Red Goshawk harrassment

To: "'Denise Goodfellow'" <>, "'Birding Aus'" <>
Subject: Red Goshawk harrassment
From: "Carl Weber" <>
Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2012 14:12:54 +1000
Hi All,

I share Denise's concern for the wellbeing of the Mataranka red goshawks in
particular, and for endangered birds in general. Her important e-mail raises
a number of issues, one of which I believe needs to be vigorously pursued on
a National basis. However, if we are to succeed in protecting all our rare
birds, we do need to start with the perspective of a more disinterested

Thirty or forty birders camping outside a property near a bird's nest is not
necessarily illegal, or even unreasonable. After all, the birds themselves
have chosen to nest in close proximity to a town/settlement. Most people
would understand that to camp immediately under a nest tree is invasive, but
camping 50 m away is perhaps not. Was their general behaviour riotous, or
sober? Were these people even birders? When does a tourist become a birder?
Most people will look at nesting birds with interest - and take photos, but
would not regard themselves as birders. So, did they give birders a bad
name, or merely give tourists a bad name? (We all know that tourists have a
bad name anyway!)

Most of us in the birding community would agree that to have climbed the red
goshawk nest tree is most regrettable. However, a disinterested party might
reasonably ask just how bad was it? For example, were they up there long
enough to be a threat to the birds, and how close did they get in a tall
tree? At the time, were there chicks in the nest, or eggs, or nothing? 

The possibility that eggs were taken is indisputably of serious concern.
This begs the question: is it illegal to take eggs? For example, it could be
argued that property owners would be entitled to take eggs, if they so
desire? Certainly, property owners may climb their own tree - and even cut
it down, if they so wish. (Not so in Europe, where it is an offence to
interfere with a stork's nest, irrespective of the damage done to property.)
Suppose the property owners raised hens or lambs. They may wish to remove
the goshawks because of the danger to their farm animals. Fortunately, there
appear to be no such problems at Mataranka at this time, where the property
owners are sympathetic and supportive with respect to the wellbeing of the
nesting goshawks. Such may not always be the case. 

"That year, the birds did not raise any young." Is this because someone
climbed the tree? Or because forty people camped across the road? Or were
there other reasons? In truth, we do not know, but as committed birders, we
prefer to act on the assumption (however unlikely) that the observed human
activity was the cause. On the other hand, to forbid such tree climbing, and
to prohibit such camping, may be regarded as unreasonable and illogical
restraints by many in the broader community. One immediate solution is for
the committed birders to take ownership/control of the land.

Again, consider the property owners. They would have no need to camp across
the road from the nest. They may go as close to the nesting birds as they
wish, as often as they wish. They may invite as many people as they wish to
also enter and look. They are entitled to charge admission, if they so
desire. Certainly, there are people (birders and non birders, including me,
depending on price) who would be prepared to pay, as happened recently with
the princess parrot.

A number of groups have a genuine and serious interest in the Mataranka
nesting red goshawks, including those people who want to ensure that the
species survives and prospers, the people who want to see such a rare bird,
and those whose businesses have benefitted - for example, there must be
hundreds of people per annum who go to, or stop at, Mataranka for the

The National issue that emerges is that endangered bird species, such as the
red goshawk, need to be fully protected by law (in every State and
Territory). There are laws in existence that protect birds on public lands,
but my understanding is that these laws do not extend to private lands, or
even leases on public lands. I would suggest as a starting point, that the
protection of endangered birds is similar to that afforded whales, whereby
it is a an offence to even go close to a whale. (Someone was recently fined
$2000 for riding a whale.) The laws would necessarily prevent everyone,
including landowners/occupiers, from behaving in a manner that threatens
endangered birds on their property. There would need to be an agreed list of
endangered birds. The bird protection law that I envisage would make it an
offence to climb the tree, take eggs, shoot anywhere near the birds, camp
within say 200 m, or in any way seriously disturb the nesting birds. Viewing
would need to be regulated - but reasonable access for viewing would be
allowed. Note that, whales, who already benefit from such laws, are mostly
present in thousands - I understand that there may be less than a hundred
pairs of red goshawks. 

Enacting new bird protection laws will presumably take a year or two, but is
the sort of thing that BirdLife Australia is well placed to pursue. In the
interim, BA (BLA?) could be asked to investigate the possibility that land
around the Mataranka red goshawk nesting area be leased or purchased by BA,
with a view to the provision of measures to protect the nesting birds.

Best wishes,

Carl Weber

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Denise
Sent: Friday, 17 August 2012 7:43 AM
To: Birding Aus
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Red Goshawk harrassment

While in Mataranka recently I heard about the behaviour of some birders
towards the Red Goshawk near Bitter Springs.  Some had climbed the fence
into private property and one, according to the proprietor of the nearby
caravan park , had even climbed the tree in which the bird nested.

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.

Some years ago I warned birders of the ramifications of bad behaviour re
entry to the Leanyer Sewage Ponds.  The result was that access to the ponds
was tightened considerably.

The goshawks have now shifted their nest well away from the road.  If they
shift it again then the bird may well be out of sight of visiting birders,
and they'll be dependent on the goodwill of the owner of that property to
let them in.  I think that reserve of goodwill may be wearing thin.

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
1/7 Songlark Street,
Bakewell, NT 0832
043 8650 835

PhD candidate, SCU
Vice-chair, Wildlife Tourism Australia
Nominated for the Condé Nast international ecotourism award, 2004 by the
renowned American website, Earthfoot.
Wildlife Adviser, BBC¹s ŒDeadly 60¹

Birds of Australia's Top End and Quiet Snake Dreaming available on A second edition of Fauna of Australia¹s Top End used by the
University of NSW as a text for 12 years is now under preparation.

'It gave me huge insight into the lives' of Aboriginal Australians¹,
Jonathon Franzen, American author, birder, conservationist (August, 2011) on
Quiet Snake Dreaming. ( to be launched again soon).


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