Thinking About Birds

Some background about the Hunter Region and the Bird Reports

When I moved to Newcastle in late 1983, I had only just started to become interested in birds. I knew very little about Australian birds and of course I knew nothing about birds and birdwatching in the Hunter Region. For the next several years my focus was on just getting to know more about local birds, and of course where to find them, as well as taking occasional opportunities to learn about the birds elsewhere in Australia.

Back then, I did most my local birdwatching with members of Hunter Bird Observers Club (HBOC) during the Club’s organised outings and camps (and I still do). As a key part of each of those events, we would sit around at lunchtime or at the campfire, and produce a bird list based on the combined efforts of the group. After a while I started wondering what happened next. There was no national database scheme operating at the time and I learnt that HBOC’s records were being typed up and filed. I began to think of how things could be done differently.

My first initiative was to arrange copies of all the old lists, which I then collated into annual-based spreadsheets for the HBOC library, so that it was easier and quicker to work out when and where different species had been seen. Then in 1992 I attended yet another meeting of the main NSW/ACT bird clubs (they have met every 6 months since the late 1980s to share ideas and to progress initiatives relating to conservation, education & promotion, and bird studies). At this particular meeting, ways to improve the NSW annual bird report were discussed, which led to a dedicated follow-up meeting in Canberra. By the end of that meeting, I had decided to prepare an annual bird report for the Hunter Region so that the information in it could feed into the NSW report. 

I convinced the HBOC Management Committee that this would be a good thing to do. There were lots of things to sort out – prepare the general paperwork (including a new record sheet), promote the project to HBOC members and elsewhere, establish a review system for unusual records, work out how the report would be produced and printed. The first bird report, dealing with 1993, was published in late 1994. Looking back at it now, it was a very primitive piece of work but everything has to start somehow. Click here to see the Annual Bird Reports 

Defining the "area of interest"

A very important matter for us was to work out what would be the “Area of Interest” for the bird reports i.e. what locations would be in and what ones would be out so far as collecting and publishing records was concerned. That took a while and involved several twists and turns in our thinking. At first it seemed obvious that our Area of Interest should be the Hunter Valley i.e. the area drained by the Hunter River which reaches the sea at Newcastle. However, Lake Macquarie was right on our doorstep and was much-watched, and we had several Club members who lived around Port Stephens – neither of these is in the Hunter Valley. At the time we even had members living at Forster as well as some further to the north at Taree. 

We wanted to have a simple and clear way to define the Hunter Region (as we now refer to it) and struggled for a while to achieve that. Eventually (from a suggestion by Peter McLauchlan the then President) we decided to adopt the area defined as the Hunter Region in the 1989 NSW regional plan. Although by doing that some outlying parts of the Hunter River catchment were excluded, the boundaries encompassed everywhere else that interested us. We've used that definition of the Hunter Region ever since (although we now also include a proper definition of the ocean part of it).