After decades of experience Andrew Crossland can spot a flock of hundreds of birds and within seconds identify their species and accurately estimate their numbers.
The Christchurch City Council Park Ranger, whose responsibilities include bird and wildlife monitoring across the city, has been recognised with a national award for his contribution to ornithology in Canterbury.
He is the winner of the Birds New Zealand Robert Falla Memorial Award for 2019.
The organisation praised his “meticulous field observations” and the way he has used his data and research to benefit birds.
Mr Crossland had no idea he was a winner until he saw his parents had been invited along to a recent Birds NZ branch meeting where he was presented with the award.
While the recognition is flattering, Andrew is most proud of how he and other Council staff have helped improve outcomes for local birds by protecting and enhancing existing habitats and establishing new ones.
Some of these new wetland areas include Beacon Street Wetland, Charlesworth Reserve, Travis Wetland and the Styx Mill Conservation Reserve.
“I’ve been counting birds for over 30 years, I have about 20,000 pages of field notes and I’ve taken part in tens of thousands of counts of different birds around Banks Peninsula, the Styx, Heathcote and Avon Rivers, Lake Ellesmere and coastal areas,” Mr Crossland says.
“I’ve got a really powerful database of information and I’ve been able to use that to identify the sites that are really important to local wildlife so they can be managed appropriately. Over the last 20 years we’ve been recreating a lot of what was lost.”
Counting birds shows how important city habitats are, he says. For example, the biggest population of pukeko is at Travis Wetland in Burwood and the largest population of godwits is around the Avon-Heathcote estuary. “That kind of data breaks the assumption that it doesn’t really matter what we do around town because these birds live elsewhere.”
Mr Crossland says New Zealand’s bird life is incredibly diverse. In Christchurch 242 different species have been recorded and on an average day he might see 70 different types of bird.
Water and wetland birds are his particular passion because they are often rare, endemic, or they migrate from elsewhere. “They show how our local island is connected to a larger global ecosystem.”
He says native bird populations in Christchurch are growing and it’s incredibly positive. “After the earthquakes we had some setbacks such as avian botulism, but now there’s a recovery taking place with increased habitat and better predator control. Within the area that the Council manages things are really improving.”
Council Regional Parks Manager Kay Holder says Andrew’s knowledge and experience has been invaluable to the Council since he joined the Parks Team in 2002. “He has made a huge contribution to our understanding of local birdlife and helped to enhance wetland habitats around our city. This award is very well-deserved.”