Simpson’s Gap Photo: David Fisher
Our Central Australia tour visits South Australia and the Northern Territory, two statesthat contain vast tracts of uninhabited desert wilderness and whose only cities of any size are located in the extreme south and the extreme north. We will explore the areas around both of these cities—Adelaide and Darwin—and will also visit Alice Springs, smack in the center of Australia. After a visit to the famous salt pans near St. Kilda, with their teeming hordes of wintering Palearctic waders, we’ll travel out from Adelaide via the vineyards of the Barossa Valley to the mallee around Gluepot Reserve. Here we’ll search for the many special inland birds restricted to this habitat, including the fascinating Malleefowl.
Then we’ll fly into the Red Centre around Alice, where spectacular desert scenery forms a backdrop to the many wonderful birds we’ll see. Darwin, in contrast, is tropical—humid, lush, and green with a rich and colorful avifauna. Its suburbs are filled with exotic birds and other bizarre wildlife and well merit the four nights we will spend there.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with either or both of our tours Australia: The Southeast -Tasmania, Victoria and the Plains-wanderer and Australia: The East - Queensland and New South Wales.
Day 1: The tour starts at the Adelaide airport at 10:00 a.m. From there we’ll drive north into the suburbs and check in to our hotel. After lunch in a nearby restaurant we’ll spend the afternoon visiting a local wetland reserve where good numbers of waterfowl may include Australasian Shoveler and the cute Pink-eared Duck. Depending on the tide, we may also visit the nearby tidal mudflats for a selection of herons, egrets, ibises, and waders, perhaps including Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers. Night in Adelaide.
Day 2: We’ll spend the morning at the St. Kilda salt fields, home to masses of waterbirds, including Musk Duck, Banded Stilt, Pied Oystercatcher, and Fairy Tern. Palearctic waders winter here in the thousands, and we should be able to study Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints at close quarters. After lunch we’ll drive through the world-famous vineyards of the Barossa Valley, stopping at Altona Scrub, an area with a rich diversity of indigenous plants. Here we’ll search the mixed Native Pine forest for birds such as Yellow Thornbill, Rufous Whistler, and the spectacular Diamond Firetail. Later in the day we’ll travel beyond the Mount Lofty Ranges to Brookfield Conservation Park, where in the late afternoon we’ll visit a colony of the rare and endangered Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat! Then we’ll drive on to Waikerie, where we’ll spend two nights.
Day 3: Today we’ll visit Gluepot, a reserve run by Birds Australia, Australia’s main ornithological conservation organization. This reserve, the jewel in the crown of Birds Australia’s properties, is home to no fewer than six nationally threatened species, some of which we’ll have a chance of seeing, such as the highly sought-after Red-lored Whistler, Striated Grasswren, and Black-eared Miner. Throughout the day we’ll have plenty of time to visit the various habitat types that make the reserve so special, including mallee scrub, where we should have little trouble finding birds such as Southern Scrub-robin, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Gilbert’s Whistler, and the local race of the spectacular Splendid Fairy-wren. In taller, old-growth mallee we’ll find several species of honeyeaters that should include White-fronted and White-eared. Later on we’ll look for White-browed Treecreepers and Crested Bellbirds in mixed Black Oak woodland and search the more open woodland and grassy bluebush clearings in the western half of the reserve for birds such as Mulga Parrot, Chestnut-crowned Babbler, and Southern Whiteface. The bird list for the reserve is extensive and the possibilities for us are almost endless. Night in Waikerie.
Day 4: This morning we’ll travel the back roads to Morgan searching for the gaudy Regent Parrot and the curious-looking Apostlebird, calling in at Hart’s Lagoon on the way, where we’ll see many species of waterbirds, possibly including Freckled Duck. At Morgan we’ll cross the famous Murray River by ferry, and after lunch we’ll look for Redthroat and keep an eye out for Ground Cuckoo-shrike. Then we’ll drive back to Adelaide, stopping for any birds we may have missed up to this point. Night in Adelaide.
Day 5: A morning flight will take us to Alice Springs, in the center of Australia. This is desert country and contrasts strongly with the more temperate south. Known as the Red Centre for good reason, the local landscape is dominated by the rich red color of the rocks, and its sparse vegetation provides a home for a surprisingly rich avifauna. After lunch in town we’ll visit Simpson’s Gap National Park, open scrub country with a wealth of central Australian birds, including Pied Butcherbird, Western Gerygone, Gray-headed Honeyeater, Zebra Finch, Black-faced and Little Woodswallows, and Dusky Grasswren. Local rainfall in these deserts determines the presence or absence of many nomadic species, and some years we also see Budgerigar, Diamond Dove, Rufous Songlark, and Painted Firetail. Among the marsupials, Black-flanked Rock Wallaby is a local specialty. Night in Alice Springs.
Days 6–7: During these two days we’ll visit several spots farther away from town. Our choice will be determined by the local conditions, but whichever we choose we’ll be searching for many of the same species, including Spinifex Pigeon, Dusky Grasswren, Rufous-crowned Emu-wren, Spinifexbird, Western Bowerbird, and Red-browed Pardalote. One afternoon we’ll visit the Old Telegraph Station next to the spring after which the town was named, a good spot to see Common Walleroo. That evening we’ll visit a pool where Bourke’s Parrots sometimes come to drink at dusk. Nights in Alice Springs.
