Alexandrina (SA) and Little Desert NP (Vic) Trip, May 2022

Autumn… a time for reflection, for falling leaves, for the gentle contemplation of nature and mortality… and interstate birding! We (Andy & Luke) chose the southern part of South Australia (principally the Fleurieu Peninsula and the Coorong) with a side-trip into Little Desert National Park in the north-west of Victoria as our destinations, hoping to find many birds…

Let’s Get this Started with a Bang: Laratinga Wetlands

In the township of Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills lies a wonderful wetlands area called Laratinga, much loved by the locals for jogging and dog walking… and much loved by visiting birders. It has to be one of the best places in Australia to see the elusive Spotless Crake, a skulking reed bird that is maddening to get even tiny glimpses of anywhere else. Also featuring: many other birds.

After searching for months in South-East Queensland for a Spotless Crake, we get one within minutes of leaving the car park at Laratinga. Go figure.
Dusky Moorhen indulging in a bit of climbing practice
Purple Swamphens are a truly nation-wide and versatile bird…
…as are Pacific Black Ducks, the duck most commonly thought of when kids (or adults) excitedly point out waterfowl.
A White-Naped Honeyeater, shot taken from a pedestrian bridge at Laratinga Wetlands with the bird not far from the end of the camera lens!
This is the female of the Superb Fairywren species, recently voted as Australia’s favourite bird
Male Superb Fairywren, happily hopping about on the picnic grounds of Laratinga Wetlands
The Common Blackbird is only common if you live in certain parts of the country, lol

Forest, Scrub, Conservation Parks: We Left No Bushland Unbirded

We visited a number of small bushland sites, scattered sparsely across the landscape which is 95% farmland. Giant gums abounded, as did the autumn weather systems rolling over the hills and making us hunch in our windjackets.

Fan-Tailed Cuckoo was the only cuckoo we saw on the trip, but it was an accommodating bird for sure. At Cox Scrub Conservation Park.
Rainbow Lorikeets flocking across a rainbow-coloured sky… oh, the beauty of it all!
Three species of birds making good use of a water puddle at Cox Scrub Conservation Park
Red Wattlebirds were the dominant larger bird in woodlands, found everywhere we went. This one is at Cox Scrub Conservation Park.
A friendly Hooded Robin – with leg bands! At Monarto Conservation Park (Browns Rd site)
Australia has about 75 species of Honeyeater, the most numerous group of species of our island continent. You may or may not have a favourite one, but I’ll forever stick by this Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater as an all-time winner (and you should hear it sing!)
To the uninitiated non-birder, it might seem like, “oh, cute photo of a bird”, but this bird happens to be a Buff-Rumped Thornbill and like all thornbills, excels in flitting around the trees ridiculously fast, so to get a shot like this takes some serious patience and luck. At Scott Conservation Park.
While we’re talking about small flitty birds… this is a Silvereye, a bird that we found at almost every site we visited. No bad thing at all!
South Australia abounds in parrots, rosellas, galahs, corellas and lorikeets, like this Red-Rumped Parrot (female)
There’s only a few finch species in this part of the world, House Sparrows and Red-Browed Finches being the most common, but look closely and you may also find birds like this Diamond Firetail

Farms, farms, more farms and… game reserves!?

We found plentiful Starlings and Galahs on farm paddocks, as well as surprising numbers of Magpies (we woke up one morning to see 14 in the back yard of our AirBnB house in Clayton Bay!) We were happy to find Australian Shelducks and Cape Barren Geese in these agricultural environments, two bird species you don’t find in Queensland.

No worries about finding Australian Shelducks, we saw them several times, the first time being in a farm field…
…as were Cape Barren Geese. I guess everyone loves a good paddock?!
Common Starlings are introduced birds mainly found in southern states, sometimes in huge numbers
The Australian Ringneck is a parrot that you might scare off roadside verges in various inland parts of the country
The resident corvid near Adelaide is the Little Raven, which looks and behaves pretty much like every other Australian raven and crow. But then, that’s avian taxonomy for ya!

What caused us quite some consternation was that the South Australian government allowed a three-and-a-half month open season for duck and quail hunting in 2022. These are native birds! Three-quarters of the SA population opposes this practice, and most other Australian states stopped it decades ago. Tolderol Game Reserve is one such site where hunting is allowed – it is split down the middle with hunting allowed on one half only. It’s partly managed by CHASA (the Conservation and Hunting Alliance of South Australia… if that sounds like an organisation at odds with itself, I’d agree with you). We visited to see birds – the only shooting we did was with our cameras.

A Nankeen Kestrel patrolling the fields and roadsides leading in to Tolderol Game Reserve
Lovers of the Golden-Headed Cisticola will find much to love in Tolderol Game Reserve (not quite Atkinson Dam levels, but respectable nontheless)
An Elegant Parrot, one of our target species, seen only twice during the trip but totally worth the effort to find. So adorable!
A White-Fronted Chat coming in to land on a fence line just outside the Tolderol Game Reserve boundary; probably my favourite photograph of the whole trip

Where the Murray River ends up: Goolwa and The Coorong

The Coorong is a huge and complex water system where the Murray River meets the ocean. It’s home to thousands of fish-loving water birds who hunt in the waters both on the freshwater side and the ocean side of the “barrages” (five long barriers that control the water levels and include locks to allow boats to pass through). Goolwa is the most accessible of these barrages and we visited there twice.

