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]
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 http://g33k5p34k.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/birders-behaving-badly/. 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.
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow