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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Birding On My Own
Australia &
New Zealand 2002
Emmalee Tarry
Revised 2015

Trip Reports

Table of Contents

 
Chapter 15

Phillips Island

Phillips Island
Swan Lake
Penguin Parade
Phillips Island Beaches
Short-tailed Shearwater Colony
Churchill Island
Wilson's Promontory


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New Holland  Honeyeater

New Holland Honeyeater

Phillips Island and Little Penguin Parade
Phillips Island is about a 2 hour drive from downtown Melbourne. It is hard to get to Phillips Island without getting caught by the new Melbourne toll system called CityLink. Driving along the freeway you may notice a sign that says " Start EToll". There are no toll booths and they somehow record your license number as you pass. If you have a monthly Epass you are all set. The rental car agengy should give you the procedure for paying the toll. Be sure to use it because the ticket will be AUS $75 and it will catch up with you when you turn the car in.
Phillips Island has many campgrounds. I stayed in the first one over the bridge. It had just been inspected by the "Big 4" people and may be included as one of their campgrounds in the future. One big advantage of Big 4 is that dogs are not allowed. I like pet free campgrounds because the birding is better. In the campground I saw a Brown Thornbill.

At the Information Center I bought an evening ticket to the famous Penguin Parade. This is not necessary as they are also sold at the visitors center. The Information Center has a bird list and a descriptive list of birding locations which they can find if you insist.

Swan Lake
Swan Lake is the only fresh water lake on the island. There is a 1/2 mile walk from the parking lot to the bird hide on the lake and it is good birding all the way. Common Blackbird, Little Wattlebird, Silvereyes, Grey Fantail, Superb Fairywren, Red-browed Finch.

This is the lake from the bird hide. The drought has shrunk the lake to about 1/3 its former size. There were many domestic Geese, Black Swans, European Coots, Black-winged Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel, Grey Teal, , Chestnut Teal, Australian Grebes.White-fronted Chats were walking along the edge of the lake looking like shorebirds. The first time I saw this bird it was in a weedy field near the Grampians.
Around the bird hide the slopes are covered with Short-tailed Shearwater burrows. The Shearwaters are just this month returning for the start of the breeding season. A decapitated Shearwater lies at the mouth of one burrow.

I reported the dead shearwater to the ranger at the visitor's center who was very alarmed. She thinks the bird was killed by a fox. This colony is not protected by an electric fence. A poison control program is in place to keep fox and feral dogs out of the nesting colony. The next day I went back and the dead bird was gone. I copied this information from a sign at the entrance warning people not to bother the predator control devices set in the area. The devices are placed off in the bush and I did not see one.

M44 Ejector is registered with the USDA for control on canids ( Coyote, Fox, Wild Dogs). It is designed so that when the predator chews off the top a poison injector is shot into the animals mouth. The injection contains a sedative to reduce the pain of death and a poison to kill the animal.

Swan Lake on Phillips Island

Little Blue Penguin Parade
I went on to the visitor's center for the Penguin Parade. The weather report predicts rain for the evening. After seeing the low level of the lake I have to be happy for the rain, but does it have to rain on my Penguin Parade. Admission is AU$13 for an adult.

At the visitor's center I watched a video on the Penguins, looked at the exhibits and shopped in the gift shop. About 6 PM they open the gates to the Penguin Stadium. They don't call it that, but what other term could one use. The Penguin colony covers a hillside between the center and bay. Huge concrete bleachers have been built on the lower part of the hill by the beach. They must seat 1000 people. Cameras are not allowed at all and spectators are asked to sit down on the concrete bleachers so those behind can see. The Rangers tell you that the best seats are in the front row on the right side.

People are started to come most on tour buses from Melbourne. There are tour buses full of Japanese, British, French, German tourists all with guides speaking their language. There was a van full of people from China. Not Hong Kong but mainland China. There are not many children as it is now October in the Northern Hemisphere and the kids are back in school.

Soon there is a river of people walking down the concrete path to the bleachers and the bleachers are starting to fill. It also starts to rain. I have a raincoat and an umbrella, but I am soon soaked from the waist down. It isn't cold so I just stay wet.

It is now 6:30 and with binoculars I can see thousands of Shearwaters circling over the ocean some distance from shore. By 6:45 the shearwaters are closer and visible with the naked eye. A Ranger with a microphone gives a short talk about the Penguins. She never mentions the Shearwaters.
Rangers in red coats watch the crowd looking for hidden cameras. About 7 PM, the first Penguins arrive at the edge of the water. These guys are so small you don't really see them until they reach the beach. The Little Penguin feels safe in the water. What is scary is the walk across the open beach until they can get in the grass and start the climb to their burrows.

