Highlights of South Australia

October 3, 2009 — November 21, 2011

This 6-day Southern Birding Services tour travels through the variety of landscapes South Australia has to offer, including the Mt Lofty Ranges, the Murray river, vast expanses of the famous mallee bushland, and outback deserts, including  the spectacular mountains of the Flinders Ranges. This tour’s focus is on birdwatching (expect around 180 species, including some highly sought-after birds), complemented with experiencing other aspects of the landscape, including flora and fauna, geology and history. 

 Highlights of South Australia

Spring 2009 was an excellent season in Southern Australia due to high winter rainfalls resulting in widespread flowering of native vegetation. Many resident birds had a good breeding season and many nomadic species turned up in good numbers. This was the fourth year the 6-day small group birding tour ‘Highlights of South Australia’ was run by Southern Birding Services. This season, the tour was run  three times  (August, September and October) with the same itinerary. This trip report covers the October tour, during which the total number of species recorded was 191, just three short of the previous record.

Daily account

Day 1. The tour started in the  morning of  3 October. The  group headed to the Mt Lofty ranges, to the east of Adelaide.  It was cold and drizzly as we headed up Mt Lofty, southern South Australia’s 'highest' peak ((727 m/2,390 ft). This didn’t affect bird activity though and soon enough we observed White-throated Treecreeper in the tall, thick Eucalypt trees, as well as the colourful Adelaide Rosella. Also present was a small flock of birds containing Striated and Brown Thornbills, White-browed Scrubwren and Grey Fantail. We saw a good variety of Honeyeaters including Yellow-faced, Crescent, New-Holland, White-naped and Eastern Spinebill. Fan-tailed Cuckoo was calling across the wooded valleys and we found two Koalas resting in their usual tree. After we left the hills the weather cleared up and we visited a remnant of native  mallee scrub/heathland where two rarer species of Honeyeater, Tawny-crowned and Purple-gaped, provided good views, along with the plentiful Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. In the dense undergrowth, the aptly named Shy Heathwren eventually showed itself as did a pair of Southern Scrubrobin. Then it was off to Australia’s largest river, the Murray, for a visit to a clifftop lookout  which  usually provides excellent raptor watching opportunities. Even though it was cool and windy the site did not disappoint: Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Swamp Harrier, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Little Eagle, Brown Falcon, Kestrel and even Black Falcon all put in an appearance. A highlight was a pair of Cockatiel flying by.

We  followed the  Murray river upstream, stopping at some of its wetlands along the way and picking up species such as Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Musk Duck, Hardhead, Chestnut Teal and Yellow Rosella. At the end of the day we visited a  sanctuary near Waikerie where two flocks of White-winged Choughs gave us an insight into their interesting social  structure and a little later a Malleefowl appeared at close range.

Day 2. A visit to Birds Australia’s Gluepot reserve. We arrived  at Gluepot around sunrise and an open area n near the entrance was highly productive: Red-backed Kingfisher,  White-eared Honeyeater, Gilbert’s Whistler, Chestnut Quail-thrushSouthern Scrubrobins, Crested Bellbird, the first Rainbow Bee-eaters for the season and a White-winged Triller all provided good views. Soon thereafter we  found  one of the main targets of the day: Black-eared Miner. A small  flock of 6-8 Miners contained at least 2 Black-eared Miners as well as some hybrids x Yellow-throated Miners. We then moved onto the next target, Red-lored Whistler, which was easily found. We could now relax a bit and  drive around the reserve, which resulted in other nice species such as  Mallee Ringneck, Mulga Parrot,  White-browed Treecreeper,  Chestnut-rumped  and Inland  ThornbillsVaried Sittella, Chestnut-crowned and White-browed Babblers. We had our picknick lunch in a bird hide overlooking a bird water trough which provided photographic opportunities of  Brown-headed, Yellow-plumed and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. Later in the afternoon we left the reserve and birded some more wetlands near the Murray river, where we found 3 Freckled Ducks, 4 Bluebilled Ducks as well as a nice flock of Regent Parrots.

