Australia 99 p7

Fairy Penguins of Phillip Island

Sunday, September 26

That afternoon we took a 2-hour drive with Dawn and her husband Steve to Phillip Island. It is a very windy island between Australia and Tasmania, famous for its penguin parade. It is indeed home to Fairy Penguins, the smallest species of these birds, and every evening they come home to their burrows from a day at sea. An observatory has been built for their study, and visitors can watch them arrive and follow them home along special boardwalks that don't disturb them. It was early yet so we walked around the hills for some of the most extraordinary vistas I've ever seen. The colours of the water and the cliffs were surreal, and the place was strewn with seagull nests full of babies that turned startled eyes towards us. Far in the distance, on surreal-looking rocks, seals slept in the sun.

Nesting seagulls

The seagulls were a hilarious sight: it was so windy they flew backwards and sideways. I doubled over laughing at one point when a whole flight of them suddenly stood still in the air, immobilized by a gust of wind. Funny as it was, I was freezing, and we sought refuge in the Center for a while. It is a beauty of architecture, perfectly placed, and hosting a series of burrows built in such a way that the inside can be seen by visitors. Penguins adopted the burrows, and we observed females and their eggs. Steve was one of the carpenters who built the center, and he has been calling the birds Pesky Penguins ever since while they were working on it, every evening there were penguins all over the place and they didn't know how to put their tools away!

The observatory, a beauty of architecture
What's this at the entrance?
Here we can look straight into burrows.
Most of them were occupied by females sitting on their eggs.
Waiting for the penguins to come home
 At the time I was there, 167 penguins lived in Phillip Island. Their location was somehow known at all times, and at the predicted time of their arrival we were all waiting on the beach. It was an incredible sight. Little groups of birds were deposited on the sand by the waves, and trotted penguin-like towards their burrows on the other side of the hill. We got up to follow the penguin parade; the hill was all penguin calls.

Crrrrrroooooooooooo-winwinwin! they went as they called to their mates, with an occasional gurgle. Unmindful of us, they ran home, stumbling and falling flat on their cute bellies on the way, and disappearing in the high grass. Some of the females came out to meet them and then we could see them launching into a little jig, as they put their wings against each other and started spinning together.

That evening was my last in Australia...

Monday September 27

Driving around Melbourne and a walk in its beautiful park marked the day before Anne and Katt took me to the airport. There I found a bullroarer, something I'd always wanted, and finally, as the sun set on Melbourne, I got on my plane homeward bound.

Sunset at Melbourne airport