Archive for the ‘Birdwatching tourism’ Category

WTA at Australia’s first national Bird Fair

WTA at Australia’s first national Bird Fair

Australia’s first national Bird Fair has just been held over the weekend of 25-26 October

More accurately, it is the Australasian Bird Fair (that is, including not just Australia but also New Guinea and New Zealand)


Wildlife Tourism Australia held a display on wildlife tourism, birds and minimal-impact wildlife-viewing, and promoted many of our members’ products

It was also a great event for networking with folk from around Australia (including Christmas Island) and the rest of the world (including PNG, New Zealand, India, Guyana, Colombia and Africa). Displays included birding tours, conservation and natural history groups (not just birds – bats, reptiles and frogs were there as well), retailers of binoculars and spotting scopes, and some delightful arts and crafts. Events included many talks, films, bird walks and children’s activities.

It was good also to catch up with some WTA members who attended, from Cassowary House, Sicklebill Safaris, O’Reilly’s and Boutique Tours

We found many visitors to our display were surprised and pleased at WTA’s commitment to environmentally-responsible tourism, supporting the protection of wildlife habitat and minima-impact wildlife-viewing.

We hope this Bird Fair is just the beginning of a line of valuable annual events

The elusive rufous scrub bird


The elusive rufous scrub bird

WTA member Greg Clancy writes about his experiences seeking this little brown bird that forages like a small mammal on the forest floor, and despite its strong voice is quite a challenge to actually find.

Birdwatching tourism study

birdwatchgirlBirdwatching tourism study

From Rochelle Steven

Share your views on Avitourism – Online Survey

Avitourism is an expanding recreational phenomenon that can potentially support the conservation of bird species globally. This research will capture the preferences of avitourists with respect to birds and bird habitats to enhance our knowledge of the features driving birdwatching. Findings are expected to increase our understanding of how avitourism can be developed and promoted in ideal locations as a conservation tool but also where management is needed to ensure sustainability of the industry.

An online survey of your birding experiences can be completed through by following this link;

The economic value of birdwatching

The economic value of birdwatching

Birdwatching at Eaglleby Wetlands: Araucaria Ecotours

Birdwatching at Eaglleby Wetlands, Brisbane: Araucaria Ecotours

Many authors recently have noted that birdwatching (or birding or avitourism) can be lucrative for tour operators and   ecolodges, and have flow-on effects that benefit local communities.

Hotels and B&Bs in regional areas might also consider  promoting on their websites the birds that visitors might expect to see during their visits, or any special features they might offer to facilitate birding for their guests (e.g. packed breakfasts for those heading out early into the field, or late checkout so birders can do their early birdwatch and then have a siesta before packing up and moving on).

Some of the articles and press releases on the economics of birdwatching tourism include:


New book on Northern Territory birds

Birds of Palmerston in Australia’s Top End

Goodfellow, DL and M Stott (2012). Birds of Palmerston in Australia’s Top End. Scrubfowl Publ. Darwin, NT.

This is the title of a new book to be launched next month by WTA vice-chair Denise Goodfellow

Goodfellow, DL and M Stott (2012). Birds of Palmerston in Australia’s Top End. Scrubfowl Publ. Darwin, NT.

Denise Goodfellow has been described as a Northern Territory treasure. She has worked as a biological consultant, conducted countless bird guiding tours for domestic as well as overseas tourists and has an incredible knowledge of the fauna and flora we all enjoy in this very special part of the world.

Many years ago Denise was adopted into an Aboriginal family.  She has worked tirelessly to assist her extended aboriginal family to overcome the barriers so many of them faced dealing with the bureaucracy and requirements of another culture.  Well before it became fashionable to raise cross cultural awareness Denise was quietly doing what she could to assist with cross-cultural issues in a very practical way.

Denise has been much sought after as a speaker and lecturer in other parts of Australia and overseas including the United States of America and Asia.

She is able to mix her scientific knowledge with entertaining stories of her own experiences with Aboriginal people and as an ornithologist and nature lover.

– taken from the book “Birds of Palmerston”

She is passionate about the environment in which she lives and is a great advocate for retaining our native heritage and preserving the best but often fragile aspects of the natural world.

Denise is the author of a number of books including her own autobiography and books such as ‘Common Birds of the Darwin Area” and ‘Birds of Australia’s Top End”. With the assistance of her partner Michael Stott, Denise now brings us ‘Birds of Palmerston”.

Palmerston began as a satellite town of the City of Darwin.  It has grown into a city in its own right with a rapidly expanding population.  This means, new suburbs, clearing and building.  However it is still filled with a stunning variety of birds that bring a great deal of joy to an increasing number of residents.

‘Birds of Palmerston” can be used as a reference book or just an enjoyable read.  The detail and descriptions are easy to follow, interspersed with fascinating little anecdotes and words of advice and filled with exquisite illustrations.

