Wednesday, 26 September 2018
One bird species we were keen to see whilst we were in Victoria was the Little Penguin. We had only ever seen one penguin in the wild; that was a Magellanic Penguin (just one), off the coast of Brazil back in 2006. It was pretty distant, but unmistakeable-they only get one species there and it is rather sporadic, so we were very lucky with this individual. Anyhow, Little Penguins, the world’s smallest penguin species, are pretty common around the Victoria coast, if you know where to look, although, being diurnal, they tend to be out at sea, feeding, during the day and come back to land in the evening.
Actually, that behaviour has sparked quite a tourist industry, taking advantage of the penguins’ habits. There is a famous ‘Penguin Parade’, on Summerlands Beach, Phillip Island, where you can pay to sit and watch the birds come ashore, along with lots of other people. It may be a guaranteed spot but it really didn’t appeal to us much. A bit too commercial! Anyhow, we decided to head that way anyway, spy out the land and see if we could spot a penguin that hadn’t headed offshore for the day, keeping the parade on the back burner, if needed.
Phillip Island wasn’t far from our B&B at Corinella, and it is actually joined to the mainland (near the little town of San Remo) by a bridge. So far, so easy. The southern and western edges of the island, bordered by the Bass Strait and the entrance to Westernport Bay, are Important Bird Areas, especially because of the Little Penguins. There are an estimated 32,000 breeding pairs on the island itself; surely we would come across one! There were other birds we wanted to see, too, including Hooded Plover, an endangered endemic species of southern Australia and Tasmania. A search of E-bird had indicated that some had been seen, recently, on the beach at Surf Beach, so we were to head there first.
There is one main road round the island, and most of the sites are located off this road, so it was pretty easy to navigate. Surf Beach is a small seaside community; the E-bird checklist had specified looking from ‘The Esplanade’ and we found this pretty easily. We parked in a cliff top car park, overlooking the beach, and started to scan.
You can see that there’s a lot of sand to scan!
We were beginning to despair of finding anything, when we noticed a small ‘dot’, in the distance, running up and down the beach as the waves rolled in. A telescope view confirmed it; it was a Hooded Plover, albeit not a great view. Sometimes, in birding, that’s all you get. I took a photo, but you will have to believe me that it actually is a Hooded Plover.
The day was starting well. We decided to hop along the Bass Strait coastline, in case of more plovers and, anyway, it was a very pleasant day. One species that was everywhere we looked was the Cape Barren Goose. We’d been pretty excited at our first sighting, of a couple of these birds, at Werribee. It is probably one of the world’s rarest geese, albeit not particularly rare in southern Australia and Tasmania where it is endemic, and rather a peculiar-looking bird. Well, we were to see plenty of these geese today, as Phillip Island plays host to many breeding pairs. Lots of photo opportunities!
We followed a turn marked ‘Pyramid Rock’; we were not sure what to expect but it was heading down to the sea. A car park led to a long boardwalk, heading towards (you guessed it!) a pyramid-shaped rock, just offshore. Very scenic.
Well, this was a good site for seabirds, one of Mark’s birding passions. There were Australasian Gannets patrolling the sea, along with a few other species, much harder to make out, but eventually ID’d as albatrosses and giant petrels, Shy Albatross and Southern Giant Petrel to be precise. Now this was a real bonus, as we’d not expected any pelagic species, really, since we had no boat trip scheduled.
So far, great birding, if poor photo opportunities! Still, we were to remedy that on the way back to the car. Not birds, but mammals. This time a small group of Black Wallabies (also known as Swamp Wallaby) were feeding on the heathland just off the boardwalk, and were totally unconcerned by our presence. We were able to take quite a few photos. Just to add to the bird list, I was able to capture a Little Raven, just leaving its perch on the boardwalk fence.
Back to the main road, and a brief stop for a look at a couple of Australasian Shelduck, before taking another side road, this time to Kitty Miller Bay. A beautiful half-moon bay, apparently a haunt for snorkellers, where we were hoping for another look at Hooded Plover. It was not to be, despite me trying to ‘string’ a couple of Masked Lapwing as something more exciting! We never found out who ‘Kitty Miller’ was, though.
