A trip to the North

First of all thanks to my awesome field assistant and intern Katie, who will leave the country soon to head back to the US. She was a great help in the field and I am looking forward to reading the paper based on her work with me. If you are keen for more personal penguin reports, head over to her blog!

Secondly, a new post about a new location: Port Stephens!

As the field season is slowly coming to an end, I was keen to increase my geographic coverage of genetic penguin samples and visit the penguins up North in Port Stephens. Luckily, the National Parks and Wildlife Service conduct regular trips to Cabbage Tree Island and Broughton Island and were happy to take me along on their trips. Unfortunately, the trip to Broughton Island, which had originally been scheduled for the 3rd week of November, had to be postponed due to bad weather and the new dates coincided with the trip to Cabbage Tree Island, so I had to make a tough decision:
Do I want to sample the most northern colony, despite its small size and unreliable penguin landings, or do I choose the safe option to ensure a good sample size? Of course I chose the latter, but am still hoping to sample Broughton Island on a later date.

So I found myself travelling to Nelson Bay by train and bus last Monday to make sure I could meet the rangers (Laurence and Richard) and volunteers (Anthony and Dean) on Tuesday morning.

Igloo, sleping three

Igloo, sleeping three

We were dropped off at Cabbage Tree Island by the boat operator and shuttled our gear and people to the rocky landing site using a small rubber boat. After moving into the Igloo and setting up the kitchen, we prepared for the first day of Gould’s Petrel burrow checks and I was quite excited to be involved in conservation work for “Australia’s rarest sea bird”.

The day passed quickly with lots of burrow checks, during which bird scratches and bites were endured by all of us.

The kitchen and dining room

The kitchen and dining room

After dinner, it was time for penguins. I am extremely grateful for the help I got catching and handling the birds. We already reached half my optimistic sample size during the first night and as many again on the next day, so I was more than happy with the total numbers. The second day saw us checking more petrel burrows in the northern gully of the island and we were done with the survey by the end of day two.

Gould's Petrel

Australia’s rarest sea bird – the Gould’s Petrel (Pterodroma leucoptera)

That allowed us to spend the third and last day on Cabbage Tree Island looking for work to do around the accommodation, packing up and leaving the island by the same way that we came. I had a great time with four seasoned birder guys and a successful penguin sampling trip!

But that’s not all!

I got to stay in Port Stephens for the weekend (mainly because we had planned a holiday up there when I still thought I was going on two island trips in a row), took the ferry to picturesque Tea Gardens and spotted lots of local wildlife during a bushwalk, highlights of which were a pod of 5 dolphins who foraged and fooled around under the Singing Bridge, two impressive Goannas, four suspicious-looking Tawny Frogmouths and a Magpie catching a Huntsman Spider in front of our faces. And all this just 3 hours drive from Sydney!

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Jervis Bay

Last Friday, we  went on an exciting trip to Jervis Bay to meet the Park Services Manager of Booderee National Park, Dr Martin Fortescue. He has been working in the park for more than 25 years and intensively studied Little Penguins on Bowen Island between 1987 and 1997. He seems to know everything about the island and its penguin population, which will make my work so much easier! Unfortunately, we did not make it out to the island on that day, but got lots of detailed information anyway.

We stayed in Jervis Bay for the weekend, which was great, too. It allowed us to see quite a bit of Booderee National Park, including a 15km hike around St George’s Head, where we saw some seals relaxing in the water, a trip to the old lighthouse and a walk at Cave Beach, where we spotted our first Australian snake:

A Diamond Python (Morelia spilota) at Ryans Swamp near Cave Beach, Booderee National Park