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.
This nature photography lark is a lot harder than it looks. I follow a couple of YouTube channels from the UK that weekly show the host going out to some location to photograph and /or film a particular animal or plant. They always find it and always get good images. My experience is a bit different to that. I find that you can go out with all the best intentions in the world, but if nature isn’t playing ball then you don’t get anything. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve set out to look for the Cleopatra’s Needles Orchid (Thelymitra apiculata) driving 100’s of kilometres to find absolutely nothing. Take last weekend. We were down in the South West of Western Australia as my partner was again playing in a croquet tournament. So I’d researched what was about in terms of birds and orchids and set out to several locations with a specific list of what I wanted to photograph. The first stop was Malbup Creek Bird Hide where I wanted to see tawny frogmouths and white-bellied sea-eagles. Well I spent a nice morning at the hide without seeing them. I did get a nice shot of a shelduck and the local kangaroos were hamming it up for a photo.
The next stop was Locke Nature Reserve looking for common helmet and midge orchids. Well after a couple of hours of scrabbling around in the undergrowth fighting off the unwanted attentions of the local mosquitoes I’d found lots of them, but none in flower. There were some Splendid Fairywrens in the nearby bushes but they really didn’t want their picture taken and kept dancing out of the way every time I got close. On the walk back to the car a couple of Western Yellow Robins flew slightly ahead of me. They would stop and perch periodically and I was lucky enough to grab a few frames.
My last spot was Westbay in Augusta looking for scented autumn leek orchids. Now I’d seen them before at this location and knew where to go. They weren’t there. Not a one was to be seen. But I did find some autumn leek orchids – close enough so I photographed them. Funnily enough the autumn leek orchid has a much more pleasant scent than the scented variety which has decidedly unpleasant pong.
So there you have it another rewarding trip. I may not have found what I was looking for but I found other things and really enjoyed my time in the bush and that is what it is all about.
* This weeks musical reference is of course U2’s song I Still Haven’t Found. My favourite version is the one on 1988’s Rattle and Hum album.
That destination is Bold Park which is quite a unique place in the Perth Metropolitan Area. The park was established in 1936 and named after some bloke who had put in lots of time in the City of Perth local government – which is all a bitboring. Much more interesting is that it is 437 hectares of remnant bushland on the Swan Coastal Plain comprised of banksia and tuart woodland. Tuart forest (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) was once a major feature of the Swan Coastal Plain with trees of up to 40m in height and providing a unique ecosystem. On colonisation most of the tuart trees were cleared for farming and for it valuable timber which is dense, hard, water resistant and resists splintering. The last remaining tall tuarts are found in the Tuart Forest National Park. There a couple of remnants of smaller trees around the Perth Metro Area such as those found at Mindarie Dunes and Bold Park. The park is situated in City Beach just off Oceanic Drive and can be reached by public transport.To say that the park is popular is an understatement, I went on a Saturday morning and it was absolutely heaving – so this is not a wilderness experience, but an urban walk on the wild side.
Speaking of walking there are over 15Km of walking trails of varying distances – the longest one, which I just did, is the Zamia Trail which is 5.1Km long over rolling terrain on a crushed limestone base which means you can comfortably push a stroller or pusher. If you are going to do the walk I suggest parking at Reabold Hill car park. This is a good place to commence the trail, but also it enables you to make a side trip unto the summit of the hill where there is a viewing platform. This is the highest natural point on the Swan Coastal Plain at 85 metres above sea level. This means on a nice clear day you can see the Indian Ocean, Perth CBD, Rottnest Island, Kings Park, and the Swan River. While pedestrians and cyclists can access the park at all times vehicular access is limited as follows:
1 April to 31 October – 5.30 am to 7.00 pm
1 November to 31 March – 5.30 am to 8.00 pm.
The trail is well sign posted so there is no need of a mud-map which means you can just get out and enjoy it. I walked this in winter so there weren’t many flowers out – a few banksias, grevilleas and cockies tongue. I was more interested in the bird life and the Botanic Gardens and Park Authority put out an excellent brochure you can download detailing all 91 species that can be found. There are numerous other animals such as brush-tail possums, bats, loads of reptiles including snakes of varying descriptions. Considering how many people were about I was surprised at how many different species of birds I saw. I even literally stumbled over a very sleepy and grumpy bob tailed lizard (Tiliqua rugosa), trying to warm up on the path in the sun having woken up from brumation.
