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Byron Shire
March 27, 2023

Natural history

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While I have not the informed authority to confirm John Bradley’s musings on the birds that seem to be competing for living space in the reserve behind his Byron Bay home (Letters, 25 January), I can confirm from my own observations over years that there are radical changes occurring in the world of nature here.

A few years back I read a book on Australian birds which suggested that even the most apparently familiar Australian birds are threatened.

In the past decade or so I have seen a decline in species that were once familiar. It is possibly a result of habitat loss or climate change. In the case of certain migratory species there may be problems en route or on the other side of the world. 

I used to see flights of bar-tailed godwits annually on Main Beach and Clarkes. I haven’t seen a single specimen for some seasons. I am sure the numbers of dogs exercised on the Belongil Beach play a role. 

I am equally sure that the sheer numbers of people on the beaches discourage many waders. The tiny red-capped dotterels used to be a familiar sight, trotting like little mice on a mission by the side of the tidal pools. I haven’t seen a single specimen for ages.

The small Australian birds I would see every year at the edge of the Cumbebin swamp near my own habitation – scarlet honey eaters, golden whistlers etc? I rarely see these now.

Some years back there was an influx of Torresian crows into Brisbane (and here). I don’t dislike the birds, though they can take a toll on fledglings.  

It is not only the loss of the birds, but native plants. The weeds from the Americas and Europe and South Africa seem vigorous, but the small native orchids, like ladies tresses, I would find here, the odd bearded orchid along Lawson Street, they are apparently gone. That, I’m sure, is partly due to people numbers and developments. I haven’t seen a sundew in the swamp near Belongil Creek for years either. Small things perhaps. But they are fragments of a mosaic picture that should concern us.

I may add here that I concur with Paul James Hall’s pungent description of the town as a coastal dystopia, (Letters, 25 January) very far from its vaunted image as a place where natural beauty is seen as a selling point. 

As Wordsworth observed a couple of centuries ago; ‘Getting and spending we lay waste our lives.’ And not only our lives.

David Morris, Byron Bay

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  1. As you change the urban environment, some species move out, and some move in. As I have explained to my two year old, things don’t cease to exist when they leave your sight. We actually don’t use most of the land. Some species find the places humans rarely go and they move there. These places are not necessarily far away, it simply doesn’t occur to us to go there.

    • CS, lets follow the research rather than dream up some sort of fantasy explanation.

      Get onto Australian Geographic and dial up a published piece, “More than 200 Australian birds are now threatened with extinction” By Stephen Garnett and Barry Baker • December 2, 2021
      Some 2016 Australian bird species threatened with extinction not because of change to the urban environment but because their eco-systems change.

      • Their eco system always changes. 13,000 yr ago there was and ice age, 50,000 years ago there was a mass extinction in Australia. This whole continent has been moving north, causing it to cycle through all the climate types from antarctic to tropical. 99.999% of all species that have existed in Australia are extinct because they couldn’t adapt to the non-stop climate changes and catastrophes here. How are the crows and pigeons doing? Well designed aren’t they? Highly adaptable aren’t they? ‘Fit for survival’ as Darwin called it.


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