Peter Valentine | Conservation Officer
When BirdLife Northern Queensland (BLNQ) decided to encourage members to have a try at the Bird Challenge in 2023, 12 people put their hands up for the fun.
The challenge is simple: start birding and record your observations in terms of the number of different bird species you see. That total becomes progressive – every time you go birding, you add more species when seen for the first time in the Challenge year. You stay in the Challenge as long as your cumulative list of species seen is greater than the number of days passed for the year. Thus on the 31st March you need to have seen 90 bird species to still be in the challenge.
But what about the fun? That’s the great pleasure of planning and plotting how to see different species of birds, whether in your local patch or as a result of a day trip away, or even a longer camping exercise. Birding in different habitat types is a great strategy.
The Challenge is not as tough as the standard bird-a-day project as that requires a new species each and every day, whereas we can see 30 species in a single day and they all count (if they have not been counted already). In other words, you get to bank all extra species seen!
It is possible to stay in the Challenge and yet only go birding once a week. One reason to join the Challenge is as an incentive to get out birding more than usual, and also to really explore your local patches for different species; not just keep going to the same places each time.
Participants in 2023 all reported enjoying the Challenge and many did very well over the course of the year. I believe we have one outstanding team who finished the year still birding! The rest of us dropped out on the way, some early, complicated by other commitments; others who reached 200 species (quite an excellent outcome); and several getting so close but not quite the 365 species required.
Here are some brief thoughts about the 2023 Challenge from Louise Baume who with teammate Tim did a brilliant year.
“Since the middle of this year we have ventured far and wide. Up to Iron Range for a few days, over to Karumba and Normanton for a short weekend, up past Cooktown for a standard weekend and down around Southern Qld for an extended trip to visit friends and new Birding places. Not to mention an awful lot of local day trips.
At Iron Range we camped at a different spot each night and were thrilled to see Northern Scrub-robin, Fawn-breasted Bowerbird and Trumpet Manucode. All up during the three days we were there (plus one day driving up and one day driving back) we saw approximately 90 species. At Karumba we finally managed to see Red-headed Honeyeaters and Mangrove Gerygone, and the Eagle-eyed Tim also saw White-breasted Whistler. At Normanton we also managed to catch up with a pair of Mangrove Golden Whistler. North of Cooktown we tracked down a “real” Black-winged Monarch and took great pleasure in watching a family of Shining Flycatchers hunting for insects in amongst the rocks of the river.
The last (this year) of several trips up Mt Lewis rewarded us with fantastic views of a fully-coloured male Golden Bowerbird flitting from tree to tree and tending to his bower. I did the trip over to Mt Isa on my own (as part of my big drive down south). Moondarra always has something new to offer and this time it was the Long-tailed Finch. Last stop before heading homewards was a night in Hughenden resulting in one Black-tailed Native-hen. It has been fantastic to get out so much this year. Of course a lot of driving has been involved, but thankfully neither Tim nor myself mind driving.”
Another first-hand report on the activities comes from Rebel Warren and teammate Dave Parsons who also did very well. Here are Rebel’s thoughts:
“This year we decided to take on the Birding challenge. The challenge involves having the same number of bird species as the day of the year, you can have more than the current day which gives you some breathing space but once there are more days than birds you are out!! Despite the fact that we were away for a couple of weeks in May, 4 weeks on my part not being able to do much due to eye surgery and don’t have 4WD, so we can’t get to out of the way places and one of us works, we feel we did really well. We managed to get 259 bird species in Tropical North Queensland with [sic] took us up to the 13th of September. My partner, Dave Parsons, did the most amazing job at spotting the birds, while my bird photography improved greatly! We went to places we would not have gone if we had not been involved in this count. We live on the Atherton Tablelands which has an abundance of birds but we don’t have the waders or shore birds. With that in mind we went to the Waders event in Cairns, we only got one new bird which was better than nothing, the bonus of that was meeting other bird enthusiasts and bird photographers. There are certain birds like the Brolgas that are always thrilling when they come in. We saw Sharp-tailed Sandpipers at Lagoon Rd in the little bit of water that was left in the lagoon one late afternoon. Also along Lagoon Road we witnessed 60-100 Rainbow Bee-eaters coming in for the night into one tree, that same evening the numerous Black Kites, Australian White Ibis and some Whistling Kites came in. We made a trip to the Mareeba Wetlands (Wild Nature Lodge in Biboohra) for 2 nights with hopes of seeing more birds there, we were rewarded with beautiful Black Swans. At Talaroo Hot Springs we saw the Tawny Frogmouth and on the way there in the Forty Mile Scrub we saw an Emu.
The count got harder and harder and although we didn’t make it to the end of the year are still going out regularly to see what we can see. This challenge was a great learning experience for both of us, we now know so much more about the birds in our area. We would do it differently if we were to do it again, I think starting with the shore birds while they are in Cairns and then get the others that are always around. We are amazed by the new to us birds in the area that must have been there all along but we just weren't trying to find them!
We highly recommend doing this challenge even if you don’t think you can get too far, you, like us just might be surprised at how many birds you can actually find:
Most species recorded at one sitting – 37 at Hasties Swamp.
Most individuals in a species in one sitting – thousands(?) of Magpie Geese and Plumed Whistling Ducks.
Species most often recorded – Magpie-lark!
Most exciting species to find – Red-necked Crake."
From these and other participants’ comments, the personal outcomes seem well worthwhile: more incentives to go birding and record what you see; encouragement to look further afield; and also particularly, to try out new and different habitat types (and see new species). Scott Ritchie, another enthusiastic participant, was very intent on getting photographs of species new to him and succeeded. Many participants mentioned they were keen to try again in 2024.
If you are interested in giving the Challenge a go just sign up for 2024 by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org