Little penguins, subject of a new book, are ‘so unique’

Warrnambool author and photographer Ken Stepnell has had dozens of books published, but his newest work is one close to his heart.

Mr Stepnell’s book is based around his photographs of Middle Island’s little penguins, also known as blue penguins and fairy penguins, which stand about 30 centimetres tall.

The species is found in New Zealand and parts of the southern half of Australia.

Warrnambool’s little penguin colony has gained a lot of attention in recent years, first due to its near decimation by foxes, and then by the unorthodox solution developed to protect the birds using Maremma sheep dogs.

The long-time resident and passionate wildlife photographer hopes locals will flick through Little Penguins: Exploring the Life of the World’s Smallest Penguin and get to know more about the fascinating birds living on their doorsteps.

“They are so unique,” Mr Stepnell said.

“They are attractive in their own way.”

Mr Stepnell has spent his life in regional Victoria, and worked as a dairy inspector before his photography passion took over.

“Photography got in the way of my work, so I gave up work,” he said.

Mr Stepnell has a particular interest in Australian birds, but he has had books published on topics ranging from classic cars to native wildflowers to other Australian animals.

The book, which will be distributed across Australia and internationally, also features some photographs snapped at Port Campbell, as well as a section dedicated to the Middle Island Maremma project.

It covers the life cycle of little penguins in detail, explores threats to the species’ existence and conservation, and provides a guide to watching the birds.

In December last year, volunteers recorded the highest numbers in Middle Island’s penguin colony in five years at 250, however, prior to fox attacks, the population had around 900 birds.

The book will be available at Warrnambool’s two bookshops and at the Flagstaff Hill gift shop.