Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back in the rhythm of mutton birds

After such a warm sunny day yesterday, today's cold blustery change reminds me that we are now back on Phillip Island and not in outback Queensland.

The mutton birds are not concerned about today's weather; instead, the male bird of each pair is sitting snug within its sandy burrow, incubating a large single egg. Many of the burrow entrances are attractively draped in New Zealand spinach. Freshly scratched sand indicates a recently renovated burrow.

The photo of the egg shows how large it is in relation to the size of the bird. Some of the eggs are laid on bare sand and these don't last very long at all -- blue-tongued lizards, snakes, Pacific gulls and seagulls gobble them up in no time at all.

Mutton bird eggs hatch around 25 January, with the males and females taking turns at incubating the egg. Every evening, on dusk, thousands of mutton birds fly back to the rookery to join their mate in the burrow. They spend the day feeding in Western Port Bay and Bass Strait, eating plankton and small fish.

The welcome that the returning bird gives its mate in the burrow is joyous. When you multiply this sound by thousands, the chattering, squawking mutton birds can easily be heard from our house -- from our bed! But I love the sound.

Over the summer period, I'll keep you in touch with the rhythm of the cycle of the mutton birds. For me, they punctuate my time on the island, remind me of where I am and where I'm going.

Ever since living on King Island in Bass Strait and now Phillip Island, I've felt myself living in tune with these remarkable birds. I hope I can convey some of their magic to you.

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