During this road trip, the kids caught the birdwatching bug. Whilst they enjoy spotting the birds around our home, this trip took us to some internationally renowned birdwatching areas, such as the Gulf of Carpentaria, where the birdlife is abundant and vastly different from what we know at home.
On our trip we camped in a number of diverse birdwatching hotspots, including mudflats, mangroves, billabongs and wetlands, savannah and freshwater river habitats. Whilst the Gulf Country is recognised as an important breeding area for migratory waders, and is home to a number of endangered species, the kids were simply excited to see so many birds that they had never seen before.
Spotting a flash of colour darting about at the waters edge, or just making out the top of a brolga hidden amongst the tall grasses of the savannah: these discoveries created great excitement.
We spotted great egrets and darters, black-necked storks ,spoonbills and jabirus around the Gulf waterways. We picked out grass wrens and the sarus crane amongst the grasslands. We fell asleep to the bitter-sweeet wail of a curlew at night, and watched quietly whilst a pair of crimson finches busily built their nest in a pandanus bough overhanging the river next to our camp. The high leaps of the brolgas dance made us laugh, and the colours of the rainbow bee-eaters swirling about catching insects on the breeze never ceased to delight. On the way up through the desert country we saw three separate emu families: fathers with broods of chicks.
We talked about the various ways to identify types of birds, from relative size and habitat, to behavior and manner of flight. We learned to pick out the calls of different birds, and we talked about some of the characteristics of the bird families we saw most. I showed the children how to identify birds in our Field Guide book, and to narrow down the search based on what we had observed. Cassidy kept a running bird list, and learnt to record locality, date and time for each bird observed.
BIrdwatching with kids is a mix between detective investigation and treasure-hunting, only the treasure is living and moving and therefore even more worth the finding. Possibly squealing with delight is not the best practice to encourage in twitchers-in-the-making, but why diminish the excitement of the discovery?
Finding a match in the bird book through careful observation and scrutiny followed by a process of elimination really switches on their nature detective antennae. And fine-tuning their eyes and ears to the movements and sounds in the bush around them is not only an important bushcraft skill, it awakens the senses and develops an awareness of the intimate details of the natural world.
The great thing about birdwatching is that you don’t have to ‘go bush’ to do it. We can all teach our kids the skills of nature observation, and learning to identify what creatures live in our own home environment is a good place to start. Here’s a few tips to get you on your way.
Tips for Birdwatching with Kids
- Get out there! Go for short walks around your home or neighbourhood and try to ‘switch on’ your children’s senses to the sights, sounds, signs and movements of birds. A pair of binoculars may be useful (especially if having the right ‘gear’ is an encouragement), but small children often find them difficult to use (leading to gear tantrums). Initially just focus on becoming aware of the birds around you.
- Help your children learn to identify those birds you see most often.
- Using these birds as a starting point, look them up in a field guide book, such as Simpson and Day’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.
- Keep a simple record – a book, or a list on the wall. If your child is old enough, they can do this themselves. Include the name of the bird, and location, place and time of sighting.
- Drawing or taking photos of the birds sighted is also a good way for children to become aware of what to look for – shape of beak, relative size, colours etc.
- Get more information: Birds in Backyards is a fantastic Australian resource, education and conservation program focusing on birds that live where people live. Their website contains all sorts of information like how to create a bird friendly garden, audio recordings of most common birdsongs, and tools to participate in online bird surveys.
- Once your children are ‘switched on’ to birdwatching they will start to notice birds wherever they go.