Earlier this month I made several visits to a wetland south and east of the
shopping centre at Tea Gardens (on mouth of Myall River, northern side of
Port Stephens NSW). I have seen 20+ groups of Eastern Curlews, Bar-tailed
Godwits and Greenshanks there, as well as Royal Spoonbills, Australian Ibis,
White-faced Heron, Chestnut Teal, Superb Fairywrens, etc there, and
overflying Whistling Kites, White-bellied Sea-Eagles, Australian Pelicans,
and Dollar Birds. I have observed the wetland looking east from Witt Road
and Limekilns Road and it appears to be quite large. To get more
information on its size, boundaries and status I went to the local newsagent
and asked for a local map. The newsagent asked what I was interested in and
I referred to the wetland and asked if he knew its status. 'F-----g
nuisance" came the swift reply. 'Oh', I said. 'Is that how you see it?
It's great for birds'. "No' he said firmly, 'there are no birds there'.
"Oh yes,' I said, 'it's a good place for migratory birds'. 'No', he said,
with great authority, 'There are no migratory birds there. I've never seen
any'. 'Oh yes,' I protested, 'I've just been watching twenty Eastern Curlew
and as many Greenshanks'. The technical detail shook him and he grudgingly
started to look at his shelf of maps. I examined his stock carefully and
although I found nothing about the wetland there were other maps and
booklets about the Hunter Valley and Gloucester Tops that I was happy to
purchase. I took them back to the counter and he said suspiciously 'The
trouble with these is that they are expensive'. I cheerfully paid nearly
$30 and his attitude visibly mellowed. "Migratory birds there, are there?'
he said with respectful interest. I told him about the other local birds
there, and we parted on the best of terms with him recommending a site where
I could see pheasants (Pheasant Coucals).
It so happened in this case that it suited me to spend a bit of money, but I
suspect local reaction to birdwatchers must usually be that they are a
tight-fisted bunch who drink their thermos of tea and eat their home-cut
sandwiches on the local reserve and never spend a penny. If we want birds
to be seen as a valuable tourist attraction, we will have to put some money
where our mouths are. As for the suggestion that cards are needed, on
outings I wear my bins permanently on a harness and find that I am
invariably identified as a birder - one can always supplement this with a
few complimentary remarks about the local birdlife.
Incidentally I like to adopt the Americanism 'birder'. 'Birdwatching' is
misleadingly limiting and passive, and can sound trivial. Most of us are
engaged, through our organizations even if not personally, in conservation,
surveying, atlassing, reporting distribution and behaviour etc. And even
watching has to be based on listening, searching, knowledge and experience.
Finally, does anyone know the status of the Tea Gardens wetland? It would
be a tragedy to find it being drained for a development (as seems to be
happening to a small area at Limekilns) or used as a dump.
PO Box 255 Glebe NSW 2037 Australia
Phone 02 9692 9354 Fax 02 9660 1503