Saturday, 9 March 2013

Photos from The Coorong, South Australia

Last November I visited Adelaide. The highlight was a boat tour of the Coorong - the lagoon system at the mouth of the Murray river, south of Adelaide. Although I grew up in Adelaide, I'd never been there before (apart from Goolwa and surrounds).

The area is particularly rich in bird life, especially water birds. I went on the Spirit of the Coorong, a commercial tour boat that runs regular day long tours.

The tour was run by Coorong Cruises. It departs from Goolwa wharf, which is just next to the newish Hindmarsh Island Bridge and goes past the Marray Mouth and past Lake Alexandrina (closed off with barrages) and stops a couple of times on the Younghusband Peninsular.

The Spirit of the Coorong
Best seats are at the top
Goolwa Wharf, next to the Hindmarsh Island bridge
The Hindmarsh Island bridge is decorated with wildlife artwork, such as this Sea Eagle.
Artwork, Hindmarsh Island Bridge
There has been quite a lot of development of canal & marina style housing estates around Goolwa and on Hindmarsh Island.
Apparently the owner of this colourful boat sailed it from Indonesia.
(Housing estate in the background)
The sea is artificially separated from the Murray by a system of barrages built in the 1930s. They keep the sea out and make Lake Alexandrina, including the river past Goolwa, artificially fresh. The lake would normally be estuarine, changing from fresh to brackish to salty depending on the river flow. During the last drought the water levels dropped behind the barrages, exposing a lot of dry lake bed and leaving boats high and dry.
Goolwa Barrage
There is a lock in the barrage to allow boats through, such as our tour boat. Two very wet years in the Murray-Darling basin has revived the river and there is still a good flow of water out of the barrage gates.
Open barrage gate
Sea birds (mostly cormorants) resting on the barrage.
Hindmarsh Island housing estate in the background.
New Zealand fur seals have recently discovered that the flow of fresh water out of the barrage gates brings plenty of fresh water fish - especially the pestilent carp.
New Zealand Fur Seal
The mouth of the Murray river, Australia's largest river system which drains about 1 million kmisn't much to look at. No wonder Matthew Flinders didn't find it. The mouth moves around from year to year with the drifting sand.
Murray river mouth
Past the Murray mouth is the Coorong National Park, complete with a large welcoming committee of  Australian Pelicans, the iconic bird of the Coorong.

We encountered huge flocks of birds, many resting on exposed sandbanks.
Cormorants (mostly Great & Little Black) and Pelicans
Cormorants in flight
The best views of the numerous small waders coincided with lunch. If I was a real birder, I would have passed on lunch, but I gave in to hunger and put down camera and binoculars. Later views I had were more distant so I couldn't identify them. I think they were mostly Red-necked Stints and I did notice a few Curlew Sandpipers among them but there were very likely other species as well. Real birders would have brought more powerful optics - I think perhaps 18x50 image stabilized binoculars would be good for viewing from a boat.
Small waders (Red-necked Stints? plus a couple of Masked Lapwings)
The were thousands of Grey Teal and lots of Australian Shelducks. I didn't spot any Chestnut Teal which are supposed to frequent the Coorong.
Australian Shelducks and Grey Teal (huge flock in the background). Also unidentified small waders
The Coorong is reputed to be a hot spot for Banded Stilts, but I dipped on them. However I did see a few Black-winged Stilts as well as some Red-necked Avocets.
Black-winged Stilts
Other birds seen on the trip include Cape Barren Geese, Caspian & Whiskered Terns, Whistling Kites, Red-capped Dotterels, Pacific Gulls, all the common Cormorants including Black-faced and Black Swans with cygnets.

The cruise stops at a couple of places on the Peninsular. At Godfrey's Landing we walked across to the ocean side for a demonstration of traditional pipi harvesting followed by a morning tea of freshly cooked pipis. We were plagued by mosquitoes on the walk across the peninsular, which was surprising given the warm sunny conditions and lack of shade.

The second stop was at Cattle Point, where we were shown some old middins.

Tour group explores the sand hills
Adelaide Hills resident
Finally, back in the Adelaide hills, there are now abundant Koalas that are commonly found in suburban gardens. They were not around when I lived there many years ago.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoos took a dislike to this one. The poor creature didn't know what to make of the fuss.

More photos: Google+ Album

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