Earlier this year I spent a whole afternoon birding at various sites around my hometown of Murray Bridge here in South Australia. One of those sites was the Rocky Gully Wetlands on Mannum Road. I frequently drive past this wetland area, glancing at the lagoons as I drive, but not stopping. I need to change that and linger for a few minutes and take a much more careful note of the birds present. That action is probably safer than birding while driving, anyway.
On this occasion, there were plenty of birds present. Around the lagoons, there were quite a few smaller bush birds in the trees and shrubs that have been planted in the area. This included Red Wattlebirds, White-plumed Honeyeaters, Singing Honeyeaters and New Holland Honeyeaters. I heard a Grey Shrike-thrush calling and several times I heard the resident Superb Fairy-wrens twittering their soft calls to each other. Several Crested Pigeons were present and three Galahs were the only parrots seen at this location. Normally, I would expect to see Little Corellas and several kinds of Lorikeets here. They were absent on this visit.
On the water of the lagoons or on the several islands I could see quite a few Grey Teal and Chestnut Teal, but interestingly, no Pacific Black Ducks which are very common in this area. A small number of Black-winged Stilts, Eurasian Coots and a solitary Purple Swamphen were seen, along with four Australian Pelicans, a White-necked Heron and a Great Egret. The egret was slowly wading in the shallows looking for a feed. It is a pity I didn’t get a good photo of this bird and its reflections in the water.
Of particular interest were the small group of both Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills. I always love seeing these species wherever I go birding. The most interesting sighting, however, was the count of twelve Australasian Darters. While this number is common in many parts of Australia, I have never seen so many in one spot in this region. Probably the most numerous species present were the Silver Gulls, with between 30 and 40 birds around the wetlands.
For each of the species mentioned in this post, I have written one or more articles about them on this site. To read them, go to the search facility in the top right-hand corner and type in the name of the species.
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A few weeks ago I participated in the Global Big Day. This was a special birding day held all over the world. Participants went out birding in their local patch. This could be your own garden, a nearby park, or a little further away. I decided to visit six of my favourite local birding sites, starting with my own garden. It was an interesting and relaxing afternoon. I visited several spots I had not been to in quite a while. Naturally, my camera came with me.
One of my birding sites was Sturt Reserve here in Murray Bridge, South Australia. This reserve, about five kilometres from my home, incorporates large grassed picnic areas along the River Murray. At this point, the river is quite wide and affords good views of quite a range of water birds, including ducks, coots, swamphens, cormorants, darters, pelicans and grebes.
The picnic areas have some old growth gum trees which are favoured spots for a range of parrots, cockatoos, honeyeaters and magpies. To the south of the reserve, there are several shallow lagoons. These generally fill up due to run-off from land nearby during rain. They would also be filled if the river ever flooded. There may even be a way for water to enter these lagoons directly from the river, but I am not aware if this actually happens.
These lagoons also attract a range of water birds. On my special day out birding, I saw Black Swans (see photo above).
As well as the swans I also recorded the following species:
- Pacific Black Ducks,
- Grey Teal,
- Pink-eared Ducks,
- Purple Swamphen
- Eurasian Coots
- Dusky Moorhen
- Black-winged Stilts
Please note that if you click on any of the above list of birds, it will take you to more articles and photos of those species.
Last week I wrote about a trip I took with my wife to celebrate our anniversary. We travelled from Murray Bridge to Victor Harbor which is just over an hour’s drive south-west from home. Along the way, we stopped at Milang, then at Goolwa, followed by an exploration of Hindmarsh Island, on to Pt Elliot and ended up having dinner at a favourite restaurant in Victor Harbor. While the day-trip was meant as a day out for relaxation, I had plenty of opportunities to do some casual birding wherever we stopped.
Pt Elliot is a lovely town of around 2000 population which swells in number during our long, hot summers. It is located on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula and was established as a port in 1851. It boasts the reputation of having Australia’s first public railway line which extended from Goolwa. This railway line provided a means to carry cargo to and from the riverboat trade on the Murray River to seagoing ships. The mouth of the Murray River was considered too treacherous to navigate. The railway line is still in operation, though now it only carries tourists.
Pt Elliot has a delightful, and quite safe, little beach known as Horseshoe Bay. On our visit, it was very crowded despite the cool breeze. The local lawn bowls club is right next to the beach, and adjacent to the Flying Fish restaurant, known widely for its excellent seafood menu. The local caravan park just around the bay a little is very popular in the summer months.
The birdlife here is a mixture of land birds and coastal birds. Of the coastal birds, I was not able to identify many on this visit. On Pullen Island out in the bay, I could see hundreds of Silver Gulls and several Pacific Gulls. A small group of Little Pied Cormorants rested on the rocks while the occasional Whiskered Tern, Crested Tern or Caspian Tern flew overhead. On the islands, I am sure that there were a few terns as well, though my binoculars were not strong enough for me to be certain.
