Now it is fair to say that Australia is home to some pretty strange animals. One only has to look at the Platypus, the echidna and even the humble kangaroo. To my mind one of the strangest is the musk duck (Biziura lobata). They can be found on fresh water lakes in the southwest corner of Western Australia.
What makes them so strange? Well to start with they don’t quack like a duck. They emit a sound that is more akin to a demented sonar. They are rarely seen on land and are reluctant fliers. On the water they float very low in the water often giving the impression that just their head is above the waterline. They are prolific underwater swimmers staying under for as long as a minute and diving up to a depth of 6m and demonstrate incredible agility as they do so. In appearance they are a very dark grey to black, have a stiff tail and broad heavy bill. The males are considerably larger than the females and weigh over 3Kg while the females can weigh up to 1.5 Kg. This makes them the second heaviest diving duck in the world. The males also have a strange leathery lobe under the bill, and in the breeding season they have a very strong musk odour hence the name. The courting behaviour of the males is quite striking – they strike the surface of the water with their feet then immediately after make a couple of clucking sounds followed by a lot of whistles and a grunt. This is repeated very five seconds or so for as long as half an hour. The first time I encountered this was at Lake Seppings in Albany. I heard these odd splashes and weird sounds repeatedly coming from just beyond the reed beds but couldn’t see what was causing the commotion. As I continued walking the reeds parted sufficiently and with the help of standing on a nearby bench I was able to see what was going on. It really is quite a performance and once seen never forgotten. In Perth Musk Ducks can be seen on both lakes in the Yellagonga Regional Park and Herdsman Lake. Hard to see at first so listen for the strange noise and you’ll soon find them.
They are not hunted as they are not considered nice enough to eat and the only thing that threatens their status is the clearing and draining of wetlands.
Originally what is now Lake Claremont was a swamp with a series of small pools edged with reeds and then surrounded by paperbark trees. There was abundant plant an animal life and it was an important hunting and gathering place for the Mooro clan of the Nyoongar in the warmer months of the year.
In 1831 European settlers began to clear the land for farming and by the 1890’s there were market gardens and a then state of the art dairy farm. Things looked good and the area prospered. However, this state of affairs was short lived as by the turn of the Twentieth Century the water level rose and the farms were flooded and a permanent lake which rises and falls with the seasons was formed. In the 1950’s Claremont Town Council reclaimed large areas for a rubbish tip and renamed it Lake Claremont in the process. In the 1960’s it was decided to beautify the lake and its surrounds. Sections were infilled to create a golf course and the school playing fields. In time two small bird sanctuary islands were created and there has been a move to manage the the lake in a more ecological manner. The Friends of Lake Claremont are an enthusiastic and very active bunch of local residents and volunteers who have undertaken to assist in the conservation and enhancement of Lake Claremont. There activities have been crucial in weed eradication programs and revegetation projects working in tandem with pupils fromScotch College and Graylands Primary School. They also have annual public events including Clean Up Australia Day, National Tree Day and Celebrate Lake Claremont Day (community fair). More details can be found on their website.
So that was then and this is now. What does the lake offer today? Well the wetlands of the Swan Coastal Plain are internationally acknowledged as a bio-diversity hotspot having a greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. Since colonisation three quarters of the wetlands have been drained for urban development. Those that remain are adversely effected by the introduction of feral animals and plants. In this context Lake Claremont is like a biosphere. In the past ten years or so eBird Australia has listed 116 species of bird that can be found on or around the lake which makes it somewhat of a birders paradise. The path around the lake and the bird observation platform make it easy to spot birds all year round. To make it so that you know what you are looking for you can down load an illustrated brochure listing the birds from the Town of Claremont website.
In addition to the nature based activities there is a 3 Km dual use path that circumnavigates the lake which is very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists. Dogs are welcome on a lead. The walk is enjoyable all year round and if you start the car park and head off in a clockwise direction then you can stop at the TeeBox Cafe shortly before returning to the car park. For the youngsters who need to burn off some energy before looking at the ducks there are two playgrounds. If dad doesn’t care for looking at the ducks then he has the option of playing a quick nine holes of golf.