Day 3. It was an overcast and cool morning as we spent some more time checking river Murray wetlands, that had more water in them than in previous years. From within the floodplain vegetation, Rufous Songlark and Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo were heard  singing, and both species were flushed by a Peregrine Falcon, who nests in nearby cliffs. After checking out some interesting fossil marine deposits Little Friarbirds were observed at a recent southern expansion of their range. We then headed towards the Flinders Ranges through vast open, shrubby flats of Pearl Bluebush where we quickly located a pair of Redthroat. Patches of lush green grass were alive with Orange and Crimson Chats as well as Stubble Quail. Closer to the Flinders we observed Pied Honeyeaters in flowering  Acacia shrubs. Other Honeyeaters we picked up this day were White-plumed and White-fronted, bringing the total Honeyeater species count to 12. After arriving in the spectacular Flinders Ranges we saw another Inland Thornbill.

Day 4. We set off before breakfast to the nearby Short-tailed Grasswren site. On the way there we had good views of an Australian Hobby. At the grasswren site after some squeeks and glimpses we eventually observed one Short-tailed Grasswren perched on a rock and returned to have a well-earned breakfast. We then proceeded through the very scenic Flinders Ranges to pick up Grey-fronted Honeyeater and Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby, both showing well, allowing us time to observe some of the geological features of the region, including fossilised stromatolites and the fossil site of the Ediacaran fauna, which lived a little before the great explosion of multicellular life at the beginning of the Cambrian Period. It was cool and cloudy but once we’d left the mountains for the plains, the weather started to clear up. Stopping at various sites along the road we saw Elegant Parrot, Budgerigar, Pied Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, Chirruping Wedgebill, White-winged Fairy-wren and Zebra Finch.  At Lyndhurst, White-backed Swallows were flying around and Little Crows allowed good comparison with Little Ravens observed on the first day in Adelaide. Participants enjoyed a spectacular sunset with a nice cold beer.

Day 5. An early start this morning  to explore the Strzelecki desert. Conditions weren’t ideal - it was cool, cloudy and windy, but nevertheless we turned up some great species. At our first stop it didn’t take long to find 4 endemic  Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces. Thick-billed Grasswrens were running up and down dry creeklines and a pair of Rufous Fieldwren came to within a few metres of the observers. More Crimson and Orange Chats were seen as well as Pied Honyeater, Chirruping Wedgebill and Black-faced Woodswallow. We followed the Strzelecki track for some 200 km, birding along the way  and  we saw  a pair of Cinnamon Quail-thrush,  many White-winged Fairy-wrens but the highlight of the day was no doubt a soaring Black-breasted Buzzard allowing excellent views. We continued  following the Strzelecki Track across the  stony  desert, with occasional tree-lined dry watercourses, and after a few hours we reached  our picknick lunch stop at Montecollina bore. This artesian bore flows non-stop creating a small oasis. It was unusual to see species such as Black-tailed Native-hen, Red-kneed Dotterel, Pink-eared Duck and Red-necked Avocet in the middle of the desert…! More White-backed Swallows flew around here and hundreds of Little Corellas were sheltering in the shrubs. On the way back to Lyndhurst  we continuously scanned the track ahead for flushing birds, which could be Gibber (Desert) Chats, we saw many Australasian Pipits. After driving almost 500 km on unsealed roads, and within sight of Lyndhurst, a tyre blew at the same time as a pair of  Gibber Chat flew up in front of the vehicle,  allowing little more than a glimpse. After changing the tyre we were back in Lyndhurst just in time for dinner.

Day 6. The last day of this tour. We departed early yet again and followed the Flinders Ranges south. It was a beautifully calm and sunny day and we soon found ourselves in Port Augusta where 6 Banded Stilts were a tick for most participants. Main focus for the morning was the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. Here more Chirruping Wedgebill, Pied and White-fronted Honeyeater were seen and at least two pairs of Black Honeyeater brought the final Honeyeater species count to 14. Other species present in and around the Gardens were Black-eared and Pallid Cuckoo and more Crimson and Orange Chats.  We then followed the coast of the Gulf St Vincent and closer to Adelaide stopped in at Port Gawler, where a search of the coastal samphire marshes resulted in two much obliging Slender-billed Thornbills (race rosinae), and more Elegant Parrots. We arrived back in Adelaide  early that evening, after yet another very successful ‘Highlights’ tour!

