Photographic passion takes flight

Black Shouldered Kite.  Photo by Geoffrey Dabb

Black Shouldered Kite. Photo by Geoffrey Dabb

JUST over 50 years ago, members of the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) first got together to talk turkey at the CSIRO’s Black Mountain facility and, since birds are so photogenic, their celebratory centrepiece is a photo exhibition.

Club members have been entering their three best shots and you, the public, will be asked to vote. The photographer behind the people’s favourite image wins $500 and the runner up $250, with all who voted for the winner getting thrown in a prize draw of their own.

“We’ve said it’s not about having a shot of a rare bird, it’s not about birds doing some unusual behaviour, it’s about having a picture which will appeal to the public,” says COG’s enthusiastic vice president Neil Hermes, who owns a large collection of ties with birds on them, more than one for every day of the week, and has been stalking local avians with ears pricked and camera at the ready since his teens.

The Canberra Ornithologists Group vice president, Neil Hermes, with an Australian darter.

The Canberra Ornithologists Group vice president, Neil Hermes, with an Australian darter.

“There’ll be some pretty speccy pictures on display,” he adds. “We’d love as many people as possible to come in and have a look at these pictures, just to get a sense of all the spectacular birds we have around Canberra.”

Neil and fellow COG member Tony Lawson are also holding guided walks around the Botanic Gardens on June 21 and July 19 for beginner birders – people who enjoy birds but can’t really tell a treecreeper from a honeyeater, or an Australian raven from its cousin the little raven (it’s all in the sound they make).

“Once you get a few tips about what to look for it’s amazing how easy it is and how much you can then learn for yourself,” says Neil. “You don’t even need a pair of binoculars, you essentially just need a reference book that’s got pictures in it and then with a few little tips about what to look and listen for, you can see how simple it is to identify a lot of different species.”

To be fair, COG is much more than a bunch of mad-keen bird watchers. It’s also a scientific society whose members promote the conservation of birds and their habitats, and actively practice ornithology, which involves collecting information about anything with feathers they spot in the ACT and surrounding areas.

“In fact, here in Canberra we have some of the most detailed records of any city in the world,” Neil says proudly.

The group started doing surveys in 1965 and its members have produced books, tapes and CDs from the vast store of information they have collected.

According to Neil, we’re “extraordinarily fortunate” to have over 200 different species hanging around the ACT – more than any other Australian capital – from colourful rosellas, screeching white cockatoos and their rarer black cousins to backyard bower birds, blue wrens, red-browed finches and migrating world travellers like snipes and swifts, who spend the northern summer in the vicinity of Japan and eastern Russia.

“It’s a very rich area for birds around Canberra and over the years it’s got better,” he says. “With all the plantings in the city and the lakes, and increasingly things like all the ponds they’re building out at Gungahlin, we’re actually building a city that really suits birds.”

The Canberra Ornithologists Group’s photo exhibition will be in the Legislative Assembly Building, June 30 to July 5.


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