ON THE WING
Birdwatchers are known for the checklists they keep of birds spotted in their lifetimes, but the only one that really matters to me is the tally I have from my garden.
With a remarkable 52 species (not including introduced ones), I thought I had reached the limit with the sighting of a male pink robin last winter. A surprise awaited me this winter, however, returning home from a birding foray to the Waterworks Reserve.
A pair of wood ducks were perched in a white peppermint gum on the bank of the stream that forms a boundary at the end of my garden. By coincidence, I had been in correspondence with a reader who lives at Strickland Ave at South Hobart and had reported a pair of wood ducks trying to build a nest in a eucalyptus on her property.
Wood ducks (pictured) are unusual among the duck fraternity. Not only do they leave the safety of open water to graze on grass, they also nest in hollows in trees, sometimes at a considerable height. It appeared the Strickland Ave pair had built a nest in the fork of a tree, which raises the question of how the ducklings leave the nest.
The wood ducks above my garden did not appear to be scouting a nest site and had moved on within about 30 minutes, but it was still wonderful to add them to my garden checklist alongside the only other duck I have seen in my stream, pacific black ducks. These, I might add, have successfully reared ducklings from time to time.
Both wood ducks and black ducks are common at the Waterworks Reserve near my home. It is special, however, to be able to observe them without leaving the comfort of my living room. Birds seen from my windows have included such rarities – for a suburban area, at least – as olive whistlers and beautiful firetails.
My garden list also includes eight of the 12 bird species found nowhere else on Earth but Tasmania. I always regard the endemic species as my exotics, although the wood ducks have attained a status of their own.
They are beautiful birds but because they are so common in park and paddock they tend to get overlooked. The males have long russet feathers on their heads and neck, which can look like a mane. Another name for woods ducks is, in fact, maned ducks.
Matching the russet feathers is a silvery grey livery on the back and breast, with white in the wings. Females are scalloped brown in colour.
Wood ducks, along with their preference for grass and tree hollows, are also notable for their unusual song, which to my ears can sound like a cat meowing.
It can make for an eerie sound on a dark and dismal late-winter afternoon, after the sun has set behind kunanyi/Mt Wellington.