Away from the water, the Singing Honeyeater is a common bird of the coastal dunes and nearby bushes. Crested Pigeons can be seen throughout the town, often perched on rooftops or television antennae. Small flocks of Galahs and Little Corellas flew overhead. More frequently encountered are the Rainbow Lorikeets, either screeching as they fly low overhead, or noisily feeding on any flowering tree of bush in the gardens nearby. The lawns were attractive to the Australian Magpies, their keen eyes on the lookout for beetles, worms and other tasty morsels.
- Readers can go to further articles about some of the birds and places mentioned in the text by clicking on the links in blue.
Earlier this week my wife and I celebrated another anniversary. My – how the years have flown by. We always try to do something special for our anniversary and agreed that the weather was suitable for a long drive and a picnic, finished by dinner at a favourite restaurant. After an early morning chat on the phone with our grandchildren, we set off towards Milang, which is about 50 kilometres from our home. We stopped at the local bakery to buy our lunch, a Cornish pasty each, and a large lamington to share.
We took our lunch down to the shore of Lake Alexandrina and had a picnic lunch on the lawns there. The largest river system in Australia, The Murray-Darling Basin, flows into this large lake, which in turn empties into the Southern Ocean near Goolwa. While we ate our lunch we watched some children playing with their dogs and on the playground. I took note of the birds I could see or hear, but things were rather quiet on that front – until someone disturbed a large flock of very noisy Little Corellas nearby. I have often thought that I would like to stay in the local caravan park right next to the lake, but I concluded that you would not need an alarm clock; the parrots would see that you woke at dawn, or even at first light.
From Milang we drove on towards Goolwa and explored Hindmarsh Island – but I will write about that part another day. Later in the afternoon, we stopped at Horseshoe Bay, Pt Elliot. This small town on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula is a popular holiday destination, being just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide. We stopped for a cuppa and some homemade biscuits in the car park at the lookout. I parked so that we had a great view over the bay. In South Australian history, this spot is quite important. Encounter Bay, which stretches for some distance to the south-east, was where English explorer Captain Matthew Flinders and the French explorer Nicolas Baudin met in April 1802.
While we were having our cuppa, a solitary Silver Gull settled on an interpretive sign just in front of our car. It obligingly posed for a series of photos which I am sharing here today. Silver Gulls are the most common gull found all around the coastline of Australia. It can also be seen far inland where suitable bodies of water exist, such as river systems, lakes, reservoirs and swamps. It can be very common in large numbers at rubbish tips, ovals, picnic grounds and beaches.
I love the dry country we have here in Australia. Most of my birding has been done in areas of Australia which have an average annual rainfall of under 250mm (10 inches). Some of this country is marginal farming country, sometimes cereals, and often sheep and cattle. I grew up on such a farm and still cherish my childhood adventures in the mallee bushland near my home.
On the road again
Earlier this week my wife and I travelled from our home in Murray Bridge, South Australia, to Sydney. We are currently staying with my son and his family. The grandchildren love having us stay with them. At ages 7 and 4 they are already showing an interest in the birds they see in their garden, and in the parks they visit. My interest has rubbed off on them.
The car journey from home to Sydney is over 1300km, two long days of driving. In future, we think we might take three or four days to get here, stopping more frequently at the many interesting places along the way. There are many national parks, reserves, botanic gardens and bushland on this route and we just have to drive right on by, often with a groan of despair at what we might be missing.
One of the places we drive through is the large rural town of Hay, located on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. The birding along this river can be excellent. But before we get to Hay we have to pass through about 130 kilometres of the Hay Plains, a dry region consisting of few trees, much saltbush and some grassland. I find this drive to be fascinating because it often reveals odd collections of birds. On one trip we saw hundreds of Emus grazing on the low vegetation. On another trip, after heavy rain in that area, we saw thousands of ducks, mostly Australian Wood Duck and Grey Teal. They were taking advantage of the long stretches of water still lying along the edges of the highway.
As we travelled along at 110kph my wife suddenly pointed out an interesting sight. It was a gathering of dozens of waterbirds: Australian Pelicans, White Ibis, Straw-necked Ibis and Yellow-billed Spoonbills. Harassing all of them from only several metres overhead was a Swamp Harrier. As we rushed by I didn’t have time to take in the presence of any other birds. I am sure that if we had had the time to stop, I would have recorded several species of ducks, perhaps coots, swamphens, egrets, herons and lapwings, cormorants, and maybe even some crakes and rails.
This was a very surprising collection of birds for what is essentially very dry country. The reason for their presence is explained by the presence of wide irrigation channels. The water is pumped from the nearby Murrumbidgee River into a series of channels, some of which are 5 or more metres wide. The water is then used to either flood irrigate large expanses of land, or pumped through long, overhead sprinkler systems. This area grows large amounts of hay, wheat and cotton, all irrigated from the channels. The fact that this also provides a perfect environment for numerous birds is a pleasant by-product. Further east there are large expanses of fruit orchards as well.
- Australian Pelicans overhead
- White Ibis at Dubbo Zoo
- Straw-necked Ibis Adelaide Zoo
- Yellow-billed Spoonbills and the birth of a birder