BirdSpeak: Jayden Walsh
"I'm extremely pleased that I had the ability to raise awareness of the importance of our local natural environment and the benefit of preserving it both for the people and the wildlife!" - Jayden Walsh, 2017
WELCOME TO BIRDSPEAK, INTERVIEWS WITH BIRDERS...
Passionate about conservation, birds, mammals, reptiles and everything else in between – at only 19-years-old Jayden Walsh recently ran as a Candidate for the upcoming Northern Beaches Council Election! Not only that, but he is currently undergoing a Big Year in the Northern Beaches district of NSW! A self-taught naturalist from Warriewood (NSW), he is passionate about the environment, particularly in his local region. So, let’s learn all about Jayden Walsh, his wildlife (and birding!) experiences, and what inspired him to run as a Candidate!
*All images provided by Jayden Walsh
*All images provided by Jayden Walsh
THE BIG DIP: Thanks for joining us on BirdSpeak! Let’s start by introducing yourself, tell us all about Jayden Walsh
JAYDEN WALSH: Thanks for having me James. I'm 19 years old and have been crazy about wildlife for, well...almost 19 years! Before I could even walk I would squat sifting through pages and pages of a thick Readers Digest Wildlife book my family owned (even though I couldn't read haha!). By the age of 5, I owned just about every David Attenborough documentary in existence and had a Wildlife book collection to rival that of the Library of Congress. Throughout mid-late primary school, my passion for wildlife took a backseat and it wasn't until I moved to the world-famous *cough cough* suburb of Warriewood that my passion and knowledge of Wildlife got catapulted to new heights - but more on that later. These days I look for all wildlife, sometimes to photograph, sometimes to research and sometimes just to observe. I have a particular interest in finding Rare and Threatened Species in my local area and figuring out why they are persisting in an urban environment. For the past year, I've been giving regular Wildlife Lectures and have been leading Wildlife Tours for about 3 years now.
THE BIG DIP: How did you get into wildlife and birds? Are you a birder in the traditional sense?
JAYDEN WALSH: Well it's rather strange actually. I’ve always been an armchair wildlife enthusiast but my field wildlife-watching career began when my family moved house to Warriewood and to get home after high school I had 2 options.
Option 1: Wait 20 minutes for my 2nd bus to arrive
Option 2: Not catch the 2nd bus, and walk 1.5km home
Options 2 was what I often chose and this involved walking through Warriewood Wetlands; a 26 Hectare freshwater sandplain wetland smack bang in the middle of suburbia with an impressive species list of 180+ birds. My curiosity got the better of me and I desperately wanted to know what all the birds I was seeing were, it was all downhill from there. Living 3 minutes away from the Wetlands meant I was down there almost every day and quickly got to know all the local birds and birdwatchers which are thankfully an extremely friendly breed. From there Birds took over and I began travelling around most of the Sydney Basin for birds and recently went up to Cape York which was incredible! I think I'm a bit different from most birdwatchers in that I get the most excitement from finding rare species on the Northern Beaches. In the past I've happily climbed cliffs and waded through waist deep mud in order to get looks at locally rare species so I'm definitely a Northern Beaches ‘lister’ but then I have been known to twitch the odd bird or two outside of Sydney. Secondly, for the first 2 years once I'd gotten into birdwatching I didn't own Binoculars and ironically, I firmly believe this helped massively in being able to identify birds by JIZZ and forcing me to learn birdcalls, something which I now find very easy. So I started birdwatching at about the age of 13 and then after 3 years, I realised there was more to life than birds, there were Reptiles, Mammals and Amphibians! The challenge at the moment is finding the time to sleep, between all the birdwatching and spotlighting.
THE BIG DIP: Let’s cut to the interesting stuff! You recently ran for Candidate, that seems like a pretty serious commitment. What inspired this decision? And how did it all play out?
JAYDEN WALSH: It was something that I had thought about in the past but never very seriously. I was aware that the election was slowly creeping and that the local environment had been constantly deteriorating at the hands of past local governments. Despite all the passionate community groups and individuals pushing for the protection of habitat – wildlife needs habitat! - It was still being destroyed, I felt that running as a Candidate was my chance to do really something about it and stand up for the environment. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of being out in nature - both for physical and mental health, and so if we look after our natural environment we're going to look after the people too. Although I wasn't successful in becoming a Councillor this time, I'm extremely pleased that I had the ability to raise awareness of the importance of our local natural environment and the benefit of preserving it both for the people and the wildlife!
THE BIG DIP: Will you run again? Or plan to be involved in politics again in the future?
JAYDEN WALSH: It's still very early days and hard to say but I'm keen on giving it another crack. Between the next election and now I'll be studying a Bachelor of Biodiversity and Conservation at Macquarie University so will just have to wait and see what my life looks like in 4 years time.
