Penguins never really figured greatly in my “have to see” list of birds in Australia – that was until I started hanging out with my artist mate Brett Jarrett, over 30 years ago. Brett is one of the most knowledgeable people in Australia regarding seabirds and marine mammals, and sparked my interest in both these groups.
Since then I have been discovering just how many penguins sneak ashore unremarked in southern Australia. While walking with Brett along a beach near Portland, Victoria we came across a very unhappy bundle of feathers which turned out to be an under-nourished Fiordland Penguin.
It had obviously been swept ashore in some of the storms that batter our southern coast. We took it to the local vet for attention, and wildlife carers later released it back into the wild. While Fiordland Penguins are the most common of the crested penguins to be recorded as vagrants in Australia, it was a thrill to know that we had done our bit to get this one fit enough to return to the sea. It was also one of my first close-up encounters with this species.
In 1995 we also stumbled across a more unusual penguin at nearby Crayfish Bay…. A Royal Penguin had come ashore to moult –they aren’t waterproof in this state so need to remain ashore until they have their full feathery covering. I was very excited to see this bird as it was the first record of this species on mainland Australia.
It had swum all the way up from Macquarie Island in the Antarctic where Royals nest in good numbers, but had never been recorded in Victoria before… a phenomenal swim for a bird! Two days later it returned to the sea to continue its quiet, unobserved life. If we hadn’t been wandering along that beach at that time, no-one would ever have known of its visit.
I wonder how many other secretive avian visitors we have to our shores?