What’s happening in nature on Phillip Island this summer?
Summer is a wonderful time on Phillip Island, with wildlife in breeding mode and migratory birds feeding and breeding on our shores.
- Hooded Plovers are busy breeding along the Island’s beaches. Rangers monitor the nests daily and provide signage and refuge for the birds to give them the best chance of survival. So, at this time of year, please check for signage at your beach which will give you an update on the birds and how you can help to share our beaches with wildlife.
- Migratory birds are feeding and breeding on our shores including sandpipers, curlews, godwits, plovers, knots and stints.
- Grey Butcherbirds, Grey Fantails and Black Faced Cuckoo-shrikes are nesting.
- Raptors (birds of prey) actively hunt mice and insects and can be seen on power poles surveying their hunting grounds.
- Ravens and magpies make large, stick nests.
- Echidnas are out and about.
- Reptiles such as Copperhead Snakes, Skinks and Blue Tongue Lizards emerge and bask in the sun.
- Coastal beard heath, Coast Wattle, Kangaroo Apple and New Zealand spinach are in flower and Coastal saltbush has stunning red berries.
- Huge swells change the coastline almost daily and wash up treasures along the high tide line and Goose Necked Barnacles are found on beach-washed cuttlebones and timber.
- Pacific gulls bring 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.
- Possums have young in their pouch.
- Southern Right Whales approach the coast on their migration south.
- Insects such as brown butterflies and leaf skeleton beetles become more active and the air sings with the sound of crickets and cicadas.
Penguins First Fledging
It’s been a very positive start to the penguin breeding season. The Nature Parks’ research team is not concerned about a big drop in the number of chicks in burrows – because the first lot of chicks have already grown and gone to sea. They also report that the penguins aren’t wasting any time and up to 60% of burrows at the Penguin Parade have adults at home, suggesting that they are gearing up for another breeding attempt. Fingers crossed!
Short-Tailed Shearwater Honeymoon
After completing their journey from Alaska’s Bering Strait and returning to Phillip Island to renovate their burrow and mate, the Short-tailed Shearwaters have taken off on another epic feeding trip to waters around Antarctica. This two-week “honeymoon” is important to build up fat reserves before the female lays one egg and the male takes the first incubation shift. They then share the approximate eight-week incubation duty in their sand dune burrows. During the honeymoon period, the birds are noticeably absent, and we look forward to them returning to our skies and dunes very soon.
Seal Rocks news
Australia’s largest fur seal breeding colony is right on our doorstep at Seal Rocks. Late October marked the beginning of the breeding season with huge bull seals arriving, bulked up and ready to fight to protect their territory and harem of females. Females also started to wean their pup from last summer before the birth of their new pup.
From late November through December, around 4,000 pups are born on Seal Rocks each year and many die in the first month of life. Another dangerous period is when the pups are being weaned in Spring. Until this time, the pups have been nourished by their mother’s milk and learning how to catch food for themselves. Not all are able to survive when they leave their mother and are on their own. So, over the next few months, you are more likely to see live or dead (mostly young) seals on our beaches. If alive, the best thing we can do is let it rest. Regulations state that, if you encounter a seal on a beach or in the water that you must keep 30 metres away and if you have your dog on a lead, you must keep 50 metres away – thank you for doing your part to share our beaches.
Salps on beaches
It’s common in spring to notice glistening scatters of tiny, diamond-shaped clear objects along the high tide line. Many people think they are jellyfish, but they are a kind of sea squirt known as a salp.
Salps are marine animals that feed by filtering plankton and algae and move using one of the most efficient examples of jet propulsion in the animal kingdom. They also have a complex life cycle, growing so fast that they can grow to maturity in 48 hours and are thought to be the fastest-growing multicellular animal on Earth, increasing their body length by up to 10% per hour. This quick turnaround time enables salps to take advantage of algal blooms, increasing their population size rapidly when there is a sudden abundance of food. These animals play an important role in cycling nutrients through the different depth zones of the ocean and also provide food for Phillip Island’s birds along the shores.
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