The Work of an Atlasser
Thanks to funding of $1.2 million from the Commonwealth Government's Natural Heritage Trust, Birds Australia has gathered information on Australian birds that can be used for a range of practical, on-ground conservation and planning activities around the country.
Community involvement was an integral part of the New Atlas of Australian Birds. Volunteers from around Australia collected information on the distribution, abundance and habitat requirements of 759 bird species. They also collected specific information on exotic and threatened bird species.
Between 1998 and 2002, more than 7000 amateur and professional birdwatchers took part in the project, including State and regional bird clubs, naturalists, farmers and other interested members of the community. These volunteers submitted an amazing 4.3 million bird sightings and 255,000 bird surveys.
Barry McLean, from Violet Town in Victoria, had been a member of Birds Australia for over five years when he first heard about the New Atlas of Australian Birds. He signed up immediately and says knowing that what he was doing for fun had a scientific purpose made his bird watching activities much more enjoyable.
During the four years of the project, Barry saw or heard 420 species of birds and submitted approximately 500 survey forms. He says during this time he saw many species he had never encountered before.
"My wife and I traveled to Darwin and Cape York and enhanced our travel by surveying birds during the trip. Because I had never been to Cape York before I saw around 70 species of bird that I had never seen, such as the Palm Cockatoo."
Barry says there were three options for surveying as part of the New Atlas of Australian Birds:
- A 20-minute search of a 2-hectare patch, which also involved taking note of the surrounding
- habitat in that area;
- an area search within 500 metres of a fixed spot; or
- an area search within 5 kilometres of a fixed spot.
"Surveys can range from simply taking note of the birds in your garden on a regular basis, to picking 3-4 spots and surveying them regularly and even traveling specifically to undertake surveys," Barry said.
"Most of my surveys were conducted as area searches within 500 metres of a fixed spot. During these surveys, I would use the three essential principles of atlassing - look, listen and walk.
"Listening is almost as important as looking and many of the species identified during the survey were identified from their calls. This is quite a good skill, as you need good ears as well as an ability to differentiate between the different pitches. Luckily there are books and audiotapes to help you if you hear any calls you are unsure of."
Barry said knowing that there were thousands of other like-minded people around the country participating in the Atlas was another encouraging aspect of the project.
"Occasionally when I was surveying birds in the bush, I would stumble on other volunteers doing the same thing! We would have a chat about our activities and in that way the Atlas was a great way of meeting people too."
The New Atlas of Australian Birds is a great example of how the community, conservation groups and government can work together to achieve significant environmental outcomes.
Birds Australia (03) 9882-2622