Par­adise awaits

Hunters in Aus­tralia’s south­ern states know the moun­tain duck well. What they may not know is that moun­ties of­ten stray over The Ditch and when they do, are usu­ally seen in the com­pany of a well-known lo­cal, the par­adise shel­duck.

Field and Game - - ACROSS THE DITCH -

The re­sem­blance is re­mark­able: sim­i­lar plumage, sim­i­lar graz­ing habit, even the calls aren’t a mil­lion miles apart. They’re ob­vi­ously close rel­a­tives.

‘Par­ries’ have had a wild ride since hu­mans ar­rived in th­ese is­lands — once treated with great re­spect, then slaugh­tered — but it turned out all right in the end.

Maori had strict rules around pro­tect­ing par­adise ducks dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son, but later (when the birds were at their fat­test) the moult left them flight­less and adults and ju­ve­niles alike were easy enough to round up off water. They were of­ten pre­served in their own ren­dered fat in kelp tubes — hinu kai to Maori, con­fit to a French chef.

James Cook was, in his own words, com­pelled to explore “far­ther than any other man”. In the sum­mer of 1773 he turned Res­o­lu­tion and his men south of the Antarc­tic Cir­cle, to­wards the ice and be­yond the edge of the known world.

They sailed a full 117 days with­out sight of land then limped into deep­est Fiord­land on the South Is­land to re­sup­ply. From March to May he made notes on the abun­dant foods to be found in Dusky Sound, in­clud­ing fish and crays.

Duck Cove he named for a par­tic­u­larly fine day’s gun­ning, Goose Cove for the re­lease site for five birds he had brought from the Cape of Good Hope.

To pre­vent scurvy, he brewed beer from rimu (a na­tive tree some­thing like spruce) and manuka (tea tree) tips mixed with mo­lasses — the first beer brewed in New Zealand. Sev­eral of the crew spot­ted a mys­te­ri­ous four-legged an­i­mal, but “no two could give the same de­scrip­tion of it”. The iden­tity of this mys­tery an­i­mal has been the source of spec­u­la­tion ever since, but the words ‘sailors’ and ‘beer’ might be a clue.

Cook made per­haps the first Euro­pean record of the par­adise duck, which he named the painted duck for its ‘very beau­ti­ful var­ie­gated plumage’. To this day it is known to sci­ence as Tadorna var­ie­gata. The male is the dark one, while the fe­male has a strik­ing white head.

Cook spent the rest of the time sit­ting in rain, swat­ting sand­flies, fight­ing sup­ple­jack and prob­a­bly wish­ing he had some proper beer. (Fiord­land hasn’t changed a lot since.)

Sadly, par­ries were to take a beat­ing over the next cen­tury at the hands of un­reg­u­lated mar­ket gun­ners. Thou­sands were sold into the mar­kets of the cities. Ac­cord­ing to some ob­servers their ex­is­tence on the North Is­land was touch and go, and there are even re­ports of them hav­ing to be in­tro­duced (or rein­tro­duced) there.

Th­ese his­to­ries of­ten fol­low a de­press­ing pat­tern but the story of the par­adise duck takes a happy turn. Since those com­mer­cial days New Zealand has con­verted a lot of bush to pas­ture, and while that hasn’t helped some na­tive species, it has been a life­saver for oth­ers.

The call of the male is richer and deeper than that of the fe­male. It’s not al­ways a wel­come sound. I don’t know how many stalks on a stag, tahr or chamois have been messed up by a pair of par­ries kick­ing up a storm of alarm calls.

“Oh dear, there seem to be some par­adise ducks ob­struct­ing our progress” (or words to that ef­fect), is a fre­quent story among frus­trated big game hunters.

Opin­ions are di­vided among wa­ter­fowlers on the par­adise duck as a ta­ble bird, but those opin­ions more or less re­flect kitchen skills. Like most game they are poor when dry roasted, bet­ter when cooked moist with stock or orange juice. With a lit­tle pork fat and some spices, they make su­perb smoked salami. A modern duck hunter, fol­low­ing the rules of game man­age­ment and en­joy­ing th­ese treats through the short days of win­ter, may not re­alise that

he is liv­ing an echo of some very old cus­toms. We’ve come full cir­cle.

Here in North Can­ter­bury, late sum­mer and au­tumn fall low and slow. As the nights draw in, morn­ing mists set­tle on count­less fields of wheat and bar­ley stub­ble. It’s the time of the spe­cial parry sea­son, when flocks gather on cut fields — a time of easy, re­laxed hunts and straw bale blinds. Dur­ing the breaks there’s time to re­flect upon one of our great­est achieve­ments as a hunt­ing com­mu­nity. The parry is a bird once brought low by mis­treat­ment, but to­day — thanks to bal­anced game reg­u­la­tions, agri­cul­ture, fenc­ing and plant­ing, ponds and dams (thou­sands of which were sub­sidised by hunters’ li­cence fees) — there are more par­ries than at any time in his­tory.

Con­tact with hu­mans is al­ways por­trayed as neg­a­tive, but it’s ac­tu­ally a game of win­ners and losers — and the hum­ble parry is a win­ner, with­out a shadow of a doubt.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.