Birdwatchers prepare for Twitchathon to raise money for the gang-gang cockatoo

Birdwatching can be an addictive passion and avid twitchers will often journey long distances in search of rare species to add to their “bird life list”.

Teams of dedicated birders are preparing to race against the clock in a bid to record as many different bird species as possible in a set time.

They’ll be competing in the annual NSW and ACT Twitchathon, which starts on October 29, and raises money to help conserve the gang-gang cockatoo.

Teams can enter either a three-hour or 12-hour race, or the Big Weekend, a 30-hour event, described as a “mega twitch for the crazy and dedicated”.

There’s to be no birdwatching around the clock though — the long event includes a mandatory six-hour rest break.

Teams taking part will include the Western Warblers from Western Sydney, the Gunnedah Galahs, the Dunbogan Drongos from the NSW Mid North Coast, The Bossy Bush Hens from the Northern Rivers and veteran team, the Hunter Home Brewers, from the Hunter region.

Hunter Home Brewers member Mick Roderick has been racing in the Twitchathon for nearly 25 years straight.

He said the team held the record for a previous 24-hour Twitchathon — a huge 252 species.

“I’m a little bit obsessive I think you could say about the Twitchathon … our team is going in our 24th consecutive Twitchathon … 1999 was our first,” he said.

“I have actually returned from overseas twice to do the Twitchathon.

“I tell people I am more flexible around Christmas than I am the Twitchathon.

“It’s an opportunity for us birders to pit ourselves against each other and see who is aware of rare birds lurking in different places.”

Racing for the gang-gang
Money raised this year will go towards a project to help conserve the gang-gang cockatoo, a species typically seen throughout many parts of south-eastern Australia.

Mr Roderick, who is the NSW woodland bird program manager at Birdlife Australia, said the gang-gang cockatoo was severely impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires and had gone from a species considered of least concern to be being listed as federally endangered.

“The gang-gang cockatoo is in all sorts of strife, mostly in the wake of the fires,” Mr Roderick said.

“The gang-gang’s range almost overlaps exactly where the Black Summer bushfires were a few years ago.

“There is a project underway that is a collaboration between Campbelltown Council, Sydney University and Birdlife Australia looking at some of the remnant populations of gang-gang cockatoos in south-western Sydney.”

The aim is to find out more about gang-gang cockatoo habitat requirements and distribution and whether artificial hollows can be used to increase breeding.

Work is already underway in the ACT and the NSW south coast trialling artificial hollows for the species.

Binocularks up for the challenge

As the Twitchathon draws near, teams are busy planning their routes in the hope of covering a range of bird habitats.

“To be competitive you really do need to start west of the Great Dividing Range … rumour has it there is even a team going as far west as Broken Hill this year,” Mr Roderick said.

“Then you travel up and over the range and wake up in a rainforest on Sunday morning … and then make your way through the coastal wetlands.”

Tim Hosking will also be taking part with the Binocularks, a three-person team from Newcastle and Dubbo.

“We are participating to raise money for important bird projects and test ourselves against the bird diversity of NSW,” Mr Hosking said.

“It’s great fun, a serious challenge and gets us to places we’d otherwise not visit.”

Bossy Bush Hens ready to race

The Bossy Bush Hens from Ballina and Byron Bay are set to take part in the 12-hour race.

“The Bossy Bush Hens are five female birders from the biodiverse Northern Rivers, who have collectively been birding for over 150 years,” team organiser Susan Inglis said.

“I got married recently so the birders organised a pre-wedding “Bush Hen” trip, which is where our team’s name came from.

“The twitch will be a fun way to raise funds for the beautiful but declining gang-gang cockatoo and reinforce the importance of preserving our precious biodiversity.”