'Birding' catching on among new generation of nature buffs in Top End

'Birding' catching on among new generation of nature buffs in Top End

'Birding' catching on among new generation of nature buffs in Top End

Updated 8 October 2017, 9:35 AEDT

Those in the know say the art of bird watching, known as "birding", is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, with the quiet pastime now attracting a younger group to its ranks in the Top End.

It is a hobby that does not require much money — you just need time and a healthy dose of patience.

Those in the know say the art of bird watching, known as "birding", is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, with the quiet pastime now attracting a younger group to its ranks.

Professional birder Mike Jarvis said the Mamukala wetlands of Kakadu National Park, about 200 kilometres south-east of Darwin, is among the best places in the world to see a wide variety of bird species.

"This is really good finch country through here — lots of grass, lots of seed," Mr Jarvis said, walking on the floodplain's pathway.

He named just a few of the wide variety of finches he often spots in the wetlands, like crimson finches that can be seen perched on pandanus fronds.

Unfortunately, one such finch not seen as often anymore is the Gouldian finch — which happens to be one of the most colourful birds in the world.

The Gouldian finch is native to the Top End, and Mr Jarvis said he remembered a time not long ago when thousands of the tiny birds could be spotted during a single walk.

Mr Jarvis has been a birder since childhood, and runs a business from Darwin sharing his knowledge with novice and advanced birders alike.

He is excited to see his hobby attracting more and more followers in Australia.

"In the US and UK, birdwatching has been very popular for a long time — in Australia that trend in definitely growing," Mr Jarvis said.

"More and more people are more aware of what's around them and that's a great thing particularly when we consider the threats to these habitats."

Kakadu not the standard it once was

Kakadu is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, but in recent years its habitats have been degraded by invasive weeds, introduced pests like water buffalo and feral cats, and wild fires that scorch the Earth.

Mr Jarvis said he believed the burgeoning popularity of birding was a step towards greater public awareness of the threats to habitats in the park.

"The fact that more people now are interested in birds is great — that could even help with the conservation of these species," he said.

'Bird week' highlights the diversity in Top End birds

Sarah Burgess from Parks Australia has coordinated the fifth annual bird week in Kakadu, and said newcomers to birding did not need much to make a start.

"A good bird guide, either a tour guide or a bird book and a bird app is a great start," she said.

"Make sure you're going out early in the morning or early in the evening, and having a look at a whole variety of habitats is your best chances."

Ms Burgess said at least 300 different bird species could be spotted in the park, and there were plenty of places to catch a glimpse.

"Mainly around the sandstone outcrops, and the stone country — some species are endemic to the area, like beautiful little coloured finches, and parrots to look for in the woodland."

Are you a 'birder' or a 'twitcher'?

Of course with any hobby there is always division.

Mr Jarvis explained there was a significant distinction between the terms birder and twitcher.

"So you're asking if I'm a birder or twitcher?" he said.

"Thank you for asking, because it's important to know the difference.

"A twitcher is someone who will drop things and run to see a rarity.

"A birder is someone who is very happy to just watch that common bar-shouldered dove or magpie lark, and look for some new behaviours — but of course, our activities can always be somewhere in between."

Mr Jarvis said that at its best, birding felt like a treasure hunt, especially as one becomes more aware of native species they can see near where they live.

"There's always the potential to spot more, and the thrill of finding more and recording them feels like a real accomplishment."