Thinking About Birds

As my interest in the birds of the Hunter Region grew, I also began wondering what it used to be like for birds here. I'm interested in questions such as: what species have disappeared?; what are the new arrivals?; when did changes occur? (and why?); what populations have prospered and which ones have declined?

One of the problems in answering questions such as these is finding out whereabouts any information about Hunter Region birds has been documented. There are other problems - for example, species mis-identifications may have occurred, population estimates may have been non-existent or (worse) very rubbery, locations may not have been correctly assigned. Another problem is nomenclature - in articles prior to the 1920s in particular, various names were used for the same species and sometimes none of those names corresponds to what we now use.

But the main problem lies in finding any historic information. So far, I have identified a few important sources. I'd welcome any suggestions as to where else I could look.

  • Hunter Natural History. This was a regular journal produced by the now-defunct Newcastle Flora and Fauna Society for several years from the late 1960s. I have access to an incomplete set of them. The articles are a mix of scientific papers that document thorough work and ones that give more general information or play an educational role. For example, there was excellent information published about the Hunter Estuary in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
  • The Emu. This is the journal of Birdlife Australia (known as the RAOU when it first started). Its publication started in 1901 and for the first ~75 years it mostly featured papers and snippets from bird enthusiasts all over Australia, about their personal observations. It therefore is a rich source of information about the Hunter Region especially over 1910-1960. More recently, the focus for The Emu has been on rigorous ornithology; sadly this focus has largely excluded amateur ornithologists from contributing.
  • Corella and Stilt. These are the journals of the Australian Bird Studies Association and the Australasian Wader Studies Group, respectively. There is a handful of articles relating to Hunter Region birds within them.
  • Musuems. This is an area that I am yet to sink my teeth into. There are two potential sources of material:
    • Papers, monographs etc by museum staff
    • Collections (letters, stuffed birds, eggs) of early bird enthusiasts
  • Personal recollections. It would be great to talk with people who were active with birding prior to the 1960s. Unfortunately there seem not to be many left. Maybe some descendants have information? Please contact me if this is the case.


Stuart, A. (2014). Early Hunter Region avian records. Part 3. A review of historical data about shorebirds in the Hunter Estuary. The Whistler 8: 10-22

Stuart, A. (2009). Early Hunter Region Avian Records. Part 1. 1901 - 1925 Articles in The Emu. The Whistler 3: 40-51

Stuart, A and Newling, G. (2009). Notes on an old Upper Hunter egg collection. The Whistler 3: 52

Stuart, A. (2013). Early Hunter Region avian records. Part 2. 1925 - 1950 Articles in The Emu. The Whistler 7: 20-33

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I'm also working on a Special Report where I will document and analyse records that pre-date our 1999 surveys. My intention is to paint a picture of what the Hunter Estuary used to be like for shorebirds. A second draft of the Special Report was reviewed by a surveyor from the 1970s and I just need to incorporate his comments. In the meantime though, I have written and submitted a summary 13-page paper for The Whistler (which is awaiting editor/referee feedback).

I did most of the work on the Special Report in the period 2004-2005, but the report became "parked" due to lack of time and many other commitments. Soon though, I will have finished it off.