At the western end of the island, where the Westernport Bay opens out to the Bass Strait, is the Summerlands estate, home of the aforementioned ‘Penguin Parade’, and, just past it, an ecotourist spot called ‘The Nobbies’. We had to go look at a place so interestingly named! Just past the ecotourist centre (a sea life centre, apparently), was yet another boardwalk, surrounding the headland and providing views of The Nobbies, themselves; a series of flat-topped islands off the end of the peninsula. Just beyond them, some flat rocky islets are called the Seal Islands, and are home to the largest concentration of Australian Fur Seals in Australia.
This is a penguin spot as well, the boardwalks are there to stop people wandering all over the penguins’ burrows. Artificial nest boxes have been provided, dug into the side of the quite precipitous slopes, to replace the burrows the birds usually use. Some of these were clearly in use, judging by the bare areas in front of the boxes and the clear trails heading down to the sea from the boxes. We decided to look into each box we could see, in case any were occupied. There was a movement, I took a photo…
Nope, it was a rabbit! Clearly there are not only penguins inhabiting these boxes. And then, success. There was a bird, inside one of the boxes. We could see it moving around, getting glimpses of different parts of the body; the belly there, turning to the darker back, maybe even a flipper. With the eye of faith, you could make up a whole penguin. We were not going to get a better view, it wasn’t coming out and we certainly didn’t want to disturb it. It was a Little Penguin and would do, until we can go to Australia again and see them better. And we had avoided the need to go to the ‘Penguin Parade’-result!
Time to head back towards the mainland, but via the north side of the island, where we stopped off for a walk at a nature reserve near Rhyll. It was supposed to be a Koala reserve, according to the map (although I freely admit we might have been in the wrong bit). We’d definitely like to see Koala, so an explore seemed a good idea. Long story, short-no Koalas, but a few interesting birds and insects.
Heading off the island, we stopped at San Remo for lunch. Going truly Aussie, we popped into the local bakery for pies, lovely. Now that is a habit we could definitely get into-it’s lucky for our waistlines that you can’t do it here!
Mark had lined up another small reserve, along the coast at Wonthaggi, for our afternoon’s excursion. We found the Rifle Range Reserve and headed in. It was alive with Honeyeaters in our first few steps; it looked like it was going to be a good choice. On the way in, we’d stop to take advantage of a lovely Eastern Rosella, eating flower buds. This was a first sighting for me; Mark had seen a few the night before, at Corinella, but I hadn’t got onto them, so it was good to get this back. We did enjoy all the many parrot species in Australia, and Eastern Rosella is such a ‘parroty’-looking one!
There was a hide, by a marshy pool, some walks through shrubby bush, with a small drinking pool for the birds, and a forested area; lots to go at. On our first arrival, we took a look from the hide and noticed some kangaroos in the distance. Eastern Grey Kangaroos, we thought, just like the ones we’d seen at Toorbul beach in Queensland. On the way back we took another look and found a party of females, some with joeys, foraging and lazing about, almost in front of the hide. Fantastic views.
Well, Wonthaggi had treated us well, but dusk was falling and we had to head back to Corinella. Time for one last detour though. When we were in Werribee, we’d been disappointed not to find any Musk Ducks there. These odd-looking stiff-tail ducks had been a species we wanted to see (who am I kidding, we want to see them all!) because they look so very peculiar, the males having a lobe hanging down below the bill, and with the tail held upwards in a fan-shape. Well, we had scanned every body of water since, hoping (and failing) to see them. On the way back from Wonthaggi, we noticed a small pool, half-hidden from the road, but with a small track running alongside. Heading up there, there was only one place to view a small portion of the pool and, on there, there was a male Musk Duck, preening and swimming around. What an amazing sight! It was getting dark, and the pictures weren’t good, but it was a Musk Duck-a tick after we’d just about given up hope. It was the only one we were to see on the entire trip-how easy it would have been to drive on past in the gathering dark, or for the bird to swim away into the part of the lake (most of it, really) that we couldn’t see.
Well, that was a nice end to the day-nicer than dinner, which was another of those deep-fried offerings from the local general store. Corinella had been a great place to stop- a good local dinner-option would have made it better, but we had no complaints. Tomorrow we were off on a journey, across Victoria and into New South Wales for our Australian ‘swansong’ adventure, There wasn’t much more of the holiday to go, but we were going to make the most of it!
Sandra-Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Mark- Canon EOS 7D Mk II, with EF 100-400mm ISII USM lens.