Parks A good thing about Port Lincoln was that it was located relatively close to several great parks. Sure there's a lot of farmland on the entire Eyre Peninsula, but there's also little pockets of preserved wild lands. It was great when we found the time to explore them. We didn't explore them in the full sense of camping, which we would have loved to have done. With work we could only enjoy these places for a few hours at a time.
Lincoln National Park
I became most familiar with Lincoln National Park because of it's close proximity to Port Lincoln (a 10 min drive). I spent many mornings birding around the park entrance, which had been a good spot both for birds and kangaroos. The rest of the park had plenty of wildlife as well. There was an extensive trail system throughout the park. I haven't explored much of the trails. but the parks seemed like a great place to hike though if it weren't for the occasional 4x4 that drives on the trails. I'm not sure how often vehicles drive on the hiking trails, but there was plenty of evidence that it happened. And it didn't seem like the park puts much effort into keeping them off the trails. We had gone out to most of the drivable portions in the park. September Beach was a really beautiful sandy beach for swimming, although it looked very well used by vacationers. Cape Donington nearby offered a good view (through a scope) of Donington Island, which was covered by Pied and Black-faced Cormorants when we were there. There were also New Zealand fur seals and many Australian Sea Lions sleeping on the rocks. Surfleet Cove was very shallow with calm waters. Perfect for kids to run around on. The view from Stamford Hill offered views of Proper and Boston Bays as well as Port Lincoln across the water. Taylors Landing was mainly a boat launch. The beach to the north of the launch had many cuttlefish skeletons. I also saw several Hooded Plovers on that beach. Wanna Lookout was one of my favorite places in the park - with sweeping cliff side views of the rocks below. Just south of the lookout was a nice small sandy beach where we went swimming. The water exchange was considerable high here, so the water was pretty cool. But the scenery was breathtaking and the seclusion was worth it. Sand dunes spread on the horizon to the south, waves crashed on the rocks to the east, and soft sand squished between toes. You couldn't ask for much more on a sunny Australian day.
There were also other roads through the park that require 4 wheel drive. We didn't go on those roads, but the one place I wish I did get to see was Memory Cove Protection Area. The key to the area was available through the tourist information center. We didn't get the chance to see the area, but looked very beautiful from the postcard pictures.
Coffin Bay National Park
This was the first national park in Australia that I went to, so it holds a special place in my heart. Added to that it also was where I saw my first emu and kangaroo. The bonus was it truly was a beautiful park with picturesque sandy beaches and stunning views of the ocean and coastline. A lot of this park was unexplored by myself due to the fact that most of the roads required 4 wheel drive and it took several hours to drive out to the end of the park. If I had more time, I think it would be worth it to drive to the end and to camp out there. There's many possibilities in the park and we only saw a small portion of it.
Sleaford Mere Conservation Park
We hiked out to the mere one morning from Lincoln National Park. We didn't really know what we were looking at when we got to the murky sulfur-smelly waters of this large mere. Odd rock formations made up the shoreline. Little did we know at first glance that these rock formations were made by a primordial ooze. Stromatolites are an early life form, a sort of microbial mat that deposits mineral while producing oxygen. Sleaford Mere was one of the places where you can observe this significant organism that loves saline and warm environments. It was definitely interesting biologically even if there wasn't a whole lot to observe or to call cuddly.
The mere was also accessible by car. A well hidden road was found off to the left after passing the Lincoln National Park entrance. It looked like the road followed the shoreline of the mere to meet up with the other southern national park entrance, but the road got pretty narrow and brushy as it went on.
The mere hosted several diving birds including Little Black Cormorants, Pied Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes, and Hoary-headed Grebe. On the shores, I've seen Australian Shieldducks, Cape Barren Geese, Banded Lapwings, and White-fronted Chats.
Conservations Parks (Manilla, Murrunatta, Turncott, Hinck's)
There were several conservation parks scattered throughout the Erye Peninsula. From visiting these parks I've come to the conclusion that these parks were created first and foremost for their ecological importance and do not lend themselves to public access for the most part. The Lincoln Conservation Park, located across the road from the Lincoln National Park, was somewhat ill-defined. As with most of the conservation parks there were no trails, but only a sign.
The Murrunatta Conservations Park was an island of scrub and yucca trees amongst the of grain fields and dusty roads. There wasn't much to the park, except a sign and a maintenance road. It looked a lot like the buffer areas between the roads and the fields, except it was larger.
