I promise, Dear readers, that this is my last blog (for now) about the bird life I encountered in Australia. When I arrived home, I shared with Gill my adventures. And, for once, I won the game of one-upmanship.
Gill used to regale me, when she lived in Scotland, with stories of the daily penguin walk at the Edinborough zoo. I think she was trying to get me to visit her and figured, if I didn’t care enough to come to see her, I’d at least want to see the penguins.
I just couldn’t make it happen. It’s not that I didn’t want to see her, the time was never right. Plus, if she comes here, she can see the whole family. If I go there, it’s just me. I don’t kid myself that, although she loves me and is happy to spend time with me, I’m the only attraction. She also wants to see her siblings — although trying to nail down Crazy D to being in a particular place at a specified time is tricky. And, given that we do see her here twice a year for 3 weeks at a time, perhaps the solution of having her come here worked out for the best. Although I must say, the penguins as added inducement was a brilliant idea.
Gill has always been fascinated by penguins. Who isn’t, really? She said recently that her dear friend from South Africa has invited her to go home with her and see the penguins there. I was jealous, thinking Gill would get to see wild penguins before I did.
But I just beat her in our game of ‘who sees them first?’ While in Australia, we went to Phillip Island, near Melbourne, to watch the fairy penguins, the smallest type, march from the ocean at dusk up into the hills to their burrows. This happens nightly — to an audience of eager tourists and bird lovers.
When we were there, it was the beginning of autumn in Oz. The nature centre where penguin research is done is perched high on a rugged cliff by the ocean. With the cold breezes blowing in from Antarctica, it is a cold, almost bleak landscape. On the beach itself are viewing stands for the public to watch the nightly march. It is done in such a way that the visitors have an excellent view of the little birds without disturbing them.
In recent years, the centre has added an underground bunker (in no way related to Bush, Cheney and their bunker) from which visitors can have an up-close and personal view of the penguins. When you are in the bunker, you are at eye level with the birds. They first appear onshore when dusk falls. At first, there might be only one or two birds. They stand, still in the water, looking around, almost bewildered looking, as if to say, “Now what is it we’re supposed to do?” They gradually gain their confidence, scramble over slippery rocks, and begin their trek up the paths to the burrows for the night. As it gets darker, clusters of the penguins appear. They keep coming, hundreds and possibly thousands of them, waddling so fast they almost trip over each other. As they waddle, their tiny flippers flap ever so slightly, probably helping them move. They have excellent eyesight and, being aware of the dim light from the bunker, often scoot right up to the glass and peer in through the glass. I was at the front(and no, I didn’t kill anyone to get to the front) and was beak to nose with the little guys. What an experience!
We watched them for an hour and even as we walked along the boardwalks on our way out, we could see the wee penguins beneath us in the sand, still waddling, to reach their destinations. It was the experience of a lifetime.
I admit, I had to be searched as we got to the car — just to make sure I hadn’t ‘accidentally’ brought a penguin home with me. Don’t laugh…I tried!
So, Gill, it’s up to you now. You must go to South Africa and have a penguin adventure. And perhaps you’ll have better luck than I at kidnapping one…