FL27 Birding with Buddies in Byron and Ballina

Three trikes and a Jabiru

More beautiful Autumn weather for our morning flight to Ballina from South Grafton. The sky was overcast but the wind was calm and the air was smooth as myself accompanied by John Seach in his trike and Peter and Kerry Clements in their Jabiru took off from South Grafton and made our way along the Clarence River. When we reached the river mouth at Iluka and Palmers Island, we tracked along the coast to Evans Head where we met up with another trike pilot, Richard Ayers, from Ballina. I love it when fellow recreational pilots want to join me on my flight legs! 🥰

Ballina is a large, busy airport and the airspace is managed by Brisbane Centre due to a near miss a few years ago between a large passenger aircraft and an ultralight. Being familiar with Ballina, Richard did most of the calls for us as we approached. There were a couple of General Aviation aircraft in the circuit when we arrived and also a Jetstar flight on the ground that had to wait while the Jabiru and the three little trikes landed and taxiied off the runway! Thankfully, I didn’t need to do a go around 😅

John's trike
My trike
Richard's trike
Jetstar flight lining up the runway after having to wait for all of us to land

Meeting me at Ballina as ground crew was one of my friends I’d met through my travels – Phil Biggar from the Eucla Roadhouse! Phil and his partner, Christina, were back home in Jiggi near Lismore and invited me to stay with them while in town. I was also greeted on arrival by several of the local birders from Byron Bird Buddies, Rose Wisemantel, Rodney, Bruce Penman and Roslyn Felsch. Several of these people I’d been talking to for some time via email and social media so it was great to finally meet in person.

After enjoying a much needed coffee with everyone, Phil gave me a lift back to South Grafton to pick up my car, then we headed back to their place in Jiggi. Phil and Christina have a beautiful place hidden up in the hills with a big patch of bush. I had a wonderful time out there enjoying the sound of the birds and we saw a koala too! Here’s a pic of us enjoying pizza at the woodfire pizza place in Nimbin.

Pizza with Phil and Christina at Nimbin

While in town, I did a talk for the Byron Bird Buddies and Richmond Brunswick Birdwatchers at the Byron Bay Wetlands. Afterwards, we did some birding down at the hide where we saw a Black-necked Stork hunt and swallow a huge frog! Rose had organised the event as a fundraiser and as a result, they raised enough funds to sponsor two flight legs – Anna Plains Station and Fitzroy Crossing. Thank you so much 🙏🤗

I was also treated to several days of birding with Rodney , Rose, June and Suse and Hans  who took me to Rocky Creek Dam, Tegan Swamp, Lake Chickiba, Victoria Park and Flat Rock and even stayed out until dusk at Broadwater National Park to listen out for Eastern Ground Parrots! 🦜

All up I had six new lifers – Australian Logrunner, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, Varied Triller, Rufous Shrikethrush, Wandering Whistling Duck, Spectacled Monarch – plus a bunch more for my trip around Australia list ✅

Birding at Byron Bay Wetlands
Me, Rodney and Rose at Victoria Park
Lake Chickiba
Suse, me and Rodney at Flat Rock

The next flight leg from Ballina to Caboolture is sponsored by Avisure, who are based in Ballina. Their Ops Manager, Jill Brix, invited me to catch up with the Avisure team while in town and have a tour of the airport. It was great fun getting to go behind the scenes! Jill has also mobilised her contacts around Australia to help out with hangarage as I travel around. 

I showed them the microlight and we had a few pictures together with the Jetstar planes in the background. Jill also wrote a wonderful article about Wing Threads for their blog, which you can read here. Thank you so much to Avisure for their support! 🙏

Of course, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention the school visits I did while in town as well! I had a great time visiting Bexhill Primary School, Empire Vale Primary School and the Living School in Lismore.

One of the things that really hit me while in Lismore was the impact that the floods of 2022 were still having on the town. A lot of the homes in town have been deemed unlivable and people are stuck in a position where they can’t sell their home but if they stay and repair it, are at risk of it being flooded again. Many of these kids and their families experienced those disasters and it was clear that the community was still recovering. It was great to be able to give back to the community, albeit it in a small way, through education. 

As always, my favourite part of the school visits is when the students show me their beautiful shorebird drawings at the end of the session! 🥰

If you missed the livestream of flight leg 27 from South Grafton to Ballina, you can watch the replay on YouTube here or by clicking one of the links below.

Milly Formby
Milly Formby is a zoologist, pilot, and illustrator of the children’s book, A Shorebird Flying Adventure She is currently flying her microlight around Australia in 2022/23 to share,A Shorebird Flying Adventure with primary students.
Image credits:
Book cover for A Shorebird Flying Adventure

A Shorebird Flying Adventure

Available Now

Join Milly on her microlight and discover how amazing and awesome migratory shorebirds are!

Milly Formby is a zoologist and illustrator of the children’s book A Shorebird Flying Adventure. Available now through CSIRO Publishing.

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