A blizzard of white wings erupts as your boat nudges closer to the sandbar. The terns are up first: mostly Crested Terns, but a few larger Caspian Terns and a scattering of diminutive Fairy Terns above them. Behind come the egrets — Little, Great and Intermediate — rising on more leisurely wing beats. And last to take off are theAustralasian Pelicans, heaving into the air then flapping ponderously, huge bills outstretched, as they labour to gain height.
This avian pandemonium is not your fault. A glance skyward reveals the telltale silhouette of a White-bellied Sea-eagle, arcing skyward again after its exploratory pass brought panic to the sandbar. But now everything seems to have caught the mood: a party of Little Pied Cormorants exit low over the water in formation, Straw-necked Ibisesrise above the marsh, and a crowd of waders dash along the shoreline — Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocetsstanding out among the smaller, speedier forms of Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Birds, quite simply, are everywhere.
The good news for birders is that South Australia does wetlands too, and few wetlands in Australia are more impressive than the Coorong National Park. This 130km-long stretch of saltwater lagoons, some 80km southeast of Adelaide, marks the final reaches of the Murray River as it snakes behind a barrier of sand dunes before emptying into the crashing breakers of the Southern Ocean. Some 240 species have been recorded here. Wander the coastal heath and you’ll also find such dry-land specials as Emus and Rufous Bristlebirds.
But it is not only in the tropical Top End that a boat cruise offers such riches for birders. Some 2,500km to the south, South Australia’s Coorong National Park is a very different habitat but an equally rewarding experience. Here, in contrast to Kakadu’s mangroves and swamp forest, your boat will ply a winding ribbon of estuarine lagoon, flanked by sand dunes and coastal heath, and leading, eventually, to the pounding breakers of the Southern Ocean.
In place of Kakadu’s Magpie Geese, the Coorong brings great flocks of Australian Pelicans, flights of Black Swansand parties of terns — Whiskered, Crested and Caspian — loafing on the sandbars and dipping over the surface. Red-necked Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Royal Spoonbills are among the countless wading birds sifting the saline shallows. Raise your eyes from the water and you might even spy an Emu leading his chicks down from the dunes for a drink.
Wetlands are not only about water birds. More than 200 species have been recorded within Coorong National Park, and wandering its trails on land you might encounter such specials as Beautiful Firetail, Golden Whistlerand — along the beach — Hooded Plover.
- Birdwatch Australia — Birdwatch Australia and its parent company Australia-Naturally Travel have been arranging bird watching and nature-viewing tours throughout Australia for over 20 years.
- Northern Territory — www.australiasoutback.co.uk
- South Australia — www.southaustralia.com
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