When Denis Thorpe pulled up at the corner of Keft Avenue and Hyam Street in Nowra on his motorcycle on Saturday morning, his eyes fell on a flash of gold in a nearby tree.
An extremely rare regent honey eater was feasting on a flowering gum.
“I had to stop at the corner to let traffic go. I looked up and there’s a regent honey eater sitting at eye level in a tree,” said the avid birdwatcher, who’s been twitching since 1980.
“I nearly fell off my bike. I said, ‘This can’t be right.’ I hadn’t heard of any coming to the coast so I quickly took my helmet off, took a photo on my camera which didn’t turn out very well.”
Denis bolted home, grabbed his big camera, returned to the intersection and took some photographs.
“I then tracked down the Regent Honeyeater Recovery chap in Sydney and he put it up on the website. They were very excited about the fact one had been seen in Nowra.”
When Denis returned to the tree on Sunday, there was a crowd of twitchers who had come to see the rare bird.
“People were coming from everywhere. A couple of ladies had been birdwatching over at Mittagong. It came up on their phone there’s a regent in Nowra so they just jumped in their car and flew down.
“There was a group from Port Kembla birdwatchers who came down and I believe there were some from Sydney who also shot down.”
The reason for all this excitement? The rarity of the bird.
It’s believed there are 500 regent honey eaters in the world. Birdwatchers have a list of threatened and endangered species and the chance to set eyes on one in the wild is a pinnacle.
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The regent honey eater breeds in the Capertee Valley in the Blue Mountains. There, Denis explained, it feeds on the blooms of the yellow box gum tree. Unfortunately, the yellow box is a popular timber because it is impervious to white ant attack.
The dwindling food stocks and the drought, have pushed the bird towards the coast.
For Denis, the chance encounter with the regent honey eater is the high point in a passion he’s nurtured since 1980, when he got involved in an egret banding program.
“It gets in your blood. Once you start looking at one group of birds, you start looking at what they’re eating and why they’re eating in a certain type of tree,” he said.
He counted up to 20 birdwatchers gathered to get a glimpse of the bird on Sunday.
“A lot of people turned up about half past 12 and the bird had gone so I said, ‘He’’ll be back at half past one.’ At five past one he flew into the tree. I got a clap and a cheer. It was magic.”