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 21-26 November 2011 Highlights of SA tour

Daily account

Day 1. The tour started in the  morning of  21 November. While leaving the city we saw Long-billed Corellas and Musk Lorikeet. At the top of Mt Lofty it took some effort to find White-throated Treecreeper. Adelaide Rosellas where omnipresent. We explored tall dense eucalypt forest habitats nearby and, apart from a variety of Honeyeater species, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Scarlet Robin and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, saw a two Koalas. East of the hills in drier woodland we located three Purple-crowned Lorikeets foraging in flowering eucalyptus trees, and we had great views of an Owlet-nightjar and the rare Diamond Firetail. After lunch near the Murray River we checked out some local wetlands, with notable species being Blue-billed Duck and many Black-tailed Native-hens. At one of these wetlands we saw a native Water-rat foraging. We  followed the  Murray river upstream, stopping at a mallee reserve on the way where we saw Crested Bellbird, Mallee Ringnecks, Blue Bonnets and White-winged- and Variegated Fairy-wrens.

Day 2. A full day at Birds Australia’s Gluepot reserve. We arrived  at Gluepot around sunrise and spent considerable time in the first area, ticking off species such as Red-backed Kingfisher,  White-eared Honeyeater, Gilbert’s Whistler, Chestnut Quail-thrushSouthern Scrubrobins and Crested Bellbird. A fairly long walk led us to an expansive patch of spinifex grass where we had good views of a male Red-lored Whistler and a pair of Striated Grasswrens. Later in the day we were lucky to find a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos allowing prolonged views as they were feeding on fruiting bushes. The main drawcard of Gluepot, Black-eared Miner, kept us waiting till the very end, when we found a largish flock of hybrids x Yellow-throated Miners containing at least 2 Black-eared Miners. Other good species seen today included  Mallee Ringneck, Mulga Parrot,  White-browed Treecreeper,  Chestnut-rumped  Thornbill,  Varied SittellaChestnut-crowned and White-browed Babblers and Budgerigar. Back in Waikerie we saw White-breasted Woodswallows on wires.

Day 3. From Waikerie we spent some more time along the Murray river, notably at a Regent Parrot colony and other wetlands obtaining close-up views of an Australian Spotted Crake various species of waterfowl. We also saw a group of gregarious Apostlebirds. Via the historic township of Burra we drove towards the Flinders Ranges. After arriving in the spectacular Flinders Ranges we saw a Peregrine Falcon, a number of Inland Thornbill, a beautiful male Red-capped Robin, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and a White-eared Honeyeater. Three species of Kangaroo were seen: Red, Western Grey and Euro, alongside many Emus. In the evening we went spotlighting which resulted in a single Southern Boobook.

Day 4. After breakfast it was off to the nearby Short-tailed Grasswren site. It was cold, overcast and threatening to rain. At the grasswren site we saw glimpses of two birds and after a frustrating search of over an hour we went to another site nearby, where in the rain we had good views of one Short-tailed Grasswren.  We then proceeded through the very scenic Flinders Ranges to pick up Grey-fronted Honeyeater and Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby, both showing well, allowing us time to observe some of the geological features of the region, including fossilised stromatolites and the fossil site of the Ediacaran fauna. It was cool and rainy at times. We had lunch at the sheltered Aroona Dam but once we’d left there it started pouring down. A bit further up the road, at the Leigh Creek coalmine lake we saw White-backed Swallows and Australian, Hoary-headed and Great Crested Grebes. Closer to Lyndhurst the weather finally started to clear up and we proceeded to Mt Lyndhurst Station, where we quickly located a pair of Thick-billed Grasswrens, along with other good species such as Chirruping WedgebillWhite-winged Fairy-wren and Zebra Finch.  

Day 5. An early start this morning to explore the Strzelecki desert.The weather was good and we soon found a pair of Cinnamon Quail-thrush. After about an hour we found 3 Chestnut-breasted Whitefaces  and then drove up the Strzelecki track looking for Gibberbird, which was promptly found! Then we decided to make a detour via Marree to go to a nearby lake. This proved a good choice as on the shore of the drying-out lake we discovered a family party of 6 Inland Dotterels while on the lake itself were thousands of waterfowl, among which we eventually scoped at least 15 Freckled Ducks. On the way back we checked out the ruins of the ghost town at Farina. Other good birds seen today included Rufous Fieldwren, Orange Chat, Black-faced Woodswallow, Little Crow and Zebra Finch.  

