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South Australia Bird Watching

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: February 2007

In 2006 and 2007 we spent 255 Days driving around Australia. We started in Darwin, drove south to Alice Springs, backtracked to Cairns, went down the East Coast to Rockhampton, cut over to Melbourne, went across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, drove up the West Coast to Broome, and finished by crossing the Kimberely Region on our way back to Darwin — 24,000 miles & 6 rental cars. Along the way we stayed in 56 cities and saw 693 bird species/subspecies.
This Trip Report covers the 13-days we spent bird watching in South Australia in February 2007.

We saw 114 bird species at 9 parks. The parks where we saw the most bird species were: Poltalloch Station = 54, Flinders Peninsula = 41, Port Lincoln NP = 36, Coffin Bay NP = 35, Coorong NP = 32, Lake Alexandrina = 32, Lake Albert = 21, Oyster Walk = 19 & Great Australian Bight = 18.

The cities where we saw the most bird species were: 3 days in Coffin Bay = 76, 8 days in Meningie = 61, & 2 days in Streaky Bay = 42.


Meningie – We stayed at the Poltalloch Station ( 35.490S 139.265E ). We were about 30 minutes west of the small town of Meningie on Lake Alexandrina about 2 hours East of Adelaide. This area is part of the vast wetland system created as the Murray River enters the Southern Ocean. We stayed the week in the Station Hand Cottage built in 1839 with a view of the lake.

If you put these coordinates into Google Earth, you can see the locations I am discussing. Typically, there will be lots of pictures as well.

Port Augusta — We stayed at the Comfort Inn Augusta Westside ({36AF0A37-0C6B-40D8-B238-7C329498CE88}& Nice place to stay but we didn’t see any birds.

Coffin Bay – We stayed at the Almonta Holiday Apartments ( 34.621S 135.478E). We have a great view of Coffin Bay, the expansive area of oyster traps, and a direct view of the sunsets. The Oyster Walk birding trail is just across the road from the units.

Streaky Bay — We stayed at the Headland House B&B ({419B1F15-C465-45BA-8472-64160A03B56D}&eAddr=&eSbj 32.792S 134.219E). The house is nicely furnished with a lovely view of the ocean.

Highlights of the Region:

Getting a personal tour of a sheep station and the sheep-shearing shed.

Getting AAA Australia to unlock our car free with our Ohio AAA card. Seeing 5 pairs of wild Emus at Coorong NP; plus some Red-capped Plovers.

Seeing a Shy Heathwren and a pair of Blue-breasted Fairywrens at the Arno Bay Mangrove Boardwalk.

Seeing hundreds of Red Wattlebirds fly over in waves at Port Lincoln NP.

Sand dune surfing at Coffin Bay NP.

Watching the sun appear to set in the East at Streaky Bay.

Seeing vast salt-flats from the car, and what looked like Salt Icebergs floating on Lake MacDonnald on a day when the temp was 102; plus five species of shore birds including the Curlew Sandpiper.

Eating Quandong Nut jam for Br

Having the fog lift so we could see the Great Australian Bight.

Driving for hours across the Nullarbor Plain and not seeing a tree or car.

If we were planning the trip again, I would:

Consider stay 4 nights at the Poltalloch Station (not 8).

Consider staying 3 nights at Streaky Bay (not 1).

Drive directly from Poltalloch Station to Coffin Bay without spending a night in Port Augusta.

Go to Kangaroo Island for 4 nights to a week.

Drive north of Port Augusta to Coober Pedy before going to Western Australia.

Birding Summary

Of the 114 bird species we saw in South Australia, 42 were endemic to Australia. Most of the 72 non-Australian Endemic bird species we saw were new for us.

14 species were never seen again during the 255-day trip around Australia; that is: Australasian Pipit, Shy Heathwren, Blue Bonnet, Southern Scrub-Robin Blue-breasted Fairywren, Mallee Whipbird, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, Western Yellow Robin, Gray Currawong, White-browed Babbler, Hooded Plovers, White-winged Chough, Rose Robin, & Yellow-rumpted Pardalote.

