The Penguin Parade

by Annalise on September 28, 2009

PHILLIPS ISLAND, VICTORIA – There is this funny thing. In our efforts to escape ‘Footy’-crazed Melbourne we opted to head south to Phillips Island to see more sea life. One of the major attractions in this resort location is the Penguin Parade. We looked at the photos and the prices and were just a bit skeptical to be paying over $50 for the three of us to sit in bleachers with hundreds of others to watch little blue (AKA fairy) penguins come up on shore at dusk. These guys are little and we weren’t sure how well we’d be able to see from the seats provided. What we encountered though left us very pleased with our decision to go.

The evening started with a cool drizzle sitting with the group in the general admission bleachers. As we waited, all rugged-up* and somewhat hushed, for the penguins to appear, we visited with our immediate neighbors in the bleachers and learned a bit more about what to watch for. These penguins grow to about 30 cm in height and have a blue/black slick feathered back and white from under the chin down to their feet; great camouflage while swimming at sea. Within minutes we saw the first of the penguins scramble hesitantly up the beach; some of them would startle and dart immediately back into the water. They waddled ashore in groups called rafts appearing in fits and spurts. Over the course of the next 30 minutes nearly 700 would cross this point on the beach to head further up to their boroughs on land. Crossing the exposed beach is apparently a point of great vulnerability for these birds.

After the first few groups crossed into the scrubs further up from the beach, everyone headed up along an impressive length of lighted, fenced boardwalk leading back toward the interpretive centre. Along here, you could watch from within inches of the penguins, as they continued individually and in small groups, to waddle further toward their land homes. They would pause here and there to call out for or attract a mate, or to catch their breath on this climb; some traveling over a kilometer to their boroughs. We continued slowly up, repeatedly mesmerized at watching the delicate and arduous trek of these sturdy small birds at such close range. On the darkening hillside, from within the short brush you could just make out the odd white chest and belly of a penguin watching out or moving about. Also from this expanse of brush and small trails, you’d hear he calls of the penguins in mating. It was an impressive chorus. When we finally returned to the warmth of the interpretive centre, it was 2 hours later and we were able to read more about the history of penguin boroughs on the island and how this centre was supporting research and education to save the last of the nearly 10 traditional beaching sites on the island.

We came away with a much greater appreciation of these hardy birds.

* rugged-up is a local phrase to describe getting warmly dressed for inclement weather. We’re very much enjoying the Australian slang phrases.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Shirley R September 30, 2009 at 6:00 am

Love your description of the wee penguins and it brought back great memories of watching the “Yellow Eyed” Penguins just outside of Dunedin in South New Zealand.

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