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Posted on 15/05/2019 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Know Your Nature Parks - May 2019

A regular column from Phillip Island Nature Parks 

Welcome back to Phillip Island Nature Parks!

After a long break, we are delighted to be back with our regular Know Your Nature Parks column and look forward to sharing what’s happening around your Island home each month. 

The Nature Parks is a not-for-profit conservation organisation. We fund our operations through ecotourism experiences at the Penguin Parade, Nobbies Centre, Koala Reserve, Churchill Island and Wild Oceans EcoBoat Adventures. Managing over 20% of Phillip Island, we care for many of the Island’s beaches and reserves - we probably maintain the access point to your local beach or the paths at your local bushland reserve! 

Penguins moulting 

After the busy breeding season, Little penguins have completed the process of moulting. This is when penguins go through a complete rejuvenation by replacing all of their old feathers with new ones. This gain, however, does not come without pain. The penguins have to spend about 17 days ashore, suffering from the heat, covered in fleas and ticks and with no food or water. 

Before the moult, they feed intensively and almost double their body weight to withstand the long fast. During moult, you will often see penguins onshore during the day and you will definitely see scatters of feathers around their burrows. After moult, the penguins are very thin when they emerge from their burrows with their sleek new feathers which ensure they are fully waterproof and prepared for long feeding trips in the cold winter seas. They head straight out to sea to feed. During winter, their feeding trips can often take them as far as South Australia. They have no commitments on land at this time as their chicks have fledged and they have a break from their partners before they reunite for the spring breeding season. Many penguins still return to the colony during winter – perhaps just to check on their burrows and territories – the real reason why is yet another mystery of the lives of our Little penguins… 

Short-tailed shearwaters depart 
shearwaters by Phoebe2
Autumn is a time when Adult Short-tailed shearwaters leave Phillip Island’s shores to begin the long flight to the Bering Strait near Alaska starting with a trip south to feed in the rich waters around Antarctica before heading north. They leave their fat, fluffy chicks behind in the burrows where they lose weight and grow their adult flight feathers. In late April/early May, the chicks take off to commence their own migration. When the chicks take these practise flights, they often ‘crash land’ on roads and end up in unusual or dangerous places, including beaches – even your backyard. The Nature Parks has just completed their annual Shearwater Rescue program where staff and volunteers remove shearwater chicks from dangerous locations and take them to safe take-off points. 

How you can help during this time:

  • Slow down on roads at night and early morning.
  • Return birds found in unsafe areas to the shearwater colony – place them under a bush or in a burrow if safe to do so – do not walk over shearwater burrows as they collapse easily and can injure birds inside.
  • Our rescue program runs between mid-April – early May each year, please be aware of rangers on roads and changed traffic conditions during this time. Thank you for your support.

Amazing shorebird migrations
Eastern Curlew high res Jukka JantunenShutterstock

Short tailed shearwaters are not the only migratory birds leaving our shores in Autumn. Our migratory shorebirds have also taken off for their northern breeding grounds. The Victorian Wader Study Group works with land managers such as the Nature Parks to provide information on our shorebirds.  A GPS tracking project in conjunction with Darwin University for the critically endangered Eastern curlew, shows they left Western Port in early March. One bird, known as RUP, flew through Central Australia into Northern Territory where its flight path was affected by the recent cyclone. It was last recorded in Townsville, thousands of kilometres to the east! These birds will breed in Mongolia and be back on our shores in late July completing a whirlwind and amazing trip! Young Eastern curlews remain in Western Port over winter for the first four years of their life.  

Red-necked stints have also fattened up and headed north to breed above the Arctic Circle. These tiny birds complete an incredible 25,000 kilometre journey between their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra and Western Port feeding grounds stopping off at ‘refuelling’ sites along the way. Juveniles remain in Western Port until their second year. 

Can you hear the Growling grass frog?
 GGF RyanFrancis

The Growling grass frog (Litoria raniformis) was once widespread across south-eastern Australia but is now classified as Endangered. 

