A world of wildlife on French Island

2 February 2021

2 February each year is World Wetlands Day – a day to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and the planet. The day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention for Wetlands of International Significance on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. 

The Port Phillip & Westernport CMA delivers a number of projects that protect and enhance the internationally important wetlands of Port Phillip (western shoreline) and Western Port.

Western Port cover more than 59,000 hectares and its wetlands are significant due to theirs extensive intertidal sand and mud flats, and areas of saltmarsh, seagrass and mangroves. Western Port also has high representation of marine species, and has important habitat for shorebirds, including migratory waders.  A total of 115 waterbird species have been recorded within the Western Port Ramsar site, including several threatened species and migratory species.  

The Port Phillip & Westernport CMA is involved in extensive pest animal control project on French Island, which is surrounded by the Western Port Ramsar site. Feral cats threaten the survival of wetland birds which forage and roost in the mud flats and saltmarsh surrounding the island. Feral cat management on French Island is aimed at protecting the significant fauna that live on the island and the surrounding Ramsar wetlands.

Camera traps set on the island help monitor the native fauna and how they are influenced by pest management. Some key wetland bird species have been spotted on these cameras, some of which are highlighted below. Visit our French Island feral cat and wildlife monitoring web page for more.

Latham’s Snipe 

The Latham’s Snipe is a migratory shorebird that breeds in Japan and the east Asian mainland, and then migrates all the way to south-eastern Australia. The Western Port Ramsar site provides non-breeding habitat during the northern hemisphere’s winter. They migrate from Japan in late July and begin to arrive in Australia in August. The Latham’s snipe then migrates back to Japan to breed in February. As you can see from the monitoring camera image, they are very well camouflaged and blend into their background.  

Black Swan 

The Black Swan is common waterbird in the wetlands of Victoria, and the Western Port Ramsar site is an important breeding site. In fact, the Ramsar site supports over 20,000 Black swans which is more than 1 per cent of the estimated population. Many individuals nest in the saltmarsh around the island, and in fresh wetlands on the island. We see many Black swans on the monitoring cameras, including young cygnets with their parents.  

White-bellied Sea Eagle 

The White-bellied Sea-Eagle is a large raptor (bird of prey), and is the second largest in Australia, after the Wedge-tailed Eagle. It has a wide distribution across Victoria but is rare, and listed as a threatened species in Victoria. These eagles form pairs for life, and the Western Port Ramsar site provides breeding habitat for this species. Only one breeding site was thought to exist in the Ramsar site in the early 1980s, but reports from 2014 found up to seven sites. Three breeding sites are located on French Island and we often see juvenile White-bellied sea-eagles on the monitoring camera traps.  Unlike the adults they do not have a white belly, but can be recognized by their pale, scruffy hairdo.  

Short-tailed Shearwater 

The Short-tailed Shearwaters is the most abundant seabird within Australian waters.  During summer, they breed in southern Australia mostly on small islands in Bass strait and Tasmania. The Short-tailed Shearwater then migrates to the Northern Pacific off Japan, Siberia and Alaska during our winter months. A significant breeding colony nests at Tortoise heads on French Island. Estimates of up to 250,000 birds have been made within the Western Port Ramsar site. Our camera set up on tortoise heads have captured nesting Short-tailed shearwaters.  

Buff-banded Rail  

The Buff Banded Rail is a ground nesting bird which is found in terrestrial wetlands and coastal wetlands. The Western Port Ramsar site provides breeding and feeding habitat for this species. The Buff-banded Rail prefers dense reeds and vegetation and can be seen when it dashes between vegetation clumps. It is often difficult to see, but the monitoring cameras make it easier to observe on French Island.