IN THE FIELD: One of Alastair Silcock's birding groups enjoys a morning at McEwan State Forest, north of Pittsworth.
IN THE FIELD: One of Alastair Silcock's birding groups enjoys a morning at McEwan State Forest, north of Pittsworth. ALASTAIR SILCOCK

Pittsworth birdwatchers happy as larks

YOU never know what will take off in the world of U3A, and Pittsworth tutor Alastair Silcock has been as surprised as anyone by the growing popularity of his Birding class.

He first offered birdwatching when the Pittsworth U3A branch opened in 2012 and got just one taker, the next year six, then 12, and in 2015, it jumped to 20, and Alastair had to split into two fortnightly classes.

Now, there's a waiting list ... so what's the secret?

"I think people just enjoy getting out into the countryside, seeing places they haven't seen before and talking to like-minded people," Alastair said.

He has about 15 sites within 20-30 minutes of Pittsworth on public and private land which he regularly takes groups to.

Alastair has been interested in birdwatching for over 20 years, so has built up a pretty good knowledge of the local wildlife.

But he said participants in the class cover the full range from absolute novices to experienced birdos.

"You start out just knowing the common birds and over time you learn more simply by going out with people who know more than you," he said.

His group has now identified 150 different species over the years, over 110 species each year depending on conditions, with the drought taking its toll this year.

Species No.150 was the Bush Stone Curlew, much more common in coastal areas, with other birds of special interest including Jabirus and Magpie Geese, again more commonly found near the coast and to the north.

With good timber habitat and water sources, Alastair said the region made for good birdwatching and he now also receives calls from property owners when there are eagles nesting on their property so he can bring groups out.

Early morning is the best time to see birds, but Alastair isn't such a hard task master that he has his groups up at dawn, running instead from 7-9am.

"We're not particularly hardy, and it's meant to be enjoyable," he laughed.

"I think a lot of people enjoy the social aspect of it, and learning about the plants and environment and history of the local district, as well as identifying birds."

And as a keen historian, being involved in Pittsworth District Landcare Association and knowing all the local happenings as long-time reporter for the Pittsworth Sentinel, Alastair has a good all-round knowledge to lead the groups.

To find out more about Birding or any other class offered by Pittsworth U3A - including art, writing, photography, computer, singing and dance - go along to the open day from 9.30-11.30am on Tuesday, January 22. Alternatively, go to u3atoowoomba.com or phone course co-ordinator Lyndall on 07 4693 2510.


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