It is a book that you may want to read sitting in your garden or refer to as you walk through the parks and byways of Palmerston.  It is a book that will bring joy to bird lovers the world over including those fortunate enough to live in Palmerston.

To order a copy contact Denise Goodfellow

Red goshawk and inappropriate birdwatching

Letter from our vice chair re Red goshawk (our rarest raptor) and birdwatchers behaving badly

9 October, 2012
The Hon. Matthew Escott Conlan MLA
PO Box 8599, Alice Springs, NT 0871
[Copies to The Hon. Peter Chandler, the Hon. Bess Nungarrayi Price, and the Hon. Willem Rudolf Westra Van Holthe; Susan Fraser-Adams, Dr. Ronda Green, and Dr. Betty Weiler]

Dear Minister

I am a specialist birding guide working mainly with international markets, mostly American couples. I am also a PhD candidate, my topic being American birdwatchers who travel internationally, and vice-chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia. For some decades I have been taking clients to Mataranka, mostly to see Australia’s rarest bird of prey, a Red Goshawk. A pair nest on private property across the road from the Mataranka Cabins and Caravan Park.

Although the birds seem relatively unaffected by the attention paid to them I monitor my clients’ behaviour strictly. However, that is not always the case with other viewers who may be present in their dozens. While in Mataranka recently the proprietor of the Caravan Park told me that some birders, photographers and tour operators had behaved in ways that made them unwelcome. Some had climbed the fence into the private property and one, according to the proprietor, had even climbed the tree in which the bird nested.

On another occasion several other birders (thirty or forty according to the proprietor) had camped outside their property opposite the nesting tree. That year, according to the proprietor, the birds didn’t raise any young. She said that the police had been called on more than one occasion but had not attended.

Birdwatching tourism is a huge industry, and in the US and Canada it has been a mainstay for small towns in conjunction with cultural, historical and other tourism. But ‘twitchers’ like those mentioned above can wreck a local industry.

I emailed the Caravan Park proprietor suggesting that she and other residents take photos of miscreants that I could post to chatlines, and perhaps shame others into behaving properly. An example of such a posting is at When I raised this issue on the Birding Australia chatline one birder told me that he had confronted a couple of photographers who had jumped the fence and positioned themselves between the female goshawk and her nest. I have asked that more birders intervene whenever they see such behaviour.

Another way of tackling such behaviour is for the tourism industry and authorities to target those with broader interests than ‘twitchers’, for example couples, who for reasons I don’t have space to go into here, tend to engage less in this sort of obsessive behaviour.

Yours sincerely

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow

Rare parrot in Northern Territory

Rare princess parrot arrives in Northern Territory

A possibly once-in a life-time chance for many birdwatchers to see the very rare and frustratingly unpredictable princess parrot: they have arrived in some numbers at Newhaven Sanctuary, 350 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs. No one knows how long they will stay.

Visit to find out more.

Cassowary chicks at Cassowary House, North Queensland

Cassowary chicks at Cassowary House, North Queensland

Great news for us here at Cassowary House, Kuranda was the return of our male
Cassowary on Nov 29 with 5 tiny stripy chicks, the most he has ever brought in, with
3 or 4 being the usual; he has been gone for almost two months so we knew
he was making a late nesting attempt. As usual very shy and wary when they
first come.

Less good is the gradual disappearance of 3 of them, so that yesterday Dec 6 he
came in with just 2 remaining, and we are very concerned. For the first time
ever I saw a cat along Black Mt Road yesterday and this isa hell of a
coincidence, just at the worst possible time when the chicks are so small and
vulnerable. Usually pythons take care of such ferals, but ironically 2 years
ago it was likely pythons that killed off the brood of 3 chicks that year, 2
huge ones arriving just as the checks were brought in.

Our creek usually makes a reasonable barrier between us and the suburban
developments further south along the road, but the bridge is an access way and
it may be that some new people have pets they are letting roam, or of course
someone may have dumped an unwanted cat in the forest.We are looking at getting
cat traps from the local Kuranda Conservation folks, but it is all a bit of a
concern. We had 3 chicks raised to fledging earlier this year and it will be
very sad if this current brood is destroyed.



Denise Goodfellow (vice chair, WTA)

In mid-September I received a letter from the Sabah Tourism Board inviting me to speak at the Borneo Bird Festival in mid-October.

Sabah, in North Borneo, is one of thirteen Malaysian states and home to some of the highest mountains in SE Asia.  The Bird Festival is held at the Rain Forest Discovery Centre, Sepilok, not far from Sandakan, on the east coast.  Sandakan was the site of the infamous death march, on which thousands of Japanese prisoners of war, most of them Australian, perished.

