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Win for Nature Writing

Posted on in News

It would be an understatement to say I was surprised when my book, Where Song Began, was awarded the prize for best General Non Fiction at the 2015 Australian Book Industry Awards on 25 May. I had decided after I was shortlisted that a book about birds had no chance of winning. I had to be talked into going to the awards dinner in Sydney.  

The win shows that the audience for serious ecological analysis is very large. Sales figures play a big part in the award and apparently my bird book has over the past year been one of Australia’s strongest selling non-fiction books. I had known it was selling well but not that well.

Surprise may have helped it win: the book industry surprised that a nature book could appeal to more than a niche market. The website of the Australian Book Industry Awards drew attention to the win being a first for a nature book.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Debbie Reynolds says #
    Really loving reading this book. As a biologist myself, the interconnections of birds with plants I'm finding fascinating. I do lo
  • Peter Nicholson says #
    Brilliant book, everyone should read it.
  • Ewa and Tim Meyer says #
    Congratulations Tim, thoroughly deserved. We look forward to the sequel.

Lyrebirds Save Human Lives

Posted on in News

Lyrebirds are the ultimate high achievers: the world’s best songsters, the world’s oldest songbird line (along with scrub-birds), beloved cultural icons that grace our coins, and spectacular ecosystem engineers. They may be something else as well – birds that save human lives.

The ‘ecosystem engineer’ tag refers to the changes they make when they scratch the ground to unearth insects. One lyrebird in a year can shift 200 tonnes of soil and litter per hectare, causing soil erosion and uprooting ground-hugging plants, including, in Tasmania, an endangered orchid.

A new paper by Daniel T. Nugent and two colleagues takes the engineering concept further by concluding that lyrebirds reduce bushfire risk by burying leaf litter and uprooting the grasses and bracken that carry fire.

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Christmas Island Bird'n'Nature Week

Posted on in News

I am on Christmas Island where Cyclone Gillian, which struck in February, showed her anger, as cyclones do. A stretch of rainforest in which Abbott’s boobies were breeding lost its canopy, and nests were destroyed and chicks killed. Many chicks rescued from the forest floor by national park rangers were reared and released.


The cyclone probably helped one bird, the Christmas Island goshawk, judging by all the sightings over the past week. I am here as a guide on the Christmas Island Bird’n’Nature Week, now in its ninth year, and fellow guides Mark Holdsworth and Sue Robinson, who band goshawks as a bird week activity, had more success catching goshawks than usual.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Rick S says #
    Hi Tim, great blog. I found it while searching for the sequel to Feral Future, which I am halfway through. I work in the reveg ind

Don’t submit to cultural cringe

Posted on in Birds

The enthusiastic response to my latest book, Where Song Began, has been gratifying, but I have noted that a couple of reviewers, while praising the book, hesitated over a core conclusion – that the world’s songbirds had their origins in Australia. One reviewer described this as a ‘suggestion’ as if it were just a bold theory waiting to be proved or disproved by proper evidence. That is not really the situation.

An Australian origin for the songbirds (oscines) has become the consensus position in science because the evidence is so strong, coming as it does from three sources: genetics, fossils and anatomy.

A vast number of genetic studies, using many different genetic sequences, have shown that lyrebirds are the most divergent of all songbirds, and Australian treecreepers and bowerbirds are the next most divergent. The immense genetic differences between these birds (and Australian scrubbirds, which are seldom included in the genetic studies) and other songbirds outside Australia imply that these birds last shared a common ancestor a very long time ago. It is difficult to imagine where that ancestor might have lived if not in Australia. If we were to use the language that was acceptable 15 years ago we could describe Australia as a hotspot for ‘primitive’ songbirds, and that makes it the only plausible place of origin.

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