Penguin Island

KRM Branch December Field Trip Report

A group of 11 members and guests gathered on a beautiful morning to catch the first ferry from Mersey Point to Penguin Island for KRMB’s last field trip of 2019.

Crested Tern adult with fish, Penguin Island Photo: Colin Prickett

Arriving at the Penguin Island jetty we got our first sighting of Bridled Terns. These birds come down from the tropics each year to breed on the island. Crested Terns and Caspian Terns were also spotted.

At the picnic area we found large King’s Skinks hunting around for any morsel left by visitors. It is great to see that they have bounced back really well after the decimation of their numbers when the island was infested with rats. Their large size indicates that they are finding plenty of food on the island. We would see numerous others on our walk around the island. Penguin nesting boxes had been fitted out with a piece of shade cloth suspended above the roof to temper the effect of the hot sun on the penguin adults and chicks.

We walked along the boardwalk towards the western end of the island, with Bridled Terns constantly gliding overhead. Silver Gulls were also present in large numbers and many had chicks. As we crossed over the ridge to the other side of the island we noted that a nesting colony of Pelicans had formed near the northern lookout, forcing the closure of the boardwalk leading out to the lookout.

The condition of the vegetation was rather patchy, with some bare patches evident while other patches of Wild Grape (Nitraria billardieri) were in excellent condition.

As we came out onto the western beach it was evident that it had been a good breeding season for Crested Terns with large numbers of chicks out on the beach and a steady stream of adult terns coming back to shore with small fish in their beaks, food for their growing chicks.

Waiting on the beach along with their chicks and some supervising adults were Silver Gulls and each returning adult tern had to run the gauntlet of the Silver Gulls to deliver the fish to their chick. It is a spectacle of nature that one never tires of watching.

Crested Tern chicks on beach Photo: Colin Prickett

After a while we dragged ourselves away from watching the terns and made our way back towards the eastern end of the island. We stopped off at the southern lookout at the top of the ridge.

We immediately noticed that the usual Pelican nesting area at the southern end of the island had been vacated, leaving a bare patch devoid of vegetation.

This will naturally rehabilitate, part of a process where firstly species that can grow in a guano rich soils are recruited, followed by species such as Nitraria when nutrient levels are depleted.

Crested Tern Adult with fish Photo: Colin Prickett

Back at the picnic ground we had a drink and snacks before some left to catch the ferry home. At the picnic ground a number of Buff-banded Rails were foraging beneath the tables, while Singing Honeyeaters were seen in the surrounding trees.

A few of us that were not catching an early ferry explored the sand bar next to the jetty. Here we were delighted to find a small nesting colony of Fairy Terns. The DBCA rangers had roped off the area to provide protection for the nesting birds and it appeared that the birds were not put off by the constant comings and goings on the jetty around 20m away.

This sighting took our number of tern species to four (Caspian Terns, Crested Terns, Bridled Terns and Fairy Terns). We had also seen Pied, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants.

It had been a great morning. Our return ferry arrived from the mainland and discharged another large number of passengers as we waited to board; highlighting that Penguin Island remains a very popular day trip for locals and visitors alike.

Colin Prickett