Day 6. The last day and we departed early yet againfollowing the Flinders Ranges south. The weather was fine and we soon found ourselves in Port Augusta where a large flock of over 3,000 Banded Stilts were a highlight. Main focus for the morning was the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. Here more Chirruping WedgebillWhite-fronted Honeyeater and good numbers of Zebra Finches. We then followed the coast of the Gulf St Vincent and closer to Adelaide stopped in at Port Gawler, where a search of the coastal samphire marshes resulted in two much obliging Slender-billed Thornbills (race rosinae), and a flat tyre! Participants were dropped off back in Adelaide early in the evening, agreeing this had been a successful ‘Highlights’ tour! (Some people decided to come along the next morning to visit a pair of nesting Square-tailed Kites with two maturing young on the nest: a good decision!).

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Locations visited

Flinders Ranges


Land Birds 56 species
Pied Honeyeater (Certhionyx variegatus) 10 Gluepot & Pt Augusta
Brown-headed Honeyeater (Melithreptus brevirostris) 8 Gluepot
Blue-billed Duck (Oxyura australis) 5 Murray River
Chirruping Wedgebill (Psophodes cristatus) 4 Strzelecki track
Black Honeyeater (Sugomel nigrum) 4 Pt Augusta
Chestnut-breasted Whiteface (Aphelocephala pectoralis) 4 Strzelecki track
Black-eared Miner (Manorina melanotis) 4 Gluepot
Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) 4 Murray River
Gibberbird (Ashbyia lovensis) 3 Strzelecki track
Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) 2 Adelaide Hills
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater (Gliciphila melanops) 2 Monarto Cons. Park
Red-lored Whistler (Pachycephala rufogularis) 2 Gluepot
Slender-billed Thornbill (Acanthiza iredalei) 2 Pt Gawler
Grey-fronted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus plumulus) 2 Flinders Ranges. Total 16 Honeyeater species!
Rufous Fieldwren (Calamanthus campestris) 2 Strzelecki track
Purple-gaped Honeyeater (Lichenostomus cratitius) 2 Monarto Cons. Park
White-eared Honeyeater (Lichenostomus leucotis) 2 Gluepot
Black-tailed Nativehen (Tribonyx ventralis) 1
Little Buttonquail (Turnix velox) 1
Banded Stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus) 1
Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus) 1 Murray River
Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans) 1 Pt Augusta
Black-breasted Buzzard (Hamirostra melanosternon) 1 Strzelecki track
Inland Dotterel (Peltohyas australis) 1
Shy Heathwren (Calamanthus cautus) 1 Monarto Cons. Park & Gluepot
Major Mitchell's Cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri) 1
Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook) 1
Short-tailed Grasswren (Amytornis merrotsyi) 1
Striped Honeyeater (Plectorhyncha lanceolata) 1
Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) 1 'Adelaide Rosella'; 'adelaide rosella'
Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) 1
Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) 1 Adelaide Hills
Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) 1
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) 1
Western Grasswren (Amytornis textilis) 1
Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) 1
Musk Duck (Biziura lobata) 1
Nankeen Night Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) 1
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) 1
Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) 1
Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) 1
Orange Chat (Epthianura aurifrons) 1
Pallid Cuckoo (Cacomantis pallidus) 1 Pt Augusta
Striated Grasswren (Amytornis striatus) 1
Red-backed Kingfisher (Todiramphus pyrrhopygius) 0 Gluepot & outback
White-backed Swallow (Cheramoeca leucosterna) 0 Strzelecki track
Yellow-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus ornatus) 0 Gluepot
Gilbert's Whistler (Pachycephala inornata) 0 Gluepot
White-naped Honeyeater (Melithreptus lunatus) 0 Adelaide Hills
Yellow-faced Honeyeater (Lichenostomus chrysops) 0 Adelaide Hills
Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) 0 Flinders Ranges
New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) 0 everywhere
Singing Honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens) 0 everywhere
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis) 0 everywhere
White-fronted Honeyeater (Purnella albifrons) 0 Gluepot
Crescent Honeyeater (Phylidonyris pyrrhopterus) 0 Adelaide Hills



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