Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Back to "Gould's"......Freckled Duck

         A report of 3 Freckled Duck at Gould's Lagoon last weekend by Lachie Clark, had me scurrying off to "Gould's" early on monday morning. The report only said 'possible', but by the description that followed I was in little doubt. They are correctly described as "rare" or "vagrant" in Tasmania, but a few have appeared over the years.  It's many years since I have seen one here, so I arrived, fully expecting that there would be a throng of eager twitchers seeking them out, but I was on my lonesome.
          Lachie had mentioned them being on the eastern lagoon alongside the railway line, but a quick scan didn't produce any sighting. I walked to the northern end and eventually found a single "freckled" following a pair of Chestnut Teal as they fed in the shallow water, but all rather silhouetted against the rising sun. I could now see why the first observer had so much difficulty in identifying them--it had little or no distinguishing marks save for the odd shaped head. Further scanning produced two more "freckled", lurking among the reeds. I took a few shots, but the light was terrible and the birds were distant. I decided to bird the lagoon and return when the sun had risen further.
           On my return I couldn't even find these birds. Oh well, that's the way it goes sometimes. On the 'western' lagoon, I did photograph a few roosting duck with heads tucked into their bodies that appeared to be Hardhead, which have been common here for much of the summer, and headed for home.
           On reviewing my shots of the "Hardhead", I realised they were the Freckled Duck! Red face time! So I decided to return the following day.
            Day 2 and a quick scan of the eastern lagoon revealed no ducks at all, so I walked to the same spot I had seen them the previous day--they were there. I was soon joined by Els Wakefield, also seeking to photograph them. Fortuitously, after watching sleeping "freckled" for 20 minutes or more ('watching drying paint' comes to mind), one set off to fed, hurrah! It gave the opportunity of getting the sort of shot we hoped for, and we set to. When this bird disappeared behind a small reedbed, I glanced down the lagoon, wasn't that another "freckled"! It didn't seem likely, but I set off, trying to keep low behind the sparse vegetation along the roadside--indeed it was, making a total now of four. This bird too, gave a reasonable chance to observe (and photograph) for several minutes, before joining the other duck back at the roost site.
             Reading up about this species of duck, I came across the word used for this ducks feeding method--"suzzling". What a great word! It refers to the action of filter feeding, where the duck sucks particles into the bill tip and expels water near the bill base, as it feeds on seeds and small crustaceans. "Our" birds noticeably 'dribbled' as they fed. During the breeding season, the males have a bright red area between nostrils and forehead on the upper mandible. Looking at some of the images, it appears that at least 2 of the Gould's birds had evidence of dark red on the upper bill, suggesting they are males.
              Freckled Duck are arguably Australia's rarest, endemic duck, with an estimated population of less than 20,000. They breed in the areas around the Lake Eyre Basin, western NSW and south west Queensland, often after flooding. After successful breeding years (Lake Eyre region has been in flood in recent years) they move out of their breeding areas as the interior dries, seeking better conditions. If drought persists they irrupt into coastal areas, and many have been recorded around coastal areas of Mainland states in recent months. Unfortunately, this irruption often coincides with the "shooting season" and many are shot. They are wholly protected throughout Australia.