Observing across scales: Broome Bird Observatory as a site of multiple exchanges

Roebuck Bay erosion


Roebuck Bay’s waters and shoreline fringes in the Kimberley of Western Australia are host to nonhuman worlds of waders and bowerbirds. The Broome Bird Observatory (BBO) is the site of scientific investigations by professional ornithologists and amateur birdwatchers. Focussing on bird banding and the bowers of the Great Bowerbird, the author undertook fieldwork to investigate the nature of these points of exchange between nonhumans, scientists and artists. The imagery presented contrasts the dramatic colour and compositional elements of the environment with the more awkward and intimate details of human-animal encounters. Waders have worlds that span the globe, whereas male bowerbirds focus considerable attention on their bowers and the objects that they collect for them. Both bird banding and working with bowerbirds created sites of dialogue that mingled objective (scientific) and emotionally motivated processes in what Whitney calls ‘emotional ecologies’. For both waders and bowerbirds the surrounding environment was a significant ecological participant that fleshed out and enriched the field of investigation. In the art and science project Green, Grey or Dull Silver small green objects were offered as part of a ‘conversation’ at bowers. With bowerbirds, the individuality of birds played an important role in creating more reciprocal and dynamic engagements. A mixture of interaction and inter-patience (Candea) was required to both ‘speak’ and listen to the conversation of others. This image essay, therefore, endeavours to convey the richness of the affective landscape of emotional and material exchange at BBO.


image essay, Kimberley, Broome Bird Observatory, place, emotion, waders, Great Bowerbird, contemporary animal art, STS.

Link to online version: http://ro.uow.edu.au/asj/vol2/iss1/7. Here is a 150dpi version but with none of the degradation that a few of the images came through with in the online version: phillips_perdita_Observing_across_scales_150dpi_but_with_better_images.pdf

Phillips, P. (2013).  Observing across scales: Broome Bird Observatory as a site of multiple exchanges, Animal Studies Journal, 2(1), 2013, 74-81.