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A guide to birdwatching in South Australia

By Marc Llewellyn

With more than 450 bird species calling South Australia home, or at least spending some time there, it’s no wonder the state ranks as one of the world’s best birdwatching hotspots.

You can find an abundance of bird species in South Australia thanks to the varied landscape. Think mighty Murray River floodplains, vast swathes of mallee scrub, forest and woodlands, coastal mudflats and remote beaches, lagoons and wetlands, and the immensity of the arid Outback.

Birdwatching around Adelaide

Bring your binoculars because you can spot up to 70 different species of birds in a single morning in Adelaide and nearby areas.

Steve Potter, the owner of Bird Tours SA, and a specialist guide for Bellbird Tours, recommends heading to the Laratinga Wetlands, near Mt Barker, in the Adelaide Hills.

“The wetlands are a great place for people to get up close to birdlife because the birds are used to humanity,” Potter says. You can spot up to 50 species, including endangered freckled ducks and Latham’s snipe.

While in the area check out some cool climate vineyards and craft breweries, and visit historic towns and villages, like Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, Hahndorf.

Don’t miss the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary National Park, which comprises 60 kilometres of beaches, mangrove forests and river systems along Adelaide’s northern suburbs’ coastline. It attracts tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, including ruddy turnstones, red knots, eastern curlews, curlew sandpipers, and red-necked stints. 

The Flinders Ranges and Outback

The dramatic, craggy red landscape of the Flinders Ranges, north of Adelaide, echoes with Aboriginal history – and the call of birds. You can spot them in the spectacular gorges, amidst gnarled gum trees, and alongside towering rock walls and weathered peaks.

Among the birds of note are short-tailed grasswrens, mallee ringneck parrots, wedge-tailed eagles, and grey-fronted honeyeaters. Look out for rare marsupials too, like yellow-footed wallabies.

Further into the South Australian Outback are famous long-distance dirt roads to explore, like the Strzelecki Track, and the Birdsville Track.

“We go out there looking for iconic letter-winged kites, grey falcons, banded whitefaces, and gibberbirds,” Potter says. “There are remote wetlands too, where can see brolgas. And there are big flocks of budgies and cockatiels too.”

The Nullarbor and South Australia’s west coast

The immense semi-arid Nullabor, in far west South Australia, might be a confronting flat plain covered with bluebush, saltbush and mulga, but it’s alive with birds.

“People want to see the copper-backed quail-thrush and the Nullarbor quail-thrush, because they’ve just been reclassified as distinct species,” Potter says.

Other birds to tick off include rock parrots, blue-breasted fairywrens, western grasswrens, and Naretha bluebonnet parrots.

“Right now there’s a rare vagrant from northern America at the Venus Bay Caravan Park on the coast,” Potter says. “It’s a laughing gull. The fishermen are feeding it and they’ve nicknamed it ‘Chuckles’. People are flocking to see it.”

Between June and October you can also watch hundreds of Southern Right Whales in their birthing grounds beneath the sea cliffs that edge the southern Nullarbor. For an unforgettable experience, get up close to these majestic creatures on a boat tour at Fowlers Bay with EP Cruises or see them from the sky on a scenic flight with Chinta Air.

The Coorong

The south east of South Australia is home to a huge variety of bird species, many of them protected by national parks, conservation parks and game reserves. One of these in the Coorong – a place of wild beaches, wetlands, and long strips of saltwater lagoons close to the mouth of the Murray River.

Keep an eye out for albatrosses, southern giant petrels, and big flocks of Australian pelicans around here.

“There are thousands of wading birds too, depending on the season,” Potter says. “In some years you can see up to 15,000 banded stilts!”

The surrounding bushland is heavily populated too, with ground-dwelling malleefowl, rufous bristlebirds, orange-bellied parrots, and red-tailed black cockatoos.

The Murray River

Hire a houseboat from Renmark or Mannum on Australia’s longest river and you will soon be floating past dozens of bird species, including ducks, herons and bitterns.

A key birdwatching spot is the Waikerie Bird Watcher’s Trail, which takes in reserves, lagoons and floodplains.

“It’s a special place, with so many special birds,” Potter says. Look out for endangered black-eared miners and regent parrots. You can also find red-lored whistlers, chestnut quail-thrushes, crested bellbirds, white-browed treecreepers, hooded robins, and so much more.

“Just recently we’ve seen scarlet-chested parrots,” he continues enthusiastically. “They are one of the most sought after birds in Australia for birdwatchers.”

Kangaroo Island

More than a third of Kangaroo Island, off the coast of mainland South Australia, is protected by nature reserves and national parks, which makes it a sought after birding destination as well as a popular place to see koalas and sea lions.

“It’s an amazing spot with incredible rock formations, fabulous artisan food and drink, and plenty of varied habitats for some unique species,” Potter says.

Among the more than 260 bird species recorded on the island, the glossy-black cockatoo is probably the most well known. “It’s a red-tailed form and it’s very isolated,” Potter says. “Another bird we all want to see, and hear, is the western whipbird. It’s like the eastern whipbird, but it sounds different.” 

MORE INFORMATION

South Australia

GETTING THERE

Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are located at Adelaide Airport.

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