Tom Clarke has been interested in birds all his life.
A longtime member of Hunter Bird Observers Club (HBOC), he has spent many hours documenting the region's wildlife and helping the natural ecosystem thrive.
For the past 40 years he has been particularly interested in shorebirds of the Hunter estuary wetlands and has played a significant role in helping maintain their habitats.
"[HBOC has] increased our focus to other mostly small but strategic areas within the Hunter estuary that we know the shorebirds use and would prefer to use.
"You need to be dedicated to do this work and it takes up a bit of our time each year.
"You can argue that every time a bird watcher goes out and records anything, either just a survey of what birds they saw or record their behaviours, that it is research.
"We're always learning from the birds and what it is they want or what's going to favour them."
Mr Clarke said disturbance from a variety of sources was one of the main problems for shorebirds and that HBOC aimed to give them additional roost options so they were better prepared for their annual migrations.
"If there's disturbance by animals, people, or feral animals, they're wary to all that," he said.
"We recreate [shorebird roosts] because we already know these are the places they want to go but places don't stay the same all the time.
"Everything is changing."
PREVIOUS HUNTER HEROES
When HBOC volunteers see changes that aren't benefiting the birds, they think up ways to help them and improve their habitat.
From removing plants that could block the birds' view of predators to ensuring there are sufficient shallow ponds for feeding or peaceful places for sleeping.
"The estuary lives and is healthy if all of the parts are in a good state and the birds are just a part of the make up of the estuary," Mr Clarke said.
"It's all inextricably interwoven and the birds have their part to play in that ecology.
"We'd like to think we've organised things so if the birds are too disturbed they can move.
"At high tide, whatever it is you want to do, if you can keep your distance, that will go a long way to helping these birds.
"Whether you're fishing, on the boat or bait gathering, you can still achieve what you want but while having some regard for the birds' needs.
"Not everyone needs to be crazy interested in these birds but I think that it would be great if people were [more aware].
"I think if you ever got to understand these birds and what they do, you might start thinking of them as heroes," he said.
"Their lives are a big, brave challenge for these birds."