The Manilla Conservation Park would have been hard to find if it didn't stand out from the grain fields surrounding it. Still it was easy to miss because there was no sign, unlike the other parks. I tried to walk in the park since it looked interesting with the many sugar gum trees and mallee, but there was no trail to follow. I ended up walking on an old road that paralleled the main road, so I wasn't able to see a large portion of the park. What little I saw was interesting. A different environment at least.
The Tucknott Scrub Conservation Park, which was close to the Tod Reservior and north of Port Lincoln, looked like an interesting place to explore. If it weren't raining at the time I would have walked on their trail (which looked like an old maintenance road). They even had a boot cleaning station to help prevent the introduction of an foreign fungus.
One early morning, we took a long drive out to the Hinck's Conservation Park. It was inland from Port Neill, which was about 60 miles north of Port Lincoln. Driving on the dirt road through the grain fields was a different environment. We saw Australian Pipits, Brown Songlarks, Yellow-throated Miners, Crested Pigeons, and many Nankeen Kestrels. We actually didn't reach the conservation park because the road in required 4 wheel drive. We did reach Wharminda Soaks and the small campground, but didn't stay for very long, because had the long drive to go back to work. We took a quick walk around the area. Like the rest of the Eyre Peninsula, the forest and scrub were very dry. But there were some respectable sized trees; nothing compared to say the redwoods. But compared to the majority of scrub and mallee, there were actual tree-sized trees. We walked up a 4 wheel track to the top of a high point and got a glimpse of the rolling mallee-covered hills and the golden fields of wheat stubble surrounding the park. On the drive out of the park, we saw several shingleback skinks crossing the dirt roads.
Birding Spots of Port Lincoln
The great thing about birding in a new country was the fact that most of the birds I saw were lifebirds. So even the "trash" birds were a treat and even after realizing they were trash birds I was still enthralled by watching them for the 100th time. The trash birds of Port Lincoln included the Silver Gull, New Holland Honeyeater, Silvereye, Red Wattlebird, Galah, Masked Lapwing, and Rainbow Lorikeets. I found the Silver Gulls entertaining - they were small in size but large by rapacious behavior. Every moment they seemed to be fighting over any dropped scraps and would fly acrobatically around each other in competition. Of course they would be screaming most of the time to stake their claims. The honeyeaters often foraged in large groups gathering nectar from flowering bushes. When pished, they quickly respond by calling and looking at the pisher (me). I learned of their fast reaction by accident, when I was trying (unsuccessfully) to pish up a Blue-breasted Fairywren. The Red Wattlebird became another familiar call during my stay. It would often call even during the heat of the day - by throwing its head up and giving a rusty hinge-like sharp call over and over again. The Galahs and Rainbow Lorikeets would be quite active at dusk, when they'd come into feed on flowers and roost in the gum trees. While the trash birds were all good and entertaining, getting out to see something new was the spice of life (and kept me out of the doldrums), so I tried my best to see as many new birds as possible, while of course still going to work.
By the end of the trip, I had become pretty familiar with the birding hot spots around Port Lincoln, especially the ones that let me get in an hour of birding and without being too far from work. Of course it didn't start that way, but with much exploring and many early mornings I discovered some good locations to go twitching, as they would call it. In the end I saw 130 bird species, which I think was a respectable number given my time and distant restrains. Of the 130 species, 120 were life birds.
Starting from north of town, this well-maintained and used trail followed the shoreline eventually ending out at Billy's Light Point, which was east of the marina. Conveniently, the trail ran through the tourist park and I found it was a good place to do some quick in town birding. The nice thing about the trail near the tourist park was that it was buffered by a wall of restored scrub. It was a good place to see Silvereyes, Rock Parrots, and Superb Fairywrens. I had also seen a Spotted Pardalote, Blue-breasted Fairywrens, a Golden Whistler, and a Brown Goshawk in the scrub. These birds seemed to be passing through, so seeing them in town was a treat. The trail also provided good views into the bay where oystercatchers, White-faced Herons, cormorants, terns, and Pacific Gulls were easily found.
The trail near the tourist park was nice, but both ways quickly entered residential or industrial areas, which weren't as interesting naturewise. For a limited time frame the trail was nice, but when I had more time, I would drive to a larger birding area such as the entrance to the Lincoln National Park or to one of the following places.
Murphy's Point and saltwater lagoons
This area was actually pretty nice for being so close to town. However, there were many tracks going every which way through the park, but still there was a good amount of woodland and scrub that I found a good variety of birds, including Painted Button-quail, Purple-gaped Honeyeaters, and Scared Kingfisher. I also saw a Redback Spider, which crawled away before I could get a picture. The point also offered a lot of coastline for looking at aquatic birds, but the saltwater lagoons behind the racetrack hosted a greater variety of shorebirds and waterfowl. Most common were Common Greenshanks, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Grey and Chestnut Teals, and Australian Spotted Crakes. Twice I had seen a White-bellied Seaeagle fly over the area as well. This place seemed to be a rich little birding spot close to town.
