Following the success of Southern Birding Services’ 2006 6-day small group birding tour through South Australia, the same tour with a slightly modified itinerary was run again in 2007. The tour commenced on 9 December in Adelaide, South Australia, and finished there on 15 December. Places visited included the Adelaide Hills and woodlands, River Murray, Birds Australia’s Gluepot Reserve, the Flinders Ranges, the Strzelecki outback desert and coastal areas north of Adelaide. Again through visiting a variety of habitats the species list was maximized resulting in a total of 185 species, including some highly soughtafter species.
The tour started in the morning of 10 December. Due to forecast heat later in the week the planned itinerary was reversed in order to avoid being in the desert in the heat. The small group (3 people) headed north, birding the coastline north of Adelaide, combining shorebird roosting sites with birds of coastal dunes and samphire marshes. A small number of Banded Stilts were found amongst Black-winged Stilts at the saltfields. Also present here were small numbers of migratory waders such as Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Red-necked Stint and Red-capped Plover. A Peregrine Falcon flying by surprisingly did not deter the waders.
In an area of coastal samphire marsh we found 4 birds of the local rosinae race of Slender-billed Thornbill while roadside birds further north included Brown Songlark, Red-rumped Parrot, Little Ravens in the south, and Little Crows further north. At Port Augusta we visited the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens where not many native plants appeared to be flowering. Nevertheless we found Singing, Yellow-plumed, White-fronted and Spinycheeked Honeyeaters and two Redthroats as well as White-browed Babbler and the first of many Whitewinged Fairy-wrens. We spent the night in the outback settlement of Lyndhurst.
The next morning (11 December) we set off early to explore the Strzelecki desert. First stop was Mt Lyndhurst Station. We searched the low stony hills for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface which we failed to locate. We did find however other good species specialized to this area: 4 Thick-billed Grasswrens, Rufous Fieldwren, 4 Cinnamon Quail-thrushes, 2 Chirruping Wedgebill, many White-winged Fairy-wrens, and a few Black-faced and Dusky Woodswallow. We spent most of the day following the Strzelecki Track across the stony desert, with occasional dry tree-lined watercourses. Scanning the track ahead for flushing birds, which could be Gibber (Desert) Chats, we saw many Australasian Pipits, and twice we found Gibber Chats this way, in both cases they landed not far ahead providing good scope views. After a few hours we reached Montecollina bore with its overflow which creates a small oasis. Here flocks of Zebra Finches gathered while White-backed Swallows were flying all around us.
We had lunch by the water and then set off to search for the target of this area: Eyrean Grasswren. The birds were found after about a half hour’s search with two birds giving good views in between the sand dunes. We returned to Lyndhurst the same way, checking out a now deserted Letter-winged Kite’s nest (these had been providing good views earlier in the season), and picking up Emu, Diamond Dove, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Fairy and Tree Martin, and Red-capped Robin along way. As the sun started to set, we came across a group of no less than 12 Inland Dotterels, a largely nocturnal species that becomes active around sunset and goes back to roost around sunrise. They provided excellent views and photo opportunities.
Early the next morning, 12 December, we returned to the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface and searched the area thoroughly again. We eventually heard, then flushed one individual but could not improve on this after a few more hours of searching. 4 Cinnamon Quail-thrushes were also present again as were 6 Thick-billed Grasswrens. Near the ghost town of Farina, which was established to service wheat farming in the area, now reduced to old stone ruins in the middle of the stony plains providing a stark reminder of the vagaries of the climate, we found more and Chirruping Wedgebills, Diamond Doves and Zebra Finches as well as one White-breasted Butcherbird. We started heading south, our destination for the night being the scenic Flinders Ranges. Soon the landscape started to change to arid hills that became more vegetated as we went further south. In the Flinders Ranges proper we searched the spinifex-grass covered rolling slopes of Stokes Hill where we easily found 4 Short-tailed Grasswrens, one of which gave fabulous extended scope views, perched on a stone for almost 10 minutes. That evening, after a good dinner an hour’s spotlighting produced a family of 4 Southern Boobooks interacting, perching and hunting.
The next morning (13 December) started warm (23C) and as the day progressed we were thankful to have reversed the itinerary to be out of the desert by now. We spent the morning exploring the Flinders Ranges, driving along creekbeds and through narrow gorges cut deeply into geological layers that date back 800 million years. Here we found a small colony of the endangered Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby. Other macropods seen included Euro (Wallaroo), Red Kangaroo and Western Grey Kangaroo. At a dry creekbed with big old Eucalyptus trees the resident Little Eagle was present while some Elegant Parrots flew by. At a gorge further south, 2 Grey-headed Honeyeaters were observed as well as a male Golden Whistler and a Southern Scrubrobin. At a stop further south still two Redthroats were seen after some effort. Later in the afternoon, near Waikerie, we visited an active Malleefowl mound and after a patient wait eventually had great views of two birds coming in to feed. We spent the night in Waikerie.
