Strong easterly winds are blowing in unique visitors to South Australian shorelines.

Rare shorebirds, including two spotted in the state for the first time, have delighted birdwatchers this winter. 

Birds SA rare birds committee chair Colin Rogers said white-fronted and Antarctic terns were roosting on jetties and rock walls together with “local residents”, greater crested terns.

“Antarctic terns are the one that the birdwatchers want to see. They’re pretty rare on Australian coastlines,” he said.

“The greater crested terns are … commonly found from Port MacDonnell to Robe in south-eastern South Australia, as well as many other Australian coastlines.”

Greater crested terns at Beachport this winter.(Supplied: Heather Burdon)

Changing climate 

The compact grey-and-white Antarctic terns, which have a black cap, distinctive red bill, and red legs with webbed toes, come on shore with strong winds and land at one or two spots around Port MacDonnell, South Australia’s southernmost point.

An Antarctic tern with its distinctive red bill is a rare sight in south-eastern South Australia.(Liam Quinn / Antarctic tern flying over St Andrews Bay, South Georgia, British Overseas Territories / CC BY-SA 2.0)

“We typically only see Antarctic terns with the New Zealand-born white-fronted terns, so I believe they’re coming on the same winds and paths,” Mr Rogers said.

Two other shorebird visitors have been spotted on South Australian coastlines for the first time.

“We recently had a New Zealand storm petrel and a providence petrel — these are the first two recorded sightings in South Australia,” Mr Rogers said.

“It’s quite amazing — and I think it’s due to the strong easterly winds we’ve been getting in the past month or so.”

Mr Rogers said changing weather patterns and habitats were impacting bird behaviour.

“Global warming is changing the wind patterns somewhat, and we’ve been getting birds blowing in from the east across Bass Strait and southern Tasmania that we either haven’t seen in large numbers — or at all — here in South Australia,” he said.

Greater crested terns at Beachport rock wall and jetty.(Supplied: Heather Burdon)

Birdwatchers encouraged to report rare sightings

For Beachport residents, the sight of the terns is a spectacle.

“They are fascinating to watch when feeding in Rivoli Bay,” Heather Burdon said.

“The terns fish in groups and can sometimes be seen diving into the water from heights to catch small fish. They have been coming to Beachport and Southend for quite a few years now.”

She said there was only one “downside” to the flocks of tiny visitors.

“Unfortunately, the terns have also taken a liking to the jetty here and in Southend where they create quite a mess,” she said.

Terns, petrels … even penguins

Avid local bird watcher and Friends of Shorebirds South East chair, Jeff Campbell, said groups such as his and Birds SA were always keen to hear about rare bird sightings.

The providence petrel has been spotted in South Australia for the first time.(Toby Hudson, petrel on the walk up Mount Gower on Lord Howe Island / CC BY-SA 2.5 AU)

In January, Mr Campbell was with friends surveying bird numbers on a beach in South Australia’s Coorong area when they encountered a king penguin.

A king penguin seen on a beach in South Australia’s Coorong area.(Supplied: Steve Jenkins)

King penguins normally only live in Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic islands.

“We were up high on the beach. We stopped and it kept on walking up towards us,” Mr Campbell said.

He said the penguin might have come onto the beach to moult.

The only penguins that usually live in South Australia are little penguins, also known as fairy penguins.

Mr Rogers said getting information about penguin sightings could be particularly challenging.

“People may come across them and, for various reasons, not want to tell anyone,” he said.

But he said Birds SA and other bird groups always encouraged people to get in touch if they spotted a rare seabird.

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