Driving through Sandakan I began to shape my perceptions of the place.  The town in parts looked neglected and there were weeds, and out of town, oil palm plantations.  Yet the coloured statues at every roundabout – a crocodile here, an Orang Utan there, and a sign, “I Love Sandakan” were all rather endearing.  I tried to imagine such monuments in Australia, and couldn’t!

The famous Orang Utan Sanctuary was within walking distance of our accommodation, the Sepilok Jungle Resort, and the Rainforest Discovery Centre where all the action was to take place, was a five-minute drive away.  The resort owner, Datuk John S. K. Lim, a member of the Sabah Tourism Board and PATA, had built this homely, comfortable lodge himself many years before.

lakes in Datuk Lim's gardenThe gardens at the resort featured many lakes and plants ranging from tall trees to minute herbs. Michael and I spent quite some time watching birds there.  And the birds were spectacular – from the common Brown-throated Sunbird, a little iridescent gem, and spiderhunters, to a pair of Pied Hornbills (see below) and Crested Serpent Eagle perched high in a tree.  Then there was a little Blue-eared Kingfisher fast asleep on a branch in the dark near the dining area – the staff all knew this regular and excitedly showed it to me.  A cheeky little fantail ie Rhipidura sp. (?White-throated) often flitted around the front door.

hornbillsWhile humid, the Sabah climate turned out to be cooler and more comfortable than the Top End.  It rained most days and one night there was a severe thunderstorm and a short power blackout – I felt quite at home.  After all we have such weather during the Top End wet season.  One pleasant surprise was the lack of mosquitoes and leeches.  I saw two of the former in five days, and no leeches.

emergent dipterocarp at sunriseThe rainforest contained some very tall emergents (see right), many of them dipterocarps, a family possibly of Gondwanan origin (though not found in Australia).  Borneo has the largest number of species of dipterocarp – 155.   Some plants I recognised from the Top End, eg a Melastoma (see photo below), on which we found the most beautiful little Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker feeding (the fruits resemble and taste like black currants, and I like them too!).  And there were huge-leaved, three-veined Smilax sp.  This genus is also a native of Texas.

melastomaButterflies and Odonata abounded in the forest and many were truly magnificent.  However, I must admit a little emerald damselfly caught my eye – it perched on a leaf for several minutes following me with its large, beautiful eyes as I struggled to take a decent portrait!

As in the Top End birds were not that easy to find in the rainforest, or identify in many cases.  However, our first triumphs were of two gorgeous little kingfishers, Ruddy and Oriental Dwarf.  Anna and John of Singapore were among several birdwatcher/photographers to peg out this spot, a road above a shady stream in the rainforest.  Anna, not as keen as her husband who attached himself to his telescope, had brought along a stool and suggested cheekily that I take a photo for my research on birding couples.  As we watched some men came along with signposts for the various trails, this one being the Kingfisher Trail and others the Pitta Track and Woodpecker Avenue.  In fact the signage was very good.  There were also posters along many of the roads featuring the birds.

Through the forest canopy ran a magnificent canopy walkway, and early one morning we walked there with Hamut, a local guide.  He showed us where a sunbear had climbed twenty metres up a completely vertical, unbranched trunk, to tear its way into a beehive.  On other walks there we spotted a small flock of Grey Slaty Woodpeckers and Slender-billed Crows, a luminous Red-bearded Bee-eater, and two broadbills – the Common Black and Yellow, and the scarcer Banded.  Throughout the forest were large nest boxes often many metres up a very tall tree.  One marvelled at the dedication of the staff who placed them in such difficult spots.  Emerging from such a box one night, was a large squirrel.  In fact we saw numerous squirrels – Plantain, the beautiful red-bellied, black Prevost’s Squirrell, and most spectacular of all the Giant Flying Squirrel.  We watched a pair of them gliding from tree to tree at sunset.

greater squirrelOur most intimate contact came with a Giant Squirrel that had made its home right next to the walkway.  For some time it sat in its hollow only its nose showing.  Meanwhile the number of photographers and curious schoolchildren grew.  We walked away to return an hour or so and the squirrel was perched outside his home, happily gnawing away at something, and not at all fazed by the growing crowd.

Hamut also showed us where oil palm plantations were being relplaced with native species.  As the soil had been compacted it needed to be tilled before the trees were planted.

There were several stalls set up in the grounds of the Rainforest Development Centre representing bodies from Nikon to the Philippine Bird Club.  Paddle boats were available on the nearby lake and many took advantage of them.  Up the hill was a cafeteria, the theatre in which I was to speak, and to one side the canopy walkway. One day  we spent a couple of enjoyable hours with David Hogan, a media person from Kuala Lumpur and our driver, Hassim (?), drinking coffee and eating the most delectable cakes in some little local place in downtown Sandakan.

