Many times I have found that ‘birding’ comes at the occasional opportunity. This time that occasional opportunity came at the end of an evening BBQ on the beach of St. Kilga which is just down the road a bit from Melbourne proper. Anton’s parents Din and Evelyn had just put on a BBQ and here the propane is provided by the city. BOF, or bring you own food, that what all that was needed.
You see….the beach has this long jetty connected to it which still has the original Gazebo from the early part of the 20th century. Today the jetty is used by the casual fisherman and as we walked down to the far end, many dangled hooks off into the water, in hopes of catching, well…I never did find out. Continuing on we moved from the cement path down the middle to a wooden planked path which spanned the top of the jetty. At the far end are rocks that jut out into the bay. It is here where the birding began and we were just after one bird, one species. The fun began at around 8pm as the sun was just setting and darkness started to fall. Melbourne faces south, so the sun had an eerie appeal to it and seemed to set almost more south than west. At this point, oh I would say a solid hundred people were out here from all ages and I would guess to say that the vast majority were not birders, just gawkers.
These birds are not endangered but are limited in their habitat burrowing under vegetated sand dunes and within rocky crevices, and this jetty is the perfect spot. As the onlookers waited in anticipation for the early arrivers, several Aussie volunteer naturalists appeared urging all to not use their flash. Funny how the human nature of it all almost whispers in some that the ‘no flash’ rule was applied to all comers, with the exception of them. “No flash, no flash, no flash’ was repeated countless times…and yet flashes still occurred throughout the arrival of Eudyptula minor.
There were 10 of us in our combined family of Yanks (6) and Aussies (4)….Anton’s sister Monica knew where one could get an early shot of one, up above…on the path overlooking the rocky terrain. I followed her back up from the sea side of jetty where most people were as they stood waiting on a planked path that just edged along the rocks and the incoming sea. She stood with her Nikon 600 and started snapping at one little guy as he climbed around in between the crevices. The light was leaving us fast though. Then a few more popped their heads up. I decided to take the lower road and went down to the sea side of the jetty on the wooden planked path. Water was not quite up to the path and a splinter of sand still remained between the sea and the jetty itself so I waited in anticipation for more of these little critters to find their way ashore.
Standing there, one of my daughters spotted 4 of these little guys making a break for the rocky crevices of the jetty. They just seem to rise up from the sea and under the heart of darkness they scampered beneath the planked fortress. But one lone one stayed, looked around as if being caught in a searchlight trying to escape and then turned and threw itself back into the sea. You could tell it’s watery flight by the ripples of water it kicked up and in about 3 seconds was about 20 meters away (since I am ‘down under’ I am trying out my metric talk)….
Then a few of the folks began turning on their red flashlights which was ‘okay’ since the soft red glow doesn’t stress the birds…..with red light now cast on a few, those with cameras started taking shots but the result was just an alien glow on the image. I urged Monica to ‘up’ her ISO to 6000 or so and sure enough, with red flashlights off, the images; although not National Geographic in nature, were images to keep. The Little Penguins of Australia had shown their plight from sea to jetty and we…the happy travelers from far away and near, were honored to have been their guests. The Little Penguins are the smallest species of penguins and I was told that this was a colony which numbered close to a thousand. Amazingly these little guys move around these rocks. They are not overly ‘sure with feet’ and many tumble down into the crevices. They look artificially ‘propped up’ and stiff legged when falling. But this is their home, their natural habitat and thus, a ‘tick’ on my Australian bird count.