Sunday, 28 February 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets Cape Gannet

Parks Victoria do an "Open Day" into the gannet colony at Point Danger once a year for anyone to go but especially for the Portland locals to see the only gannet colony on mainland Australia. Just a few kilometres to the south is the Lawrence Rocks Conservation Reserve where many thousands of Australian Gannets call home. About 4-500 gannets live on the mainland on the top of the cliff overlooking Bass Strait and Lawrence Rocks.

The mainland gannet colony with Lawrence Rocks in the distance
A small crowd of about 25 gathered at the end of the road by the fence. This is the first line of defence for the colony.

We walked about 100 metres to the very edge of the colony separated from us by an electrified fence whose main aim is to deter foxes. You could almost touch them.

Melissa gave us an excellent talk about the gannets. She is highly experienced with them and has spent time with Cape Gannet colonies in South Africa. Over there they have just a few Australasian Gannets in the colonies and over here we have, in the mainland population, just one breeding pair of Cape Gannets. They have a well grown chick which may be big enough to fledge. I recall it takes 100 days before fledging. Last year's Cape chick failed to fledge. Whilst we were there, a single adult Cape raucously landed [their calls are different] thus there are at least 3 Cape Gannets in this population of Australian Gannets.

These birds are just beautiful with lovely clean lines of black and white plus the grey beaks and "buff-washed head" Pizzey & Knight.

The differences between the two species are obvious but hard to spot when there are hundreds of heads moving every which way or resting tucked in or preening. The Australian Gannet has a dark iris. The iris of the Cape Gannet is much lighter, almost the colour of the orbital ring of pale china-blue.

The bird at the back left is the Cape with the pale china-blue eye
whilst the other two have the dark iris.
The bird sitting to the right is the Cape Gannet.
The other difference is the length of the black gular [throat] stripe. The Aussie has a short stripe and the Cape has a strip extending a fair way down the ventral surface of the neck.

Australasian Gannet
Cape Gannet
Cape Gannet
Whichever species you are looking at, these birds are just superb flyers. Once they have fledged they spend the first five years of their life flying around the lower southern latitudes of the earth before ending up back at their birthplace - mostly. I guess the occasional one becomes disoriented and finishes in the wrong spot. Hence our Capes are here and not in South Africa.

Earlier in the day Robert and I went for a walk before breakfast down to the Portland pier. This Masked Lapwing must think he is the missing Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.

Two koalas were spotted plus a Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo with breakfast and a small flock of Musk Lorikeets amongst the plethora of Rainbow Lorikeets.

At the gannet-fest, we heard that a Nankeen Kestrel has a favourite perch in the town itself overlooking the bay.

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