‘The feathered tribes of Van Diemen's Land' by Sarah Lloyd, Tympanocryptis Press (2015) - review by ‘Gardens for Wildlife' coordinator Iona Mitchell
The recent publication ‘The feathered tribes of Van Diemen's Land' provides a wealth of information imparted from the author Sarah Lloyd's considerable knowledge and experience as a field naturalist over many years since her early childhood. Sarah is passionate about native birds, but also invertebrates, slime molds and a litany of other interests in the natural environment. She is a skilled photographer and the book is illustrated with superb pictures showing the beauty and character of many Tasmanian bird species.
Tasmania has a rich diversity of birds with around 212 species of birds, some resident others migratory, ranging over a variety of habitats and landscapes from the sea, coast to mountain highlands. There are twelve endemic species found nowhere else in the world and sub-species differing from their mainland counterparts often in size or colour.
The question of where do birds occur is related to their habitat preferences largely depending on their mode of foraging and feeding. The structure of habitat, in terms of the vegetation layers from ground covers, grasses, shrubs and trees, influences the richness of bird species. Open forest with tall trees and sparse understorey have fewer bird species for example, compared to vegetation with a complexity of layers (or structure) with dense understorey and trees providing safe habitat for a greater diversity of bird species, particularly smaller bird species.
This complexity of vegetation structure is just as applicable in gardens as areas of remnant bush. Sarah provides excellent advice on how to create habitat to welcome and attract birds to the garden and what features will assist with this. Their needs are relatively simple requiring shelter for protection from the weather and predators, safe places to breed and raise young, and sufficient supply of food and fresh water.
Are you the type of person who enjoys birds but feel you lack the skills to identify them? Sarah has this covered by describing how to identify birds with what clues or features to look for. While Sarah is an expert at identifying birds by their calls, often without seeing them, she encourages and inspires people that it is a skill which can be acquired with time and practice. The best way she states is to sit quietly and ‘connect song to the singer'.
Sarah is an authority on the vocalisation (songs and calls) of birds and provides an informative narrative on how birds sing and use vocalisations to attract mates (such as with the dawn chorus), defend territories or to raise alarm. Many may be familiar with the classic characteristic call of native hens defending their territory. As with human language, birds can have differing dialects which vary from one region to another.
This book, whilst not written as such, does provide a useful field guide for identifying bird species from the excellent photographs of many bird species which may be encountered. The book is broken into sections to cover different types of habitats and lists the species of birds most likely to be encountered, such as garden birds, bush birds, birds on farms and birds of sea and shore.
Worldwide bird species are declining with the greatest threat through loss of habitat from clearing and conversion for agriculture, urban development or other human activities. Sarah identifies other threats such as the impact of introduced species, predation, fire and climate change. The final chapter provides good ecological practices and conservation measures to mitigate loss of birds from the landscape, such as the importance of trees with hollows, protection of patches of remnant vegetation and the value of coarse woody debris on the ground.
Many ‘Gardens for Wildlife' members have made the observation that since growing native plant species in their garden there has been a greater number and variety of native birds attracted to their garden. These members love to see native birds in their garden and get a great deal of enjoyment from doing so. This book will provide those keen to learn more about native birds and how to protect them so to, as the final line of the book states, ‘help keep the common birds common' and encourage others to appreciate the beauty and importance of birds in the landscape.