Adelaide's Samphire Coast
December 16, 2014
Just north of Adelaide on the coast of Gulf St Vincent lies one of South Australia’s most important areas for migratory and resident shorebirds. The “Samphire Coast” supports nationally and internationally significant numbers of migratory and resident shorebirds. At least 52 shorebird species, including 37 migratory species, have been recorded in the Samphire Coast area which regularly supports in excess of 60,000 shorebirds and provides a diversity of habitats for birds to roost and feed including beaches, tidal saltmarshes, sandflats and mudflats, salt evaporation pans and seasonal freshwater lakes (source: Birdlife Australia).
Many of these species migrate from our coast through south-east Asia, China, Korea and Japan to the northern hemisphere to breed in the arctic summers in Mongolia and Siberia. This range of flight paths and stopovers is called the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Some of these species occur in internationally significant numbers, (>1% EAA Flyway population) others are vagrant species, rarely seen.
Shorebirds benefit from the unique mix of natural and artificial habitats along the Samphire Coast. Extensive tidal mudflats are a prime low-tide feeding area. Samphire saltmarshes provide high-tide feeding and roosting areas, as well as important breeding habitat for resident shorebird species. Some low-salt and fresh water environments exist and are preferred by certain shorebird species. Good numbers of resident Red-capped Plovers are joined by thousands of migratory Red-necked Stints, Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Eastern Curlew, Pacific Golden and Grey Plover, and to a lesser extent, Lesser and Greater Sand-plover. Rarities often turn up, and in recent years these have included Long-toed Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Little Curlew, Ruff and Oriental Plover. Banded Stilt can also regularly be seen in good numbers, providing they’re not at their breeding grounds in outback salt lakes.
In addition to its value to shorebirds, the Samphire Coast is important habitat for many other coastal birds and seabirds, including Slender-billed Thornbill, White-winged Fairy-tern, Elegant Parrot, Rock Parrot, Little Egret and Fairy Tern. It’s even been known to host the odd wintering Orange-bellied Parrot or two! The Samphire Coast is part of the EPBC-listed Subtropical and temperate coastal saltmarsh threatened ecological community and contains the largest area of critical habitat for the nationally vulnerable Bead Samphire (Tecticornia flabelliformis). It also supports many regionally significant species, including coastal-dependent reptiles and rare butterflies (Source: Birdlife Australia).
Much of the Samphire Coast has been protected by default, due to limited access. Even so, in some areas habitats have been degraded, and native species are threatened by factors including invasive pest plants and animals, human impacts - particularly from off-road vehicles, and urban development. Climate change and sea level rise also have potential to impact and significantly change the nature of the Samphire Coast.
Along the Samphire coast the main places of interest from a birdwatching perspective, from south to north, are:
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->St Kilda (tidal mudflats and mangroves, including mangrove boardwalk);
- Port Gawler Conservation Park (low dunes and samphire flats);
- Middle Beach (tidal mudflats and samphire flats, including samphire discovery walking trail);
- Port Prime (low dunes and samphire flats);
- Thopmson Beach (samphire flats, low dunes, sandy beaches, tidal mudflats, including the shorebird discovery walking trail);
- Webb & Port Parham beaches (sandy beaches, tidal mudflats);
- Port Wakefield estuary, boat ramp & surrounds (samphire flats, low dunes, sandy beaches, tidal mudflats, various walking trails)