Posted on 23/04/2020 by Phillip Island Nature Parks
Know Your Nature Parks – Autumn 2020
A regular column from Phillip Island Nature Parks
The Nature Parks is a not-for-profit conservation organisation funded through ecotourism experiences at the Penguin Parade, Antarctic Journey, Koala Reserve and Churchill Island. 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.
Nature Parks update
Each day, our team continues to perform essential conservation activities across the Nature Parks, adhering to the directions of the Chief Health Officer and practicing physical distancing while they’re at it. With autumn rains, rangers are focusing on planting at the site of the old Penguin Parade visitor centre and rejuvenating the Eucalypt plantations which provide feed for our resident and bushfire affected koalas at the Koala Conservation Reserve. Rangers are also working on pest plant and animal control, daily park patrols and the upcoming annual departure of the Short-tailed Shearwaters.
This Know Your Nature Parks takes you on a quick zoom around the Island to give you an update on what our amazing wildlife and team are doing…
Update from the colony
Our rangers continue to count the penguins crossing the beach each evening to ensure this important research is maintained. We have been counting the penguins coming ashore for 50 minutes and recording other factors such as tide, moon cycle and weather almost every night since 1978.
For now, good numbers of penguins are returning to the colony each evening and there is lots of activity with the start of the autumn breeding by the penguins. As ocean productivity in autumn is similar to that at the start of spring, penguins take advantage of the good conditions and attempt to breed. Often, productivity drops when winter arrives and the penguins abandon their breeding attempt, but in exceptional years like 2019, they breed and raise chicks to fledging.
Meanwhile out on Seal Rocks…
During autumn, Australian Fur Seal pups are growing strong and their new silver, waterproof coats enable them to spend more time in the water. Adults are hauling out onto the rocks to undertake their annual moult where they lose their fur and grow a new coat. Fur seals have two layers of fur while other seals have only one. Their coats consist of a woolly underfur with long coarse outer hairs to trap air. This double layer of fur combined with their body fat keeps them insulated and toasty warm.
Around our coast and on our beaches
The breeding season is a little later than other years, so we still have adults caring for chicks on beaches. In these areas, you will see that our rangers have set up important refuges consisting of a simple rope fence with signs to mark off sections of beach. These give adult birds space to feel comfortable for their chicks to roam, grow and feed. Please remember that these birds need space and are not limited to these roped areas. If you are exercising on the beach over the next weeks, please check nest update signs, stay clear of signed and fenced areas and keep your dogs on a leash. This will help us to give these birds the best chance of survival.
Adult shearwaters are preparing to take off to start their 16,000 kilometre migration north to waters around Alaska. This will leave the chicks alone in their burrows to grow their adult feathers and emerge to take off on their own for the first time – often ‘crash landing’ on roads. We will undertake our annual Shearwater Rescue program to assist their safe travels. This will include turning lights off on the bridge, lowering speed limits in ‘hotspots’ across the Island and ranger patrols.
Welcome return of special shorebirds
A small colony of Fairy Terns was found on Phillip Island in late 2019 – this is the first time the species has bred on Phillip Island in decades. Listed as Vulnerable in Victoria, this colony is an important population for Western Port. Up to 30 fledglings were recorded in February 2020 and over 60 adult birds were seen around the site.
In our woodlands
Our rangers continue to care for the 19 resident Koalas at the Koala Conservation Reserve along with providing much needed sanctuary to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of 12 bushfire affected koalas. The most recent addition was Vicky who will continue her recovery in our specialist care before being released back to the Mallacoota area. All koalas were brought to the Reserve after receiving intensive care at Healesville Sanctuary as part of wildlife recovery efforts being coordinated by DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) and Zoos Victoria in fire-affected East Gippsland.
Rangers report that Koalas are doing well and the trees are showing new growth, so there is lots of food for them. Our male breeding koala Keiwa is currently in isolation while being treated for Chlamydia (a common infection affecting Koalas). Kiewa is the proud father of the Reserve’s only joey named Bunjil.
Preparations are currently underway for planting of 2,000 extra Eucalypts in our plantations to assist in feeding the Koalas. We thank Westernport Water for supporting us with extra leaves during this time.
Eastern Barred Bandicoot health check
Our research team and volunteers recently spent three nights at Churchill Island and Fishers Wetland (near Churchill Island bridge) to monitor the Eastern Barred Bandicoot population. In total they caught, monitored and released 83 bandicoots - 42 of which had not been caught by us before demonstrating that the population is continuing to do well. Later in March, our Conservation Team caught 40 individuals on the Summerland Peninsula of which 18 were new captures and six were part of the original founding population that are still doing well two and a half years after their release.
Our Conservation Team continue to care for sick and injured wildlife in the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic and responding to calls between 7.30am and 4pm.
- The team has fed and released the last few Little Penguin chicks who were malnourished and are now caring for the last of the starving moulting penguins.
- All orphaned Ringtail and Brushtail Possums in care have reached independence and been released. We have started to admit this season’s orphaned possum joeys who are being cared for by our wonderful volunteer foster carers.
- As we approach winter, we expect to have a few larger seabirds arriving on our shores who will need care as they are very far from home and often exhausted. In the past we have treated species such as Fiordland Crested and Rockhopper Penguins and albatross.
What’s happening in nature?
Autumn is an exciting time in nature with calm days and clear nights – perfect for stargazing
- Fungi of all shapes and colours appears. Autumn is the peak season for fungi when we get to see the fruiting bodies of these incredible structures that remain hidden underground for the rest of the year. Look for mushrooms, toadstools, earthstars, puffballs and more…Some even glow in the dark!
- Migratory birds leave our shores to feeding grounds in the northern hemisphere including Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Short-tailed Shearwaters and Eastern Curlew.
- Local bird migrants such as Yellow Robins, Flame Robins, Striated Pardalotes, Tree Martins and Marsh Harriers arrive after flying across Bass Strait in Tasmania.
- Constellations including Aquarius, Aries and Pisces and planets such as Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter are visible in the night sky.
- Pacific Gulls bring their chicks from islands off the coast of Wilsons Promontory to feed along Phillip Island’s coastline. Pacific Gulls reach maturity at approximately four years of age and are listed as significant fauna in the Nature Parks.
- Gum emperor caterpillars are in eucalypt trees.
- Baby cowfish can be seen in rockpools.
- Nautilus shells wash up on beaches.
- Dolphins come close to our shores.
Keep in touch at www.penguins.org.au
Community Engagement Officer, Phillip Island Nature Parks
Mobile: 0408 101 976