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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!