07 June, 2011

Duck! Duck! Goose!

How to play: first, find a group of friends then sit in a circle and select one person to be the goose...
No! Not the children's game, but the real ones on the Barwon. There do seem to be rather a lot of them - well ducks that is - and they come in quite a variety of shapes and sizes and seem to inhabit pretty much every part of the river and various tributaries besides. Of course, when river levels are up and water finds its way into unaccustomed places, then ducks it seems will inhabit any kind of puddle or swamp. I have even seen ducks paddling on the running track at Landy Field!
In fact, so common are ducks to the river and to the Bellarine Peninsula in general that there is even a Duck Island located in the mouth of Swan Bay.
On a more light-hearted note, Barwon Heads even holds a "duck race" during its Festival of the Sea event held over a week-end in March each year. Rather than harass the local population of feathered paddlers, several hundred of the small, yellow plastic variety, attired in dark sunglasses, are released into the river as part of a sponsored charity event and make their way downriver, propelled only by the current.
Musk Duck on Lake Connewarre
Of course, ducks have been around for a while. Their remains can be found in the midden heaps of past generations of the Wathaurong and their names appear in local place names. Modewarre is the Wathaurong name for the Musk Duck. "Warre" means sea or ocean, which is interesting considering that Musk Ducks tend to prefer fresh water to salt. Having said that, the one occasion on which I have sighted a Musk Duck was at Tait's Point on the rather brackish Lake Connewarre.
This is a rather odd-looking duck, which takes its name from the scent gland on its rump. They also have a lobe (particularly prominent in males) which hangs beneath their beak, and legs which are set well back, making them great swimmers but not so good at walking, meaning they spend most of their time in the water.
Group of Khaki Campbell Ducks and a Muscovy Duck
(far right) at Balyang Sanctuary.
So, how many species of ducks are there on the Barwon? Well, lots, but I have not yet been able to spot all of them. I can certainly vouch for the presence of Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Pacific Black, Musk and Australian Wood Ducks. In addition to these species, Balyang Sanctuary and the section of the river at Winchelsea, seem to be home to a selection of domestic and mongrel ducks of who knows what origin. I have seen Muscovy Ducks (another odd-looking bird), Khaki Campbell Ducks, what were probably some "manky Mallards" (Mallard-crosses), a white domestic duck or two (possibly some derivative of a Pekin Duck) and a handful of other unidentified birds all of which were probably escaped domestic ducks of some description.
Australian Wood Duck aka Maned Duck or Maned Goose
So, which ducks have I not been able to find so far? Well, various Internet resources inform me, that there a number of other species which I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. They include the Pink-eared Duck, the Australasian Shelduck (also known as the Mountain Duck or Sheldrake), the Hardhead, Australasian Shoveler, Freckled Duck, Northern Mallard and Blue-billed Ducks. If the weather shapes up better than the forecast is predicting for this week, I'm hoping to get out and see if I can tick a few more of them off my list.
Of course, where there are ducks, there is also duck-hunting - an issue which causes much controversy during the hunting season each year and a flurry of media attention at the opening of the season. Naturally, having so many species of ducks in the area, hunting takes place on the Barwon and its surrounds - specifically at the Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve. The hunting season in 2011 extends from 19th March to 13th June which means that as of next Monday, I can again wander along the shores of the lake without risk of copping a stray bullet!
Magpie Goose at Lake Connewarre
So much for ducks! What about the goose? Well, there are a few of those around too, although the number of species of duck seems to be far greater and there is some overlap between the two groups. The Australian Wood Duck which has a somewhat pointed beak and is mainly herbivorous, is also called a Maned Goose. The only other species of goose I have discovered in the vicinity of the river is the Magpie Goose. This is a much larger bird than any of the duck species and is - as the name suggests - a black and white bird. It has a prominent knob on top of its head and my sources inform me that its feet are only partially webbed. It is a herbivore, living on spike-rush, grasses and wild rice. It is also and endangered species here in Victoria. I have only seen Magpie Geese on one occasion - on the edge of Lake Connewarre during the flood which occurred in January of this year. The only other goose around is the Cape Barren Goose (named for Cape Barren Island), however I cannot see any mention of this bird in association with the Barwon, although I do know they are occasionally spotted in the Geelong region. The Cape Barren Goose is an endangered species in Victoria, which probably doesn't help my chances of spotting it, but I'll keep an eye out none-the-less.
Pair of Hardhead Ducks at Jerrringot Wetlands
In a short update on the topic of ducks, I was pleased last week - mid-August 2011 - to discover that a number of Hardhead Ducks have taken up residence at Jerringot Wetlands, although so far they do not seem keen on approaching too closely, preferring to keep their distance.
Several weeks back, out and about without my camera, I also spotted several Australasian Shelducks, not on the Barwon, but rather, having a paddle on Corio Bay. I still have yet to spot them on the river. In recent weeks I have also seeen hundreds of ducks at Hospital Swamp, however I cannot approach closely enough and my camera isn't good enough to zoom in on them, but I suspect I may find some of the species I have not yet seen if I were able to get up close and personal.

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