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.
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.