IN OCTOBER 1905 members of the Union travelled to Adelaide from around Australia for their fifth Congress. The organisation’s mandate was “to collate and disseminate up-to-date information relating to the avifauna of Australasia and to secure protection to useful birds from ruthless destruction”.
At the conclusion of the conference, 22 bird lovers headed via steamer to Kangaroo Island for ten days to camp and observe the island’s bird life and natural environment.
After rough weather delayed their landing on Snelling Beach until the morning of October 15, the party made their way with all of their luggage and equipment to the camping ground on the flats at Middle River. A house had been put at their disposal by one of the island’s sheep farmers, and tents nearby were erected for “the ladies” and for “museum purposes”.
“The first impressions of this pleasant place, from an ornithologist’s point of view, were that it was a land of Crimson Parrakeets and brilliant Blue Wrens, from the numbers of these beautiful birds seen while the camp was being put in order. But other birds were soon discovered…”
The following days were spent exploring the island, collecting, recording and photographing the islands’ birds, plants, insects, animals and geology.
A smaller party crossed the island to visit the lighthouse at Cape Borda (lighthouse keepers were keeping records for the Union of birds striking the lights there) and returned with a live wallaby and three live little penguins.
The expedition’s final day on the island was as prolific in sightings as the first: “The valley seemed more than ever filled with birds. Hundreds of Blue-bellied Lorikeets were screaming and feeding on the flowering “blue gum” trees (Eucalyptus leucoxylon) that stood in one of the swampy backwaters. Beneath them a Black Duck enticed her young out of harm’s way, and near by a White Cockatoo flew off screeching. A party of Black-winged Crow-Shrikes and several Fire-tailed Finches were observed, while Spinebill, Crescent Honey-eater, Melithreptus magnirostris, Scarlet -breasted Robin, var., Striated Tit and Brown Tit, var., were much in evidence. A solitary Stone-Plover was disturbed from its mid-day rest.”
In all more than 70 species of bird were officially identified during the expedition, including several sub-species endemic to the island.
While any hopes of finding traces of the Kangaroo Island emu, extinct since the 1820s, were disappointed, there were sightings of the Leach cockatoo, better known today as the glossy black cockatoo, and itself on the verge of extinction.
Linda Brainwood is a picture researcher and the editor of the Dictionary of Sydney website at the State Library of NSW.
This article was featured in Issue 156 of Australian Geographic, available from May 7.