THE BIG DIP: And now I’ve just found out you’re also doing a Big Year on the Northern Beaches! Tell us about that!
JAYDEN WALSH: The concept if the same as a traditional big year: identify by sight or sound the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area. The main difference is that the specific geographic area is a lot smaller than normal. I decided to do an NB Big Year in late February giving me just 11 months to complete a comparatively mammoth task. I set myself the goal of 200 Species and not having my Driver’s license my Big Year has relied entirely upon public transport, walking and occasionally getting lifts with other birders. Being familiar with the entire area was extremely helpful but in order to reach my desired 200 species I needed to find new and more reliable locations for a plethora of species.
THE BIG DIP: Why the Northern Beaches, has anyone done a big year there before?
JAYDEN WALSH: Well the answer is in the question! The main reason I wanted to do a Northern Beaches Big Year is because no one had done one before, in essence, I’m setting the benchmark in the hope that other people will have a crack at beating it and become more involved in birdwatching through friendly competition. The other primary reason was that it gave me an excuse to get out and find new sites for hard to find species and thus contribute to the overall knowledge of birds in my area. Far too often birdwatchers fall into the trap of visiting the well-known sites where they are guaranteed to see birds rather than exploring new locations which are often far more productive and rewarding.
THE BIG DIP: What's your total? Anywhere people can keep up with your total?
JAYDEN WALSH: I’m currently sitting on a comfortable 186 species. I need more seabirds and a few more uncommon residents but with a bit of luck, I’ll crack the 200 mark. At the end of the year, I plan on writing up a mini-report on it all so stay tuned!
THE BIG DIP: What makes the Northern Beaches so special?
JAYDEN WALSH: The Wildlife. We're so lucky to have many large Urban Bushland Reserves and 3 large National Parks as part of the Northern Beaches. Over 60 Threatened Animal species call the Northern Beaches home which is incredibly impressive considering it's part of the largest City in Australia. Another big selling point of the Northern Beaches is that there are still wildlife discoveries to be made as large chunks of bushland have never been explored and are just waiting to be surveyed. Finally, the fact that people can connect with wildlife on a daily basis in their own backyard – species like Long-nosed Bandicoots, Grey-headed Flying Fox, Powerful Owl and sometimes Brown Antechinus - is so important and necessary if we're going to stop habitat loss and climate change.
THE BIG DIP: Tell us about some of your discoveries on the Northern Beaches.
JAYDEN WALSH: Arguably my best discovery was the first recorded Little Eagle nest in Sydney. The Pair of Little Eagles – consisting of 1 light morph and 1 dark morph – successfully raised 1 chick which fledged in late December last year. Find it was such a treat and goes to show the quality of the bushland in my area. Unfortunately, part of the home range of this pair is under threat from a large-scale housing development which will remove the habitat of one of their favoured prey items – the European rabbit. I recently co-authored a scientific paper on this discovery which came out in Australian Field Ornithology on the 7th September for those interested in finding out more. Earlier this year, I found a Pair of Masked Owl (Light Morph Male and Dark Morph Female) which was the first recorded pair on the Northern Beaches since 1974 and a very unexpected but long overdue sighting. I’ve had my eye out for this species in the local area for about 3 years now but I’ve since seen this pair on another occasion and heard them twice since my initial sighting. Finally, in February of this year, I discovered 8 populations of the Dainty Tree Frog in the Pittwater area. Prior to this find, there was only one recorded population in Sydney. The origins of these populations are unknown as to whether they are original inhabitants or not and only genetics will reveal. Whilst surveying I estimated that the total number of individuals from these 8 populations numbered close to 300. The reason this species has remained undetected for such a long time is likely due to the fact they are an ‘explosive breeder’ meaning they typically only breed and call on one night per year
THE BIG DIP: Finally, a few standard questions! What’s your favourite creature in the world? Whether bird, reptile, mammal or otherwise…
JAYDEN WALSH: What a difficult question, I do have a soft spot for Masked Owls so I’d have to go with them.
THE BIG DIP: And of course, what’s your most desired to see bird species?
JAYDEN WALSH: Harpy Eagle, what an impressive bird!
PS. Don't forget to leave a comment! What are your questions for Jayden and his Big Year or Candidacy?
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Jayden Walsh is a passionate conservationist, birder, herper and local wildlife expert from Warriewood in New South Wales, Australia. At 19-years-old Jayden Walsh ran as a Candidate for the Northern Beaches Council, whilst embarking on a Big Year for the Northern Beaches district in 2017. He enjoys discovering and exploring all the little nooks and crannies for wildlife that his local region has to offer.