Australian Geographic - - Walk About -

DUR­ING SUM­MER’S ex­tended day­light, Mon­tague trans­forms into a twitcher’s par­adise, with up to 75,000 se­abirds in res­i­dence for a noisy nest­ing sea­son. “Sum­mer is our peak time for wildlife and also re­searchers on the is­land,” Amy says. “Our long-term mon­i­tor­ing pro­grams are un­der­way and vis­it­ing post­grad­u­ate re­search stu­dents ar­rive along­side the nest­ing birds.”

An es­ti­mated 15,000 pairs of short-tailed, wedge-tailed and sooty shear­wa­ters breed on the is­land an­nu­ally in mixed colonies. Up­wards of 3000 sil­ver gulls also nest here dur­ing spring and early sum­mer. “They lay a green and brown speck­led egg on the ground out in the open, and when we walk near their nest­ing ar­eas, they can be so noisy it’s of­ten hard to hear your­self think,” Amy says.

Crested tern

Mon­tague’s crested tern colony is well es­tab­lished by early sum­mer, each ground nest placed just be­yond peck­ing range of nosy neigh­bours. Crested tern and sil­ver gull nest­ing fin­ishes in late sum­mer and fledglings and adults re­turn to the main­land to for­age and roost along es­tu­ar­ies and beaches.

Crested tern and sil­ver gull nest­ing fin­ishes in late sum­mer and fledglings and adults re­turn to the main­land.

NPWS staff and vol­un­teers have planted thou­sands of na­tive plants since 1990, when the is­land was de­clared a Nature Re­serve. The re­cent dis­cov­ery of nests of both Gould’s and white-faced storm pe­trels in­di­cates the habi­tat is re­cov­er­ing, says Amy, ex­plain­ing that Mon­tague is only the fourth known breed­ing site for Gould’s pe­trels, the oth­ers be­ing Cab­bage Tree, Boon­del­bah and Broughton is­lands (see AG 125). “Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres apart are re­ally de­liv­er­ing wide­spread re­sults,” she says.

Mon­tague’s New Zealand fur seal colony is prob­a­bly grow­ing faster than the Aus­tralian fur seal colony, Rob says. Mon­tague is the east coast’s north­ern­most breed­ing colony for both species and both breed Oc­to­ber–De­cem­ber here, with most breed­ing f in­ished shortly af­ter Christ­mas.

Mon­tague’s little pen­guins

As sum­mer ends, f ledged little pen­guin chicks en­ter the wa­ter and both adults and chicks soon leave the is­land. The adults will re­turn the fol­low­ing sea­son and sur­viv­ing chicks will be back in a few years time af­ter reach­ing ma­tu­rity.

“By De­cem­ber, the sec­ond clutch is f in­ished for the little pen­guins and in Jan­uary the adults moult… and then dis­perse from the is­land and we don’t know where they go,” Rob says. “It’s one of the is­land’s mys­ter­ies. They go some­where to feed and build their en­ergy stores in prepa­ra­tion for the next breed­ing sea­son.”

Dur­ing the peak sum­mer breed­ing sea­son, there is a con­stant flurry of ac­tiv­ity in the crested tern colony with adults reg­u­larly re­turn­ing from the sea to feed their chicks, which they iden­tify us­ing unique calls.

Mon­tague Is­land is a strong­hold for little pen­guins, which can be seen just af­ter sun­set from spe­cialised view­ing plat­forms and along walk­ing tracks.

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