Not far from Portland, Victoria, there is a major nesting colony of Australasian Gannets safely out of reach of foxes on Lawrence Rocks.
Whilst the rock is safe from terrestrial predators real estate is at a premium. In 1996 some adventurous Gannets gave it a go on Point Danger. It wasn’t a great success but humanity stepped in, fenced the area and there is now quite a colony, the only colony on the mainland. It depends for its success on a tall outer and an electric inner fence. Maremma dogs were trialled as guards but were not a great success.
At the weekend I was lucky enough to be invited into the enclosure.
You can get a good telescope view of the colony from a viewing platform about 125 metres from the birds and you can get a little closer by following the perimeter fence around to the left. But if you are lucky enough to be granted access you can get to about 25 metres away.
As you can see from the photos it was a great opportunity. And this isn’t the breeding season. That runs from October to February corresponding with the Bonney Upwelling when ocean currents bring nutrients that trigger a boom in the food chain from the bottom up, a good time to be feeding youngsters.
When you get close to a Gannet colony part of the fun is spotting the one that doesn’t belong. When I visited the Lambert’s Bay colony of Cape Gannets the big news was one Australasian Gannet among thousands of the locals. Likewise at Point Danger the visit was all the sweeter for finding a Cape Gannet in the crowd …
The Cape Gannet is the one on the right showing off its long gular stripe. On the Australasian Gannet the stripe is much shorter. You can just make it out on the guy on the left also pointing his bill up.
There are some other differences that help distinguish the Cape, it has an all black tail whereas the Aussie has a black centre and white outer tail feathers. Their call is also harsher. There is no substitute for getting up close.