The amazing Milly Formby (pronouns: she/her or they/them) is a zoologist, pilot and illustrator on a science communication mission to raise awareness for the plight of migratory shorebirds on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. And how is she doing this? Would you believe it even if we share this!?
Milly has assisted with the build and then learnt to fly her own microlight in order to circumnavigate the Australian continent and follow the story of shorebirds and their long-distance flights! As she flies through the air from town to town, Milly shares the many amazing feats of shorebirds and why they need us to pay attention to them!
That’s right! There’s no way of putting into words just how incredibly dedicated and inspiring Milly is – from her vision to the manifestation of the Wing Threads project she has created. We caught up with Milly in June as she began her journey in south-western Australia so to hear her speak about the projects in her own words, tune into the podcast or follow her adventure on social media as she live-streams her flights on the Wing Threads of shorebirds…
We start todays story at the very beginning. From a young age, Milly always loved birds, and growing up in Gippsland, Victoria, she loved watching the Gang Gang eating pine cones in her front yard.
“Mum got a copy of what bird is that and I remember we sat down and identified the cockatoos, and I just thought that was the best thing ever…I think that really started my bird nerding!”
But Milly’s background is in tapestry, believe it or not, and she worked as a tapestry weaver for 7.5 years at the Australian tapestry workshop in south Melbourne until a shoulder injury brought that career to an end. Wildlife was the other passion she had always wanted to pursue – and this was the serendipitous invitation to try that one on for size!
Milly started a zoology degree and got more into birding, spending time watching birds with friends and volunteering as a bird bander with the Victorian Wader Studies Group. This is where Milly first fell in love with the shorebirds
”That is really where my shorebird career started – and that was almost 10 years ago now!”
While working as a technician at the University of Western Australia, Milly was struck by an idea – which led her to dedicate the next six years of her life to realizing the vision she had through Wing Threads – flying her microlight around Australia to raise awareness for shorebird conservation!
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF SHOREBIRDS
We asked Milly why shorebirds!? And honestly, when she explained the incredible feats they were capable of achieving – it was hard to believe why more people aren’t obsessed with – or at the very least impressed by them! As Milly explained –
Shorebirds can achieve epic migrations – flying the round trip of 25,000 km between Australia and Siberia where they breed year-in-year-out – and within their lifetime, they can fly the equivalent distance of the earth to the moon! It’s just mind-blowing!
For more amazing facts about shorebirds – Milly’s storybook is a great place to look!
There are 37 migratory shorebird species here in Australia and many of them are threatened, primarily due to habitat destruction and disturbance. In Australia, Birdlife identifies a lack of awareness as the number one threat to shorebirds – and it is in this space that Milly is making a massive difference through her Wing Threads project!
For the full story of Milly’s journey with Wing Threads, tune into the podcast. This is a snapshot of it from Milly’s words:
“My experience with shorebird conservation is that it’s really difficult to get the word out there – beyond the people who are already interested in birds.”
And so, step by step, Milly started chipping away at the enormity of this project, riding the ups and downs to fulfil her vision. And today, we caught up with her on her journey to circumnavigate Australia! What an incredible achievement for Milly just to get this crazy project to this stage!
So why the microlight? Millie explained –
“I feel environmental messaging is so often problem-focused and can feel a bit doom and gloom. I think it’s important to bring balance to that story, to have a vision of what we want the change, what we want to see.”
As her journey evolves, Milly speaks to people who are actively making difference for shorebird conservation on the ground to magnify their stories – and is sharing her children’s book as a starting point for raising awareness about the story of migratory shorebirds throughout the community in every town she stops in.
MILLY’S ADVICE FOR TACKLING MASSIVE PROJECTS
As someone who has achieved such crazy and seemingly impossible heights with her Wing Threads project, Milly is really overqualified in this space. Her advice for tackling massive projects and turning big dreams into reality is simple:
“Think of one thing you can start doing today towards your vision – and that’s where you start! From there you follow the lights down your path as opportunities present themselves”
KEEP IN TOUCH
Want to hear more from Milly? Tune into the podcast to listen to our conversation. Milly is flying her microlight around Australia to protect threatened migratory shorebirds through her Wing Threads project. You can follow her adventures on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook as well as on the Wing Threads website.
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