Special Comments:

On Feb 18 we crossed into South Australia at Noon. Our first stop was at the Piccaninie Ponds. The crystal clear water had attracted a lot of snorkelers today. We spotted a nesting Black Swan.

We stopped in Mt Gambier for lunch at the local casino — the only place open for lunch today. We had the Fisherman’s special with a salad bar and mud cake. The fish was Hake. The mud cake turned out to be an inch of fudge on a half-inch of brownie with a dollop of whipped cream.

In the afternoon we drove past miles of salt flats. The wind reached gale force, so we didn’t get out to investigate. We arrived at Poltalloch Station at 7pm.

On Feb 19 we were out for a walk about the farm at 7am. The water level in the lake was down due to the drought, which resulted in fewer water birds around. Still, we saw 38 birds including the Gray-Rufous Fantail Hybrid, Spotted Turtle Doves, and the Yellow-rumped Pardalote.

We went to town around Noon to shop for groceries. We ate lunch at a cafe in town that had the local specialty fish, Coorong Mullet, on the menu. It came with skin and tasted terrible! The French fries save the day. It got hot this afternoon. The UV level ranged from Very High to Extreme. We always wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and a big hat when we are out.

On Feb 20 we were off at 7am for a drive around Lake Albert on Narrung Rd (35.661S 139.201E). First we had to cross the narrow neck of water that separates Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina by ferry.

Along the lake were pockets of wetlands. We stopped to look at some ducks and managed to spook a couple thousand Australian Shelducks into the air. They circled around and flew off. We caught up with them later in the morning on the opposite side of the lake.

The road was lined with White, Purple and Yellow Pincushion Flowers. We wanted to go to Pelican Point (35.689S 139.168E), but the road got too rutted for us to continue. We turned back and saw a Red Fox running across the field.

We had lunch at the Cheese Factory. My wife had marshmallow Prawns. I had a steak. You can’t beak fresh Prawns. Beautiful.

On Feb 21 we were off early to drive around the west side of Lake Alexandrina. We crossed the Murray River by Ferry (35.330S 139.386E) near the location were the SA PM wants to construct an emergency weir (dam) to back up the river to provide drinking water for Adelaide. Some people are opposed to the weir because of the anticipated environmental impact on the Lakes and NP. Our cottage uses lake water for the kitchen and bathroom. I don’t see how anyone could drink it — it smells and tastes really bad. We turned off the main road to look for birds (35.319S 139.162E). We spotted 6 Elegant Parrots across the road from acres of grape vines.

As we drove around looking for wetlands we found John and Terry at their sheep station. They invited us to watch as they separated the pregnant sheep from the lot. Later all the sheep got their monthly spraying for pests. It was amazing how responsive their 2 sheep dogs were to commands.

After the muster John showed us their sheep-shearing shed. They shear the sheep three times a year. The farm has 3000 sheep and 150 acres of grape vines. John said they make more money from the grapes than the sheep. Larry said it hasn’t rained here since May 2006.

There are massive concentrations of water birds in the wetlands around the lake; like Pacific Black Ducks, Australian Pelicans, Australian Shelducks, Black Swans, Cape Barren Geese, and Magpie Geese.

On Feb 23 we left at 7am for the section of Coorong NP East of Meningie (35.889S 139.403E. This area consists of a narrow strip of water between the coastal sand dunes and the main land. Access was via a dirt road. This turned out to be wild Emu country. We ended up seeing and photographing 5 pairs of Emu. We saw several distant flocks of waders, but could only identify some Red-capped Plovers.

We stopped at the Cheese Factory of dinner. My wife had Santa’s Sandwich — ham and cambert cheese on a fresh baked roll with cranberry sauce. I had a hamburger with half the Lot (no eggs or beet root). We split a bowl of seasoned chips with sweet chili and sour cream.

