No ducking feathered friends’ wisdom
The river came up sharply overnight on Tuesday after the weekend rain and the ducks were in loud conversation when we took our morning walk.
The black duck, wood duck and mountain duck were their usual noisy selves, although they have been with us since the environmental flow got under way in mid-July.
The resident pair of mountain ducks were perched high on a red gum branch, honking at us as we wandered past.
The Boss isn’t sure why they call them the mountain duck, since they are rarely seen in the mountains — they are mostly concentrated in south-west Victoria and across to the Coorong.
They are a large bird with bright chestnut breasts; the male has a white neck ring and the female a white eyespot. The males are easy to mimic, too, and The Boss often has the pair flying around in wide circles to see what the interloper looks like.
The wood duck — the most common resident duck around our irrigation district — has a distinctive meow, like a cat, whereas the only duck with what you’d call a “quack” is the female black duck. The male has more of a hiss.
What got The Boss more excited was half-a-dozen grey teals, with the females cheerily cackling away in their soft “laughing” call.
“How do they know the river is up, General?” he asks. We hadn't seen many teal for months.
To my mind, it’s not unlike the way I can tell that gorgeous little Labradoodle on the other side of the highway is ready for me but The Boss can see what I’m thinking and urges me to rid my mind of unworthy thoughts.
“Smell might play a part in locating suitable wetlands but the experts think it’s something to do with pressure gradients caused by weather systems, as well as low-frequency sounds like those from distant thunder storms.”
He said researchers had discovered grey teals responding to thunderstorms hundreds of kilometres away. But other research from Charles Sturt University indicates these avian nomads will respond to weather events well over 1000 kilometres away — way out of hearing range.
And there is no doubt they can move quickly: a teal marked at Mangere in Auckland was shot the next day 125 km away.
The Boss reckons migratory birds like those in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere respond more to triggers like daylight hours and temperature before they move, whereas our teals have developed more subtle senses so they can range for opportunity, rather than “migrate’’.
Which is why they are turning up now. Woof!
The General is The Boss’s dog. For more yarns, visit sheppnews.com.au/ thegeneral