Friday, February 09, 2018

Why you must watch your step on our beaches



Little Australian Penguins 3
Shame on me - I don't have a photo of my own for this, but I have washed hundreds, possibly thousands of oiled penguins. This photo is by Tatiana Gerus on Wikimedia  Commons


If you go down to the beach today, - well on almost any evening between September and March, you could be in for a big surprise.
That’s a busy time for Little Penguins, a.k.a. Fairy Penguins, Little Blue Penguins, (Eudyptula Minor), so you are asked to be especially careful where you tread as their burrows are littered around the edges of our beaches.
Although they can be found elsewhere in the southern waters of Australia and New Zealand and even Chile, Tasmania is home to almost half the world's estimated 500,000 breeding pairs. At 30 – 40 cms in size, Little Penguins are the smallest of the 17 known species of penguin. Their diminutive size and awkward gait on land make them look very cute, but in the sea they are formidable swimmers. When the Iron Baron  ran  aground at Low Head in the state's North, hundreds of freshly washed penguins released on the East Coast 300 Km away, swam back within five days -back through the oil of course, which also shows how intensely territorial they are. Eventually the newly cleaned birds had to be flown to Phillip Island on the mainland to stop them coming back.
 
Little Penguins spend around 80% of their time at sea  -feeding and diving, but come ashore at dusk each day to return to their burrows, calling and cooing to each other as they do so. There are several places where you are likely to see them, but you must come well prepared. Wear dark clothing, bring absolutely no dogs and use a red light. They frighten very easily, so you should also be very quiet.

Not a fossilised dinosaur egg. This is an artificial burrow. Sometimes nature needs a helping hand

Burnie, Low Head and Bicheno have nightly tours and there are several excellent observation platforms around the state. In the North there is one at Parsonage Point, Burnie and down South there is a hide at Bruny. Bruny also has a boat based tour.  At Lillico near Ulverstone volunteers and rangers hold free tours.


This hide at the Neck, Bruny Island allows you to view penguins without unduly disturbing them or their burrows

If you look closely at this picture, you may see a blue haze around the burrow entrance. This is the down of a baby penguin. I hope it was shed as result of it getting its new adult feathers and not because it was attacked by something


Little Penguins are threatened by the usual suspects – human activity such as trampling, marina development, habitat destruction; predation by domestic animals and introduced species such as foxes (on the mainland),  but occasionally things go the other way. An artificial breakwater built at the  Melbourne’s beachside suburb  of St. Kilda has proved to be a popular breeding site.  We can't rely on this though. Here in Tasmania, especially sensitive breeding sites are sometimes fenced to keep out predators and some beaches are closed after sunset. This may be a bit annoying, but there are plenty of other beaches and it's a small price to pay to ensure the survival of these endearing creatures.

Now you know why we have things like this - make sure you shut it after you

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