Penguin Island Field Outing

KRM Branch 23 October 2022

Only a small group of seven members met at the ticket kiosk for our trip over to Penguin Island, with the grey overcast sky and the threat of showers possibly keeping others away. KRMB traditionally schedules a visit to Penguin Island each year in early December, but this year we decided to visit earlier in the breeding period for the terns.

For Daniel, the hunt for invertebrates got underway as soon as we stepped onto the ferry. The overnight mooring lights on the ferry had attracted a number of small moths. As the ferry approached the jetty at Penguin Island, we were greeted by a swim past from a couple of Dolphins, a nice way to start our visit. One of the changes we had expected by coming earlier in the year was that the Bridled Terns may have yet to arrive, but as we walked off the ferry and onto the boardwalk, we were happy to see that the Bridled Terns had already arrived in good numbers.

Bridled Tern

On the beach, on the south side of the boardwalk, we spotted Fairy Terns and Crested Terns, along with Little Pied Cormorants and a Pied Oystercatcher. Nearing the infrastructure area around the Penguin Discovery Centre, bare patches amongst the shrubbery were occupied by groups of King’s Skinks trying to soak in what little sunshine was breaking through the clouds. All appeared to be in good condition.

We passed the picnic area along the boardwalk towards the western beach area with Bridled Terns and Silver Gulls filling the sky overhead. There was evidence of Bridled Terns beginning to pair up for their nesting season.

We spotted several more groups of basking King’s Skinks amongst the shrubbery.

The boardwalk to the northern lookout was closed due to Pelicans and Caspian Terns nesting. The Caspian Tern nests were out of sight, but every now and then, an adult Caspian Tern would swoop us to ensure we kept our distance. We saw several adults returning to the nests carrying fish for their chicks.

Arriving at the beach, we found that it was high tide and walking along the beach would be difficult, so we returned to the infrastructure area before heading towards the southern boardwalk. As we reached the top of the stairs, we immediately saw that the Pelicans had set up nesting sites on both sides of the south of the boardwalk, and our walk would take us very close to a few nest sites. From the lookout just above the main boardwalk, the extent of the expansion of Pelican rookeries became clear. The chicks had varying development stages, so there was no set breeding season for the Pelicans. Some appear to have just hatched, and it was amazing to see them alongside their parent and recognize how much growth they had in front of them. It certainly appeared that the Pelicans occupied more of the island than in previous years. Just above the beach, a large nesting colony of Crested Terns were spotted sitting on their nests. This should bode well for a large group of chicks on the beach in December, waiting for the adults to return with small fish. Silver Gull nests were also seen amongst the shrubs along the boardwalk, and often with unguarded eggs, it’s no wonder the King’s Skinks looked so healthy.

We then returned to the picnic area for a well-earned cuppa. On the way back, a moth was seen feeding on the flowers of a Peppermint; it was later identified as a Tree Lucerne Moth.

A butterfly on a flower

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No Buff-banded Rails were present at the picnic area though Gillian had seen one quickly crossing the boardwalk. It is possible that they were nesting. While at morning tea, we saw two Whistling Kites glide overhead, and Gillian spotted two White-bellied Sea eagles on one of the islands, possibly indicating that they had a nest.

Daniel had been busy compiling a list of invertebrates: moths included numerous individuals of the local Plutella sp. or Diamondback Moth, Red-spotted Delicate Epicyme rubropunctariaAnachloris uncinata also known as the Hook-winged Carpet, whose caterpillars feed on Hibbertia. There were at least two ant genera, an Ant-Mimicking Jumping Spider, a Lehtinelagia sp. Crab Spider, and at least two hoverfly genera, including the large species Eupeodes confrater.

All too soon, it was time to head back to the ferry and head home. It had been another great day on Penguin Island, and it had certainly been worth changing the time of year for our visit as we saw different stages of breeding various bird species.

Colin Prickett

All images by Colin Prickett