Monday, January 30, 2012

Mutton bird magic at sundown: Phillip Island

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As dusk settles gently over the bay, painting the sky and water with splashes of gold and crimson, I notice the first of a steady stream of mutton birds heading home to their rookery located alongside our home. Tiny dots become larger and larger as they flap and glide; thousands of birds returning home to feed chicks hidden deep in sandy burrows.

The excited chuckles and coos suggest a happy home-coming; of the reunion of pairs; and of the greeting and feeding of chicks.

Crash landing amongst the salt bush and New Zealand spinach they waddle the short distance to their burrow. Although graceful in the air, mutton birds are clumsy on land. Evolved for swimming (they need to swim in order to catch fish, their main food) rather than walking, their webbed feet are not ideal for use on land, but their long tapered wings are perfect for their long distance migration flight.

Sundown on the island, in summer, is my favourite time and place of the year. Last night's moon made a magic stamp on the western sky. When combined with the mutton birds' return and their joyful chuckles and coos, the moment touches perfection.

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