TOP Aussie Birding Spot #1 – Somewhere in the Adelaide Hills …

Last Updated on April 15, 2019 by Red Nomad OZ

The Secret Lake in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia
The Secret Lake in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia

I slowly climbed the hill through the knee high dry grass, each step raising a cloud of dust. Every stick looked like a snake. But that was better than the other way around.

The heavy breathing behind me increased. The horse that owned the paddock was getting tetchy. I wondered what he’d do when he found out the camera bag over my shoulder didn’t contain carrots. Praise be for horse-proof gate latches!

From TOP Left: Galah, Welcome Swallow, Nankeen Night Heron, and BOTTOM: Spot the Black-fronted Dotterel!
From TOP Left: Galah, Welcome Swallow, Nankeen Night Heron, and BOTTOM: Spot the Black-fronted Dotterel!

There were other ways of getting to our favourite photography birding spot, but getting there was half the fun. The other half was having the lake to ourselves.

Upside Down Reflections!
Upside Down Reflections!

And that’s SO not going to change …

Yes, there’s a deep irony in the first of my series about our TOP Aussie Birding Spots being in a secret location.

But it’s not because we’re miserable beggars (I hope you admire my restraint!) who enjoy knowing something that not many others know, or even in taking a childish delight when enjoying a cruel laugh at their expense (although if I’m being perfectly honest …).

No, I can do WAY better than that.

  • The lake’s on private property.
  • It’s only accessible on the weekend.
  • We’ve got permission from the owner.
  • And the birds are skittish enough as it is.

So given that you’ll never know exactly where this birding hotspot is from me, the least I can do is taunt you with show you its delights. And one day, when our fantasy comes true and the owners allow us to build a weekender/bird hide there, we just might share it more openly!

What's a Lake without dead Trees?!
What’s a Lake without dead Trees?!

Although other spots may have greater numbers, more species and rarer birds, this little lake somewhere in the Adelaide Hills is what photography birding is all about.

It’s an Australian White Ibis rookery.

The Water's Edge
The Water’s Edge

It’s got the requisite dead trees, branches skewed artistically and photographically against the blue South Australian summer sky.

The trees reflected on it’s sometimes wind-dappled, sometimes mirror-like surface are a photographers fantasy.

And the reeds at the other end make a fine photographic challenge.

Although maybe not to a REAL photographer …

Oops!  There I go again, talking about photography instead of birding …  I mean, of course, that the variety of habitats means there’s always an interesting bird or two to spot!!

The Mount Lofty Ranges, although a relatively low range rising from the surrounding plain (Mt Lofty at only 727 metres above sea level (2385 ft) is the highest), are still high enough for a milder climate and higher rainfall.

In a ‘good’ year, it’s even been known to snow on Mt Lofty! However, in a ‘bad’ year – like February 1983’s Ash Wednesday – the (locally known) Adelaide Hills can be strafed by bushfires. But, even during the traditionally hot and dry South Australian summer, the hills are a stretch of sweeping views to the ocean, picturesque towns, gourmet food and wine, orchards and gardens.

Reeds at the Lake
Reeds at the Lake

The natural attractions and unspoiled habitats like ‘our’ lake are a bonus in this region known for its scenic beauty.

And an even bigger bonus are the birds, of course!

Random Water Reflections
Random Water Reflections

I first used my new digital camera here in January 2012, so each visit records my photographic journey and changes in style.

Oh! AND also a record of the ever-changing bird life on the lake!!

Each of us secretly hopes like hell something different is sitting there waiting for us to spot and/or photograph.

And on this thankfully snake-free day in early January, we were in luck! Pink-eared Duck made its first appearance here – as recorded by us, anyway.

Pink-eared Duck
Pink-eared Duck

Flocks of Ibis adults and young circled high above and a pair of Little Pied Cormorant shared nesting duties a few metres above the water.

Galahs gazed down from the ever-so-photographically-perfect bare tree branches against that marvellous blue sky, and Australasian Grebe swam across the lake with several young ones trailing in its wake.

A flock of Black-tailed Native Hen ducked in and out of the undergrowth edging the lake, tails bobbing just like Black-fronted Dotterel on a nearby sandy shore.  Reed Warbler, flitting in and out of the reeds were drowned out by the panic of a few Purple Swamphen, startled into raucous flight.

If you get the impression you’re being watched, you probably are. But not just by the birds. Often the last remaining secluded source of water in this part of the Adelaide Hills during summer, other birds and animals often drop in.

