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Birding with the Queensland Chief Scientist, Professor Hugh Possingham

Contact Call | Volume 11 Number 3 | September 2022

After having come down from the chilly heights of Kuranda, the rising sun and warmth of Cairns was very welcome. I arrived to find Professor Hugh Possingham, Queensland’s Chief Scientist, already entertaining a sizable crowd of keen amateur birdwatchers.

The Cairns Esplanade is a birdwatching haven well known throughout Australia, and overseas, for its mudflats which are ideal for wading shorebirds. Being August, we are just at the cusp of the migration with the first shorebirds beginning to return from their breeding grounds in the high arctic, to spend the Southern Hemisphere summer recuperating and feeding up in anticipation of the return journey next autumn.

We were treated to views of Whimbrel and the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew – the world’s largest shorebird, as well as a few Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and all the locals that call the Esplanade home like the Nankeen Night Herons and Australian Pelicans.

The Chief Scientist held two birding events, one on the Cairns Esplanade (19 August), and the other, the day before at the Cairns Botanic Gardens (18 August).

Queensland Chief Scientist Hugh is not just involved in advising and lobbying politicians: more importantly he is advocating for STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) in society and is a keen proponent of Citizen Science which is where we, as bird watchers, can contribute with our sightings to citizen science platforms like Birdata, eBird and iNaturalist to name a few. Aside from being on the board of Birdlife Australia Hugh is passionate about birds as they are a great way to get people thinking about our biodiversity. He responds when asked why he likes birds “do you not like natural history?”.

Hugh’s visit to Cairns coincided with National Science Week which is run every August to get people involved in STEM, and we can all agree what better way could there be than birding.

By Ed Bell


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