretty close knit and there are a number of websites (see here) and social media groups, such as the Australian Twitchers Facebook group, for sharing information. There is also a certain amount of kudos that comes with being the first to spot and identify a rarity, so most people are only too happy to share the information about what they have seen. “Hang on,” you might be thinking, “‘community’ and ‘sharing information’ imply there is more than one person crazy enough to do this.” And you are correct. Twitching is a serious pastime full of friendly rivalry. There is even a leader board keeping tabs on who has seen the most species (see here). In comparison to the crowds of hundreds that turn up at the sighting of a mega in the U.K. or North America, crowds of Australian twitches pale into insignificance numbering up to around 15 people at any one time. So who are these twitchers? Well, I am one (when I can afford to and have the time which inevitably means I don’t get to chase everything I would like!), but you can find all types of people at a twitch, ranging from the occasional school child to grandparents. People younger than thirty are typically a minority, but everyone is very welcoming.

The bigger bird on the left was the most exciting ‘mega’ to show up in Victoria in a while. It is a Long-billed Dowitcher - a species that had never been seen in Australia prior to this one being found at Lake Tutchewop near Swan Hill. Photo: Rowan Mott

The bigger bird on the left was the most exciting ‘mega’ to show up in Victoria in a while. It is a Long-billed Dowitcher - a species that had never been seen in Australia prior to this one being found at Lake Tutchewop near Swan Hill. Photo: Rowan Mott

Twitching invariably involves travel. It is always a thrill when a trip plays out as hoped and you are able to return home having seen the bird. However, extensive travel is not great for a minimising your carbon footprint. I think the best way to turn a twitch into a positive for the environment is to tell as many locals as possible why you are there. The more people who appreciate how much tourism can be generated by people wanting to get out into the environment and see exciting wildlife the better. Ecotourism can be an important economic generator, particularly in rural and remote communities, with ensuing conservation benefits. If you go chasing the next mega, make sure you tell everyone who will listen why you are there. Wherever the next vagrant happens to turn up, perhaps I will see you there (and fingers crossed we both see the target bird, too).


Rowan Mott

Rowan is a PhD student studying seabird ecology. When he's not thinking about the ocean he likes to think about woodland birds. 

Check him out on Twitter at @roamingmoth