Sunday, January 22, 2012

Linking foxes, penguins, mutton birds & geese

The Phillip Island Nature Park does a great job of eradicating foxes from Phillip Island. At last estimate, the number left on the island was between 10 to 20 foxes.

Foxes are an introduced predator of penguins, mutton birds and Cape Barren geese and as such pose a very real threat to their numbers. A few years ago a fox killed over 60 mutton bird chicks in one night in our Ventnor rookery. It was a dreadful slaughter.

The remaining 10 to 20 foxes are, unfortunately, the most cunning, and as such, are difficult to trap, shoot and bait. However, the Phillip Island Nature Park Rangers are much smarter, so we look forward to the day when that last fox is dead!

The lower fox numbers have had a beneficial effect on the number of Cape Barren geese that reach maturity. Once uncommon, Cape Barren geese are now frequently seen grazing alongside roads and in paddocks where they coexist happily with cattle. Today we saw 36 geese grazing with a herd of Friesian dairy cows. Some of their beaks were stained purple from eating sea berry saltbush berries (see yesterday's blog for more about these berries).

One of the saddest sights I've seen recently was a lone Cape Barren goose standing by his dead mate who'd been killed on the road. Clearly this goose was grieving and I wondered how long he would stay by his dead mate.

Cape Barren geese mate for life: so too do mutton birds.

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