Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mutton bird calendar punctuates my year

Once yearly dates -- notably birthdays and anniversaries -- punctuate our year; however, the mutton bird calendar is foremost in my mind.

The mutton bird egg is one of the largest (in relation to the body weight of the bird) in the animal kingdom.  Between January 10 and 23, millions of mutton bird eggs hatched in southern Australia -- mainly on Bass Strait Islands, including Phillip Island.

  • January 15 is the peak of egg hatching. 
  • April 18, adult birds leave on their annual migration to the Bering Sea, near Alaska.
  • End of April, the young birds follow their parents to the Bering Sea.
  • End of September, the mutton birds arrive back to their island of birth, to dig out their burrows.
  • October is the month of courting, with mating taking place at the end of the month.
  • November 25 is the peak of egg laying.
  • Incubation of the egg begins with the male, then the parents swap places.

Last night, as I walked along the board-walk that meanders through 'our' Ventnor rookery, I visualised (at the end of each and every burrow dug into the sand) a tiny chick covered in fine grey down -- protected by a male parent bird.

Back at the house, and about an hour after sundown, I watched as thousands of mutton birds swooped and glided across the golden glow of the western sky. The females were returning to their mates and newly hatched chicks with crops full of tiny fish and microscopic crustaceans.

As the mutton birds crash-landed amongst tussocks, salt bush, New Zealand spinach and coastal scrub, a noisy welcome of chattering, clucking birds rose into the still night air.

The mutton birds were home.

I've included a photo of a broken abalone shell -- I love its eye!

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