SEC: UNCLASSIFIED:- My experiences of bird watching in the RAN

Subject: SEC: UNCLASSIFIED:- My experiences of bird watching in the RAN
Date: Fri, 21 May 2004 15:00:32 +1000
While life at sea in the Royal Australian Navy offers plenty of pelagic
birding opportunities, there appear to be very few people who make the
most of these. At the same time the Royal Navy (UK) has a very active
'ornithological society' as do the Royal Airforce and British Army. Just
how foreign bird watching is in the RAN was recently brought home to me
during some sea time and I thought that I would share this with
birding-aus readers.

When I served in the regular navy (1982-1996) I rarely let on that I was
a birder for fear of being teased by my peers and also because I did not
want to explain what I found interesting about our feathered friends. I
suppose I should also confess that as a young man in foreign climes, I
found the urge to sample the local culture (be that what it may) was
stronger than the urge to go bird watching anyway. With the benefit of
hindsight, I now look back on years of wasted opportunities; if nothing
other than to go birding on the cheap. I too have often wondered whether
I was being too self conscious.

I left the navy in 1996 and transferred to the navy reserve. Now in
civvie street I slowly came out of the birding 'closet' such that by
2000 I was happy to call myself a birder again. This was much to the
amusement of close friends who had no idea I was interested in birds. As
a reservist I have been more up front about my 'strange' hobby, but I am
still greeted with mirth and incredulity. Though this may be tempered by
the fact that most part timers (or 'rockies' as we are known) are
greeted with mirth and incredulity anyway.

As a reservist I try to make an annual pelagic trip (the navy call them
patrols) and offer my services as a patrol boat navigator. Indeed I have
managed two visits to Ashmore Reef in as many years including one last
year where I found three rareties. At that time, unable to identify a
probable Eurasian Hobby, the crew of HMAS Fremantle were happy to take
it as their own and we named the bird Falco Frematlus.

This year I decided upon a sea change and I was pleased to accept a 12
month contract to do full-time service in the RAN. Thus I currently find
myself back in uniform instructing junior officers at the naval college
in Jervis Bay (NSW south coast). The bird life down here is wonderfully
abundant so I am often observed on the base (where I live too) with a
pair of binos around my neck. Almost on a daily basis I am approached by
people who want to know what I find interesting about bird watching. I
must admit a win though, with one of my physical training staff slowly
becoming a convert.

I have recently returned from a three week cruise at sea from Darwin and
Perth via the southern ocean and back to Jervis Bay, participating in a
training cruise for our junior officers. The navigator of the ship,
brought home to me why I had been in the birding closet previously and
that my previous self consciousness had probably been justified. He
found the whole concept of birding watching just too bizarre, and with
tongue in cheek he wasted no opportunity telling the rest of the
wardroom just what he thought, at my expense. Furthermore it was from
his bridge that I passed many an hour watching albatrosses in the lower

By the end of the cruise I noticed that many of the crew were showing
more than just a passing interest in our pelagic birds. The junior watch
keeping officers thought that they would have a go at the navigator and
put a note in daily orders (thus with the imprimatur of the second in
command) that I was starting the ship's ornithological society and the
navigator was to be the patron. They also added that, 'the meetings
would take place on the bird viewing platform (previously known as the
bridge)'. Not to be outdone, the quartermasters made up membership forms
and plastered them around the ship.

Last week I received an email from the navigator telling me that
his officers of the watch were talking about seabirds, sailors were
pointing out sea birds and he had guests to the ship asking about joining
his society. Hopefully I have made
a positive contribution and maybe I have introduced a whole new
generation of people to our wonderful hobby.


Alastair Smith
Lieutenant Commander, RANR
RANC Adventure Training Instructor

Wk 02 4429 7918
Fax 02 4429 7990

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