(During these two days there will also be an opportunity for those who wish to visit Uluru [Ayer’s Rock]. This trip would involve an overnight stay at Yulara, the purpose-built tourist resort some 25 km from the rock. Transport would be by scheduled flight from Alice, and as you would be away from the birding group for 24 hours, you would inevitably miss some birds. The cost of this excursion would be in addition to the main tour cost and is likely to be in the region of $600–$800. Please contact the WINGS office for further details.)
Day 8: We’ll make a pre-breakfast visit to the ponds of the local sewage works to look for Hoary-headed Grebe, Hardhead, Red-necked Avocet, Black-fronted Plover, and White-backed Swallow. Being the only extensive wetland in the middle of a vast desert, the ponds attract any species that is passing through, and almost every visit in the past has turned up something unusual. We have seen such unlikely birds as Pied Cormorant, Freckled Duck, Gray-tailed Tattler, Long-toed Stint, Silver Gull, Orange Chat, and Brown Songlark. Who knows what we may find this time!
After breakfast we’ll catch a late morning flight to Darwin for a four-night stay. Here we’ll enter the tropics, encountering many new and colorful species for the first time. Figbirds perch on roadside wires, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes undulate overhead, and Pied Imperial-Pigeons sit in the treetops. After checking in to our hotel we’ll visit the nature reserve at nearby East Point. Orange-footed Scrubfowl—our second megapode—strut around the lawns that fringe the reserve, and Agile Wallabies graze on the short turf. Depending on the tide, we may check the exposed reefs for roosting waders, which are likely to include Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Asiatic Golden Plover, Gray-tailed Tattler, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, and Red-capped Plover. If the tide is low, Eastern Reef Egrets and Striated Herons are sure to be fishing in the rocky pools, and the occasional Brahminy Kite will be drifting overhead. Night in Darwin.
Days 9–11: We’ll spend these three days visiting a variety of excellent birding spots around town. These are sure to include the following:
At Howard Springs we’ll walk the nature trail in search of the brilliant-colored and aptly named Rainbow Pitta. Most of the world’s pittas are skulking birds that are extremely hard to see, but this one is the exception. There are lots of other forest birds to look for as well, including Australian Koel, Spangled Drongo, Shining Flycatcher, Little Shrike-Thrush, Yellow and Olive-backed Orioles, and a variety of strikingly patterned tropical honeyeaters. There is also a camp of Black Flying-Foxes here, as well as many exotic lizards, colorful turtles, and unusual butterflies.
We’ll visit Buffalo Creek, where depending on the tide, we have a chance of glimpsing Chestnut Rail. It spends most of its time hidden in dense mangroves, but we’ll certainly hear it calling and with luck might even see it. While we scan for the rail, other mangrove species will entertain us, perhaps including noisy Black Butcherbirds, musical Green-backed Gerygones, dainty Yellow White-eyes, and colorful Azure Kingfishers. On the nearby beach large flocks of migrant waders and terns may be roosting, and these should include many of the waders that breed in Siberia and winter in Australia. A few resident waders may also be present, the best of which would be the massive but surprisingly elusive Beach Thick-knee.
Palmerston sewage ponds may hold a few waterbirds to interest us (as well as our only real chance for a Freshwater Crocodile), but it is the fringing mangroves that will be our main focus as this is one of the few spots where we can hope to see Mangrove Robin, Mangrove Fantail, and Mangrove Gerygone. The surrounding grassy patches can also be good for finches, perhaps including colorful Crimson Finches and beautifully patterned Chestnut-breasted Mannikins.
A late afternoon visit to Knuckey’s Lagoon is always a delight as large numbers of waterbirds are sure to be present, including many herons, ducks, and waders. We’ll search among hundreds of Pied Herons, Magpie Geese, Radjah Shelducks, Green Pygmy-Geese, and Comb-crested Jacanas for scarcer species such as Wood Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint. In the past, local rarities have included Garganey, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, Oriental Pratincole, and Yellow Chat, so who knows what we may find.
One day we’ll drive to Fogg Dam in the early morning, stopping along the way to look for Horsfield’s Bushlark and Black-faced Woodswallow. The lagoons behind the dam were originally a rice-growing scheme, but thousands of Magpie Geese quickly put an end to that idea and the area was turned into a nature reserve instead. Now it is a mass of reedbeds and lily-covered ponds, home to many waterbirds. Among the scarcer species we’ll be searching for are Brolga, Black-necked Stork, Royal Spoonbill, White-browed Crake, Broad-billed and Restless (Paperbark) Flycatchers, Tawny Grassbird, and Golden-headed Cisticola. On the nearby Adelaide River we’ll take a boat trip to see the famous Saltwater Crocodiles—some of which do actually jump!
Nights in Darwin.
Day 12: The tour ends in Darwin after breakfast. Those joining the Australia: The East - Queensland and New South Wales tour will catch an early morning flight to Cairns (not included in tour cost).
Updated: 28 January 2011
- 2013 Tour Price : $5,850
- Single Occupancy Spplement : $800
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
* This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Please review the explanation of our Sunbird pricing here.
This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader.
Although this tour begins formally with the arrival of the flight from Melbourne bearing the group and leaders from our Tasmania, Victoria, and the Plains-wanderer tour, participants in this South Australia and Northern Territory tour will almost certainly want to arrive in Adelaide the day before. Those choosing to arrive early should contact the WINGS office for information and assistance.