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Ornithological Moments

By: Stuart Humphreys, Category: Science, Date: 15 Feb 2013

A photographer's notes from a survey for the conservation of Australian robins in western NSW.

Ornithological Moments #5

Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

A field trip with an Australian Museum scientist is always an opportunity not to be missed, so when Dr Richard Major suggested I accompany him on an adventure (along with the lucky winners of an office Christmas party contest), I was keen as mustard.

The trip was to be the start of a scientific survey of Australian robins. Newnes was the destination and, you guessed it, robins were our quest.

On arrival, the secret and mystical ways of ‘mist netting’ were explained. In fact, such a good teacher is Richard that in no time at all we had caught the best part of a flock of tiny birds. Luckily the next lesson was extricating them from the net.

Most would agree that Interactive Media Project Officer Francis Daley took to this like a finch to the fowl house. Exhibition Production Co-ordinator Mikey Smith saved a beetle and became rather excited when he sighted what appeared to be an unusual pigeon, but was crest fallen when Jaynia explained it was just a ‘common’ pigeon. When the ‘common’ pigeon reappeared some ten minutes later Dr Richard exclaimed ‘It’s a Wonga Pigeon!’

Meanwhile, back on the observation deck, our flock of captured finches had been given some nice new jewellery (aka identification tags) on their legs and were then released unharmed, much to the relief of the little fellow that Exhibition project officer Jonno West was holding. We had some data and they had a story.

That evening, Dr Richard, ably assisted by Jaynia, prepared a wonderful meal for us all. Slowly after dinner we gathered around the camp fire with some home brew in hand, prepared by none other than the doctor himself.

As night fell it was Exhibition Project Officer Dave Teer’s time to shine. He regaled us all with wonderful stories and incredible songs all pertaining to the Southern Cross, while some of us just looked for extra-terrestrials and others quietly hummed 'Kumbaya'.

As we scattered the embers of another camp fire I couldn’t help but think how they mirrored the thousands of stars above.

Breakfast at dawn was prepared once more by, you guessed it, Dr Rich. Today was survey day and we were up and into it and by as early as 11am we could report with confidence that there were robins, ‘roos and rock climbers all at Newnes.

Having sorted that out, it was now time for us to head into the mountains. For the next four hours, we followed what was left of an old train line (primarily uphill!). We marvelled at the ambitiousness of such an undertaking in the early 1900’s through rugged terrain.

Walking with Jaynia and Richard was a real treat as they continually monitored the surrounds for unusual flora and fauna. Of particular interest was their identification of various bird calls and a dingo’s cry. Ultimately we came across rock warblers, eastern yellow robins, glow worms, wombats, wallaroos, wallabies, fresh air, a lace monitor and a crested shrike- tit. Not bad for a day and a half in the field.

It was a great experience and I would like to thank all my colleagues whose fine company and good cheer made this trip the wonder that it was:

Jaynia Sladek, Jonathan West, Francis Daley, Dave Teer and Mikey Smith.

A very special thank you to the fellow who made it all possible and literately did just about everything: the Wondrous Dr Richard Major.