The Penguins gather in the surf. One or two stand up on the beach and then roll back into the water. Finally one little bird dashes across the sand. He is followed by others. The little girl next to me announces " I want to go home." Her grandmother lets her hold the umbrella and she immediately starts waving it around hitting people on either side. I can't really move so I sit there wet getting hit with the umbrella every few minutes. The wind destroys my own umbrella.

Little groups of Penguins continue to arrive. Once across the sand they start climbing the hills on either side of the concrete bleachers. I've had it and start walking up the steps toward the visitors center. The best way to see the Penguins is as they climb the hill some within feet of the boardwalk. Every now and then one stops. People line the boardwalk. I see a few cameras. The Rangers can't stop everyone. When I reach the visitors center, I realize that I have not seen a single Short-tailed Shearwater land at a burrow. Either I didn't look hard enough or the Shearwater burrows are not near the boardwalk.People are now streaming up the boardwalk and into the gift shop. The cash register is ringing. Penguins are big business. The restaurant is open and busy. I go back to Willy and change clothes in the parking lot. Campervans are really nice.The Penguin Parade is a bizarre birding experience. Don't miss it even if Little Blue Penguin is not a life bird. You notice I have no pictures because I followed the rules.

After I was home I saw a program on TV about the Penguin Parade.  After the tourists leave the, the Penguins roam around on the bleechers.

Phillips Island Beaches
Most people come to Phillips Island to enjoy the beaches. Since it is only 2 hours from Melbourne there are many vacation homes here and of course everyone wants to build on the water. One of the first beaches I visited was Woolami Beach near the campground looking for Hooded Plover. The wind was very strong and a couple of surfers are hanging out in the parking lot .I am not sure if they are waiting for better waves or just think the waves too big. I suspect they are not very experienced surfers. In my experience really dedicated surfers never think the waves too big. With my scope I can see a long way up and down the beach and I do not see any birds others than gulls.

At Smith's Beach there is a colony of Short-tailed Shearwaters. Their burrows are easily seen and there is also an odor associated with the colony which shows they are active.There is a housing development near this beach and the only protection for the colony is a sign that asks people to stay on the boardwalk to beach and to keep their dogs on a leash.While I was there a woman walked her dog to the beach off leash. The people who own the houses undoubtedly have dogs and those dogs must roam the colony.Smith's Beach is certainly an area to come to at night to try to see the Shearwaters return to their nests.

Shearwater burrow in grass behind beach,.

A short dirt road takes you to Berry Beach. There are signs warning that this is a very dangerous surfing beach. On the wooden viewing platform a family has placed a memorial plaque for their daughter lost here. I was here because the Ranger at the visitors center had mentioned that Hooded Plover had been seen here recently. The wind is still strong, but hunkered down on the beach by some rocks is a Hooded Plover. It was my first for the trip. I am almost ready to leave Australia and still getting new birds. What fun!

Short-tailed Shearwater Colony
The owner of the campground tells me about Forest Cave Beach, a short drive from the campground. When his children were young he saw the burrows there and thought they were Penguin burrows. Thinking he could save the cost of admission to the Penguin Parade, he took the kids there one evening to wait for the Penguins. None came. Later he figured out these were Mutton Birds or Short-tailed Shearwaters. The only penguin colony at Phillips Island is at the far end surrounding the visitors center. There are several Mutton Bird colonies along the island.

This is a view of Forest Cave Beach Park from the road. The boardwalk and stairs climb the sandy ridge that separates the beach on the far side from the farm and the road. The Short-tailed Shearwater colony covered both sides of the ridge on either side of the boardwalk.The small building in the parking lot is a solar toilet for the public beach.. The only protection for the birds is a sign asking people to stay on the boardwalk and not climb on the dunes. I visited Forest Cave Beach in the afternoon and photographed a burrow by the boardwalk. It is October and the first shearwaters mostly males return to the colony to establish dominion over and clean out old burrows. First time breeders are trying to find burrows either by taking over unclaimed burrows or digging new ones. Competition for burrows can be fierce. Breeding will start in November. I saw a pair of Hooded Plovers on the beach here in the afternoon.

That evening I went back to Forest Cave Beach arriving about 6 PM. Three surf fishermen were assembling their gear in the parking lot. I climbed the stairs to the viewing platform overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful, clear evening with gentle waves on a rising tide. While I waited I watched the fishermen surf casting and I can understand why they enjoy their hobby.


A small black-backed Albatross made two passes parallel to the beach. A Silver Gull watched the fishermen who didn't seem to be catching much. About 6:40, I see the first Shearwaters circling over the ocean too far from shore to see with the naked eye. As it got darker, the shearwaters came in closer until they circled back and forth just beyond the surf.  This was just what I observed while waiting for the penguin parade.

Not until it was totally dark did the first bird swoop over the land. It was soon joined by several other birds. Standing at the top of the dark ridge, they were flying back and forth over my head. I was impressed by how much larger they looked overhead then when you see them from a boat. They fly over the land just like they do at sea. A little wing flutter is followed by long glides on stiff wings.

