On the weekend of 1-2 June the Townsville branch of the Bird Observers Club of Australia, through Island member Christine Corbett, organised a bird count for Magnetic Island. In all a dozen Islanders participated, identifying 92 different species of a total count of 989 birds.
by George Hirst
The count was conducted in conjunction with the Townsville branch of the Bird Observer's Club of Australia (BOCA) who were taking part in the national club's Australia-wide count for the weekend. Christine told MT, "We had an absolute ball. It was just the best weekend - free, healthy and contributing to our knowledge of the Island and what we need to conserve. It was just wonderful!".
One of the aims of the count was to gather valuable statistics to build on the comparatively scarce information on bird numbers in northern Australia. With over 160 species and 30,000 birds observed through Townsville and Magnetic Island over the weekend the Club's work was a great success. Ten species were spotted on MI which were not recorded in Townsville
According to Christine a number of exciting and unusual discoveries were made on Magnetic Island. "Steve Rowland's sea kayak tour counted 18 species including two sooty oyster catchers which were not found in Townsville as well as a grey-tailed tattler which is described as an occasional visitor to the Island and would have been left behind by its companions who migrate back to Siberia for our winter".
The famous Osprey nest site at the headland of Balding Bay was observed by another party who were convinced there were chicks in the nest while Charlie McColl of Nelly Bay spotted a darter in the Horseshoe Bay lagoon - the first time he'd ever seen one there over many years observing but, according to Christine, the rarest bird of all was a yellow white-eye which was spotted at Endeavour Creek, Horseshoe Bay.
Magnetic Island Country Club was also found to be a birding hotspot. An uncommon, white throated gerygone was spotted there and Christine will be very interested to see what effects the planned revegetation irrigation of the greens and fairways will bring.
Another fascinating discovery was made by David "Scoop" Hooper at West Point. Scoop was fortunate enough to have a fan-tailed cuckoo land within arms reach at his West Point and retreat. From here he was able to clearly observe that the cuckoo was merrily dining on a bunch of stinging hairy caterpillars which it would hold in its beak and dash against a branch to cause the grub to shed its stinging hairs before swallowing. Christine, who happened to be visiting Scoop at the time told MT, "I haven't seen any other bird ever feed on the hairy caterpillars before".
Another highlight was the "really hard to see" rose-crowned fruit dove spotted by Christine's brother Larry also at Endeavour Creek .
For the record, the count included: 125 rainbow lorikeets; 50 white faced herons at the Cockle Bay wetland ("Extraordinary!" says Christine); 30 Caspian terns at Duck Creek; 30 top-knot pigeons at Endeavour Creek as well as ten different species of raptor.
Christine thought Magnetic Island was one of the rare places you can be guaranteed to see wedge-tailed eagles and sea eagles on virtually any day. The same can be said for bush stone curlews which are usually much shyer in other parts and are now almost extinct in most of southern Australia.
One of the sadder observations came from West Point where only one of the pair of rare and endangered beach stone curlews has disappeared. This pair had survived for several years in the West Point area and it seems that now there will only a matter of time before the species will disappear from Magnetic Island altogether.
Island bird club mooted
A brighter prospect for the Island is the likelihood that a branch of the BOCA will be started on MI. Christine Corbett told MT, "with the amount of interest and enthusiasm generated by the count I think it will be likely that a branch could be supported. The Presidents of BOCA are coming to Townsville in July for a meeting to, among other things, discuss the possibility of setting up a club here".
Bird watching and tourism
Bird watching is thought to be the single most popular outdoors activity in the USA and is immensely popular in Europe and Japan with bird clubs counting millions of members. The possibilities for bird-watching tourism seems unlimited for a place like Magnetic Island and the Townsville region generally. According to former Island resident and highly acclaimed bird author, Jo Wieneke, "The Townsville region has excellent birding opportunities and while Magnetic Island may not be home to quite as many species as the wider geographical area, for many serious birders it could be the ideal destination to bring their families. Often the very best birding locations are uncomfortable and hold no attraction for non-birders (read teenage children and spouses) but Magnetic is a magnificent destination for all and has a great range of birds which are very accessible for the keen birder".
Interestingly, according to Chris, "All of but two of the species seen during the count on Magnetic Island were observed by driving or walking along or adjacent to the Island's gazetted roads, walking tracks and beaches," adding, "The Island is a magnificent birding destination. For a dozen people to find 92 species in two days is very impressive especially when they include a number of quite unusual birds".