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Posted at: May 14, 2017, 2:23 AM; last updated: May 14, 2017, 2:23 AM (IST)

As you watch the penguins parade...

Riding the waves, they arrive batch after batch. Penguins of the Phillip Island in Australia, heading for their homes after a day of hard work, offer an awe-inspiring experience to the visitors

Ranjita Biswas

Twilight painted a landscape in grey as the sea and the land lost their demarcating lines. There was silence in the air uncannily reminding of the song “Silent Night” although there were hundreds of people sitting, their heads now silhouettes, waiting patiently. Expectation hushed their voices.

It was time for the penguins to arrive from the sea heading to their nests after a day of swimming and collecting food for their chicks. No light, no photographs please, requested the rangers at the Phillip Island Nature Park, Victoria, Australia, as the flash from cameras tended to disorient the little penguins on their way home after a hard day’s work. The Penguin Parade at the Summerland peninsula is one of the most popular wildlife destinations in the world and winner of many ecotourism awards.

Witnessing the Penguin Parade is indeed an amazing experience. They arrive riding the waves, batch after batch. Once on the beach, they waddle instinctively to their sand dune burrows to meet their hungry chicks. You listen to their calls to their babies and wonder at nature’s marvel as the mothers never go into the wrong nest despite the large number of identical burrows. Mating calls of the adults also remind you that there are love stories everywhere, be it among humans or animals.

Visitors can also watch the little penguins heading for their homes by walking on the boardwalk — the wooden pathways built for the purpose around the area.

The penguins of the Phillip Island are not the Emperor Penguins you saw in the award-winning film Happy Feet. They are Little Penguins, also called Fairy or Blue penguins, the smallest variety of the species. They inhabit South Australia and New Zealand.

Little Penguins stand only 16 to 17 inches tall and weigh just about one kilogram. It is called ‘blue’ because of the indigo-blue and slate-grey colour of their feathers. There are two sub-species: the little, or fairy penguin, and the white-flippered penguin. They prefer the warm waters off southern Australia and New Zealand and hunt small fish and squid in the shallow waters close to the shore during the day. After a night’s sleep, they are back to the water next dawn.

Researchers with powerful binoculars keep track of the approximate number of penguins on the beach from the Penguin Sky Box (apparently there is some method to do it). Sometime ago, some depletion on their number was noticed, especially after these areas attracted more human habitation. The Nature Park authorities bought back the land from the owners, demolished the buildings and built burrows and other facilities so that the Little Penguins could breed and live more peacefully.

The Phillip Island is just a 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne. It has an almost virgin 100 km of beach. The island was named after Captain Arthur Phillip, the founding governor of the Colony of New South Wales, after George Bass discovered the island in 1798.

There are day tours from Melbourne that return after the Penguin Parade.

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