On Feb 25 we were off at 7am driving toward Adelaide. The expressway turned into city streets in Adelaide and we missed a turn. I stopped at a gas station and a customer drew us a “mud map” that got us back on track. The area north of Adelaide was parched and desolate. We arrived at Port Augusta at 1pm.

We had lunch at the Pub next to the hotel. We started with a potato and leak soup. They put some kind of spice in the soup that turned it a dark mustard color. It tasted good anyway. My wife had crumbed Prawns with chips, salad and cold slaw. I had a steak.

In the afternoon we locked the car keys in the boot (trunk). We called the Royal Automobile Association to send someone out. The technician got the door open in a few minutes. Surprisingly, we didn’t have to pay anything — it was covered by our Ohio AAA card!!!

On Feb 26 we were off before sunrise. As soon as it got light, we started seeing parrots. First we saw a flock of 9 Blue Bonnet Parrots. Then we saw a pair of Mulga Parrots.

We stopped at the Arno Mangrove Boardwalk (33.922S 136.568E). In the trees Wilma teased out a Shy Heathwren and a pair of Blue-breasted Fairywrens.

We ate lunch in Port Lincoln. My wife had a chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, onions and olives served over baked potato wedges in a pasta sauce. I had local shrimp in fettuccine sauce.

On the way out of town we spotted a Port Lincoln Ringneck Parrot eating Pine Nuts out of a pinecone. We arrived at Coffin Bay at 4pm.

The sun was brutally bright till 7pm. Before sunset we went for a short walk along the bay. It was so cool we needed a jumper (jacket). Immediately, we were bombarded with hundreds of Galahs and Rainbow Lorikeets – they seemed to be living in the trees around our apartment. We saw thousands of ducks or sea birds in the distance, but couldn’t ID them.

On Feb 27 we got to Port Lincoln NP (34.882S 135.867E) at 8am. This is one of the parks where you are supposed to pay $7 to get into – it’s an honor system.

You would think by charging money to get in the roads would be good and they would have bathrooms, but you would be wrong. However, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. In 5 hours we passed 5 vehicles. The park is covered in native Mulga trees and small shrubs, and very dry. After a long and bumpy drive we stopped along the coast for a change of scenery. We could see a sailing regatta in the distance.

We saw a Red Wattlebird by the coast, then a small flock. Pretty soon waves of Red Wattlebirds were flying over. They kept on coming for 2 hours — hundreds of them. We never saw them flock like this before.

There were heaps of small birds in the heath. We spotted a Western Yellow Robin. We saw Spotted Scrubwrens and Blue-backed Fairwrens all day. We also saw some Gray Currawongs. Back in Port Lincoln, I had a steak topped with mushroom ragout, red onion jam, and a sprinkling of baked sweet potato shavings. It came with baked potato wedges and salad. My wife had Snapper lightly coated with Dukkah topping sauteed green beans and cherry tomatoes served in a citrus dressing, and salad.

On Feb 28 we were off at dawn for Coffin Bay NP (34.661S 135.349E ) – 3Km from our apartment. We soon discovered it was foggy out.

Our first stop was to pay the entrance fee. They have paved roads here and bathrooms, so you think you are getting something for your $7. Most of the park is covered with Mulga; i.e., a dense growth of low shrubs. The birding was pretty ordinary. We could hear the ocean roaring 5Km away.

We drove out to the sand dunes. A short-steep walk up and down the dunes brought us to the beach. We had about 100 yards of visibility because of the fog. It was cool and breezy, so we spent the morning beach combing for shells and glass.

The sun burned thru the fog bank at 10am. We drove around to other beaches and lookouts. We saw waterfalls in the ocean as the tide ran between the main land and an offshore island. On one beach there was a large flock of Crested Terns and a small flock of Fairy Terns.

We ate lunch at the only restaurant in town. We ordered Lobster Theodore and salad. Beautiful!! Most of the Lobster caught here goes to Japan. Restaurants don’t usually have it on the menu. We order it wherever we can.