The marine saltwater wetlands
Next to the marine was a large saltwater wetland that I stopped at just once. I went during low tide, which attracted many shorebirds: Red-capped Plovers, Red-necked Stints, Banded Stilts, Marsh Sandpiper, and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. There were also the usual waterfowl of Grey and Chestnut Teal. The area seemed to be a small haven amongst the surrounding rows of houses, but I wouldn't be surprised if the wetlands got filled in and paved over. Already the land seemed primed for a development. So this birding spot will likely no longer exist in a few years.
When we first zipped past this swamp at 100 km/h, we could see that it was full of waterfowl and shorebirds. Only 20 min from Port Lincoln, the Big Swamp quickly became one of my go-to birding places. On the north side of the freeway was a shallow wetlands. It was full of Black Swans, Black-winged and Banded Stilts, Pink-eared Ducks, Australian Shovelers, Hardheads, White-faced Herons, Hoary-headed Grebes, Pacific Black Ducks, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Cape Barren Geese, Red-capped Plovers, Masked Plovers, and pretty much all the types of waterfowl in the area. There were also a White-necked Heron, a Straw-necked Ibis and a Yellow-billed Spoonbill probing the wetlands. On the south side of the highway was large pond with dabbling and diving ducks, cormorants, and grebes. You can imagine my glee from seeing more than 20 life birds at once in one place. I returned to the swamp several times. On the 3rd or 4th visit I discovered there was a parking lot for the Big Swamp and a blind that looked over the southern pond. The blind was built by a group that surveyed and compiled a list of all species in the area. It was good to know that this swamp may have some protection or at least interest invested in it. On subsequent visits the shallow wetlands dried up and most of the waterfowl and shorebirds moved on. Still some birds remained in the other pond. The trees next to the pond hosted birds too. A troop of Black-faced Cuckooshrikes frequented the trees as did Australian Ringnecks, Australian Magpie, Grey Fantails, Willie Wagtails, Striated Pardalotes, and Yellow-rumped Thornbills. I also heard and caught a glimpse of my first Laughing Kookaburra at a nearby homestead. There was quite a diversity of bird life in this little gem of an area.
Sleaford Mere Conservation Park and Lincoln National Park entrance
I already mentioned these two placed before, but wanted to reiterate that they were good places to bird in the mornings before work. I think the Lincoln National Park entrance was a particularly good spot because it was a relatively open area. Compared to the thick scrub, it was a lot easier to see a bird or track down a bird that was singing. Birding in the typical bush can be quite challenging because well everywhere was dense bush which doesn't lend itself to bush wacking or being able to see around it. So the entrance was nice because there were bushes that you can circle around without getting stuck on an acacia bush. On one exceptional morning, I saw a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, a Black-eared Cuckoo, and three Bronze-tailed Cuckoos. The next time I went I didn't see any of those birds. I'm not sure why the fluctuation, but it was always fun to see what will turn up in the same spot.
Birding Spots farther from Port Lincoln
As with many places, I didn't have a lot of time to full explore farther away from Port Lincoln. I did manage to visit to these places briefly and thought they held a lot of potential for birding and enjoying nature.
We traveled to the west side of the peninsula to Cole's Point, a supposedly good look out for pelagic birds. In addition to the good view to the ocean (where I saw Australasian Gannets, and potentially other seabirds that were too far out to identify), there was a lovely rocky coast to enjoy that was perhaps comparable to the coastline found in Whaler's Way (bonus being it's free).
Tod River Reservoir
I only spent a brief amount of time here, but I noted a variety of habitats for birds. Below the reservoir was a wetland of thick reeds and a meanderings stream. Enclosing the reservoir was the typical woodland. The open reservoir itself offered muddy banks and a large body of water (obviously).
Mangrove boardwalks (Tumby Bay, Arno Bay)
I didn't actually get to visit either of these boardwalks, but they sounded intriguing.
Overall, I'm happy I got the opportunity to visit Port Lincoln. It was a good introduction to Australia culture, wildlife and perhaps a little of the lifestyle. I saw a lot of cool birds, wildlife, and scenery. I met some really nice people and had a good time getting to know my colleagues in a new country. Tunarama, shark diving, and kangaroo feeding will all be fond memories now. And I would love to go back to Australia. However, if I should choose to go back for vacation, I would definitely choose a different part of the country.