The barrage at Goolwa is a barrier separating fresh water from salt water near the mouth of the mighty Murray River – and the sea birds love it
Crested Tern spies a fish and makes a hopeful dive into the water at Goolwa Barrage…
…and comes up trumps!
Seals were mostly seen sleeping at Goolwa Barrage, but occasionally woke up to randomly antagonise each other
In amongst the hundreds of pelicans, cormorants, terns and gulls at Goolwa was this serenely patient White-Faced Heron
Caspian Terns are the bigger terns with reddish beaks and we saw loads of them diving into shallow water to catch fish from the shoreline of Hindmarsh Island… and a belligerent Pelican who terrorised them into dropping said fish and scooping it up for itself. Bad Pelican!
Another in the series of “birds flying in front of rainbows”, perhaps better titled “The Chosen Bird”
On the south side of the Coorong we found flotillas of Hoary-Headed Grebes, numbering 380 in total (yes, we counted them)
After seeing the briefest glimpse of Purple-Gaped Honeyeater earlier in the trip, we were treated to a much more prolonged encounter at Salt Creek on the Coorong (while we were looking for other birds, of course…!)
Little Corellas lining up to be photographed at Meningie, a rather delightful town right on the water (do stop in at the Happy Daise cafe if you’re there, they do really great coffee and equally delicious foods)

Little Desert: neither little, nor a desert

It’s true, Little Desert National Park in Victoria is not particularly well-named, in that it is not really a desert, and not particularly little. It is kinda dry… though it rained while we were there… confusing. Anyway, more birds.

Buff-Rumped Thornbills – one of the many thornbill species to be found at Little Desert
George, the resident emu at Little Desert Nature Lodge. One was advised to keep one’s door closed, lest this bird “poo all over your carpet” (not my words)
A feature of the Little Desert Nature Lodge grounds are two small bird hides that two people can – just – sit comfortably in. They look out to small waterholes where birds come to drink, including this impressive raptor – a Brown Goshawk. Hearts were in mouths when this bird came close.
Does this bird hide look like an evil lair? Discuss.
Another bird hide attendee, the diminutive Scarlet Robin
More bird hide action with a Grey Shrikethrush coming down to nab some water before sundown
A Southern Scrub-Robin, one of the more difficult birds to find, though easy enough to hear its call if you’re familiar with it
A Great Egret being dainty at Whimpey’s Waterhole in the grounds of Little Desert Nature Lodge
Desert sunset vibes, man

A Short Aside to Remark Calmly Upon the Ubiquity of New Holland Honeyeaters

If there was one bird we saw plenty of on our trip aside from Galahs, Corellas and Starlings (which you’d expect to see in big numbers), it was the New Holland Honeyeater. They must be very adaptable, because we saw them in plenty of different habitats, and some places (*cough* heathland in Little Desert National Park *cough* Cox Scrub Conservation Park *cough*) were positively seething with them. Good thing they are so photogenic.

Back to the hills of the… Adelaide Hills…

Towards the end of our trip we stayed at an AirBnB in the Adelaide Hills, said hills being resplendent with late autumn colour. Gorgeous golds, opulent oranges and russet red foliage was everywhere you looked. We set Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens as our prime morning birding location, with a tasty combination of bushwalking/birding on the other side of the hills at Morialta Conservation Park if time permitted (which it did… just) before our afternoon flight home.

Autumn in the Adelaide Hills (cue Vivaldi…)
Kangaroo amongst the late autumn foliage at Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens
It took 9 days to finally get a Crimson Rosella photo I was happy with, despite that we saw these birds (the Adelaide subspecies) many times on our travels. Still, better late than never.
Behold the rather great Crescent Honeyeater, getting into the nectar action as honeyeaters are wont to do
Eastern Spinebills put on an amazing show near the car park at Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens, totally oblivious to people, flying and foraging in various flowering bushes right next to us. It was an unforgettable experience.
A juvenile Spinebill reaching up for more breakfast
Another Spinebill?!? Stop it already…!
Not to be forgotten, the wonderful Musk Lorikeet that can be seen anywhere in and near Adelaide (even at the airport!) This one’s from Morialta Conservation Park in the Adelaide Hills
It’s not often you see Rainbow Lorikeets sitting placidly on a rock, but this one did, for quite a while. At Morialta Conservation Park.

And in summary

One of our fears for this trip was that the season (late autumn) might mean a lack of birds, but we were fortunately alleviated of this apprehension straight away. There were lots of birds, even in the arid areas, and only a few of the many locations we visited failed to deliver something of birdy interest. With a trip like this it’s a good idea to mix up the different places and experiences on offer, with arid bush, wetlands, large expanses of water (via the Coorong), botanic gardens and more making exploration of the area as much fun as trying to find birds. There were plenty of species we missed out on seeing (Malleefowl, Southern Emuwren, Beautiful Firetail, Rufous Bristlebird, Striated and Rufous Fieldwren and more), but we were absolutely not unhappy with the birds we did see, many of which we had never seen before. South Australia, you have our vote as a top birding location!

View the eBird Trip Report here.

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