Birding-by-ear guided walk in Westgate Park to take flight

Friday 1 December, 2023

Key points:

  • Parks Victoria will host it's first birding-by-ear experience for people who are blind or have low vision.
  • The sensory Park Walk in Westgate Park has been designed, and will be led, by volunteer guide Annette Leishman.
  • Annette has Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes progressively worse tunnel vision.
  • Park Walks are a great way for people of all ages and abilities to find out more about their local park and its flora and fauna.


Birdwatching can be a difficult activity for people who are blind or have low vision. Birding-by-ear, however, is an entirely different bundle of feathers.

In recognition that not everyone experiences nature in the same way, Parks Victoria will host its first guided Park Walk that will focus on the sounds, rather than the sights, of nature.

The birding-by-ear event will be the first Park Walk led by a volunteer guide with low vision, ensuring that each of the unique sensory elements of Westgate Park are both heard and felt by participants. The first event will be held in early December 2023, but more birding-by-ear Park Walks will take place in across 2024.

Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria ambassador Annette Leishman, who has lived with low vision her whole life, will be leading the group walk through Westgate Park, calling out different birdsongs along the way. Annette will be assisted by Albert Park District Community Engagement Ranger Mip Grant on the walk.

Community Engagement Ranger Mip Grant and Blind Sport and Recreation Victoria ambassador Annette Leishman.

Photo: Community Engagement Ranger Mip Grant and volunteer guide Annette Leishman will lead the birding-by-ear Park Walk.

Annette has Retinitis Pigmentosa (or RP as it is more commonly known), a genetic disorder that causes progressively worse tunnel vision. 

“I have my central core vision, but I don’t have any peripheral vision at all. These days I have seven per cent of vision in my left eye, and six per cent of vision in my right eye, but it’s very difficult for people who don’t have RP to understand what that feels like.”

It’s something which has gotten worse over my lifetime. When I was a child my parents just thought I was clumsy. I was always bumping into things and knocking things over. I couldn’t catch a ball, so I was picked last for sports teams. I’d ride a bike, but I’d crash into a tree or a ditch. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 20s, and that’s when it all made sense.” 

Since becoming involved with Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria, Annette has been passionate about advocating and improving access for people who are blind or visually impaired. 

“Obviously, we, as a community, walk and experience nature in a different way to the main public - our walks involve a lot more sensory information.”

“Without sight, hearing becomes one of our main sensory clues. When I’m in a park, I can listen for the sounds of birds and it creates this feeling of freedom, in a way, because it doesn’t involve eyesight, and it just feels nice to stop and listen to the birds and hear all the different songs they sing.

Westgate Park is home to many birds, including Black-Winged Stilts.

Photo: Westgate Park is home to many different types of birds, including Black-winged Stilts.

I’ll notice the breeze through the trees, feeling the texture of different plants, and sometimes, if I’m near water, I might even hear a fish jump. I’m able to get the full sensory experience.

“With vision impairment and vision loss there is sometimes a link with depression, which is why being connected with nature is important – it’s really good for your mental health.”

Westgate Park lies on the traditional Country of the Bunurong People. As the name suggests the park is located underneath the Westgate Bridge in Port Melbourne. Not only is the park highly accessible (only 15 minutes from Southern Cross Station), it has surprisingly abundant birdlife for it's industrial river-front location.

The park is best known for its large salt lake which turns a vibrant shade of pink when seasonal conditions are just right. A reddish-coloured algae grows when the temperatures are high, the sun is out, and the salt levels are up. In order to see this phenomenon, visiting during the summer months offers the best chance of success.

The salt lake in Westagte Park will turn bright pink when conditions are just right.

Photo: Conditions need to be just right in order for the salt lake at Westgate Park in Port Melbourne to turn pink.

Annette has participated in a number of previous Park Walks at places like the Coolart Wetlands, Yarra Bend Park, Werribee Park, and Plenty Gorge, however the upcoming birding-by-ear Park Walk in Westgate Park will be the first one she’s led.

I’m really quite excited about it. I’ve learnt so much about the park’s history and the flora and fauna of Westgate Park. I can’t wait to share it.”

Parks Victoria has developed an online audio resource for people who are blind and have low-vision to help them identify the common birds heard in Westgate Park.

To find out what other Park Walk events are happening near you, please click here.



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