Former Narrabri GP Andrew Paas has kept busy since he retired from his medical practice several years ago.
Andrew is occupied with running his property near Narrabri, but his interests extend beyond farm and stock work.
Andrew is a keen birdwatcher, ‘twitcher’ in the birdwatchers’ parlance, and recently he was excited to confirm a sighting of a species he hasn’t seen for a while.
“I was out in the paddock and spotted a bustard – commonly known as a plains turkey,” he said.
“It is 30 years since I have seen one and that was at Narran Lake west of Walgett.
“The bustard is common further west, in central Queensland and the dry interior, but not so much in our area.”
Andrew said he has seen about three of them in recent times.
The bustard, about the size of a heron, or white-necked crane, likes to live in long grass but will fly for short distances, Andrew said.
“My theory is that after the January and February rain the summer native grasses grew and now they are all in seed, a smorgasbord for the birds,” said former Narrabri GP Andrew Paas who is a keen birdwatcher.
“That’s why they have come in from the inland from the dry interior.
“They must be coming for the food, not nesting.
“And I have seen flights of budgies, another bird whose habitat is normally the dry interior.”
Andrew said his friend Hugh Palmer had dropped in recently and told him of farmers out west who had also sighted the plains turkeys.
“I am interested to know if anyone else has recently seen the plains turkeys,” he said.
The Courier has also received reports of plains turkey sightings from Burren Junction graziers.
“We first spotted the bustard between Burren Junction and Pilliga about three weeks ago,” said Mary Wheeler who is an enthusiastic birdwatcher and photographer.
Mrs Wheeler has been photographing birds for about eight years and birdwatching is a passion she shares with her husband Innes Wheeler.
“We probably go out and about once a week and it’s been a really good thing to do during COVID-19, we pack a lunch and go out for the full day,” said Mrs Wheeler.
“I think it’s the experience of being out in nature and just sitting quietly.
“I love birds, I don’t photograph anything else.”
Mrs Wheeler donates her images to educational and conservation projects because she thinks it’s important people learn about birds and also protect them.
She won a prestigious BirdLife Australia photography award in 2019 for a collection of images.
Mrs Wheeler’s fantastic images of the bustard, or plains turkey, featured with this article were captured near the Bald Hill and Spring Plains Roads.
The photos featured in this article are of the male plains turkey.
“They are very handsome and the male is bigger than the female.
“He’s about a metre tall and would weigh about seven kilograms, and has a wing span of about two metres.”
Mrs Wheeler first heard about sightings of the plains turkey at the Gwydir Wetlands and agrees with Andrew that the species wouldn’t have been spotted in our region for 30 odd years.
“They come down from Queensland, they used to be Australia wide but with the destruction of their habitat and shooting, their territory has decreased.
“They’re only in the North Western corner of NSW.”
“Also, the female only lays one egg, when they do breed, per year.”
Mrs Wheeler said the bird is also vulnerable to predators because they don’t build a protective nest.
She is hopeful the wet weather will see a ‘bustard boom’.
“Sometimes they’ll breed in response to rain and we’ve had big rain.
“They’ve followed the food sources down here.
“They do also help farmers because they eat mice and insects.”
Mrs Wheeler said the way the land has come back to life after the rain is wonderful.
“It’s amazing to see, there’s some lovely crops and there’s water in the creeks – it’s great.”
Pilliga photographer Margie Cruickshank has also been thrilled to see and capture flocks of birds in the area including swans and galahs.
“It’s been unbelievable here after the rain,” said Mrs Cruickshank.
“We’ve been here for three years next month and it’s the greenest we’ve seen it.
“The bird life on the outskirts of Pilliga really has been amazing.
“I love taking photos of the pelicans and other bird life on the lagoon.”To order photos from this page click here