Author: Mike Carter
When Dawn Neylan, Alison Kuiter and Mike Carter checked in with the Controllers at the Eastern Treatment Plant (ETP) on the morning of 21 February in preparation to do a survey of birds there, they were greeted with an expression all birders dread. “You’re too late; you should have been here earlier!” We then learned that a wildlife carer had just collected a White-faced Storm-Petrel and had taken it into care.
It transpired that sometime after about 11.00 pm the previous night, a Melbourne Water staffer at the Plant had found the bird at the bottom of a large roller shutter door at the entrance to the Power Station. This location is 5 km inland from the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay. Storm-Petrels spend most of their lives at sea on the open ocean and are only ashore during the breeding season where they are active only at night. The relatively shallow, sheltered waters of Port Phillip Bay are not even suitable habitat for these creatures. They require deep, pelagic waters. So what was it doing there? At this time of year the young are ‘fledging, i.e. taking their first flight. Their parents have abandoned them so they must find their own food and make their own way in the world independently. Hopefully their parents have fed them well and left them with a good surfeit of fat to help them survive the transition to life on their own.
The nearest breeding sites of this species are in Port Phillip Bay on Fort Island (AKA South Channel Island) and Mud Islands. Presumably this bird was reared at one of those two sites. Why did it come to ground at the Plant? Possibly because the Plant is well lit and the blaze of lights caused disorientation.
When I visited this bird at Gillian Donath’s Wildlife Refuge at Langwarrin she also had another in care. Furthermore, Nicky Rushworth from AWARE, a wildlife rescue service, advises that refuges across the Mornington Peninsula have a total of at least eleven White-faced Storm-Petrels in care. They first started to be handed to cares on the weekend of 13/14 February. It is no coincidence that this is the time that the first of this year’s young White-faced Storm-Petrels should be fledging. Less advanced birds might continue to emerge for a few weeks. There were some strong and damaging winds in late January but nothing extreme since then so I doubt that adverse weather conditions are an influence in the current spate of strandings.
This is the first record of this species at the Plant.