Curtis Hayne: photographer and birdwatcher

Find out how young citizen scientist Curtis Hayne combines his passions for photography and birdwatching in the Gwydir valley.

Curtis Hayne is a young photographer and passionate birdwatcher in the Gwydir valley, home to wetlands that extend from the Northern Tablelands to the Northern Plains region of NSW.

Curtis, who is in his late teens, is on a mission to raise awareness of Australia’s native birds and capture their beauty.

He is an official Department of Planning, Industry and Environment volunteer, doing his bit to conserve local birdlife and encourage others to do the same.

Curtis’s main role is conducting wetland bird surveys in the Gwydir Wetlands.

He has gone into remote sites and waded into wetlands through knee-deep water to count nesting waterbirds.

He was also a volunteer guide when the Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area was first opened to the public.

Along the way, Curtis has taken some stunning photographs of native birdlife.

Curtis shares his story

Curtis tells us about his interests and how he came to volunteer as a citizen scientist.

I began birding at the age of 9 when I got in touch with another passionate local birdwatcher. We have gone birding regularly ever since.

I wanted to capture the detail and beauty of Australian birds and started with a simple point and shoot camera, then upgraded to a Canon EOS 600D, which produces better quality photographs.

Birds are beautiful, interesting and inspiring. They have beautiful calls and songs.

It’s a great hobby. It gets me outdoors and it can be very challenging to identify the different species of birds. I meet lovely people along the way and my contribution is helping some of these species to survive.

Birds are a highly visible, no-cost indicator of ecosystem health. Changes in bird species or numbers can signal issues in the environment.

All around the Moree region on cotton farms, the Gwydir/Gingham Wetlands, Combadello Weir, Whittaker's Lagoon, Ruth Leitch Bridge, the Moree Common and Terry Hie Hie.

The Moree Plains Shire offers avid birdwatchers and field naturalists a chance to view an interesting array of seasonal and migratory birds. It is unique in the fact that the birds from the east meet the birds from the west (and birds of the north meet the birds of the south), which gives such a vast variety of species in the one area.

I probably enjoy the Gwydir Wetlands the most. They provide breeding and feeding habitat for large numbers of colonial and migratory waterbirds, some of which are protected under international agreement between Australia and the other countries that the birds visit. The wetlands also support rare, endangered and vulnerable species. It’s always an enjoyable and long day out and there are always a number of vulnerable species to be found.

However, irrigation dams on cotton farms are also a favourite. They have a large variety and abundance of waterbirds. At Terry Hie Hie you’ll find a large variety of bush birds.

I am a major contributor to Birdline NSW and to Eremaea eBird submitting observation and survey lists for observation sites and extensive, detailed reports of rare and unusual sightings.

These eBird lists can then be used by researchers, academics and conservation biologists to answer questions about bird behaviour and distribution.

I also compile cotton farm irrigation dam survey lists in the hope that one day they will be used towards the 'Waterbirds on Cotton Farms' project (at University of New England, Armidale) which investigates waterbird communities on cotton storages in the Gwydir valley.

I also regularly guide several birders and ecologists from throughout Australia

The best time for birding, and the only time I go, is the early morning when birds are usually most active. The best way for a complete novice to start is to buy a field guide of Australian birds, invest in a pair of binoculars, and contact local birders who are dedicated to educating people about native Australian birds and the environment.

Mornings provide the best photo opportunities as the birds are hungry and are looking for food.

For close-ups, focus on birds’ eyes. Try to catch them in action and capture their behaviour.

When I first began birding in 2009, I visited Whittaker's Lagoon, 20 kilometres west of Moree.

The lagoon had taken delivery of water for the environment, with the help of a neighbouring landholder.

As a result of this water, there was extensive waterbird breeding across the lagoon, especially with the white-necked herons.

In late November 2010, I was very thrilled as a comb-crested jacana was sighted on an area of extensive floating plant growth on this isolated lagoon.

The jacana is a threatened species in NSW and was found well outside of the species range. They are usually found on wetlands along the coast.

It would be great to launch my own website where I can educate people about Australian birds and the natural environment with a focus on my local area. I'd also like to create my own calendars and postcards featuring my photos. Another long-term goal is to be a professional wildlife guide. However, my ultimate career path is to become an environmental scientist/conservationist.

Yes, definitely. I would love to study environmental science/zoology.

Impressive skills

Curtis’s photographic skill and enthusiasm for all things environmental have impressed Senior Wetlands Conservation Officer Daryl Albertson.

‘It’s not very often that someone as young as Curtis shows such drive and a passion for birds,’ Mr Albertson said.

‘His photographs show that he knows his quarry and can position himself in the right place to take some really great shots.

‘Curtis is a real bird hunter and his photographs are a testament to his skills and knowledge.

‘With his level of drive and enthusiasm we can expect him to continue to follow his passion along the path into the ornithology field of science.

‘His future volunteer work with us can only help him along this path, providing regular opportunities to pursue his passion, in and around the waters of the Gwydir Wetlands,’ Mr Albertson said.