Bird Watching in Sydney
A few years ago I came down with bird fever. I don't mean an avian illness or a disease that crossed species, but rather a total obsession for birds and bird watching.
It started with a simple seed planted by my late Aunt Millie about a group of green monk parrots that lived in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. My aunt, who had lived there her entire life shared with me the story she had heard years ago which was that pet owners released parrots into the cemetery in the 1950's where they managed to thrive against all odds.
I had already loved visiting Greenwood Cemetery since it's a huge sprawling green space full of history and beautiful Gothic architecture -- and since I lived just ten blocks from it, I decided to bring a camera and binoculars with a friend to investigate. The rest as they say is history. What was meant to be a fun afternoon of Brooklyn folklore turned into an obsession. I started noticing birds everywhere and began to try to identify them. I bought books and scrolled for hours online. I changed my equipment and found out that I not only love bird watching, but bird photography as well. I started a local bird watching club in New York to go bird watching with friends and one in Sydney. It's become my go to for any walk or trip and I'm so very lucky because after a while Amy became obsessed with it too. It's almost as if once you start to really see birds a window has opened into what seems like a new, more exciting planet.
The funny thing is that I had loved and made art about animals for years and even devoted an entire art residency in Finland one Summer to learning about their birds and observing them in the wild. My nickname was even 'Bird Girl' at the residency. But it took me discovering something unexpected ten blocks from my apartment to get me to go from casual bird watcher to totally obsessed.
Fast forward three years from seeing the parrots and Amy and I now live in Sydney. Since Australia has one of the world's most unique ecosystems, I knew there would be a lot of opportunities for bird watching, but I have been totally blown away with how easy it is to spot amazing birds within the city.
To Sydney's credit, there is a lot of green space and a lot of public walking paths in prime locations along the harbour. This means lots of opportunities to spot birds although I do feel it should be mentioned that despite this many of Australia's native birds are directly threatened due to loss of habitat.
Australia's birds are bright and beautiful, big with large personalities and loud serenading calls. Some, like the variegated fairy wren below (blue head, top left) are small and hardly stay still for longer than a second or two. They are playful and shy and I've spent many hours in the forest tracking them down. Other birds like the cockatoos are happy to sit and make taking pictures easier, even if some species are more difficult to find.
In short, Sydney is a magical place and Australia is a bird watchers paradise. The best part is that it's mostly an entirely free hobby, so anyone can try it out without any investment other than an afternoon. And if you do fall in love, the only equipment I would recommend is a pair of good binoculars and sneakers.
If you're interested in photography, there are a lot of options for cameras. And thanks to technology, you don't need a professional birders camera to get good shots. I use a Canon Powershot SX50, which is a point and shoot that I read about on a birding blog. I love it and it's compact enough for me to carry all day while walking in the bush. It has a 50x zoom which allows for clear shots from far away and it the colors also come out nice and bright. If I use a tripod, which is rare since I like to move, I use a gorilla tripod which I can attach to any surface.
If you happen to live in Sydney or are traveling to Sydney and want to join us on a bird watching afternoon, please reach out. We have a club called 'The Sydney Bird Club' and meet to walk and watch birds while trying to have a little fun along the way with some beers afterwards. Our top four favorite walks and birding spots in Sydney are:
1) Centennial Park, especially by the lakes to see a variety of birds, especially if you're new to Australia or bird watching. In May the black cockatoos are there in the pine forests :)
2) Sydney Harbour National Park - just a hop skip and a jump from the Taronga Zoo ferry, this path winds through beautiful bush and holds several amazing birds. See giant brush turkey mounds a plenty, wrens, honeyeaters and much more.
3) Royal Botanic Gardens - free and open during daylight hours, the gardens are full of amazing birds to spot, including a powerful owl (ask the guides by the gift shop for its current location). A chance to see birds among beautiful native plants and flowers.
4) Manly - North Head Walk - this is a beautiful national park along the coast and has many exciting birds to spot including wattlebirds (little and red), honeyeaters, wrens and more.
If you have any good bird watching tips for Sydney or Australia, please reach out - especially if you might know where I can spot some rosellas in this city!