The NatureArt visit to Montague Island brought together nineteen participants interested in art and the synthesis between art and the natural history of landscapes. The highlights for this trip were to observe the incredible breeding season for two bird species on the island - the crested terns and silver gulls. Thousands of nests among the granite rocks and Lomandra grasses were visible across parts of the island, and the young chicks of both species were emerging from eggs to begin their early stages of life.
The group departed on Friday from Narooma harbour just after mid-day on a flat sea and a low tide. An uneventful boat crossing with a calm sea and light breeze led to very few birds seen with only the usual Silver Gull and Crested Tern reported.
After a welcome from the NPWS Ranger Kel Myers, and settling in, the first of many nature walks led by Chris Davey explored the lower and western sides of South Island. The vegetation appeared to generally be in good condition with no signs of the past few months dry conditions. July to September rainfall was well below average with October just above the long-term average of 64mm. The total long-term average for July to September is 160mm whilst the 2018 total rainfall for July to September was only 22mm.
The dominant vegetation Spiny-headed Mat-rush Lomandra longifolia was in flower and seeding with the vine Scarlet Runner Kennedia rubicunda as rampant as in the past and about to flower. With the warm conditions fewer than usual numbers and species of birds were recorded and this continued throughout our stay on the island.
Delicious home-cooked food was self-catered and prepared by Gillian Carden, with lots of input from members of the group over the four days. After dinner the party walked down to the landing Jetty and joined a tour that had come out from the mainland. Two volunteer guides with the Parks Service introduced us to the Little Penguins. At around 8:15pm the birds started to come ashore and we were all able to get excellent views as the birds made their way ashore and up onto the island to find their burrows and off-load the food they had brought for their partner and chicks. This particular evening a total of 30 birds came ashore and appeared to be the number that had been landing from this site on previous evenings.
On returning from watching the arrival of the Little Penguins, Chris Davey gave a PowerPoint presentation for about an hour on the natural history of the island.
The following day started with an early morning bird walk at 6:00am, after admiring the wonderful golden sunrise 15 minutes earlier. The bird walks were a slow amble along the 2.7 km of accessible mown paths covering the south island and usually lasted a couple of hours. After breakfast, for those not so keen to experience the sunrise, there was a nature walk which again covered the south island. Artists enjoyed a morning workshop run by Lesley Wallington on observational drawing techniques followed by an afternoon workshop on watercolours of birds in the landscapes after lunch.
In the afternoon ten members of the party spent a couple of hours snorkeling off Pebbly Beach on North Island where the group were joined by both Australian and Long-nosed (New Zealand) Fur seals enjoying each other’s company in the water. There were also numerous lion’s mane jellyfish in the waters.
Before sunset, around 7:45pm, we again joined a tour at the Jetty to watch the Little Penguins coming ashore and again the parade consisted of about 30 birds. On returning from watching the arrival of the Little Penguins, Chris Davey gave a second presentation on some of the research that had been done on the flora and fauna of the island.
On Sunday the bird and nature walks were again followed by art classes in the morning and a second workshop in the afternoon. Any free time was spent drawing, painting or taking photographs. The group was also given a tour of the historic lighthouse, with views from the top of the surrounding island landscape, ocean and coastal views across to Narooma. Two humpback whales were visible on the ocean side of the island.
During the evening the party walked down to the Old Jetty area to enjoy a spectacular sunset and the penguin parade. Again about 30 birds came ashore. It was interesting to see how the birds had to chance their landing with patrolling Long-nosed Fur seals looking for a meal. On the way back from the Old Jetty we stopped off at the shearwater breeding colony to the south east of the lighthouse to appreciate the calls of Little Penguin and shearwaters as they returned to their breeding burrows. Generally the colony was very quiet with the occasional mournful call of the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the less frequent, harsher call of the Short-tailed Shearwater.
On the final morning between packing and cleaning, there was free time to sketch or again stroll around the south island. As had occurred throughout the visit the weather was perfect with a slight breeze, clear skies and a temperature around 23C. After a group photo session we departed the island at 1:00pm with a 20 minute trip back to the calm waters of Narooma harbour. The group set a precedent for visitors to the island by being the first group to sort and take all plastic and recyclable waste, as well as compost back to the mainland for reuse.
The return crossing was on a slightly higher swell than the trip out and accompanied by the usual Silver Gulls and Crested Terns with the occasional Short-tailed Shearwater making an appearance.
Notes on the island’s bird and other fauna
Little Penguin- 30 coming ashore at observed landing sites. Occasionally seen on paths throughout the island at night
White-faced Storm Petrel - Fresh carcase at lighthouse
Wedge-tailed Shearwater- Not assessed but coming in and calling at night as egg-laying was in progress
Short-tailed Shearwater - Not assessed, the occasional call only with egg-laying about to start
Fairy Prion - Carcase, beach washed at Old Jetty
Australasian Gannet- 2 immature only
Great Cormorant- A maximum of 25 fishing on the eastern side of the island during the morning then roosting on guano covered rocks on the western side
Little Black Cormorant- 3
Silver Gulls- Numbers not assessed with an estimated 450 nests
Crested Tern - Estimate of 2074 adults sitting or with chicks
Sooty Oystercatcher - South Island only counted, minimum nine birds
Buff-banded Rail - 4-5 heard on each morning walk
Brown Quail- Occasionally seen on paths with about 2-3 heard each morning walk. Breeding
White-bellied Sea-Eagle - 1 adult and 1 immature
Swamp Harrier- 1 adult and 1 immature
Brown Goshawk-One only seen, photograph taken
Black-shouldered Kite- 1 seen each day
Peregrine Falcon- 2 adult and 2 flying young
Welcome Swallow- 15, breeding
Tree/Fairy Martin- Five seen briefly
Yellow-faced Honeyeater- Many throughout the more wooded western shore. Some resident and many passing through heading south
Golden-headed Cisticola - 4-5 heard on each morning walk
Little Grassbird- very few, occasionally heard on morning walks
Mammal Fauna included the Long-nosed (New Zealand) Fur Seal and Australian Fur Seals; Humpback whales; Dolphins
Vertebrates observed were the two resident lizard species - Whites' skink Egernia whitii and the smaller Lampropholis guichenoti.
Insects included Charaxes sempronius (Four-tailed emperor), Cabbage White butterfly, Meadow argus butterfly, Small Grass Blue butterfly, various moths and large moth pupal cases; skipper sp; Native Blue-banded bee; European honeybee; Carabid tiger beetle; Robber fly sp, Bee fly sp; mosquito; wasp sp., native cockroach sp.
Arachnids and arthropods included millipedes, giant centipede, huntsman spiderlings, 'daddy-longlegs' spider and slaters.
Prepared by Chris Davey