Craig Morley – Geelong Field Naturalists Club.

Craig Morley knows Geelong’s 320 bird species, from the diminutive Weebill, weighing in at just 4 grams, to the majestic Wedge-tailed Eagle, with a wingspan of 2.5 metres.

When Craig was just 12, his fascination with birds was cemented by the gift of a bird book, What bird is that? by Neville Cayley, from his grandparents. He went on to join the Geelong Field Naturalists Club and BirdLife Australia while studying science at university. Over forty years later, Craig remains an active member of both organisations. In 2019 Craig was awarded Life Membership for outstanding service to the Geelong Field Naturalists Club. Throughout all those years, he has been keen to share his knowledge about the region’s birdlife, giving countless presentations and leading excursions and surveys. It was also a huge thrill in 2020 when Craig was awarded the Australian Natural History Medallion for his contribution to furthering the knowledge and interest in the areas of Ornithology, Conservation and Education.

“Here in Geelong we play host to amazing birds which fly a round trip of more than 26,000 kilometres every year. Shorebirds such as Red-necked Stints, weighing barely 30 grams, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and the critically endangered Curlew Sandpipers and Far Eastern Curlews, with massive down-curved bills measuring up to 20 centimetres.

“They spend up to 6 months each year feeding in wetlands such as tidal mudflats and saltworks, feeding voraciously to build up condition to fly north to breed in the arctic tundra. Then they fly south for our summer and do it all again,” Craig says.

Craig has taken part in many bird surveys, spotting birds such as Latham’s Snipe, Australasian Bitterns and Swift Parrots. He is also the coordinator of the Bellarine Peninsula regional group for Orange-bellied Parrots, a colourful and critically endangered bird that breeds in the wilderness of south-west Tasmania and flies to Victoria and South Australia to feed in saltmarsh and other coastal habitats for winter.

“I now submit all my bird sightings, in the Geelong region and beyond, to the international database called eBird. It is a powerful tool for research, conservation and education,” Craig says.

Over the past forty years Craig has spent many hours spotting birds in Eastern Park, noting 150 different bird species, including 50 species breeding or attempting to breed.

“I vividly remember a Collared Sparrowhawk flying in over my head giving a piping call which, at the time, I did not recognise. It was the male carrying prey to the female. A very exciting moment as it was the first I knew of the species breeding in the gardens. Another time, I was thrilled to watch young Australian Hobbies, Australia’s smallest bird of prey, take their first flight. The magnificent White-bellied Sea-Eagle is another bird of prey which is a source of fascination and awe for me,” Craig says.

Around Geelong there are some other very important bird habitats, including Swan Bay, Mud Islands, Reedy Lake, Lake Connewarre, Hospital Swamp, and the Avalon and Moolap saltworks.

Craig is proud of the successful 6-year campaign led by the Geelong Field Naturalists Club to protect the Moolap saltworks from development.

As well as spotting birds, Craig enjoys hearing their distinctive calls.

“One of my favourites is the Magpie-lark. One bird of a mated pair starts the call, with the second bird answering. It adds a whole extra level of amazement when you know that the shorter the gap between the first bird calling and the second bird responding, the stronger the bond!”

If you are interested in wildlife, plants, or conservation, check out the Geelong Field Naturalists Club. The club holds monthly meetings (currently via Zoom) and excursions, and you can find then on Facebook and Instagram too. @geelongfieldnaturalists

Story: Emma Homes. Photos by Craig Morley: Australian Hobby fledgling stretches its wings at Eastern Park. White-bellied Sea-Eagle Swan Bay. Orange-bellied Parrot, adult male, Werribee. Collared Sparrowhawk, adult male, Eastern Park. Latham’s Snipe Begola Wetland, Ocean Grove. Collared Sparrowhawk, adult female, Eastern Park. Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stints.