Irene and other dignitariesOn the opening night a dinner was held to which all were invited.  Speakers and special guests sat in the front, at beautifully laid out tables.  The Hon. Datuk Zakaria Idris, State Assemblyman from Gum-Gum, an area just next door to Sepilok, Mr Fred Kugan, Deputy Director of Sabah Forestry Department, and Datuk Irene Charuruks, General Manager of Sabah Tourism, sat with us.

Several high school children entertained us, performing the most intricate traditional dance clad in what must be national costume of gold and scarlet. These poised young people smiled all the time – lovely to see.  Afterwards tribute was paid to deceased people who’d made the Bird Festival such a success.

My fellow speakers included Steve Shunk, a birding guide from Oregon, Quentin Phillipps, author of several fauna books on Borneo, and Dr. Bharat Jetva – Asian Waterbirds Coordinator, Wetlands International, from India.  The aim was for us to suggest ways the festival and Sabah avitourism might progress.

I expanded my topic, “Birdwatching Facilities” to cover my PhD surveys of American birdwatchers, and my work with Indigenous relatives in Arnhem Land (The Baby Dreaming Project).  There was interest in my bottoms-up approach from operators and tourism representatives who approached me afterwards.

children and their signsBy the last day there were several thousand visitors, both locals, and internationals.  Certainly not all were birdwatchers, but of those who came, most were Asian.  Having spent most of my adult life guiding birders, I was pleasantly surprised.  Nowhere did I encounter the surliness or even near-hysteria of a birder who’s just missed a prize tick.  Instead the attitude was one of “oh well, I might see it later”!

While there were events for serious birders eg a bird race, there were other events for children and families eg a colouring-in competition.Everyone was involved and knowledgeable, from my driver who knew the local butterflies to tiny schoolchildren all equipped with binoculars donated by the Forestry Department, and carrying signs depicting the local birds.

On our last day we visited the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Sanctuary.  I was not particularly interested in joining the crowd to watch the young apes being fed.  Instead Michael and I wandered through the crowd and on down the deserted walkway.  Not another soul was in sight as we walked quietly along. In the quiet I heard a babble coming from a little hut-like corner formed from low branches bending down to touch the shrub beneath.  Peering into the dark I saw a bird a little larger than a Sacred Kingfisher sitting quietly on a twig and singing to itself – White-crowned Sharma.  It was one of those rare, often fleeting moments when one is privileged to share the world of another.

And just a few tens of metres on we shared another experience.  On the boardwalk stood one of the sanctuary’s employees.  He hadn’t seen us and yet he was conversing, not talking to, but conversing with, someone out of sight.  As we drew closer his companion came into view – a young Orang Utan.  Swinging from a vine it seemed to engage the man, its face turned towards him.   Another one of those rare and privileged moments.

Later that afternoon we joined Steve and his friend Wendy, John and Anna and Bharat on a drive to the Probiscus Monkey Sanctuary situated on the coast among mangroves.  The monkeys were relatively tame, the babies climbing onto people’s arms and exploring their watches and jewellery.  And a Pied Hornbill delighted us all as well.  The bird was wild, the staff said, but visited every day to interact with visitors.  It perched willingly on people’s arms, and I had the distinct impression that it quite enjoyed the company!

A startlingly bright Crimson Sunbird rummaged among ferns that I recognised – Achrostichum speciosum, Dollarbirds cackled overhead, a smart Magpie Robin perched on a dead tree trunk and a large Black Eagle gazed down upon us from the top of a tree.  On leaving we walked for a while, sighting more birds – Black-headed Munias and White-breasted Waterhen and a rail (possibly Slaty-breasted).

Back at the lodge we joined the others for dinner.  It was our last night.  The owner, John, came to talk with us and we took his photo.  He was a grand host, a gentle man, and Datuk to young David who had spent years working with and trying to help indigenous people.  David had a special gift, given to him by courtesy of having an autistic brother. – a kindness, patience and understanding rare among people his age.

In my short stay in Sabah I met many people who spent their lives trying to protect others, namely their fellow creatures who lived in the forest.  I met a man who, though only a driver, knew his butterflies, and school children proudly carrying signs depicting their birds; a Chines datuk who in his senior years watched over the wildlife in his garden as carefully as he did a young man called David.

On my return to the Top End I thought of all the battles we here had ahead of us to save our wildlife.  While Sabah was reclaiming its native forests, ours were being razed for housing estates or industry.  The water that springfed our monsoon forests was being drained away as the population exploded.  Few in Top End towns like Darwin and Palmerston know anything at all about our wildlife.  Too many Bininj (Aboriginal people) are losing their connection to wildlife and the land, not because they want to, but because such links are of limited interest to western society.

In his talk one speaker had said that westerners too often thought of Borneo as a place of headhunters, savages, with a ruthlessness, a blatant disregard for life.

Yet looking at the ruins of yet another Top End forest, I needn’t wonder who the true savages are.

Sabah, we’ll be back.