Tales from the Trail
Capturing Birdlife On The Kawatiri Coastal Trail

We see and hear birds in our gardens, and when out in nature, but a number of the fascinating creatures also find their way across the globe. For centuries they have held a cultural, artistic and philosophical value. More importantly they have a role in preserving our ecosystem.

Birds control pests, clean up waste and spread seeds, but despite their significance, they are declining at an alarming rate. Birds are found all over the world and changes in their populations offer insight into which habitats are affected and where climate change is taking its toll.

Photo credit: Grant Watson – Kingfisher

Historically, photography has helped to raise awareness of conservation efforts and endangered species. This is true for Westport based Photographer and Conservationist Grant Watson, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland and also lived in Australia for 30 years before moving to the West Coast.

Since the opening of the Pūwaha Section there has been a variety of ways people are using the Trail beyond walking and cycling. Grant enjoys having the Trail on his doorstep, and walks it frequently both with his camera and family. We asked Grant to tell us more about his passion for photography and conservation, and how the Trail has contributed to his work.

Globally, there are over 11,000 bird species, each with their own unique appearance and habits. When did your passion for photography and birdlife begin?

My passion for birds started at a young age, when I was a young Ornithologist growing up in the North coast of Northern Ireland. My bird photography started while networking my Ecological Restoration business in South East Queensland. I worked with private land owners through Land for Wildlife, restoring their native bushland on their properties. I also followed in the footsteps of my Father who was also a professional Photographer.

Photo credit: Grant Watson – Silvereye at Tauranga Bay

How has the Trail contributed to your photography?

The Trail is a great place to spot and observe birds at a close range along the biking and walking tracks. It allows me to get up close to the birds. The Trail runs through different ecosystems, from a mix of forest, to wetlands and farmland, which holds a great diversity of birds.

How important is the light and time of day, and do you require specialist equipment?

The Lighting is very important as it determines brightness and darkness but also atmosphere. The best time of day to photograph birds is during the golden hours. These occur twice a day – an hour or so after sunrise, and an hour or so before sunset. I use a DSLR with a zoom lens 100 mm – 400 mm which is great for getting close to your subject.

Photo credit: Grant Watson – Fernbird

Photographs enable us to get up close with nature, and witness unique moments. How important is this aspect, and what else is special for you?

Getting up close to birdlife means you learn their behaviour which can be such a great advantage in bird photography. It’s important to be patient and spend time with the birds. I watch their behaviour so I can anticipate a good photo. The most favourite bird I like to photograph along the coastal parts of the Trail is the white fronted tern, where before breeding, the male courtship-feeds the female, presenting small fish to her which makes for great photos.

Photo credit: Grant Watson – White Fronted Terns

You’re also a Conservationist. What does this involve for you and your work?

The environment I work in gives me the opportunity to discover different bird species and it goes hand in hand. I have great passion for my work in ecological restoration.

Changes in bird populations show us where habitats are being degraded, where climate change is taking its toll, and where action is needed most. Do you think wildlife photography encourages us to reflect and advocate for the natural world?

Yes, nature photography helps to raise the profile of our planet and the environment. It also allows people to experience things they may not see themselves, and encourage them to care about its preservation.

Photo credit: Grant Watson – Spotted Shag

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