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Citizen Science at Mutton Cove

Migratory Birds, Citizen Science & Conservation with Christine Gates

Tucked away on the northern tip of the LeFevre Peninsula is Mutton Cove, a Conservation Reserve with humble signage that is renowned for its resident and migratory bird habitat.

Take a look around in our latest short video – available here.

Neighboured by power stations, industrial tanks and gantries, it’s the perfect example of how nature can persevere in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Citizen Scientist, Christine Gates, has been monitoring the bird populations here for the past 4 years, as part of the City of Port Adelaide Enfield Flora and Fauna Monitoring project. She observes along a two-hundred metre transect and records the different birds she sees on a national database.

Thanks to the contributions of Christine and the other volunteers, they’ve been able to map the changes in landscape and the subsequent changes in bird diversity.

Monitoring the Changing Landscape

“It’s a really interesting natural piece of landscape here on the Peninsula where everything else has changed.” Christine says. “This has beautiful samphires and as we see, it’s a new mangrove forest that’s growing here as a result of the breach to seawall of the Port River in 2016.”

“Mutton Cove was a delightful, unexpected find for me, having lived on the Peninsula for decades – I didn’t know it was here.”

We meander along the path adjoining the mangroves, and Christine shares some of the interesting finds she’s had during her time here. “Recently we noticed that the bitter-bush plants have self-seeded!”, Christine explains excitedly. This is certainly worthy of celebration, as the bitterbush is the only food plant for the endangered Bitterbush Blue Butterfly. Other environmental groups, like Tennyson Dunes and Bringing Back the Butterflies have been working diligently to restore the habitat of the Bitterbush Blue Butterfly and reinvigorate their populations.

“The mangroves are currently fruiting” she says, as she points out the olive shaped fruits on the Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina) trees below us. “Their fruits will attract elegant parrots, so it’s really interesting to come down during this part of the season”

“There’s lots and lots of singing honey-eaters here too” she says. “This is kind of their place. You can often hear them singing. It won’t take much – you’ll see them flittering about.”

I ask Christine if she has a favourite bird and she says it has to be the Spotted Crake. “It took me over a year before I first saw it. It’s just a delightful, quiet, shy bird that comes out occasionally. You have to be patient watching it come out – it does some feeding, gets a bit skittish and then will disappear into the reeds again.”

“I also get excited when I see the migratory birds coming in, like the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and that’s always exciting to see them because they’ve travelled tens of thousands of miles to get here.”

Environmental Volunteering Opportunities in South Australia

In terms of advice for anyone wanting to get involved in environmental volunteering or citizen science, Christine says “When I started doing bird counts here, say 4 years ago, I knew nothing about birds, at all. I started going along to Bird SA excursions to learn a bit about birds and then I’ve got a couple of mentors who are very experienced with birds. When I started at Mutton Cove I didn’t know much about the birds at all, but over time and speaking to my mentors, I was able to learn a lot about the local birds here.”

Becoming a citizen scientist volunteer for the City of Port Adelaide Enfield is just one of the hundreds of environmental volunteering opportunities that are available in South Australia.

If it’s citizen science that tickles your fancy, there are opportunities to map microplastics in waterways across Australia with AUSMAP, to recover lost seagrass meadows with OzFish’s Seeds for Snapper program, to gather data about the health of the Great Southern Reef with Reef Watch SA and to monitor orchids, butterflies, echnidas, koalas, frogs, fungi, pollinators and many more.

You can find stacks of other opportunities in our Citizen Science Handout.

Environmental volunteering isn’t just about citizen science. If gardening is your cup of tea, why not become a collector for the Semaphore Compost Network, turning food waste from your local café into a bountiful garden.

Or join a local community garden! Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb, or are garden-curious, this is the perfect place to connect with community and enjoy some time outdoors. Check out the exciting new community garden being established at the Queenstown Community Hall through the Neighbourhood Program at The Pear Café.

There are also passionate groups who are defending and restoring our dune systems, like the Wara Wayingga Tennyson, Taperoo, North Haven & Semaphore Largs Dunes groups. 

And of course, there’s the Port Adelaide Residents Environment Protection Group (PAREPG), who are working on ground at Biodiversity Park, just across the peninsula. They’re advocating for the protection and improvements of our open spaces, including championing for a bio-link across Lefevre Peninsula which will connect conservation areas like Mutton Cove.

Looking for a bit more adventure? Why not try volunteering as a snorkel guide with Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries, who are educating ocean lovers about South Australia’s unique marine life.

Environmental volunteering is a brilliant way to learn more about your local landscape, connect with like-minded folk and contribute to conservation and sustainability in real, tangible ways.


Send us an email at or message us on Instagram or Facebook @portenvironmentcentre to find a project that floats your boat!

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