Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wander Lust..... Wandering Whistling-Duck

A report on Birdline Tasmania at the weekend, caught my eye as much from the observers' comments as from the content. Ian Lundy reported seeing 3 ducks at Lake Dulverton, that he described in detail, believing that the birds in question were Wandering Whistling-Duck. He was not able to get any shots with his phone (photographs have become almost mandatory for rare bird sightings). He concluded by saying: "this bird is not found anywhere near here but it is what I saw--please tell me I'm not going crazy". This species breeds in the tropical north of Australia and is uncommon to rare further south, and as far as I'm aware, has not been recorded in Tasmania before, so I guess Ian's comments are not unreasonable.

Being old and sceptical, I awaited developments and they were not long in coming. Paul Brooks sent me an email saying that he had subsequently seen them, confirmed their identity, and thought that it might be possible to photograph them. I have to say I wasn't particularly enthused, my twitching days are largely behind me, but as Lake Dulverton is almost always worth a visit I gave a lukewarm reply.

Consulting the weather forecast for the rest of the week suggested a visit might be better sooner than later, so on Wednesday morning I set forth. It's an hours drive from Hobart and although I set off in high hopes, as I approached Oatlands (where the lake is situated), the weather noticeably deteriorated. At the Mud Walls dam the wind was wiping up waves and this usually good spot for duck held absolutely nothing! Not a good omen. On to Dulverton.

I pulled in to the small carpark overlooking the spot that the previous observers had indicated the birds had been sighted. Looking along the dam wall I could see a flock of about 15 Little Pied Cormorant roosting, and close by, tucked close to and largely hidden by tufts of sedge, I could make out 2 ducks, but the limited view indicated they were almost certainly the birds in question. I then, with the benefit of hindsight, made a gross error of judgement. I got out of the car! The cormorants took off and so too did the duck. Worse, I didn't see where they headed to.

I spent the next 3 hours around the shores of the lake. I watched the very flighty flocks of Hardhead, there were over 500, by far the largest numbers that I've ever see in Tasmania. I noted a few Blue-billed duck, a single pair of Australian Shelduck, and many hundreds of Eurasian Coot. There were noticeably few 'dabblers' such as Chestnut Teal and Black Duck. I then returned to the starting point, and lo and behold, the 'whistlers' were back, and so were the cormorants. No problems this time though. I descended the bank to the shoreline and bird by bird the cormorants flew off leaving the 3 Wandering Whistlers and I shot off several images, one shown. I decided to attempt to approach along the dam wall. I fired off 3 or 4 shots before they flushed, landing about 30 metres away among the low, but dense vegetation of the lake.

I met Els Wakefield shortly afterwards, she was also after photographs of them, and reported that they were now back where she had seen (and photographed) them earlier. Comparison of notes and digital images ensued. I was if anything, relieved at managing to get a few shots, particularly in the blustery conditions which made all the duck very flighty, and I was still annoyed with myself for earlier having flushed them from the dam wall.

With the aftermath of the Mainland floods, with good conditions for waterbird breeding, it probably isn't surprising that these duck have turned up. I think there will most likely be more unusual sighting of "mainland" species. A question has been raised as to the possibility that these birds are "escapees" from a waterbird collection or zoo. While impossible to rule out, I think the behaviour of these 3 birds suggested that they are wild birds.

9 comments:

owheelj said...

Hi Alan. I'm planning on heading up there to have a look tomorrow morning. Where abouts was the spot where you saw the whistling wandering ducks?

BirdingTas said...

Hi Jeremy,
Because such information has in the past caused a few, who have no real interest in the welfare of birds, to target birds mentioned on this blog, I am reluctant to pass on details. From the information mentioned most local birders should have little difficulty in narrowing the area mentioned. You don't list birding or any other 'nature' based pursuit as an interest on your profile.

owheelj said...

Ok no worries Alan, and understandable. I am a very keen naturalist and zoology undergraduate at uni, and also good friends with Paul B, so I have asked him :)

Joey Beatrix said...

target birds as in...shoot them (with a gun not a camera)?

BirdingTas said...

Hi Jeremy,
You have my apologies. I'm afraid you have become part of the collateral damage caused by the lack of ethics by some people photographing birds. They patently have used this blog to identify where some harder to find species could be found. Because some photographers are more interested in the results than the welfare of the birds, I'm now reluctant to 'advertise' where specific birds are to be found.
Looking at your profile and finding no reference to any nature based interests only fueled my suspicions! Glad to hear you got the info from Paul B.,also my source.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Joey,
Well I've been taken to task over my choice of words before, particularly the way I've referred to birds as "targets". I am of course referring to the pursuit of photographing birds. I see that I also use "collateral damage". Perhaps I could put it down to several years in the armed forces, now a lifetime ago. I feel that "target" would seem to fit the bill when photographers pursue specific birds after reading this blog, particularly if they do it to the detriment of the birds' welfare. Please feel free to suggest alternative "softer" options.

Joey Beatrix said...

don't worry, I totally understand. I think I read about this problem in your past blog posts but I'm grateful that you not only care so much but share these precious pictures with us :)

owheelj said...

No worries. We did manage to see (and "shoot") the tree ducks today, but they were in the middle of the top lake so no birds were disturbed :)

We saw a few musk ducks, including 3 males, heaps of hoary-headed grebes and one great cormorant, as well as most of the other birds you mentioned.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Jeremy,
Thanks for the feedback. I was rather remiss in not mentioning other birds present. Apart from your additions, there were Black Swan both nesting and with cygnets, Swamp Harriers, White-faced Heron, several pairs of Australian Shovelers and the usually skittish Purple Swamphen wandering around the grassed areas. The latter because the lagoon is very full, which probably also accounts for the low numbers of teal and Black Duck. There have been reports of Crested grebe from the 'lower' lake.