Hello HeHo

Friend of the Helmeted Honeyeater David Howell writes of the joy of introducing school children to the ‘HeHo’ and the habitat restoration work being done at Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve. He loves to get children involved because they have boundless energy, awareness and great observation skills once shown how to use their inherent senses.Published 03/01/13

I have been doing talks and plantings over the past several months and below is just a glimpse of a great day spent educating school children about the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater.

I arrived at the depot shed after dropping off 500 tube stock, 30 Hamilton planters, buckets and other equipment at a convenient fork in the track leading to the planting site. I then checked the toilets were clean and in working order, disposed of some cobwebs and organised my posters for today’s talk.

I heard the sound of air brakes – a bus was driving down the steep track to the depot shed. It appeared through the trees and was expertly manoeuvred and parked. Soon more than thirty grade five students disgorged from the bus - you could feel the pent up energy levels as they exploded outside in a melee of smiles, jostling and talking. The bus driver said how much he enjoyed bringing school children here to Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (YNCR) because of the peaceful natural surroundings. The teachers introduced themselves and I viewed my charges.

As the children filed into the depot shed, some remarking how cold it was, I asked them to take a chair and position themselves so they could all see. It struck me how great kids are, so full of energy, excitement and anticipation. These children were especially looking forward to their planting day as an earlier date had been cancelled – their anticipation of their day out was even greater than normal. The children sat wide-eyed and attentive, pens in hand as they were to write reports about the Helmeted Honeyeater and its habitat and were listening attentively.

My eyes roved through the crowd of eager faces. I talked and they asked questions – how many eggs does a Helmeted Honeyeater lay? Do snakes or cats eat them? Why did you say there are some in Sydney when they only live here? (They’d been listening to a broadcast regarding the breeding program for He Hos at Taronga Zoo). How many of these honeyeaters have you seen this week? (I told my interrogator, truthfully, that I hadn’t seen any this week, which was met with considerable disappointment!).

I don’t know who enjoyed the session more, me or the kids! They were fascinated to be learning about “the bird” – notebooks in hand and with very studious looks they recorded the information I imparted. The teachers also got involved in asking and answering questions. It was a really pleasurable and enlightening experience for me to see how involved these young children became, their excitement was palpable, and their enthusiasm should be bottled!

Before we headed off to our planting mission they had morning tea and checked out the facilities. Walking from the depot shed I was asked many, many more questions. I had continually revolving bodyguards. We rendezvoused with the 500 assorted plants, Hamilton planters and the buckets, which some of the kids used to carry the plants in.

These kids were an absolute pleasure; I did not hear one whine or unpleasant word. They were enjoying themselves immensely and they didn’t care how far they had to walk or carry things.

I unlocked the plot and the “workers” started to fan out ready to begin – I gave them a demonstration of planting using the Hamilton planter and the correct positioning of the plant in the hole and then they were off!

I quickly learned to make sure they start away from the gate otherwise the plants tend to get planted near the gate.

However, they soon spread out and there were many “don’t step there you’re nearly on a plant” scenarios. We made a number of trips back and forth to bring all the plants down to the site.

While my volunteers toiled away I went and got water from the Woori Yallock Creek with the water buckets. We needed to water the plants so I used the old tried and true system of a bucket on a rope – it is much quieter and less polluting than the petrol driven pump in the nursery shed. Before long I had some spectators watching me throw the bucket (long cord attached) into the creek.

Then came the inevitable requests for a turn! One boy sidled up to me and quietly informed me that “you have really good technique, but you need to loop the cord more before throwing the bucket. We’ve done rescue techniques in swimming so we actually know how it’s done. I can show you if you’d like.”

He then showed me “how to do it!”

I was greeted by three ecstatic boys, all rapt because they’d seen the elusive Helmeted Honeyeater. One had even captured the bird on his mobile phone’s camera and he proceeded to show me a small dark blob on a tree branch.

These young “twitchers” clamoured to be heard, they were so excited I thought they would burst. “We saw the yellow on the bird, just like the pictures you showed us,” one boy loudly explained to supportive nods from his peers.

Then one of them pointed to a Southern Yellow Robin that had flown into a nearby shrub and was watching all the commotion. “What bird is that one?”

I answered that it was a Yellow Robin; they didn’t need to say that was the “Helmeted Honeyeater” they had seen and I didn’t let on I’d guessed that was the bird they’d probably seen.

I was assisting a young girl move a bucket of water when a boy, previously very shy, rushed up beside me:

“David, David” he urgently implored.

“Yes, what’s the problem?”

“I threw the bucket in to get some water!” he exclaimed loudly.

“That’s great, well done.”

“No, it was a bucket that didn’t have a rope attached! It floated away and then sank out of sight under some branches in the creek – what should we do?”

“Don’t worry, a yabby will probably make a home in it, we have plenty more buckets. Come on and I’ll watch you throw the right bucket in.”

They planted the 500 plants in a couple of hours so I took them and their teachers bush walking, pointing out anything and everything from ants, birds, fungi, vegetation, regeneration, and more. I got them all using their senses – smell (a large run of ants going up a tall eaucalypt); hearing (bush sounds – different bird calls and warning sounds); sight (bird identification, flight patterns, trees, fungi, water plants, mosses, also dangers – overhanging branches and trip hazards, evidence of animal presence – game trails, tracks, droppings, footprints and various signs including fur/feathers where different predators had feasted on rabbits/birds); and lastly touch (moss, feathers, ground covers, bracken). Taste was confined to when they ate their lunches!

I have to say it was as big a buzz for me as it was the school children (even their teachers got involved in the learning process)! I tried to get everyone to see the environment around them by pointing things out and explaining how everything in nature and the environment is linked and inter-dependent. Earlier I’d explained about the different ecological niches, vegetation storeys from ground covers to trees. It was gratifying then to have the students and teachers “finding” things themselves and having various students come and share little things they’d seen or heard with me.

One boy asked me if I knew what was missing as I pointed out the swamp. I told him I didn’t and asked him what was missing? He told me “Shrek!” Others then decided to do animal and bird impersonations – my ears still hurt from the “eagle screeches!”

Other groups of adults and teenage volunteers, while relatively reserved, have also enjoyed the thrill of “catching water” using a bucket and rope – I guess “kids are kids” no matter what age!