Saturday, 15 August 1998

AUSTRALIA 1998: South Australia (7-15 August)

The following is the third of four blogs covering a trip John Cooper, Gary Edwards and I made to Australia and New Caledonia in July and August 1998.  It is illustrated with prints I took with an old Pentax camera and subsequently digitised.  Another account of the trip, including John and Gary's time around Darwin after I had come home, was published in two parts by John Cooper last year (see  This blog covers South Australia and our return to Melbourne.

Friday 7th August (continued).  We entered South Australia declaring two bananas and a carrot, which were then hastily eaten, at a fruit check-point and after a brief stop by the Murray River hit the coast north of Adelaide at Port Gawler.  This was generally disappointing, although it did produce Slender-billed Thornbill and a few distant waders.  A look on the salt pools and coast along the St. Kilda road was, if anything, worse.  We camped on a site in West Beach.
Murray River, presumably not always this high?
Quorn, not quite Australia's wild west
Saturday 8th August.  We arrived at Adelaide Airport at 07.30 to collect a pre-booked 4WD from Hertz but one was not available – ‘our’ having been given to a film crew who had totalled theirs.  So much for having made a booking several months in advance.  Following some misinformation about the roads we eventually started the tedious journey north mid-morning in the car we’d arrived in.  A 17 km diversion along a muddy track due to the main road being closed north of Hawker for filming (of Holy Smoke) was made worse when we realised the film crew had probably been given ‘our’ 4WD along with many others!  It eventually proved to be worthwhile, however, with Chirruping Wedgebill and White-winged Fairywrens beside the track and a flock of Elegant Parrots by the road a few kms past the diversion.  We drove on to the company mining town of Leigh Creek arriving just after dark.  A strangely impersonal place but the main bar served excellent food.  We camped by the road a few kms further north.
South Flinders Range

Sunday 9th August.  We were up at dawn and after a brief look around continued north towards Lyndhurst, stopping 7 kms short where 2 rather distant Thick-billed Grasswrens and a pair of Elegant Parrots were seen.  We continued on to Lyndhurst and down the first part of the Strzelecki Track to the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface sites at km 26 and 27.  2-3 hours at the first site produced very little, a shy Rufous Calamanthus being the best.  A similar time at the ‘old mine site’ looked like ending up the same way until a funny little song drew my attention to a pair of Whitefaces.  We had excellent views of them for about 15 minutes, during which time the male appeared to be nest building, superb.  They eventually flew off several hundred metres away.  We returned to Lyndhurst and continued towards Marree, seeing a pair of Banded Lapwings by the road in fading light.  We camped beside the road just short of Marree.
Strzelecki track

Monday 10th August.  Concerned about taking an uninsured hire car further along a damp Birdsville Track than was absolutely necessary we decided to go as far as we could in a day or as far as it took to see Inland Dotterel, whichever was the sooner.  Three brilliant Cinnamon Quail-Thrushes beside the road just before Marree were an excellent start, with another 2 and then 7 a few kms down the Birdsville Track.  A Gibber Chat was seen while watching the last ones (14 kms out of Marree) and stopping a km further on for another Gibber Chat revealed 3 Inland Dotterel walking around behind it.  A further 5 Inland Dotterel and 4 Australian Pratincoles on the other side of the road capped a brilliant morning.  After watching them for some time we decided to quit while we were ahead and rather reluctantly turned back.  We drove back to the Port Augusta salt pans, stopping for another good meal in Leigh Creek and spent the last hour of light in scrub 9 kms to NW hoping for, but not seeing, Redthroat.  After dark we drove south to Port Lincoln, camping in Lincoln National Park.
Birdsville Track

return to Marree
back on tarmac and heading for Leigh Creek
Tuesday 11th August.  A disappointing morning at Lincoln National Park in rather indifferent weather.  No whipbirds were heard and only Gary managed to find a Blue-breasted Fairywren, which then immediately vanished.  Superb Fairywrens were much in evidence including four males chasing a female.  We moved on to the much more spectacular Coffin Point National Park where 3 Rock Parrots were found in the low coastal scrub, although a very pleasant walk along the beach produced Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers but little esle.  We left and started to drive north late in the afternoon, stopping for a flock of Cape Barren Geese in a field near Port Lincoln prison.  At Big Swamp, a few kms further north, we saw 20 Chestnut Teal and 6 Musk Duck as the light was going.  We continued on to Lake Gilles Conservation Park where we camped along the entrance track.
Coffin Point National Park
superb beach
all to ourselves

Wednesday 12th August.  Little was seen in rather poor habitat along the Lake Gilles entrance road although we did see for 5 Port Lincoln Ringnecks.  We continued towards Port Augusta stopping in much better habitat 54 kms short of Iron Knob.  Here we were very pleasantly surprised to find Rufous Treecreeper, while a broken wing display from a Western Yellow Robin was unexpected.  We continued to Iron Knob, turning south-east towards Whyalla and stopping after 10 kms where 2 Redthroats were seen (the first one flying in in response to tape).  Another brief stop at Port Augusta salt pans gave even better views of Banded Stilts (in better light) and we continued south to Port Prime arriving with just over an hour before dusk.  Two Stubble Quail and 3 Bluebonnets were seen on the approach road while 40 Fairy Terns were the pick of the birds seen on the shore.  Walking out on the mudflats (and rapidly returning ahead of the incoming tide) was tremendously atmospheric, with a superb light where we were, but very dark storm clouds seemingly passing all around us.  We drove back to Adelaide and camped again at West Beach.
Gary at Port Prime
very atmospheric
Thursday 13th August.  We returned to Adelaide Airport to change the Station Wagon for a saloon car that needed to be returned to Melbourne.  After stopping for 3 Musk Lorikeets in flowering trees in the parking lot we drove to Bool Lagoon by way of the Coorong.  We arrived early in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day walking the various trails and dodging showers.  We saw lots of water birds of which 200+ Pied Geese were unexpected if not overly attractive.  The same could not be said of 20 superb Pink-headed Ducks. Three Australian Bitterns were seen and 13 Blue-winged Parrots roosted in one of the drier reed beds.  We drove on to Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road, camping nearby.  John was breathalysed twice within half an hour at different local police road blocks!  A new experience for him.
Bool Lagoon

Friday 14th August.  We were up at dawn enjoying Loch Ard Gorge before any other tourists arrived.  Surprisingly no Blue-winged Parrots could be found although an Olive Whistler was new and several Rufous Bristlebirds were seen well.  It was nice to see the coast in better weather and we also returned to the Bay of Islands but only saw a Peregrine there.  We headed inland to Lake Martin, near Cressy, where we saw 16 Cape Barren Geese, 150 Straw-necked Ibis and 10 Yellow-billed Spoonbills.  We continued on to Long Forest for the last part of the day, although it was rather cold and small birds were not much in evidence, possibly not helped by the presence of a Collared Sparrowhawk.  After dark drove round the outskirts of Melbourne to Toolangi where we camped behind the forest centre.

Bay of Islands

not a very hospitable coast

west of Warrnambool
Saturday 15th August.  Three hours in the tall forest at Toolangi proved to be even less productive than our earlier visit and we left mid-morning to return to Melbourne International Airport at Tullamarine, having earlier stopped in a supermarket to buy supplies for New Caledonia (mainly tinned fish and biscuits).  We returned our hire car, showered in the airport and repacked before checking in for our early evening Aircalin flight to Noumea.
me at Toolangi
[blogged December 2015]

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