Field Trip to Penguin Island

6 December 2020

Our annual outing to Penguin Island during December, peak nesting season for Crested and Bridled Terns, has become a tradition. However, on this occasion, only a small group of five attendees met at the kiosk to get tickets for the first ferry over to the island. We would have fine weather for the morning and this had also attracted large numbers of visitors, the ferry being quite full for the trip over.

Arriving at the island, we immediately spotted Bridled Terns flying around the jetty. Just off the southern side of the jetty an area of sand spit had been fenced off to provide protection for nesting Fairy Terns, but no Fairy Terns were present. Walking along the boardwalk towards the Penguin Discovery Centre and picnic area, we spotted Silver Gulls nesting in the shrubs, King’s Skinks and Buff-banded Rails. We set off along the boardwalk towards the western beach and had not travelled far before Daniel spotted a number of insects in an Acacia sp. shrub. These included an Ancita sp. Acacia Longicorn beetle (left), a Jewel Beetle (Melobasis lathami), a Spined Predatory Shield Bug (Oechalia schellenbergi) and a tiny Leaf Beetle.

(Image by Colin Prickett)

Further along the boardwalk, a visitor coming up off the beach told us that a large Australian Sea Lion was in a cave a short distance along the beach. We went down to the beach to have a look and found that it was inside a very dark cave and only just visible to our eyes that were attuned to the bright sunshine of the beach, not a dark cave. However, we could see it well enough to see that it was quite a large male.

Making our way along to the western beach we noted a commotion amongst some Pelicans up above us on a ridge. An adult had arrived with food for a fully-fledged chick. Rather surprisingly the chick inserted its head inside the open beak and pouch of the adult and proceeded to push its beak down the throat of the adult to access the food. It looked very uncomfortable for the adult bird. The northern lookout area was closed to visitor’s due to nesting birds, though it was not evident which birds were nesting in that area during our visit (both Caspian Terns and Pelicans have nested there in the past). Overlooking the stairway down to the western beach we began to see a constant stream of Crested Terns flying in with fish in their beaks to feed to their chicks that were waiting on the beach. This year, the chicks were higher up the beach atop some rocky outcrops with fewer Silver Gulls present than in previous years. The terns had less competition from the gulls as they delivered the small fish to their chicks. We stayed for a while to witness the comings and goings before moving over to the other end of the beach. A few Crested Terns were nesting in this area along with good numbers of Bridled Terns. A Bridled Tern and its chick were spotted just off the boardwalk, rapidly retreating back under the boardwalk as we got closer. From the lookout at the top of the ridge we looked south to see that the Pelicans were using a nesting area at the southern end of the island; as a result, a lot of the low shrub vegetation had been cleared due to the bird traffic and increased nutrients from the bird droppings.

We arrived back at the picnic area to find it full of visitors, with even more down on the beach itself. The island is still very popular with day visitors from the metropolitan area. The King’s Skinks and Buff-banded Rails were busy hunting below the picnic tables for any titbits dropped onto the ground. This allowed for some close-up photos of the King’s Skinks. All too soon it was time to head back to the jetty for the return trip to the mainland.

While waiting to board, we spotted some Fairy Terns flying along the beach near the protected nesting area, though they did not land in the nesting area. It had been another great morning walking around Penguin Island; it really is a treasure.

Colin Prickett