BirdSpeak: steven castan
They [Birds] are a constant and wonderful part of your life here, that inspires art, heals your mind and spirit or just forms part of what makes this region special..." - Steven Castan
WELCOME TO BIRDSPEAK, INTERVIEWS WITH BIRDERS...
Steven Castan is everything I want to be when I grow up. A beacon of positivity, passion, kindness, enthusiasm (dusted off with a little sprinkle of crazy) all makes for one pretty unique character. His passion for photography, wildlife, music, and family is infectious, and drives his reputation as one of Australia's most rising names in wildlife photography. His social media channels run under the pseudonym EstebantheNatureman, and hosts a series of photographs, videos and wildlife experiences from his adventures around his home of Margaret River and beyond! It's our pleasure to welcome Steven Castan to BirdSpeak!
*All images provided by Steven Castan
*All images provided by Steven Castan
THE BIG DIP: Welcome to the Big Dip! Tell us about Steven Castan, who are you and what makes you tick?
Steven Castan: I’m a nearly 50 year old social justice Barrister and mediator who loves my family, birds, rock ’n roll, the environment, wine and learning new stuff.
THE BIG DIP: What got you into birdwatching?
Steven Castan: I always liked nature, but as something you experienced when you were immersed in it. I had a natural affinity for being outdoors and when I would and could interact with animals, I did. But my doorway into birds was our big trip in a motorhome across the Nullabor and eventually up to the north of Western Australia. The colours and the birdlife were impossible to ignore. At Karijini National Park, we kept being visited by a very bright red bird…so I asked the camp hosts for a guide and turned out to be a beautiful Crimson Chat - this lead me to buy a bird guide, a better camera and lens and off I started on a journey into birds!
THE BIG DIP: Most people would know you via your alter-ego estebanthenatureman - a prolific bird and wildlife photographer. Tell us all about that enterprise
Steven Castan: I have always liked pseudonyms - I have played in bands & always enjoyed having a different persona to my normal self. It adds to the mystique of the whole thing - an alter ego also frees you to be and act differently and blame Esteban for the obsession rather than myself ! My nephew Sam gave me the name for instagram and it has just stuck. I must admit, at 30 (way before Birds) I was going to change my name to Esteban by deed poll, but didn’t get round to doing it. I have 7500 loyal followers and hope to grow this and as a result increase peoples awareness of the beauty of birds, their fragility in our changing climate and as a door opener into nature conservation.
THE BIG DIP: What fuels your passion for bird and wildlife photography?
Steven Castan: Connecting me to nature every day, getting that “killer” shot, seeing a stunning bird up close, “hunting” and tracking down the bird (ethically of course), adding to my life list, hearing from friends and strangers how it is positively affecting them. These are just some of the reasons for my passion. Plus I am an obsessive compulsive collector.
THE BIG DIP: You're based in Margaret River (WA). Could you tell us about the birding and wildlife there?
Steven Castan: I am extremely lucky to have stumbled onto this wonderful place to live. There are beautiful forests in pretty good condition, a meandering very clean river system, stunning coastline that is quite untouched in places, swampy wetlands nearby & a mediterranean climate (supporting a thriving wine industry). We have some wonderful Parrots and Rosellas that visit our backyards and streets, including the “28” Ringneck Parrot and the Western Rosella - we also get the stunning Red-capped, Elegant and Regent Parrots and Rock Parrots, particularly on the coastal heath. We are lucky to have our very own beautiful wrens including the stunning Red-winged Fairywren only found in the South West & the extra stunning Splendid Fairywren and the Southern Emu-wrens. We also have the incredible White and Red Tail Black Cockatoos. There are two species of White Tails, the Baudins with the extra long bill and the Carnabys with a shorter bill. Distinguishing them in flight is extremely tough! We also have our own Robins, the White breasted and Western Yellow Robin, and our own tiny little Western Thornbill. If you like Shorebirds, we have our own subspecies of the Hooded Plover, which through citizen science we are tracking their progress and breeding success, and we have good shorebird visitation on our coastline. There is also a pretty strong population of the elusive Australian Masked Owl, along with Barn Owls, Southern Boobbooks, Tawny Frogmouths and Owlet Nightjars. There is a very active local chapter of Birdlife Western Australia, and they organise many outings and even camp-outs led by Christine Wilde and a fantastic environmental organisation called Nature Conservation Margaret River which also runs projects on birds (Cocky counts) as well as conservation projects for our own Western Ringtail Possum, and aquatic rarities like the Hairy Marron and weed control (damn you Aurum Lillies!) The birdlife is abundant and everywhere. Living the rural/residential lifestyle is just great if you like birds. They are a constant and wonderful part of your life here, that inspires art, heals your mind and spirit or just forms part of what makes this region special.