The Watcher in the Woods ...
The Watcher in the Woods …

But on this early January 2014 day, so much was happening we barely noticed the absence of Rufous Night Heron, Rainbow Bee-eater and Spotted Crake, seen here on other visits. Or the passage of time … just when you think it’s all over, something else worth photographing staying for a bit longer to watch happens. Like the cormorant nesting changeover. Or the ibis feeding its young. Or a kangaroo coming down for a drink.

Australian White Ibis feeding its young
Australian White Ibis feeding its young

Or just the interplay of light, shade, reflections, colours and wind on the water. Yes, a photographer’s fantasy all right – especially when that (amateur) photographer is in ‘I’ve-got-a-new-camera’ mode!!

Still Life with Australasian Grebe
Still Life with Australasian Grebe

If I’d worn my watch, I’d have known exactly how much time we spent there – although maybe taking photos isn’t the only reason to bring the camera … if only I’d thought of that at the time!

Cormorant (left) and Ibis Nests
Cormorant (left) and Ibis Nests

And the time passed remarkably quickly given our ‘quick walk before breakfast’ plans!

Just loving myself to bits with these 'Still Life with Grebe' shots ...
Just loving myself to bits with these ‘Still Life with Grebe’ shots …

But who needs breakfast on a glorious photographic birding adventure in a place like this?

Besides, incorporating chocolate into a meal is much more socially acceptable at brunch, anyway!

Finally, hunger and fatigue drove us back through the paddock towards home.

Tricking the horse into staying on the other side of the gate was easy – this time – but I suspect he’ll have his revenge if we turn up again without a couple of carrots.

But I don’t care. As long as the snakes keep their distance!

My very first digital photo of the lake, January 2012
My very first digital photo of the lake, January 2012
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  1. That looks like a great place to watch birds – I’d by there a lot if it was on my patch!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  2. It’s wonderful to have a secret spot to view the wildlife and of course take photos. Congrats on the new camera. You have some fantastic shots here. My favorites are the still life with grebe shots. That water is just amazing.

  3. Superb, magical photos! I can tell that you had fun, just from these marvelous shots. I hope there was a bakery nearby…

  4. Fabulous reflections here Red, the upside down reflection caused me a bit of puzzlement (it is after 1 am here in Perth) Excellent selection of bird sightings also, love to see the Welcome Swallows. Come on now, it’s seriously easy to incorporate chocolate into every meal.. for instance ‘pain au chocolat’ for brekkie.. oh yes please 🙂

  5. I love how passionate you twitchers get about your birds! I must confess I don’t think I’d be able to last too long hanging around waiting for one, but that said I have a few favourites that I love to see, one of which only seems to appear near my house on special occasions and fills me with love every time I see it. So maybe I do have twitcher tendencies after all?

  6. Great post, love the bush around the lake. Funny how the pollies have managed to change the Mt.Lofty Ranges to the Adelaide Hills over the years. Yes Ash Wednesday was a bummer for us too. Ours was the oldest house on the mountain and like all other, except one and a couple of cottages, of the historic houses on the ridge, it too perished. It is a bugger of a summer, we have to sell off our sheep because our main stock water supply dam has blue green algae for the first time ever.
    So glad you have a nice place like this to go to.

  7. What a great place to bird and photograph.. The birds are all wonderful and the scenery is beautiful.. I love the reflections. I hope it remains a secret place, but thanks for sharing with me.. Have a happy weekend!

  8. Oh, truly magical! I really like the dappled waters edge pic. And, I love that in the third photo, the darker reflection makes the image seem as though taken in the evening – and little flecks of bark and leaves look like stars among the clouds and branches. Beautiful. All of them!
    I’m glad that this wonderful lake is kept a secret. There should still be secret places in the world that few can get to.
    So glad you could share the magic in pictures.

    Oh, and speaking of calendars, I’d like to buy your Original Aussie Loo Calendar. Is it best to buy through CafePress, or do you also sell within Oz?

    1. Strange how the reflection photo looked so much better when I turned it upside down!! Who knew?!?! But glad you like it too. Thank you for your interest in my calendars – the Original Loo one is only available from Cafe Press. I’ve left a note on your blog in case you don’t see this one! Happy New Year!

    2. Thanks Red. Can’t wait to get it!
      Would love to see a “coastal calendar” too one day – with stunning coastlines and delightful lighthouses – who doesn’t love a lighthouse?

  9. What a beautiful and peaceful place. I am not surprised that birds love it. All photos are great, but my favourite is the one with the tree reflections in the water and the lone duck in the middle.

    1. Yes, the reflections are also my favourites – I can’t stop taking photos of the different patterns and colours the water makes! If only I could get the birds to pose!!

