It had been a tough week for the bird watches of Tidal River, down in Victoria’s Wilson’s Promontory. Professor Mike Clarke from La Trobe University welcomed his followers into the theatrette at the visitors’ centre to announce the results of the hottest competition in town: the January 2017 Prom Bird Challenge. The rules were simple. You had three days to see or hear as many different birds as possible, and there’d be no fooling the professor, either. He’s spent the last 11 years standing in various spots around the Prom counting birds as part of his research to find out how birds recover after fire. The Prom was burnt to buggery in 2005 and again in 2009. But the beaky professor was pleased to report that most birds had returned, although where they were this week was anyone’s guess.

I had my first encounter with twitchers in the Kimberley in 2014, where you could go deaf from the noise of the bush. What a way to wake every morning. I lived for 5:30am. It was there where I saw a Gouldian Finch, and it was there I heard the clearest, most resonate call of all. It came from one of the twitchers and it posed a quite beautiful rhetorical question, and one that flutters round my brain whenever I step outside: “How can you not be interested in the world around you?”

For three days the world around me was speckled granite boulders, tea-coloured rivers and turquoise surf. It qualified as interesting. We took kayaks upstream past dozing Kookaburras and watched Welcome Swallows fire shots across our bows like mad things. A Little Pied Cormorant hung its wings out to dry on a rock. On Squeaky Beach a family of endangered Hooded Plovers scurried about the high tide mark. All along the coast muscular Pacific Gulls shot the breeze and crunched crabs in their terrifying yellow bill. A Crested Tern, with its slicked back hair-do, looking like the bad kid in class, sidled up and had a natter. Back at the campsite Red Wattlebirds hung upside down from branches with their needle-like claws, dipping their snoots into some nectar. Grey Strike-thrushes sang sweetly every morning as I made coffee on the camp stove. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos perched high on spindly, dead branches, like angels atop a barren, gothic Christmas tree, while their Yellow-tailed friends launched low-flying evening sorties. Currawongs and Magpies occasionally drifted past and Wood Ducks with ducklings in tow waddled alongside kids on bicycles on the dusty campground roads. We quite possibly saw some White-browed Scrub Wrens foraging in the bushes, but their genus was ultimately classified as what the professor called “LBJs:” Little Brown Jobs. But the week truly belonged to the Superb Fairy-wrens, who bounced through the trees, so light that not even the frailest leaf would bow when they landed upon it. The males were in full bloom, with their mesmerising sky-blue helmet and cheeks (“the males are one of the most promiscuous animals you’ll ever find” gossiped the professor).

All up we had spotted 17 different species, not bad for a couple of amateurs, but not good enough for the grand prize of a subscription to Australian Birdlife magazine. Oh well.

I had one last question for the professor. Why were there no birds in New Zealand? I grew up there, and the bush is deafeningly silent. The answer was that introduced species had wiped them all out. Stouts and rats slurped up their eggs off while Brush Tailed Possums munched through the trees, destroying habitat. It reminded me of a trip to Tasmania last year, where Tarkine Trails tour guide Trevor Beltz laid it out for me straight. “New Zealand is ecologically munted.”

Weeds, pests, rivers more cow piss than water, it’s the clean, green country I call home. So that’s where I’m heading next. Into the cruel New Zealand bush where the birds have no world around them.