Ever wanted to go birdwatching but didn't know where to start? If you know a starling from a sparrow and a Noisy Miner from a Common Myna, you're well on the way. To go a little further – and possibly begin a lifelong addiction – check out Bird Observation and Conservation Australia, or BOCA.
BOCA is a non-profit charity that exists to promote birding and conservation. Group outings form the basis of its extensive activities program. Every weekend of the year – and many weekdays as well – day trips are conducted by one or other of BOCA's regional groups throughout Australia.
Branches in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine Peninsula and Western Port serve the Melbourne surrounds, while the MELBOCA group holds monthly beginners' outings at various locations within about one hours' drive of the CBD.
From inner-urban Merri Creek to destinations further afield like Coolart Wetlands in Somers or Woori Yallock's Yellingbo Reserve, you'll learn how to find and look at birds.
Newcomers are welcome and there's always someone who leads the trip, making sure everyone sees the bird of the moment. The atmosphere's friendly and relaxed.
It's not breathless exercise by any means. Birdwatching involves wandering around parks or reserves and stopping frequently, aiming your binoculars and gazing skywards.
What's unique about BOCA outings is how much bird knowledge the members possess. Many know absolutely everything there is to know about all sorts of birds. With Victoria boasting 520 of Australia's 800-odd species, you may find yourself catching the birdwatching bug, wanting to 'twitch' (find a rarity) more and more of them.
BOCA's been going 100 years; in 2012, it will join with Birds Australia in a new group, BirdLife Australia. But 'birdwalks' will continue. Check the calendar page of the website and contact the walk leader beforehand. Lifts can sometimes be arranged.
Membership isn't compulsory for the first couple of walks. Thereafter, subscriptions range from $20 for students to $73 full membership. Other services include a library, shop (which sells books, binoculars, gifts etc.) and a bi-monthly magazine, The Bird Observer.
Binoculars are a must on birdwalks, so try to borrow some to start with. You can buy cheap ones at army disposals and camping stores, or better ones at camera stores or specialist shops. Adequate pairs start at $50 and good ones about $300.
Great article, Debbie. My parents are involved in BOCA and love it - they've learned so much about birds through the club. I love seeing birds while out bushwalking - but I'm not sure I have the patience to stand still long enough to watch them properly BOCA- style!
By Sue Williams - senior reviewer Monday, 15th of August @ 11:57 pm
Thanks Sue. The stereotype of ageing eccentrics is definitely changing. Lots of younger people watch birds.
By Debbie Lustig - senior reviewer Tuesday, 16th of August @ 12:12 am
I love the ravens and magpies that visit my inner city garden but would like to know more about the ones I can't put a name to. Must come along to one of the BOCA day trips. Beautiful photo of the kite.
By Rita Price - senior reviewer Sunday, 15th of January @ 02:20 am
Thanks Rita. BOCA is now part of Birdlife Australia. New website goes live in February.