  10. Fabulous photos of your secret place for bird watching and photography. The latter interests me the most. Yes your photography has improved in leaps and bounds over the last two years. Well done! I like “The water’s edge” best. The wriggly reflection of the sticks and the lines leading your eye into the photo right up to Pilchard.

  11. Wow! Though I may never see your secret bird-watching spot in person, it sure was a treat to view it second-hand. I’ve never heard of a pink-eared duck! And, I see you also enjoy reflections. Thanks for sharing the beauty in your world.

    1. Yes, we have reflections in common! I LOVED your reflections shot – and am SO jealous I didn’t take it myself!! I look forward to catching up more often!

    1. If you think THESE are unusual, just wait ’til you see what I’ve got in store for you over 2014!! Thank you, and Happy New Year!!

  12. So you thought I went missing. Well I had to stay inside a while and work on my house. So glad you have brought the great outdoors to me these past weeks. I feel like I never have to leave the living room. Did I mention I had a Bobcat in the back yard? I feel a post coming on.

    1. A BOB Cat?? Hahaha, does that mean you now own a cat, or are you just talking about a small bulldozer?!?!?! It’s my privilege AND pleasure to bring the great outdoors to you … although the virtual outdoors is no substitute for the real thing. But you knew that, right??!!

    2. Actually a tiny lion/panther/leopard sort of cat. You will have to visit my blog for the “hare” raising details. Are you nibbling on the carrot I’m dangling here?

  13. I can’t blame you for keeping the location of this lake a secret. The birding is interesting, and the photographic possibilities are endless. Thanks for sharing it with us, but I hope you’ll go back to get more pictures. I also hope the snakes keep their distance.

    1. HHHMMMmmm… you might be sorry you said the photographic possiblities are endless … I’ll be sharing LOTS more in days/months/years to come! As long as the snakes stay away, anyway! Happy New Year!

  14. What a beautiful place. You taunt me with all your posts though — since I pretty strongly doubt I’ll ever get to see any of your special places. I love to find rookeries. So special….and the grebe watercolor” is great!

    1. So you think I’m taunting you?? Haha, then my work is done!!! And what do you mean, you won’t get to see any of my super spots? You can see them right HERE!!

  15. Oh, so much fun and so lovely too! Those upside reflections are mesmerizing! I wish I could hop into that warmth. Happy 2014 to you, hope it’s off to a great start!!

    1. I couldn’t believe how much better the scene looked when I turned the photo upside down!! Happy New Year!!

    1. Haha, not a snowflake in sight!! In fact, I’d be surprised if this spot has EVER had a snowflake!! Anytime you need a virtual break from winter, you know where to come!! See you soon – I hope!!

    1. Thanks, Margaret! Now … if we could just get some mega-rarities dropping in for a visit our lives would be complete!!

  16. Oh, I love it that you have a secret birding spot! Of course if I lived near you I would have to stalk your every movement until I discovered where it is…. (OK, only kidding)

    1. Hahaha … at least I’d know why I was being stalked! And I also know you’re really NOT kidding, right?!?!?!

    1. Thank you Joop!! I bet the Australian bush looks very different to anything you get to see in your country!

  17. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful lake. I think the owners are very wise to keep it secret, seeing such a haven ruined by tramping hordes would be the worst thing ever to happen.

    1. Sadly, anything between a rabid birder (not me or Pilchard) and a bird sighting tends to get trampled in the rush!!! Who knew how extreme and dangerous a sport like birdwatching could be??!!

  18. Lovely photos. Real city folk don’t worry about Joe Blakes. I do and so do you. I never listen to Melbourne broadcaster Neil Mitchell, but I vividly remember him reporting in 1983 as his house in the Adelaide hills was burnt.

    I found the descent to the city from the Adelaide Hills quite steep, at high speed. Just keeping up with the traffic, as they say, but quite hair raising among the experienced locals. Fortunately I avoided crashing into the pub at the bottom, but not everyone does.

    1. I was brought up in a place with no venomous snakes so they’re ALWAYS on my mind in OZ! At least they’ve got rid of the killer corner aka ‘Devil’s Elbow’ on the Freeway descent from the Hills onto the Adelaide plain – that upped the ante quite considerably!!

  19. Pouring over your beautiful water shots with the grebe. Nature sure is a masterful painter. And those tree trunks are intriguing too. i would be keeping a wary eye out for snakes too. When I lived in Tasmania, the sudden appearance of hoop snakes, out of a patch of Autumn leaves, used to freak me out.

    1. Hoop snakes?? That’s ALMOST enough reason NOT to go to Tassie!!!! Summer in OZ is full of hazards … but a grebe in lake reflections makes it all worthwhile!! Thanx for your kind words!

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