At 5:30pm we went for a walk on the Oyster Trail (34.617S 135.478E ) along Coffin Bay. We saw lots of Gazanias that had been chopped off by weed eaters. The birding tonight was marvelous. In one stretch we saw a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren and a Southern Scrub-Robin. We heard a Mallee Whipbird. We also saw an Australian Ringneck Parrot with a red spot on the forehead, which means it is the species from SE WA.

On March 1 we were off at 7:20am heading west along the south coast. This area has many dry salt lakes — they look like frozen lakes. One lake has some water, but no water birds, till a hundred Cape Barren Geese flew in.

We parallel the coast, but rarely saw the ocean. We took a side trip to Cummins Outlook (34.431S 135.373E) to see the jagged coast. It seems like the South Ocean is slowly dissolving the south side of Australia.

Later in the morning we stopped at Sheringa Beach (33.875S 135.164E). This area attracts surfers — lots of them. The waves rolling across the blue ocean was beautiful. We found some shore birds here. On the way out we saw a pod of Porpoises swimming along the bay.

It got hot in the afternoon. We stopped at a beach, but the smell of seaweed was too strong to stay. We arrived in Streaky Bay at 3pm.

About 6pm we left to eat at Mocens in Streaky Bay by the Jetty. We started with Abalone and Cockle Chowder with Garlic Bread. My wife had King George Whiting strips with chips and salad. I had a rib eye with muscles and veggies. Beautiful!

By some quirk of geometry, the jetty here points north, even though it is on the south coast of Australia. I would swear the sunset in the east tonight.

On March 2 Jam tasting was at 7:30am. We had Ailys’ home made Quandong Jam. Quandong is the native Peach Tree. It is illegal for anyone but Aborigines to harvest Quandong fruit, but somehow the fruit that falls on the local golf course ends up at Ailys’ house. Quandong Jam looks like Strawberry Jam, but had a Raspberry flavor. Beautiful!

About 11am we detoured off the road to Lake MacDonnald (32.045S 132.997E). The lake has a very high salt content, and parts of it looks like it is frozen with chunks of ice floating around. All this on a day when the temp was 102F. We saw five species of shore birds at the lake including the Curlew Sandpiper.

We kept stopping to top off the gas at Roadhouses. At 12:30pm we got Maxibonds, the lunch of travelers. The bathroom at the gas station in Penong had a sign that read: “Go easy on the water, it doesn’t come out of the air or a pipe; it comes on a truck”. A lot of the farms here had windmills to pump water out of the ground and into storage tanks.

At 1:45pm we crossed the “Dog Fence” (31.523S 131.881E) that runs for 5614 Km around SA, NSW and Qld to keep out the Dingoes — NOT.

In the afternoon we came close to the Great Australian Bight (31.638S 129.384E) — so named because the map of Australia looks like someone took a bight out of it here. The bight looks to be 600 miles long, but it actually stretches from Tasmania thru Western Australia (several thousand miles). From the rocks exposed in the Bight they have established that Australia was once connected to Antarctica.

Most of the afternoon we could see the sand dunes and ocean that run along the Bight. Later, fog moved in. The fog finally dissipated enough so we could see the Bight at a pull-out.

The morning drive was thru wheat field with a venire of trees and shrubs along the road for visual effect. In the afternoon we entered the Nullarbor Plain. Nullarbor is Latin for No Trees! We got to the WA border at 5:30pm. Just across the border we came upon a “Crow” in the road. We assumed it would move, but it didn’t, so we ran over it. Turns out we ran over our new bird of the day, a Brown Currawong. We saw more later.

When we stopped for gas, we learned this part of WA has their own time zone; i.e., they are 45 minutes ahead of Perth and 45 minutes behind Adelaide

We go to the hotel about 5:45pm. After a little rest we had lunch at the Roadhouse. I got Chicken Parmigiana with chips and salad. Wilma got a T-Bone Steak. The chicken was great. The streak was so-so.

E-mail if you would like a file with the specific birds we saw each day.

Carl & Wilma Ball

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