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Welcome this year’s spring babies with these wild adventures around Inverloch.
Story by Krysia Bonkowski.
Spring has sprung and along the coast south-east of Melbourne, winter’s chill has given way to wildflowers and baby animals, enough to melt the coldest heart. From puffy penguin chicks and knock-kneed lambs to cheeky seal pups – here are the best places to spot the new arrivals.
The time is right to catch sight of native animal youngsters in the coastal heath stretching from Phillip Island to Wilsons Promontory National Park. But for Dr Mark Antos, Parks Victoria’s manager of science and management effectiveness, the most precious residents are the trickiest to spot. “Nocturnal small mammals might be hard to see, but they’re pretty exciting from our perspective as they’re so rare,” he says.
Lucky visitors to Point Smythe, Cape Liptrap and the Wonthaggi Heathlands might spot the southern brown bandicoot – currently with mini bandicoots in tow – or the tiny but tenacious white-footed dunnart.
Easier to spy in scrubby areas along the coast are swamp wallabies, eastern grey kangaroos and wombats, many now accompanied by joeys. Dr Antos suggests watching out for South Gippsland’s unusual “latte-coloured” wombats near Inverloch and Cape Liptrap. The Prom Wildlife Walk yields sightings of roos, wallabies and emus, and Tidal River – the national park’s main camping and accommodation centre – attracts some plucky wombats.
Wombat grazing at Wilsons Promontory. Image supplied by Visit Victoria
In the opinion of Phillip Island Nature Parks’ communications manager Roland Pick, Churchill Island Heritage Farm on Churchill Island is currently at its cutest. “Could there be anything sweeter than a highland calf nuzzling into mum, a little lamb frolicking in the paddock with its siblings, or a line of ducklings learning how to swim?” he says.
The tiny island is connected to Phillip Island by the Samuel Amess Drive bridge. “Churchill Island is a wonderful place year round, but it truly celebrates new life during spring.”
Nesting is also underway in Phillip Island’s famous little penguin colony. “Fuzzy little penguin chicks usually start appearing any time from October onwards,” Roland says. “As they get to about six weeks of age, they start popping out of their burrows at night hoping to find mum or dad coming home with a feed. They don’t seem to mind whose mum or dad it is either, as they’re pretty keen to approach any adult penguin that looks like it has a full belly.” The Penguin Parade is currently being updated to improve the experience for both visitors and its pint-sized stars.
The Inverloch region is home to birds of many feathers. According to BirdLife Bass Coast member Gordon Barrett, spring is the perfect time to see them. “The majority are in breeding plumage, and males are seeking territories and mates,” he explains. He recommends budding birders swing past hubs such as the Bunurong Environment Centre for bird-watching guides.
Gordon and other volunteers are busy helping Parks Victoria cordon off nests of the endangered hooded plover, which raises chicks on beaches from Kilcunda to Venus Bay. Gordon says that if you encounter any baby bird on the ground, avoid touching it – mum or dad might be close by. “By all means have a look and enjoy them if you can see them,” adds Dr Antos. “But just be mindful that the beach is a critical nesting habitat.”
As Wildlife Coast Cruises’ environmental officer, Jennifer McFee has ample experience spotting seabirds. She recommends Phillip Island’s Rhyll Inlet wetland and Cape Woolamai, where around a million short-tailed shearwaters nest from late September to April. “These birds have an impressive migration,” says Jennifer. “In our winter they fly all the way up to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska … 15,000 kilometres each way.” Visit Cape Woolamai at dawn or dusk to see shearwaters at their most active.
Seals and dolphins frolic in Bass Strait, as do migrating humpbacks, southern right whales and orca. Wildlife Coast Cruises visit seal colonies at Kanowna Island near Wilsons Prom and Seal Rocks off Phillip Island, where more than 20,000 Australian fur seals play and bask.
Although curious seal pups can be seen year-round, thousands are born between November and February. “Did you know that female Australian fur seals are pregnant for the entire year, bar 10-odd days?” Jennifer offers. “The females utilise ‘embryonic diapause’ to delay pregnancy so pups are always born in summer and get the best chance of survival.”