Sunday, June 30, 2013

Another Vagrant.... Pink-eared Duck

     About 4 weeks ago, a report of yet more vagrant ducks at Gould's Lagoon at Granton in southern Tasmania, found me scurrying off to hopefully find them. The focus of my search was 5 Pink-eared Ducks. With only a handful of previous records, they are a decided rarity in Tasmania, and I fully expected to find a 'crowd' of birders, or whatever the colloquial term is for a group of birders--I can think of a few! Not a birder in sight. I had the lagoon to myself.
     A walk along the roadside between the two halves of the lagoon failed to locate any of the Pinkears among the numerous Australasian Shoveler, Grey and Chestnut Teal, a few Hardhead and the Freckled Duck mentioned in the previous blog. I didn't venture into the far northern end of the main lagoon, reasoning that they were unlikely to be among the many "ferals" that roost there. On to the hide for a quick.look at the ducks hanging out there, but still no sign. I decided to walk up the hill near the cormorant roost to overlook the lagoon, thinking that would be my final chance. So I was disappointed that there was still no sign of my "quarry" from this vantage point either. I was just about to give up and head back to my vehicle when, steaming from behind the hill, in line astern, the Pink-eared Duck came into view. Satisfaction and relief! They had been among the ferals at the northern end--a lesson for next time.
      They were mid lagoon with bills and heads in the water up to their eyes as they powered past, apparently a normal feeding method. This is a unique looking duck, with its' strangely shaped, oversize bill, large markings around the eye and striped body, quite unlike any other Australian duck. I've seen this duck in Tasmania and on the Mainland, but it had never occurred to me why it was called "pink-eared". It was only after looking at the images on my computer some hours later, that I could see the small "pink ear" just behind the eye. They are also called Zebra Duck for obvious reasons.
        A hundred metres from me they joined a score of Eurasian Coots feeding mid lagoon. The Pinkears  feed on microscopic invertebrates and seed, and often 'spin' while feeding, creating a vortex and thus drawing up food particles from below the surface. They have a bill adapted to filtering out food as they skim the surface of the water. I've seen Australasian Shoveler using a similar method.
         I returned to my earlier spot along the roadside, hoping I would be closer to the "action" and might get a photograph or two--I wasn't and didn't. I waited for 30 minutes or more, hoping for a photo.opp., but just to add to my 'misery', they stopped feeding and sat on the water with heads tucked into their bodies and slept. This small flotilla slowly passed down the lagoon wafted by a light breeze, but gave no chance of worthwhile photography. I did manage to get a distant shot on another visit, shown at top. Reading up about these ducks, they're described as "often quite tame". I don't think these birds have read the same information! The likely explanation is that they have been shot at or at venues where duck shooting has taken place. They are wholly protected in Tasmania.
          Having written frequently about various rare visitors that have graced Gould's Lagoon this year, I should mention that 'Gould's' is also home to many Australasian Shoveler (male lower image), particularly at this time of year. It's possibly the best and easiest place to see these duck anywhere in the state. I recently counted 40 pairs roosting here, some with the ever burgeoning numbers of Freckled Duck--19 at a recent count.