Back from a Bird Language Retreat

The mantra of the weekend, a quote shared by JA Baker: “The hardest thing of all is to see what is really there.”

_____________________________________ By Hannah Preston

Two weeks ago I mentored at a bird language and nature connection retreat hosted by Wangat Lodge and run by environmental educator and naturalist Andrew Turbill. Boy oh boy did I learn a lot about birds!

Wangat lodge is in a beautiful spot nestled amongst eucalypt forest and rainforest on the edge of Barrington Tops National Park, on the brink of the Chichester River. The vibrancy and life of the bush surrounding the lodge was outstanding – birds were absolutely everywhere, nesting and feeding and chattering.

By the river we saw Scarlet Honeyeaters feeding in the bottlebrush overhanging the waterway, and some participants were lucky enough to see platypi.

There were about 50 of us at the retreat, nature enthusiasts, scientific minds, family and ecologically passionate folk. The main activity was sit-spotting, which involved going to the same place in the bush everyday where we observed birds and nature for about an hour. We then came back together as a big group to share our experiences of bird-watching, the calls we heard and the behaviours we saw.

One of the highlights for me was watching a breeding pair of little Brown Thornbills hopping to and from spears of Lomandra grass right in front of me, making their almost insect-like ‘zip zips’ and melodic warbles amongst the grasses. Perhaps establishing territory and/or singing their companion calls.

Another character at the workshop was this King Parrot who liked to sit in on our group discussions up in the Cheese tree Glochidion ferdinandi (sometimes whizzing right past our ears!). He was also the first one to check out the birdbaths we set up around the property, you can see him investigating a mini dish in the video below.

Andrew was a fantastic host with a knack for storytelling. He took us on many in-depth discussions about the history of birds, the meaning of their calls, the interconnectedness they have with our greater ecology and guiding us one afternoon on a bird walk with him (a real highlight).

His generosity and articulation was outstanding and I now find myself noticing things about birds here and there that I was blind to noticing before – the ruckus alarm calls of New Holland Honeyeaters as I visit their territory, the outstanding mimicry of little birds like the yellow-throated scrubwrens as they attend their nest and much more confusing chatter that I’m yet to understand!

One of the amazing things I learnt was that lyrebirds are one of the world’s oldest songbirds, likely surviving the Chicxulub asteroid impact that wiped out all almost all other existing bird species 65 million years ago, bringing the dinosaur era to its knees. Being a ground bird it might have been able to shelter from the global wildfires that ensued and highly sulphurised atmosphere that tree-nesting birds couldn’t handle. eBird has some amazing photos and calls of the species https://ebird.org/species/suplyr1

At the end of the retreat people jumped up to share like-minded events and links to bird resources. I’ve put together a list of some of below for those that are interested.

Bird Language 2021! The retreat is happening again next year 14th-17th October 2021. You can contact Wangat Lodge to express your interest at http://www.wangat.com.au/contact

Andrew Turbill has a website with his bio and happening here: http://www.cel.org.au/andrew-turbill/

Wild by Nature programs with Wildcraft Australia (sometimes also hosted by Wangat lodge), see http://www.wildcraftaustralia.com/

Workshops and nature connection with Wild Search Australia based in Byron Bay https://wildsearchaustralia.com.au/

Happy birdwatching,

Hannah

_____________________________________ By Kath

I booked myself and my family into the Bird Language and Nature Connection Retreat after chatting to Dan Lyons the Wangat Lodge owner over the phone. Dan is a wonderfully passionate human who is building on the community at Wangat. I had wanted to take my kids there earlier in the year and though they were only 2 of the 4 child participants in the workshop they got so much out of it thanks to Andrew’s incredible educator skills.

There was never a dull moment during the 3 days, our time was packed with talks, walks, sit spots and various activities to help us listen and connect with our bush surroundings. We enjoyed many swims in the various spots on the river.

My sit spot was actually on the river bank amongst the mossy logs, rocks and ferns, where I heard Golden Whistlers, Thornbills and Wrens. I walked under a gateway of fern covered branches, past this beautiful Cymbidium suave and along the river with relish every time. I embraced the time to sit and simply listen, and working from 30 minutes to 1 hour of sitting and listening was not an issue for me, it was a luxury I relished😉

I learned a few bird calls I didn’t know however the break through for me came when I could break down the cacophony of birdsong into individual calls, regardless of not being able to ID the sounds. Being able to sift through the sounds of the bush and really listen was a ‘light bulb’ moment and I haven’t been able to turn my ears off since. Waking in the morning after we got back I realised how many bird calls I could hear just simply laying in my bed with the window open.

One of the first activities was drawing the sound of the bird calls you could hear, being a visual person this helped immensely for me. The other thing which helped was just letting go of “trying”, by the third day I was a lot more relaxed and had pretty much given up on even seeing the birds I could hear. So then what happens? I sit more calmly, my gaze is softer and I am not taking notes or scribbling away and I see and hear so many more birds! It is like a nature meditation, sorry if that is a bit too cosmic for some of you 🤣

We also got together in small groups based on our geographic locations and made up a rough seasonal calendar of what we have observed in nature in our areas. What is flowering, bird calls, insects, whales, weather patterns etc. all these things are affecting us and the wildlife all the time, it was great getting it down on paper and I have made a pact with myself to chart these observations month by month in my little tech of the woods. Plus also to do some sit spots in my local bushland 💚

Thankyou Andrew for opening my ears and putting everything back into focus again. Wangat Lodge we will be back!

3 thoughts on “Back from a Bird Language Retreat

  1. Hi Kath!
    This sounds just AMAZING! I have to come and endeavour to try it with you next year. I saw your post on Instagram and was absolutely FLOORED. It sounded so amazing. I am so glad that Andrew is providing this educational experience, and it is so great that your family was able to enjoy this TOGETHER!!
    Thanks for your post. It was great to read 😉 xx

  2. Sharon McLean on

    Hi Kath

    Your post inspired me to reserve a space for next year. Thank you. Also many thanks for this site, which is helping me so much to create a habitat understory on my acre of woodland here at Kilaben Bay. NSW Best Wishes.

    • Kath Gadd on

      Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, I hope to meet you next year at Wangat!

      Best Wishes,

      Kath

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