||June 6-9, 1999 Kangaroo Island, Australia
they sure are loud. What in the heck are they doing?" I ask.
He laughs. "Hear that thumping sound between the squawks? That's the male
beating his flappers against the female's ribs as he lies on top of her. They're
mating." our Nature Escort explains.
"Mating? They sound more like cats fighting than penguins mating."
"Yeah, they do make quite a commotion of it, don't they?" he chuckles.
"Look! There's one right here!" Laura whispers
as she points at a little borough about a few inches from her feet. There's a small beak
and a head popping out of a tiny hole in the bank. It's very difficult to see him in the
dark, but that's soon followed by a stretched neck, snow white chest, stubby flappers, and
finally, two flappy webbed feet with a stub of a tail. He gives us no more than a second
glance, does one of those little penguin shake dances, pecks around to gather some grass,
and retreats back into his nest.
"When they're not mating, they're napping, begging, or courting their
prospective mates. And that's a rather noisy process too." he tells us. It's
not long before we spot more and more of these funny little birds, Fairy Penguins they're
called, here on the northeast coast of the island. They're fairly oblivious to us, as they
carry on their nightly ritual of waddling up the beach from a day's fishing in the
Southern Ocean, to court and find a mate.
The smallest (and probably the noisiest) of these, the world's
penguins, seems to have found a very happy home here on Kangaroo Island. They continue
about their routines, day after day with relatively little disturbance, while sharing the
tip of this 30x70 mile off-coast refuge with (what we've been told is) an astonishingly
wide range of wildlife and very few people (less than two per each square mile).
Our driving around the desolate dirt roads the next day, proves
what we've heard, that people are indeed few and far between. Other than the half dozen or
so 'towns' (sometimes little more than a General Store and a ranch house or two) the
island's animals seem to have their run of the place. It's dusk as we pull into a lone
farm complex, miles and miles from anything else. It's a great spot, just on the border of
the Ravine Des Casoars Wilderness Protection Area, with two small cabins for rent.
with our hostess for the evening, we ask about nearby restaurants that might be open for
dinner. She just laughs, ducks into her kitchen, and comes back with two packs of dried
noodles, some milk and butter. While both hiding our embarrassment and thanking her
profusely, I notice something out of the corner of my eye.
"Oh look, there's three roo's now. No, four . . . five." They hop to
within a stone's throw of us.
"They're so close!" Laura whispers.
"Yeah, I've never seen them come this close to people before. They're probably
on their way across to our grain silo. They love the stuff. We really can't do much to
keep them out of it." she quietly offers. Hum, I guess they do have the run of the
place, I think to myself.
The next morning, I roll over and begrudgingly blink
open my tired eyes. "Well, I guess it's time to get up. The sun's about to rise, and
I don't think the birds are gonna let us sleep anyway."
"They're really chatting up a storm this morning aren't they? I wonder what
they're saying?" Laura asks.
"Probably something like 'hey everybody, let's drop some poop and a few twigs
on this tin roof till the people inside wake up.'" With that, I get
dressed and peak outside to see what all the commotion's about. There's not five or six,
but probably fifty or sixty rose chested Pink Cockatoos perched in the Gum tree just over
our tiny cabin. The rising sun gives their pink underfeathers a deep rich tone, while
lending their white topfeathers a slightly orange hue. A few of them spot me, which starts
yet another ruckus in the leaves. Of course I can't be sure, but this time I'd lay odds
that they're saying to each other "See there? It worked, they're up."
"There's one!! See him?" Laura points out, breaking into
nearly a full sprint, her excitement obvious as she bounds up to be beneath one of the
"Where? Oh yeah. Hey, there's another one over there." Just smokey-brown
fur balls, hanging in the branches.
"Hello! Pisp, pisp, pisp." Laura calls.
No reaction. . . He must be in one of their notoriously deep sleeps. Koalas
supposedly snooze for 15-19 hours of each day.
"Down here! Hey hey, you furry little cutie!" she tries again.
This time, a slight response. We see that when Koalas do move, they
seem very sluggish. Almost in slow-motion, he cocks his head over slightly, peering down
at us from his tree-top vantage point.
"Hi there, what 'cha doin' up there?" she calls again. He just stares. .
"Hey, there's another one looking at us from the next tree too."
"Alright, now one of you has to come down lower so I can see you better."
Laura begs. Now they both just stare . .
"Nice try Hun, but I don't think even Dr. Doolittle could coax them
spot more and more of the cute little fur balls. Most are napping, but some are awake, and
busy munching on Eucalyptus leaves. One or two of the others look to have just woken up,
and stretch out a fur covered leg or arm. Not a care in the world, like they have the run
of the place. Our walk back to the car turns into a spotting contest that finally ends
with a wave and a friendly "Goodbye sleepies, goodbye" from Laura as we drive
The following afternoon, we find ourselves
at Seal Bay. We're here during the time of day that's best for snapping photos - an hour
or so before the sun sets - just as it hangs low and long in the sky, bathing almost
everything in a warm, reddish glow. Also enjoying the last lingering rays of the day's
warm sun, are some likely (and hopefully willing) photo subjects. Our target is the
island's colony of sea lions, spread out before us and lounging lazily on the sand. Over
here a mother, rolled over on her side, eyes closed, peacefully nursing her pup. A few
more steps down the beach, there's a group of cows all laying next to each other, this way
and that, huddled together for warmth. A quick check out in the surf reveals a few of
their pups, playfully body-surfing on the waves. Boy, do they look like they're having a
blast, sleek little bodies all straightened out, noses poking out from the foam of the
crest, all as they're effortlessly pushed back in towards the beach on the rise of a wave.
There seems to be one little pup who's decided not to frolic in the
breakers with the rest of his friends. He's stayed onshore and is busy trying, in vain, to
get his mother to play with him. She's most likely still tired from her days of feeding at
sea, and wants no part of his shenanigans. It's not long before his boredom ferments into
a curiosity - a curiosity for PEOPLE. He looks our way, then suddenly starts bounding
towards us! Tail to flippers, tail to flippers. Badomp, badomp, badomp across the sand. I
fumble with my camera as he comes closer and closer.
quickly crouch down on my haunches, so that I'm more his size. It seems to work. He
appears more curious than afraid, but still pokes around with some degree of caution. He's
right here! About two feet away from my knee. But suddenly, he's decidedly a little
uncertain of this whole scene. He turns and bounds away, back down to his mother. I have
to resist the temptation to jump up and chase him. It's probably best that we just let
them be, after all, they do have the run of the place.