By John Pedler
Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Whether you’re an avid twitcher searching for an elusive avian treasure, or you’re just wondering what to do with your binoculars, South Australia is rich with great bird-watching locations.
Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary National Park – Winaityinaityi Pangkara
The coast north of Adelaide
This national park sits beneath the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), a shorebird migration route that stretches from breeding grounds in Central Asia, Russia and Alaska, to southern summer hangouts throughout Australia.
These epic migration journeys can include stopovers at various countries en route, although some birds choose to fly non-stop. One bar-tailed godwit was tracked flying from Alaska to Tasmania – a distance of more than 13,000km – without taking a break. Slightly less enthusiastic godwits can be seen spending summer at St Kilda and Thompson Beach.
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Thousands of visiting birds, representing 50-odd species, share the beachfront with local avian residents. Many of the long-distance travellers, including the curlew sandpiper and great knot, are critically endangered.
The sanctuary comprises several sections, running along 60km of coast from St Kilda to Parham. The main access points to the shore are at St Kilda, Port Gawler, Thompson Beach (considered a premium shorebird watching spot), and Parham.
Formerly a sheep grazing station, Gluepot was bought by Birds Australia (now BirdLife Australia) following the discovery of the nearly-extinct black-eared miner on the property. Since then, a host of other threatened bird species have been found in this vast, 54,390-hectare chunk of mallee scrub.
In total, 190 bird species have been recorded at Gluepot, including scarlet-chested parrots, stunning Major Mitchell’s cockatoos, elusive, ground-dwelling malleefowl, and the aptly-named splendid fairywren (main photo).
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Twitchers on the lookout for birds might also encounter echidnas, kangaroos and pygmy possums.
Gluepot is 64km north of Waikerie, including a 50km section of unsealed road from the Goyder Highway. When the road’s dry, it’s usually suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles with decent ground clearance.
There’s a substantial (not always staffed) visitor centre onsite, where travellers can self-register for the three bush camping areas – Babbler, Bellbird and Sitella – complete with long drops.
This is a remote area and visitors must be fully self-sufficient.
Bool Lagoon Game Reserve and Hacks Lagoon Conservation Park
The Bool Lagoon area is an extensive seasonal freshwater wetland providing a haven for a variety of birds. Among the lagoon system’s feathered stars are brolgas, magpie geese, and the endangered black-backed bittern.
There are walks of varying lengths throughout the parks. Highlights include a 500m-long boardwalk to a bird hide in the main lagoon, and the 1.4km-return Pat-om Walk to the deepest part of Hacks Lagoon, near the outlet of Mosquito Creek. Expect plenty of birds to turn up here.
For a panoramic view of the whole lake system, take the unsealed Lindsay Hooks Road to the pragmatically-named Big Hill Lookout.
The lagoons are 24km south of Naracoorte on a sealed road and the campground on a peninsula between Hacks and Bool lagoons is a further 3km.
Campground facilities include a long-drop toilet, electric barbecue, picnic tables and a shelter shed.
Botanic Park, Adelaide
Okay, they’re not birds, but they’re so fascinating they deserve a birdwatching guest pass. The grey-headed flying foxes that hang around Botanic Park started arriving in Adelaide in 2010, following food shortages in the eastern states.
Thousands of these flying mammals have taken up permanent residence in the trees south-west of Plane Tree Drive, just beyond the western boundary of Adelaide Botanic Garden.
They’re snoozy during the day, but at sunset they awaken to form a swirling airborne mass, before flying to their feeding grounds east and south of the CBD.
Unlike Dracula’s neck-nipping bloodlust, flying foxes aren’t aggressive and prefer a diet of fruit and nectar. However, they are wild animals and can carry disease, so it’s best not to touch them. Report any injured bats to City of Adelaide Customer Centre, Fauna Rescue or Bat Rescue SA.
Head for the zoo end of Plane Tree Drive to watch the great awakening, or find a spot in Victoria Park/Pakapakanthi to witness a seemingly endless line of bats heading off to forage.