THE BIG DIP: Let’s talk about the Masked Owl discovery and why Margaret River is so important for this species
Steven Castan: I cannot claim to have “discovered” the Masked Owl in our region but we have established that there is a decent population here, of a bird that in many parts of Australia is considered endangered. In early 2017 I kept hearing a travelling hissing sound across my house which is a few kms out of town and close to some great surviving thick forest adjacent to farmland. Suggestions from yourself (James Mustafa) and others for Barn Owl and then possibly Masked Owl sent me on a many a night of searching until finally on, yep, April 1st, I had an encounter with a Masked Owl and was able to take what are probably the first photographs of the Margaret River Masked Owl. Local ornithologist and fellow birder Boyd Wykes also started hearing calls closer to the township and him and I have spent the last 2 years tracking and discovering Masked Owls of which we believe there are approximately 12 pairs in the region. A highlight for me was the following year hearing them call in my own property and managing to get some photos of a new bird hunting around our trees. I even managed to get some decent video footage of a Masked Owl on a track walking around after eating a huge Moth! The discovery of this population of these elusive and shy owls in our region has brought to the publics attention the need for protection of their habitat, a campaign to reduce the use of second generation rodenticides, myself and Boyd doing some great forums and speeches in Perth, and locally - and as a result, the reports are coming in thick and fast from locals who say they have heard or seen these Owls and shops and people are changing their habits when it comes to rodenticide. We have taken some dead specimens found on the side of the road and sent them off for both rodenticide testing and to add to the WA Museum collection in Perth (yes, one was riddled with the nasty stuff) and our sound and film and photographic recordings are adding to the knowledge of how these owls live and their breeding and survival cycles. Its possible that due to their patterning we may even have our own subspecies in the South West, which if were true would be a great discovery! But trust me, these guys are really hard to work out…many a night is frustrating with no sightings or calls, and even when we know a pair are looking likely to breed, or have fledged young, finding their nest has proven very difficult. Thankfully Boyd, who is a true scientist and loves to collate information, has enormous energy and dedication to this Masked Owl “project” and we are now connected to many others in this field from Perth to Tasmania to Melbourne and Sydney as well. Sharing stories and information has been invaluable and connected me to some really great people. Hopefully, this will lead to ensuring the survival of this stunning apex night hunter in our region.
THE BIG DIP: Is it hard to maintain such an active and busy social media presence via estebanthenatureman? How do you do so?
Steven Castan: Balancing work, family and social media is tricky. Screens can be addictive, and my kids will tell you I spend to much time on my phone, particularly instagram. To often I am standing in the hallway frozen staring at my phone. I need to work on that !
THE BIG DIP: Do bird lists and twitching matter to you?
Steven Castan: As inspired by you James (Big Dip Author), I do keep a life list of Australian birds - 389 so far. But I am a bit slack when it comes to my year list, state list and I know some birders have monthly lists as well! I love a challenge and a good road trip and if there is a rareity I can twitch, that fits in with family and work, I will do it. I would like to have photographed all the local species we have here in Margaret River (I’m pretty close) and there is nothing like discovering a new or rarer bird in your own area. There is definitely a thrill when you see a new bird, but I am not a “tick and run” person. Ideally, I like to enjoy the bird and sometimes just the experience of being out in the field and observing nature and the birds that I am ticking off. I have a plan to twitch all the “castan” birds in one year (birds with my name in their taxonomical name) - but that will take some planning and balancing things in my life. Want to join me James??
THE BIG DIP: Do you have a favourite or memorable birding experience you’d like to share?
Steven Castan: Apart from an incredible bird day out with you a few years back where we managed to see some incredible birds like Swift Parrots, Powerful Owl and Australian Bittern, there have been many highlights. From watching a Noisy Scrub-bird virtually walk past my foot (no photo), to seeing an Australian Hobby devour a Blue Budgie from start to finish mere metres away, to having to clap my hands to stop a Masked Owl from landing on my face, to having Hummingbirds drink water from my bare hands, to walking past Albatrosses an arms length away in the Galapagos sitting on chicks, to seeing a Western Ground Parrot fly right past me…Holding a Wilsons Storm Petrel that was being rehabilitated was pretty special as well…there are too many to mention!!!!
THE BIG DIP: And finally, what’s next in store for estebanthenatureman?
Steven Castan: the quest for the presumed extinct Rufous Bristlebird not seen here since around the early 1900s
the quest for the Barking Owl that hasn’t been seen (officially) for 5 years at least
the quest for the Black Bittern - secretive river stalker
an exhibition of my work, proceeds to charity
20,000 followers on instagram
cracking 500 birds by end of 2019
but hey, I am not a twitcher right??
PS. Don't forget to leave a comment! What are your questions for the incredible EstebantheNatureMan?
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