Birds a-plenty and Darryl’s keeping score

Birds a-plenty and Darryl’s keeping score

For urbanites stepping out at Tuart Lakes for the first time, it’s a little like walking into an aviary. With native gardens, ancient tuart trees and Lake Cooloongup just across the road, the birdlife is both abundant and varied. But just how many different species would you expect to find in the one area? According to Darryl Jones, eighty ..and counting.

When Darryl and Ronnie purchased their home in the village three and a half years ago, he was already well into bird photography. He decided to start a photographic catalogue of birds in and around Tuart Lakes, including those that fly over and others spotted just across the road at the lake.

“There’s waders, swamp birds, forest birds, scrub birds and open grassland birds. There’s a bit of everything”, says Darryl, “I haven’t found anything that shouldn’t be here, shame, but I haven’t. I haven’t become important yet!”

“Square tailed kite is probably the least common. The cuckoos, they’re only seasonal. I’ve got a pair of rainbow bee eaters breeding just thirty metres from my front door down there. They come down to the South to breed, but they end up around the Pilbara, Broome, Karratha, Kununurra.”

“A couple of people have told me there’s a barn owl here and an owlet nightjar, but I couldn’t find either one of them so they don’t count. I keep an eye out on hollows and at night time there’s a few owls . . . southern boobooks, also tawny frog mouths which aren’t owls. I listen and have a look and I’ve got a very very powerful torch.”

It’s an all too common story, Darryl didn’t discover his passion until after he retired, “My wife said I needed to find something to do so that we weren’t together 24/7. I’ve always liked birds, so I decided I’ll buy a camera and I’ll go out and photograph birds. It wasn’t long before she decided she liked the idea and she was coming with me. So when we have time alone, we’re together!” laughed Darryl.

Darryl has tens of thousands of photos on hard drives but is hesitant to place himself alongside the obsessives. “Actually, it’s got a bit silly.” laughs Darryl, “Initially I said I would never become a twitcher, which is the common name for people who travel everywhere to chase birds. I have become a semi-twitcher I suppose!”

Sounding decidedly twitchy, Darryl tells of road trips to Carnarvan chasing firstly a Eurasion widgeon, then a purple heron, also of a trip to Onslow to find a blue rock thrush. In each case it was only the first or second time they had been reported on the Australian Mainland and he managed to get a photograph. “These are birds that come in and shouldn’t be here. They just find their way here.” he says.

In the past five years Darryl has visited Broome, Coolangatta area, Tweed river, Cairns and Christmas Island, but says he doesn’t travel nearly as much as he would like.

“I’d like to go to South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, up into the Cape, Cocos Island … if I could do those, I’d only need a week to ten days in each place, I’d probably add another 60 to 80 birds to my list. Which would take me up to about 640 Australian birds.”

Unlike most of the twitchers and semi-twitchers, Darryl doesn’t add the bird to his main list if he doesn’t get a photo. “They say you’ve got to go on trust, and I say well, I know some people, they’ve reported birds at a certain place . . . and I think – that’s strange, I was there at that same time. Those people weren’t there and nor were those birds!” Birds seen but not photographed are recorded on something more akin to a wish list, “I’ve got 19 on the list now . . . hopefully one day I’ll photograph them.”

Darryl describes the more annoying side to bird photography, as experienced whilst chasing Pelagics (seabirds such as Albatrosses) on boats off Bremer Bay and Albany. “There’s 16 people on the boat, 10 of them are just there to see the bird and invariably they’ll get in the way of the photographer. Sometimes I feel like pushing some of them over the side!”

“It can be extremely frustrating. It can be extremely exciting. It can be extremely uncomfortable weather wise . . . Some people they’ll sit still for hours and hours just waiting for one bird. I get bored. I’ll go and have a look then see if I can find something else.”

Tuart Lakes might seem the ideal place for a bird watcher to live; in fact the move had nothing to do with birds and everything to do with Ronnie’s desire to join a secure village with a social community. Darryl says it took three years for her to convince him to sell the home.

“For my wife, she loves it. For me – look I’m happy anywhere.” he says. “I could live in a twenty-foot caravan, so long as I had a table and chairs, fridge, microwave, aircon and somewhere to plug my computer and camera . . . I’d be perfectly happy.”

Darryl would probably say he subscribes to the happy wife happy life philosophy – but for this man of simple pleasures, pure joy can come as rapidly as a flap of wings or well-timed click of the shutter. At Tuart Lakes, he’ll never have to walk far to find something to point the camera at, and as long he has a twitch to itch, that list of birds will continue to grow.

(Bird images L-R: Rainbow Bee Eater, Red Capped Parrot, Black Shouldered Kite, Shining Bronze Cuckoo, Splendid Fairy Wren, Regent Parrot, Australian Hobby, Nankeen Kestrel. Images are subject to copyright and are the property of Darryl Jones.)