The weekend after our first big sampling trip (and again last weekend), we went out to Lion Island in Broken Bay to get some penguin samples from further up the coast of NSW. Lion Island is very different from Bowen Island, not only geographically but also ecologically. Whereas Bowen Island is home to a colony of at least 3000 pairs of Little Penguins, Lion Island only hosts about 300 pairs. The main non-indigenous weed threatening penguin habitat on Bowen Island is Kikuyu grass, whereas Lion Island is infested with Lantana (Lantana camara) and Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera). Unlike Bowen Island, Lion Island also has mammalian predators, i.e. water rats, which we spotted running along the water’s edge at night.
Bowen Island is also about 4 times as big as Lion Island and maintained by the Booderee National Park staff, which means that there are paths leading to the house and the north of the island, which allows visitors to move around and explore the island. This is not possible on Lion Island, where the dense vegetation restricted our movements to the beach and rocky shore. There is just enough space for 1-2 tents behind some big boulders on the back of the beach, and I would not be surprised to see this area flooded by waves when the swell is high.
Catching penguins at Lion Island was also a different kettle of fish. The majority of the penguins seem to land on the rocks and only a few (about 10-15 per night) are using the beach to come ashore. We also observed that their feeding trips are much longer than on Bowen Island, where parents taking turns during incubation and chick rearing swap duties every night. It therefore took us much longer to get 50 DNA samples and microchip the penguins for the mark-recapture part of my study. We also took samples from penguin families in their burrows for my study on immune genes.
Despite all these challenges, Lion Island is a beautiful place and we witnessed some beautiful sunsets while waiting for the penguins. Shortly after dark, a bright moon started illuminating the beach and the penguins might have seen us from a great distance. We are lucky they still walked into our corral!