Text and photography by Robert Catto
The Limestone Islands in Georgian Bay, near where I grew up in Canada, are an official nature reserve; you need a permit to visit them - unless you're accompanied by someone who's been appointed a steward of the reserve.
These are my parents. They're birdwatchers.
They've travelled the world doing this together, for over fifty years, and they've covered the globe from pole to pole - well, the Arctic to the Antarctic - and most stops in between. Their hats, bags & jackets are dotted with souvenirs of their travels, and their bookshelves bursting with field guides to various countries.
Their life list of species they've seen is long, but never full; and even at our cottage, where they spend every summer, there's always the chance of a new species extending its usual range (in 2006, there was a pelican!); and a moral responsibility to document this year's hatch, for long term trending of which species are moving in, or moving out of their familiar territory. All as volunteers, of course.
When I was a child, these expeditions seemed interminable; but now, living on the other side of the world, I miss them. Picking our way through the reefs to find a spot to land the boat, tossing an anchor over the back, making sure it's got a hook on a rock, then dashing to the front before we clip the shore. The gentle back-and-forth as my parents debate something they've caught a glimpse of or heard in the bushes; Dad taking dictation into a portable recorder, Mum jotting things down in one of her many notebooks in birding code. It's never-ending - but in a different way to me, now.
Somehow, I now find I have a pair of binoculars, and a field guide to Australian birds - not for my own life list, mind you, but so I can at least accurately report on what I've seen recently - and so, it begins...