Twitcher’s Paradise


Text by Liz McKenzie and Photos by Richard Nelson

Thirsty cockatoos in Canberra, the national capitol of Australia

Thirsty cockatoos in Canberra, the national capitol of Australia

A few days ago, I stumbled off the jet after a 13 hour marathon flight from Los Angeles to Canberra, the national capital of Australia.  Soon afterward, I was cool and cozy in the home of my good friends Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths, who live on a shady street about a twenty minute walk from downtown and not much farther from the sprawling lawns around Australia’s Parliament.

As you’d expect, Canberra is a thriving urban center with tall buildings, neckties, and high heels.  But surprisingly, it’s also loaded with wildlife.  I’ve never seen a city with so many amazing birds.   Every morning, I’d step out the door at sunrise and into a great natural concert featuring some of the most beautiful singers on earth—magpies and shrike-thrushes, currawongs and kookaburras.

And not only that, Canberra is absolutely loaded with parrots.  As you might know, parrots are not exactly operatic, as if their evolution focused on good looks rather than good vocals.   For a North American, the native parrots of Australia are shockingly beautiful and exotic.

Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella

And just by sitting in Tom and Libby’s back porch, I can see this amazing bird show flinging overhead or perched in the back yard trees: Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos, brilliant white and big as hawks; Crimson Rosellas, named for their flame-red colors; creaky-voiced gray and scarlet Gang Gang Cockatoos.

I haven’t mentioned the Australian ravens that moan up the dawn, the soft-cooing doves, the scintillating blue fairy wrens, the appropriately named Beautiful Firetails.

Aussies often call birdwatchers ‘twitchers,” an affectionate tease that I don’t mind at all.  And if ever a city could be called Twitchers Paradise, it would have to be Canberra.


Mark Bethka