No this is not the racist joke joke about people from ethnic minorities and prison. This is a sensible post about ibis. Now not a lot of people know this – but there are three species of ibis in Australia. The most well known is the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) also commonly known as the Australian Bin Chicken and sometimes referred to as the tip turkey thanks to its habit of rummaging in rubbish. I think we can all agree it is not a very good looking bird, in fact it looks a little primeval.
The second ibis that people may be aware of is the Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis)and they are fairly widespread and can be found around shallow fresh water bodies. They have not succumbed to an urban diet of rubbish but feed on aquatic insects, molluscs, frogs, and on land, they thrive on grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts.
The third is one that most people are unaware of, and that is the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Seen in dull flat light the bird appears to be a dark dirty brown colour, but it is when it is seen in strong directional light its plumage takes on an iridescent green-and-purple gloss. One might almost say that for an ibis it is a good looking bird. They, like their straw-necked cousins, can be found foraging around large shallow fresh water bodies for frogs, snails, aquatic insects and spiders. This is also our most cosmopolitan ibis being found not just in Australia but also in warm regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Atlantic and Caribbean regions of the Americas.
Ok Ok if the last backyard birds was a little stretch over what is my backyard this one is a huge leap – across the road. From my neighbour across the road’s front garden came this delightful occurrence – Carnaby’s Black-cockatoos roosting. These large cockatoos are now endangered thanks to widespread land clearing so it was fantastic to have them visit the neighbourhood.
What do you do when you’ve got 2 hours to kill while in the Wheatbelt metropolis of Northam? Go looking for Black-fronted Dotterels that’s what! These busy little birds can be found on the muddy shoreline looking for insects and small molluscs.
Welllllllll…not strictly true. This Nankeen Kestrel was on the power pole on the nature strip in front of our house. Another metre and it would have been in the front garden so I’m claiming it. They often perch there in the cooler months to either observe the field opposite for small animals or to eat the small animal they’ve just caught. This one was running an observation post.
Well it seems that the COVID-19 restrictions have been in place for an age. Here in Western Australia the social distancing requirements aren’t as strict as some places, but we still aren’t able to go where we want and do what we want. It makes me more appreciative of what my parents went through growing up in the Great Depression and then after that the Second World War. But anyway to keep myself from going totally mad I’ve been working on a few projects. This one is to document all the birds that come into our backyard. I’ve not got them all by any means. Some are very elusive and just don’t want their photos taken for some reason. Can’t imagine why. Here is a selection form the last couple of weeks.
Well that’s it for this week. Stay safe, keep positive and try and keep busy.
Walking down by the Avon this morning there was a lot of commotion. A steady “prrrp-prrrp” sound followed by a flash of bright colour. Scanning the trees I found what I was looking for in the branches of a big old dead gum tree. A male rainbow bee eater bashing a large insect on the branch till it was dead so it could take it to its young brood. On further inspection I noticed that there was a holding pattern going on with mum and dad taking it in turns to take food to their ever demanding young.
A further shufti and I find the burrow and settle myself in to watch the parents fly in the food supplies. It was non stop, no let up at all. First off we see dad make a trip.
As soon as he is clear it’s mum turn.
All pictures taken with a Panasonic Lumix G85 with Panasonic Leica Vario Elmar 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens.
Below is a short video clip containing footage of the birds and some more stills.
The last few mornings dog walks have been spiced up by some very territorial brown goshawks. As we walk along the river and then down onto the river bed we can hear them calling and chattering. It then goes quiet for a second or so and then there is a loud whoosh as you are buzzed from behind. As the bird passes overhead you can feel the air current generated by its wings. At first I thought the birds were objecting to the dog but I and this pattern persisted for about a week. But then something happened that disabused me of that notion – my hat suddenly became the victim of a bird of prey. The last time it happened they managed to knock it off my head. I’m beginning to think my bicycle helmet may be more appropriate headwear.