ON THE WING

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Grow Your Own - WITH DON KNOWLER

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.

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