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.
Anastasis – from Ancient Greek ἀνάστασις (anástasis, “resurrection”).
A funny name for a blog post about Lake Seppings in Albany, Western Australia, but it does describe what happened.
Way back in the Nyittiny (creation times) the spirit Djrat walked on the earth and created south coast of Western Australia and as he walked he left a footprint which filled with water and created a freshwater lake 1.1 Km long and 400m wide. The Minang group of the Nyoongar called this place Tjuirtgellong or “place of the long necked turtle” which was an important food source for them in the summer months. The lake was surrounded by a variety of vegetation. Fringing the lake are bullrushes, sedges, and reeds reeds. Further back were Western Australian peppermint trees, spearwoods, paperbarks, native willows, wattles, banksias and melaleuca. All this provided habitatfor over 100 different bird species including Australian white ibis, yellow-billed spoonbil,white-faced heron, blue-billed duck, musk duck, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, Australian pelican, Eurasian coot, spotless crake, masked lapwing, dusky moorhen, purple swamphen and buff-banded rail.
All was fine and dandy until 1790 when the British explorer George Vancouver arrived. While he was mapping King George Sound he didn’t see any Minang but saw plenty of evidence that they were around and he later wrote that he found a ‘native village; fresh food remains near a well-constructed hut; a kangaroo that had apparently been killed with a blow to the head; a fish weir across what is now called the Kalgan River; and what appeared to be systematic firing of the land.’ (R. Appleyard. ‘ Vancouver’s Discovery and Exploration of King George’s Sound’ in Early Days, Journal and Proceedings of the Western Australian Historical Society, 1986, pp.86-97). That was the start of colonial settlement. As far as the lake is concerned well initially the settlers tried to do the right thing and in 1887 the Albany Municipal Council applied to the state government for permission to make the Lake and some of its surrounding bushland a botanical park. This lasted up until 1900 when it became a rubbish dump for the city of Albany. This sad state continued until 1972 when it was decided by the department of fisheries and fauna to turn the lake into a water fowl reserve.Very quickly the community got on board with initially a bird-walk being established by the Apex club of Albany in 1980. By 2004 a walk around the lake had been completed and the lake was given protected status. In 2018 there was a ‘community planting’ of some 22,000 trees and understory plants to provide a ‘biodiversity corridor’ and habitat for endangered wildlife such as the western ring tailed possum.
Every time we go to Albany I always visit Lake Seppings. I love walking around the edge of the lake and observing all the wildlife. I see it in many ways as a beacon of hope. The local community came together and have made a serious and worthwhile attempt to restore the lake to what it once was it still has a long way to go before it reaches its former status but it is a very good start. For the Nyoongar I hope that the recent claim for compensation for the loss of their traditional lands succeeds and can bring them some way of moving forward.