Forest Cave Beach from the parking log.
Shearwater foot prints in the sand.

A rustle of the dry grass means that one has landed. Then another. Soon they are landing all around me. I had a flashlight (torch) and tried to find them in the grass with no luck. I suspect that the birds at the top of the ridge are the more dominant and experienced of the colony. They must land and go into the burrow immediately.

The sky is filled with swooping birds. On either side I hear grunts and groans from the burrows. After a time a great cacophony of high pitched squabbling comes from the burrows at the bottom of the boardwalk. I walked down the stairs. There are birds everywhere. Some are flopping around with wings spread chasing and jumping up on other birds. Others are just sitting at the entrance of the burrow. I use my torch cautiously not shining it in the birds eyes, but keeping it above them. One bird is digging furiously under a bush. I watch him until he is out of sight in his new burrow. Only flying sand indicates he is in there still working away. The birds seemed undisturbed by my quiet presence,

I took a few pictures using my flashlight and the small flash on my camera. I tried only a few and they didn't come out too great. I do not want to do anything to disturb these beautiful birds. I watch for an hour or so before leaving for the campground. The fishermen are still out there.

This was the most thrilling experience of my trip. I would like to spend several months here watching this colony every night.The next morning I went back to Forest Cave Beach and found that one of the shearwaters had tried to dig a new burrows in the path. You can see the fresh footprints in the sand. This bird may have started digging here after I left and was later scared off by the fishermen returning to their cars.

Churchill Island
Outside the Koala Center, a Canadian birder was looking at Honeyeaters in the parking lot and I joined him. He was in Australia to participate in the World Masters Softball tournament and now he and his son were doing a little sight-seeing. The son was in the Koala Center. The flowering trees were filled with White-naped , White-eared, and New Holland Honeyeaters. Coming out of the parking lot at the Koala Center I turned right and then right at the next intersection to Coghlan Road. At the far end of the Koala Center there is a cemetery with a pond. A pair of Cape Barren Geese are raising a family here.

Cape Barren Goose family

On the left an adult with two goslings.

On the right a close up of the Cape Barren Goose which has a lime green cere on the small black bill.

Cape Barrenb Goose

Turn on Ventnor Road to go to Churchill Island a small Island off of Phillips Island. Churchill was privately owned for many years and connected only by a ferry. There is a short causeway and the farm is a historical site open to the public.

Before you cross the causeway to the island there is a wetland with boardwalks. I really didn't see anything new here, but there were quite a few birds: Black-winged Stilt, Pelican, White Ibis, Purple Swamphen, Australian Swamp Harrier, Red-kneed Dotterel, White-fronted Chat, Cape Barren Geese.

In the pastures on Churchill Island a pair of Masked Lapwings had 3 chicks. Pied Oystercatcher had a nest right on the causeway in a patch of purple flowers.The pasture also had Skylarks (introduced from Europe) singing in flight.October is late spring in Australia.

Masked Lapwing with chicjk
Masked Lapwing with 3 chicksonly on chick in the picture,.
Domestic bull
Historic cattle and sheep on the farm.

Wilson's Promontory
After Phillips Island I drove to Wilson's promontory and got a site at the Tidal River campground. There was no power as in other park campgrounds, but nice amenities. I took a short walk at Lilly Pilly Gully and finally saw the Crescent Honeyeater. On the road on the way in I saw a Painted Buttonquail and Emu.

The campground was full of Crimson Corellas right out on the lawn. This certainly wasn't a new bird, but it was the best photograph I got of the bird.That evening in the campground I noticed that the Silver Gulls were displaying holding their tail high with their bills to the ground.

The campground on Wilson's promontory has warning signs about aggressive Wombats. Usually a nocturnal animals, wombats were seen grazing in broad daylight near the road.
I think this picture shows that they look something like their close relative the Koala. They aren't as lovable because they walk on all fours. I read somewhere that Princess Diana used to write "Dear Wombat " letters to her son Prince William .

Wilson's Promontory is a lovely place, but I only spent one night here.
In the morning I returned to the highway making an early stop at a field where Ground Parrots can be seen. I didn't see anything, but I also didn't thrash around in the heather. I finally got a short look at a Ground Parrot in the woods near the Barren Ground Observatory just before my final trip to Wollongong.

I drove back through Melbourne getting caught again on the CityLink and having to buy another $9 day pass. I didn't mind the cost as much as the obnoxious phone call that used voice recognition and could not handle my slight southern USA accent. . I am heading toward the Great Ocean Road. Later I looked at the map and wished I had taken the ferry from the tip of the Mornington Peninsula to Queenscliff. This would have been a long drive as well, but more fun. I spent the night in Anglesea.

Crimson Corella

Wombat

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