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2009: Little Penguins, Tasmania

The Honeyeaters' Tree

A chill set in as a breeze picked up off the sea at Eaglehawk Neck, enough that I started shivering. I hoped the main attraction wouldn’t be long.

In the gathering gloom only the nearer waves were worth scanning for the visitors’ swimming shapes. So it was a surprise to catch movement in the surf – an upright profile, looking round, alert for danger. The gulls were further off, maybe deterred by the onlookers. We were actually a benefit to the
one, two, three, four creatures now all lurking, surveying the stretch from sea to scrub, evaluating the safety of the final dash to their chicks.

One started the perilous waddled journey, then another. Little penguins, fairy penguins, blue penguins – call them what you will – they approached within yards of us. Just the four, but the more precious for it.

Flash! We stopped being a benefit. Some idiot was firing off a camera despite notices asking not to blind the birds, or disturb them in any way. Which should have been a given except to the doziest fuckwit.

And the planet is full, and getting fuller, of dozy fuckwits.

The four birds scrambled to safety.

My teeth joined the shivering act and within minutes, and no further penguins, I too padded into the scrub and back to the car. It was marvellous timing: one bird crossed my path on its devious route to its burrow. What a privilege. It was almost as though it knew who to trust.

The evening wildlife show wasn’t over. Thus far I’d stuck to the advice of not driving at dusk (dawn was easy!) for fear of hitting animals on the road. There was no choice that night but I just pootled along and had my second reward in a real live Tasmanian devil. It was in no hurry to get out of the way of the car and I could see how the dogs became easy prey for motorised devils.

Once ensconced back at the Lufra, the whole day called for a celebration pint of Boag’s, the island’s northern beer to complete the set. It had been a great start for what had been Plan B – way beyond expectations. The rest of the week would plummet from this height in so sharp a drop that I would be glad of the end of it. Though that too carried a sting. ⇐

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