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Contact Call | Volume 10 Number 2 | June 2021

At the BirdLife Australia Board meeting held 27 February 2021, the Board awarded Kath Shurcliff a BirdLife Australia Distinguished Service Award. BirdLife Northern Queensland is thrilled that Kath’s significant contribution has been recognised with this award.

Kath Shurcliff was a Birds Australia North Queensland branch committee member for the year prior to the merger that created BirdLife Northern Queensland (BNQ). She was successfully nominated as the first convenor, to lead BNQ at this transformative time. The splintering of the Birds Australia North Queensland group, that included all areas of north Queensland south to Townsville, into BNQ and BirdLife Townsville (under the BirdLife

Australia banner) had resulted in a great deal of uncertainty and stress. Focusing on the positive, Kath promoted a vision highlighting the exciting future BNQ had as part of BirdLife Australia. Recognising that the realignment of boundaries required a flexible approach, she fostered an inclusive approach with BirdLife Townsville to maintain friendships and partnerships that had been forged over the years before the merger. As Convenor for six years, Kath smoothed the transition, and built and strengthened BNQ by providing direction and purpose.

Faced with a growing number of conservation issues in the region, and with limited resources available, Kath facilitated a strategic planning process with the committee and six bird / ecology specialists. The resulting strategic plan prioritised BNQ actions for the next 3–5 years. In 2020 a review found that substantial achievements had been realised as a result of the direction and purpose the plan provided, including:

  • Significant contribution to Carpentarian Grasswren knowledge through completion of annual surveys and provision of data that has optimised management of these endangered birds.

  • Completion of altitudinal surveys for Golden and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds and bower monitoring to gather baseline data in order to assess the impacts of climate change on these wet tropic endemic species (within the Wet Tropics KBA).

  • A major Beach Stone Curlew survey was completed over 200 km of coastline to repeat a survey completed 20 years previously. Beach Stone Curlew are listed as Vulnerable under Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act 1992 and knowledge of successful breeding on the mainland is limited. These data are being used to monitor these beach nesting shorebirds and has formed the basis for ongoing monitoring for breeding activity.

Kath first participated in a Carpentarian Grasswren survey in 2008. Within a year or so she was leading one of the survey teams, and in recognition of her adept organisational skills and remote area birding experience, has progressively taken on more and more of the organisational and responsibility aspects of these surveys over the years. Kath has been a major contributor to the Carpentarian Grasswren survey strategy every year, including monitoring of fire influences on grasswren populations. In 2018 Kath took over the Grasswren survey project leader role, with oversight by BNQ luminary and mentor, Graham Harrington. In 2018 following a successful crowd funding campaign led by Graham Harrington, Kath led the team that successfully completed a helicopter mission to install sound recorders for Carpentarian Grasswren on China Wall, a 60 km sandstone escarpment, west of Doomadgee.

Kath is passionate about surveys and data recording. She is the local area moderator for eBird and in 2020 was number four in Queensland for eBird lists submitted (4,585 lists). Kath has also written several instructional articles for the BNQ newsletter on eBird and Birdata, and has also delivered training to members on BirdLife Australia survey methodologies and data collection in Birdata.

Kath presenting a BirdLife Northern Queensland cup to Steven Moss and Sean Dooley, following their presentations at the award of the John Hobbs Medal to Lloyd Nielsen in 2014. Sean Dooley, ‘BirdLife Australia’ magazine editor, birding celebrity and author, gave a hilarious account of ‘The Big Twitch’, his yearlong campaign to see a record number of bird species in Australia. His presentation was followed by Steven Moss, who is an international writer and broadcaster, BAFTA Award winning producer with the BBC Natural History Unit. On the night of Lloyd’s award, Steven kept us all amused with clips from his nature film making career and gave us insights into his work with Bill Oddie. His presentation finished with a stunning montage of video segments showcasing the best of BBC wildlife filming over the last 50 years.

In 2019, Kath analysed 2017 data from Cape York and the Gulf Plains and contributed two chapters to the Queensland Annual Bird Report 2017 (The Sunbird, Volume 48, November 2019). These data significantly contributes to our knowledge of bird distribution across bioregions and can contribute to knowledge about population trends over time.

Kath is an inspirational leader, a passionate advocate for birds and a mentor to many, and a valued member of the BirdLife Northern Queensland Committee.

BirdLife Northern Queensland Committee circa 2014–2015.


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