One of the largest frogs in Australia, they live in slow-moving wetland systems such as swamps, lakes and ponds with grassland habitat and emergent vegetation. These amazing frogs were recorded around Swan Lake on Phillip Island in 1991, 2001 and most recently in 2008. Over summer, Nature Parks staff and volunteers undertook extensive surveys across Phillip Island, using a combination of on-foot surveys and audio-recording equipment to listen for the iconic grumbles of the Growling grass frog. This year we didn’t find any growlers, but recorded four other species; Brown tree frog, Whistling tree frog, Eastern common froglet and the  Eastern banjo frog, more commonly known as the ‘Pobblebonk’. When the Growling grass frogs are active again next summer, we will resume the search!

If you think you hear any interesting frogs on your dam or in your pond at home, let us know - we’d love to come have a listen!

Checking on the Eastern barred bandicoots
Bandicoot pic April 2019


Our Conservation Team researchers recently returned to Churchill Island to monitor the population of critically endangered Eastern barred bandicoots released over three years ago in a bid to save the species. The team caught and monitored 65 individuals over three nights, 19 of these we met for the first time and were just a few months old. 

There was no sign of the bandicoots breeding - as was the case on Phillip Island this month.  The dry summer is the most likely contributor to this. The dry conditions also are the most likely explanation for the poorer body condition that was observed in many of the older animals. All in all the population remains stable despite having dropped a little over a hot and dry summer. This work relies on our fantastic volunteers and staff.  We had 23 volunteers donating almost 160 hours to help us set and check the traps and record the data!  To find out more about volunteering opportunities, contact us: volunteers@penguins.org.au

Nature Parks news 

  • Staff in the Nature Parks’ Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre have been busy looking after a range of sick and injured wildlife including Little penguins, Ringtail and Brushtail possums, a Grey fantail, Australian magpie, Australasian gannet, Pacific gull, Cape barren goose, Australian pelican. Long-necked tortoise, Black swan and a Swamp wallaby.
  • Our Conservation Team is proud to announce that their 30-Year Conservation Vision – Beyond the Horizon and 5-Year Conservation Plan 2019-2023 are now online at www.penguins.org.au
  • Phillip Island Nature Parks’ researchers recently travelled to Seal Rocks with the Victorian Fisheries Authority to collect diet samples (scats) and rescue fur seals entangled in marine debris. It was a successful trip with one entangled seal observed and rescued. The juvenile fur seal was released from a balloon ribbon that had become embedded around her neck, she was still being fed by her mum so she should recover well from the injury.

What’s happening in nature?

  • The clear autumn skies are perfect for stargazing. Many constellations and planets such as Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter are easily visible.
  • Water rats investigate waterholes in wetlands.
  • Look for yellow robins and flame robins that have arrived back on Phillip Island from as far away as Tasmania.
  • New Zealand dotterel arrive from the highlands of NZ to escape the cold winter. Look for these shorebirds on local beaches such as Kitty Miller Bay and Observation Point.
  • The migration of birds of prey such as Swamp harriers from Tasmania to mainland Australia reaches a peak. Look for them around wetlands – you can recognise them by the white band on their tail.
  • Gum emperor caterpillars are found on eucalypts.
  • Moon jellies wash up along beaches. These are saucer-shaped sea jellies that often have coloured sections in their translucent bodies.
  • Australian fur seal females and pups remain at Seal Rocks – all the adult males have left the colony to head for feeding grounds in Bass Strait.
  • Pacific gulls have brought their chicks from the islands off Wilsons Promontory to feed. These large gulls reach maturity at approximately four years of age and are listed as significant fauna in the Nature Parks because of their colonial nesting habits.

#ENDS#

 

Media Enquiries:
Sally O’Neill

Community Engagement, Phillip Island Nature Parks
Mobile: 0408 101 976 
E-mail: sally.oneill@bigpond.com