We were up early the morning of 14 December as the aim was to of arrive at Birds Australia’s Gluepot reserve, home of the critically endangered Black-eared Miner, around sunrise. After a warmish night, which usually isn’t a good sign for great bird activity, we were pleasantly surprised once we arrived at the reserve. The first and often hardest target, Red-lored Whistler, was easily found, with a pair providing good views, the male singing profusely. We then focused our efforts onto the Black-eared Miner.
After we found (on the outside edge of the reserve) a flock of 12 Yellow-throated Miners, with which Black-eareds hybridize, we eventually located a flock of miners, within which we identified at least two birds that fitted the criteria for pure Black-eared Miner. We saw a nice Australian Hobby on a nest, as well as a female Brown Goshawk hunting. Colourful Mallee Ringnecks and Mulga Parrots were common and we also had no trouble finding highly specialized species such as Gilbert’s Whistler, Hooded Robin, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Southern Scrubrobin, Shy Heathwren and White-browed Treecreeper. A Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo was on the old airstrip, together with Chestnut-rumped and Inland Thornbills, Splendid and Variegated Fairy-wrens and a Grey Butcherbird. Parties of Chestnutcrowned and White-fronted Babblers ran around in the undergrowth. A few Crested Bellbirds were seen and many more heard, and at the homestead, 12 Apostlebirds came in looking for picnic crumbs. The weather had turned hot (40°C / 104°F) and windy, and we decided on an early departure from Gluepot in favour of birding near the Murray river. This resulted in a cormorant quartet with Little Pied, Pied, Little Black and Great all present, as well as Whistling Kite on a nest. Back at the hotel, a cool beer at the airconditioned bar soon made us forget the heat, while recapping the quality birds we’d seen.
That night, a weather change had come through considerably lowering the temperature and bringing with it some welcome light rain, which proved beneficial for birding conditions during the last day of the tour (15 December) . Our first stop was an artificial lake where saline groundwater, prevented from entering the Murray river by a network of pumps and bores, is disposed of. One of the target species was Freckled Duck and after some searching we found about 10 Freckled Ducks between the thousands of other waterfowl present. These included hundreds of Black Swan and Eurasian Coot each, a flock of a few hundred ducks containing Pink-eared Duck, Australian Shelduck, Pacific Black Duck, Australasian Shoveler and Grey Teal; also present were a few Australian Wood Duck and Hardhead, and 2 Chestnut Teal. Of interest too were 8 Blue-billed Duck and at least 10 Musk Duck, and small flocks of Australian Little and Hoary-headed Grebe. After this water-bird bonanza we drove to Brookfield Conservation Park, a remnant of mallee eucalypt scrub interspersed with bluebush plains. On the way we saw two Regent Parrots (eastern race monarchoides) and at Brookfield proper, Mulga Parrots and a Blue Bonnet. At our morning tea stop, a Red-backed Kingfisher provided excellent close-up scope views while in a bush nearby a White-browed Woodswallow was sitting on a nest. Here we also saw Masked and Dusky Woodswallows, and caught up with a pair of Hooded Robin, which we’d missed at Gluepot.
A pleasant surprise was a small flock of Varied Sittellas. Brown-headed Honeyeaters were common, as were Brown Treecreeper and Southern Whiteface. We then made our way south, following the Murray river, and had lunch on its banks at the town of Murray Bridge. Occasional light drizzle did not scare us and we added Peregrine Falcon, Spotted Harrier, Wood Sandpiper, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel, Yellow-billed Spoonbill and White-fronted Chat to the list. After lunch the weather started clearing up and we visited two reserves protecting remnant heathland, where we had no trouble obtaining good views of two rarer Honeyeaters: Purple-gaped and Tawny-crowned. Rainbow Bee-eaters started foraging as we headed to the shores of the Murray river estuary. Along here were at least 100 Cape Barren Geese present, another target species. It was then off to a small but excellent wetland on the edge of the Adelaide Hills, where we added another Peregrine Falcon, 2 very obliging Baillon’s Crakes, 2 Australian Spotted Crakes, Purple Coots, Dusky Moorhens, Black-tailed Native-hens. A Latham’s Snipe was foraging in plain view and Little Grassbirds were common in the fringing reeds. Rainbow Lorikeet, Musk Lorikeet, Eastern Rosella and Adelaide Rosella (often regarded as the adelaideae subspecies of Crimson Rosella), were among the colourful parrot species found on the way to Adelaide through the scenic hills.
Arrival back in Adelaide was late that afternoon, after yet another highly successful ‘Highlights’ tour resulting in a grand total of 185 species, including good numbers of high-quality ticks for the group members’ life lists!