History – 40 year Birthday

Birdwatchers Club Celebrates 40th Birthday

On the 1st August 1981, 15 people sat very quietly in the bush near Comboyne, fixated on a bird that was being very secretive and almost hidden from view. It was a cold and overcast and the lack of light made it very difficult to identify the species. It was very important to identify this bird because that was the main purpose for their foray into the bush: Birdwatching and bird identification. They had started out as two groups planning to come together at a certain location, but in the way of bushwalking – especially on overgrown and poorly maintained tracks as these – directions became easily confused. Some members referenced their field books and all 15 sets of binoculars were trained on the bird. Many possibilities were put forward, only to be rebuffed. Nobody had a camera with a long zoom lens to make a record of this mystery bird but field notes were taken for further discussion.

These people had come together because of a common passion that had slowly merged into a loose agreement to gather at various locations from time to time. They were bird lovers. These birders loved nature, the bush and the birds for their own sake and they loved to make lists of the birds they had seen. Meeting back at the cars, morning tea was taken and a list made of the birds that were sighted and finally a consensus was made on the mystery bird. It was a Wonga pigeon. The list on this outing had totalled 26 species and the highlight listed as ‘A whole colony of Bell Miners, which some of the party had never seen before.’

Fast forward 40 years to Thursday 4th February 2021 at 7:30am, where 17 members of the Manning Great Lakes Birdwatchers club and 1 guest were gathered for a walk along the breakwall at Harrington, to observe the shorebirds. Some of these waders would be preparing for their very long and arduous trek north to their breeding grounds. It was a very hot morning and the heat haze off the sand flats was making identification of the more distant birds difficult. The club’s Activities Officer had researched the recent sightings for this area on the Internet, referencing e-bird and other sites and the members were well advised of the possibility of a rare vagrant to the area, a South Island Pied Oystercatcher from New Zealand. References were being made to bird apps on mobile phones and lots of cameras with powerful zoom lenses as well as a spotting telescope on a tripod were made ready. Sophisticated lightweight binoculars were scanning the shoreline. Those without cameras were totting up species in small notebooks which would be archived with countless other such books to make up the precious resource of sightings.  That day the bird count at morning tea was 55 species.

Of course things just don’t happen overnight. While all around Australia societies of likeminded people were joining structured movements such as The NSW Field Ornithologists club, The Bird Observers club Australia, Bird Atlassers of Australia and in the more populated areas local bird observer clubs like Cumberland Bird Observers Club and Hunter Bird Observers, our group were very motivated and in September 1981 it was decided to create a formal birdwatching society and hosted their first meeting to elect the inaugural office bearers of the Manning Valley Birdwatchers.

At this point of time it would be apt to say ‘and the rest was history’, but of course there were many important milestones leading up to the Club as we know it today. The group became incorporated in August 2011 under the jurisdiction of the Department of Fair Trading when there was also a name change to Manning Great Lakes Birdwatchers to include all the areas of bird watching by its members. The club published its first newsletter from May-June in 1984 which was typed onto a stencil and printed on a Gestetner Machine and morphed into the current newsletter which is created and published on a desktop computer and (when required), printed with quality colour images on a bubble-Jet printer and distributed via the internet Email system, incorporating original articles and images submitted by members via the same means.

One of the great attractions of Birdwatching is that it requires minimal equipment; a pair of binoculars that can range from as little as $50 right up to an eye-watering $3000+; a hat, some protective clothing, sturdy shoes (preferably waterproof), and a lot of patience. We are all fascinated by nature and we Australians have always had the desire to lose ourselves and go bush. Whether we do it alone, with a close friend or share the experience in a group, the rewards are always the same: a sense of accomplishment, the thrill of a new sighting and the joy of being out in the fresh air. When this is combined with photography, a growing trend amongst both young and seasoned birders alike, the rewards can be taken to new heights and you get to take home a record of your sightings for sharing on any of the social networking platforms with family, friends and other birdwatchers around the world. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but what you get out is commensurate with the effort that you put in. Many joyful hours can be gained in your own backyard in a garden set up to attract the local  birds. Can you ever get sick of seeing a Rainbow Lorikeet, an Eastern Rosella or any of the 50+ honeyeaters?

This often leads us to take our hobbies and travel across this broad and varied island continent or to far-flung exotic countries as varied as the multitude of amazing and exotic bird species that exist there: Be it jungles, deserts, oceans and every imaginable habitat, you will find birdlife there, unique and fascinating and every species presenting its own challenge to be seen, identified and captured as an image. Hats off to the enthusiasts amongst us, for their passion, their devotion to all wildlife (especially birds) and for their contribution to the eco-tourism industry.

Who would have thought that 40 years ago a few people with a common interest and an urge to get together with other like-minded souls could have started a club that is still here today and even more relevant in our tumultuous times of global warming, and pandemic? Our environment is threatened and our species are in decline to extinction at greater rates than ever before.  Scientists believe that some species will be extinct before they are even discovered. Our rainforests are in decline, our seas are being polluted and massive changes are taking place to the detriment of wildlife all over the world. We birdwatchers – along with all other environmentalists – have a massive and ongoing challenge ahead of us. We are all part of a global movement to preserve our bird species and their precious and vulnerable habitat at a time when there is a frantic rush to mine and destroy at ever-increasing rates. That is why we affiliate our club with larger high-profile organizations – such as Birdlife Australia and Australian Wildlife Conservancy – who have the finances and membership to effect changes in attitude and undertake critical action beyond government involvement.

Thanks to those 15 people 40 years ago and their passion for birdwatching, their efforts to share their collective data raised the profile of the importance of maintaining ecological balance, helped determine the threat to our birdlife species and was invaluable in trying to determine the changes wrought by development.

Our club has a proud history of the past 40 years and whilst the membership has remained static, the processes have become more reliant on social and electronic media. The equipment has become very high- tech, the passion and dedication raises even higher expectations. We are lucky that our membership contains active and dedicated members currently involved in the running of the club with the same goals the club has always espoused.

Join a birdwatching club, live life and enjoy the environment through our amazing variety of beautiful birds!

For more information, call the club on 0431878395.