Laratinga Wetland was established in 1999 as a natural water filtration system to clean wastewater from the nearby water treatment work to a standard that will allow it to be reused. It is a haven for birdlife and counts have exceeded 159 species.
The water moves from left to right within the series of ponds (above). From time to time the ponds may be drained and the water level may be quite low. It is also a popular walking trail for people living in Mt Barker area. Despite this there are still ample opportunities to observe and photograph birds.
Let me describe several species that I have observed here. This is just a sample and I have omitted many common species.
1. Superb Blue Fairy Wren.
This is perhaps the best opportunity in Adelaide to photograph this species. Start at the picnic area near the south Eastern carpark amd walk slowly along the paths around ponds 8,9 and 10. The wrens will soon become accustomed to your presence and start foraging in the low vegetation and on the ground. Don’t walk up to the wren’s as they will fly away. Instead allow them to work their way towards you. Their movement is jerky so your focus will have to be quick. Alternatively pre-focus on a suitable perch and take the shot when they land on it. (They often do)
Don’t be fooled into thinking that 1 male has a large harem of a dozen or more females. Some of these are actually male birds. The bright blue colouration occurs only in the dominant male. The non dominant males will look similar to the female, but may be distinguished by bill and tail colouration. In spring the non-dominants will adopt full male colouring in order to compete with the dominant male for breeding rights. If lucky you may be able to catch a male in mid moult with dappled plumage.
2. Spotted Crake
The crakes are a small sparrow sized bird that likes to feed on exposed mud flats. there are three species found at Laratinga, spotted, Baillon’s and spotless crakes. They are usually quite shy compared to their larger cousins the moor hens, native hens, coots and swamp hens. You will find suitable mud flats along the creek between ponds 7 and 8. Sit down and take a rest for a few minutes and the crakes will appear as if out of nowhere. They can be territorial and take a lot of effort to shoo away other crakes from their feeding ground. They are quite animated and not short in character.
3. Hoary Headed Grebe
The Grebes are smaller than most of the ducks and like to feed underwater eating aquatic plants insects and crustaceans. They will up turn in the water, heads down and legs up and then dive for some minutes. Little trails of bubbles give a clue to the direction they are heading in. If you are patient you can see them re-emerge and settle for a few minutes before rediving. The feathers at the back are quite fluffy and seem to concertina down when they are diving. They are found on all ponds, but most notably ponds 3 to 6. See if you can get a close shot of the face, the iris of the eye is quite pretty. Australasian and Hoary headed are quite common, but if lucky you may find the Greater Crested Grebe.
4. Black fronted Plover
The plover is a waterline bird, foraging in the shallow water . They stand for a second, bob, and dart forward, then stop and dart forward again. They are quite small and require patience to photograph. Never walk toward the bird, rather sit still and allow them to work their way toward you. You will find both black fronted and Red Kneed (slightly larger) around the shoreline of lake 11 and on the embankment between ponds 9 and 10.
5. Australasian Reed Warbler
Occasionally as you walk around the lake, a strident and consumate full throated song will emanate from a thicket of reeds. The song is often being produced less than a meter from where you stand. Standing and peering for 30 minutes you may never see the bird. This is where you need a secret weapon. “Birds of Australia” phone app has recording of the warblers song. If you play the recording, the warbler may get so frustrated to spy his rival that he hops into view to out-sing the intruder. Although the warbler is one of the lbj birds(little brown job) , he is quite attractive when he is singing. With the larynx filled with air, throat feathers spread apart, mouth wide open, eye gleaming with intent. Well worth the effort of downlading the app. Other reed birds to watch for include the golden headed cistocola and the little grassbird.
6. Pink Eared Duck
It’s not hard to miss the fact that there are lots of ducks. Pay attention however as Laratinga is a great spot to see uncommon ducks. One of my favourites (above) is the pink ear duck. They are often in large numbers in the effluent ponds where they feed by filtering small crustaceans from the briny water with their broad flanged bill. They will often be found in smaller numbers in the other lakes as well. The slightly larger blue winged shoveller and freckled duck have a similar bill and feed in the same way. Other ducks feed by diving, (hardhead, musk duck and blue billed) or dabbling (black duck, various teal) or by foraging on land and the waters edge (wood duck and shelduck). In fact there is a lot of crossover in feeding strategies with some ducks. All of these ducks can be found at various times at Laratinga. Pay attention and look for unusual markings that may denote the less common species.
7. White Plumed Honeyeater
These gregarious birds are uniquitous in the woodlands surrounding the lakes. Look also for other bushland species like, new holland honeyeater, willie wagtail, the grey shrike thrush, bronzewing pigeon, Adelaide rosellas and various lorikeets. If you are lucky there is a small resident population of the crested shrike tit to the north of lake 9 and 10.
You can take good bird photographs with simple cameras, but it takes great skill to get close enough. Most bird photographers use telephoto lenses. Many compact cameras with 15 x zoom or greater are more than adequate for bird photography. With a SLR camera you may need a 300mm lens or greater to get good shots. If you have a standard 200mm telephoto, try buying a 1.7x or 2x teleconverter that will increase the power of your lens. Be careful as you must buy a teleconverter that is compatible with your make of lens and camera. Be sure to set a fast enough shutter speed when working with such big lenses, even if this means a higher ISO. Sometimes a monopod will offer some stability.
Many of the tips in bird photography are already mentioned as I describe the various species above. In general your aim is to get within the comfort zone of the respective bird species. If the bird is intent on feeding or courting, or caring for young, it is easier. It helps to understand their behaviour. You need to look disinterested, walk at an angle towards a bird, stop at a safe distance and take time to let them see that you are no risk . Photographs of birds are better if they are not static, but dynamic displaying the bird behaviour. Best of luck.