Newest bird sanctuary opens in South Australia for serious twitchers

By / 21st of August, 2015
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LOOK lively - if you’re keen to spot a rare or endangered bird, this week might be your moment. 

Marshes and bushlands the world over will be left bereft as more than 20,000 nature-loving men and women head to Bird Fair 2015 - the ‘birders Glastonbury.’

One of those attending is Peter Waanders of Bellbird Birding Tours.

Based in South Australia, he helps Australian and international twitchers track down the birds of their dreams. It’s called avitourism, and it’s big.

“About half of the overseas tourists come from England, with most of the remainder from north America. A smaller proportion are from northern Europe,” he said.

“They are usually university-educated and have money to spend.”

Independent studies confirm that travel costs associated with birdwatching place avitourists amongst the wealthiest nature-based tourists in the market place.

In the US bird watchers spent an estimated $15 billion on trips in 2011, and in the UK bird watching expenditure is estimated at $500 million a year.

Peter takes his guests on tours to the Adelaide Hills, along the Murray River and the Murray Mouth, the Riverland and Gluepot Reserve.

He also escorts visitors to the site of The Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary, which was recently established as a reserve to support 27,000 shorebirds. The sanctuary is located along a 60km stretch of coastal mudflats, mangroves and saltmarshes from the Barker Inlet to Port Parham, just north of Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia.

“It’s a good move to make it a sanctuary,” said Peter. “You see rare water birds that migrate from Alaska, Siberia and China – they spend the northern winter here.”

“Once they have enough fat and energy through feeding here, they can fly back again for breeding.”

Birds coming to the site include endangered species such as the Eastern Curlew and the Curlew Sandpiper, as well as the Red Knot, the Great Knot and the Bartailed Godwit.

But what are the avitourists looking for?

“Some people are just happy to see any new birdlife,” explained Peter. “Others will come with specific gaps to fill in a list.”

And when that elusive bird is spotted, emotions can run wild.

“Some people get really excited,” Peter said.

Peter says it is almost a 50/50 split of men to women on the tours, with just a few more men.

“A number come solely to look for birds, and spend probably two to three weeks in Australia doing just that,” he said. “Others do a mixture of activities, such as wine tours.”

Rochelle Steven, a PhD Candidate at the Environmental Futures Research Institute at Griffith University Queensland says that bird watching is very much a UK and USA hobby. 

"USA Fish Wildlife Service found 47 million people watch birds - in their backyard at least. In the UK the figure is probably around 30,000 and BirdLife Australia has about 10,000 members."

“However increasing numbers of Indian and Chinese tourists are getting into birding, with markets increasing as a result of the growing interest in bird photography.” 

The Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary is supported by funding from the State Government of South Australia, and will feature at BirdFair 2015.

 “Wildlife and nature are the two biggest draw cards for tourism in Australia and interest in genuine wildlife experiences is growing rapidly,” said Ian Hunter, South Australia’s Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation.  

“Significant numbers of inbound tourists visit Australia specifically to watch birds and it’s hoped that the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary will soon tap into this market.”

Key contacts

Patrick Cronin Office of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation
61 407 743 068 patrick.cronin@sa.gov.au