Since October, the Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group and community volunteers have been engaged in annual monitoring of the Little Penguin. Every fortnight, a small group of volunteers head over to Middle Island, Warrnambool, and counts the penguins as they return from a day’s fishing.
During the counts volunteers position themselves at designated points around Middle Island and record the number of Little Penguins arriving under the cover of darkness. Little Penguin pairs take turns to sit on the eggs and guard the chicks once they have hatched and, because of this, we are able to use the number of Little Penguins recorded at each arrival count to estimate the total number using the island for breeding and as a resting place. This period is called the “guard stage” and by the time chicks are about two to three weeks old they are able to fend for themselves during the day.
Research suggests that Little Penguins start coming ashore about half an hour after dark, and after the first Penguin arrives the majority follow within one hour. The arrival numbers so far this season have been great, the highest so far being 78 arrivals (130 estimated total population), which provides evidence that good numbers of penguins are using Middle Island for breeding. Early surveys this breeding season also recorded a relatively high number of chicks which were fully-grown with their adult feathers (fledgeling) and some still to fledge – a welcome sign after last year’s dip in breeding due to food shortages in the Southern Ocean.