The recent lock downs for the COVID 19 outbreak had a very strange effect. Living in York we don’t visit the coast very often, but as soon as the Western Australian government said we could leave our region all I wanted to do was go to the coast. I suppose it’s a bit like being on a diet and then spending all day obsessing over food. Well with the lockdown over we put the dog in kennels and headed down to Mandurah for a couple of days to get an oceanic fix.
Now the plan was to spend three days visiting some reserves around, but as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”. The first spot we went out to was Lake McLarty, but there was no water in the lake and no birds to be seen. To cap it all the weather was grim – a storm front was closing in. So we decided to cut our losses and head in land to Pinjarra and walk along the Murray River and visit the Edenvale Heritage Tearoom. Well the tearooms were still shut because of COVID so we settled for a walk along the the river.
The next day the weather was grimmer than the previous day’s. We were wearing enough clothes to make Captain Scott of the Antarctic fame look severely underdressed. The morning’s activities were to be based at the Creery Wetlands Reserve which was only a short way from where we were staying. Although wet and bitterly cold we had more success than the previous day. It is amazing how much wildlife can be packed into a small area just minutes from a city centre. If you are in the area it is well worth visiting, don’t let the fact that the entrance makes it look like an off-shore detention camp put you off. As you cross the bridge you get the feeling a couple of Border Force goons could jump out of the bushes and indefinitely detain you. Once in side you can commune with nature to your hearts content.
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.
Like many people at this time I’ve had my movements curtailed. Where I live we are allowed out locally for exercise so I’ve been going out for walks along the river to photograph and video the birds that can be found there. This is the third time I’ve tried to video wildlife and it is very hard.I don’t work from a hide so I have to set up quickly and quietly and often the birds will move on before I can get filming. Shooting mainly just after dawn or just before sunset has meant using high ISOs and made focusing difficult. But, the more you do it the better you get. The purpose of the video was to make something, learn something new and help keep me thinking positive thoughts during this time.
Just out of interest I’ll put the stills up below. They were shot on either a Canon EOS6d with the Sigma 150-600mm f4.5-6.3 Contemporary lens or the Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. I wonder if you can tell the difference at web size without enlarging to 100% or checking the EXIF data?
Over the last few days my FaceBook feed has been seeing some seriously tasty bird photos from one of the groups that I belong to. The photos all come from one area– New Victoria Dam which is 30Km east of Perth on the Darling Range in Korung National Park. So when the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) announced she was competing in a croquet competition at a location just 20 minutes drive away I immediately volunteered myself as driver.
There are two starting points to the walk and which you choose will largely depend upon when you visit. If you visit outside of office hours Monday to Friday or anytime at the weekend then y ou have to use the upper carpark as your start point as the access road is shut. During office hours you can drive down to the lower carpark keeping in mind that if stay till after 5pm then you won’t be able to drive out. I started at the upper carpark which only adds 800m each way to the walk. The walk consists of a 7Km round trip down past the New Victoria Dam to the Old Victoria dam wall and the garden and picnic area. There used to be a path through the trees at the edge of the road but it has become quite overgrown and indistinct so you are best walking along the access road. As you walk down the road on your left is the gravesite of Francis Weston who died in 1876 aged two days, his parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley. When you get to the lower carpark walk through it and then follow the trail markers. After walking through the forest you come to New Victoria Dam. Walk down the steps and at the bottom turn right onto the road and walk down to the remains of the Old Victoria Dam.
The original dam was built in 1891 and pumped water via pipelines to Kings Park and a reservoir there on Mount Eliza. The dam became the first permanent water source for Perth and was operated by the private City of Perth Waterworks Company. As the water catchment area took in agricultural land and timber settlements there were fears that it would be polluted by raw sewage and excrement from livestock. Between 1895 and 1900 typhoid broke out in Perth and 425 people died. The water was tested and found to be contaminated so the government took control and made changes to prevent re-occurrence. By 1988 the concrete structure was beginning to degrade to such an extent it could no longer be repaired so in 1990 work on the new dam commenced and because of the use of roller compacted concrete it was completed by the following year. It can hold 9.5 million kilo-litres and is used to supply drinking water to Kalamunda and Lesmurdie.
In the lee of the old dam there is a grassed picnic area and toilets. Thickets of ti-tree and one-sided bottlebrush or claw flower have been planted and the thick vegetation along the creek line provides dense cover for a number of bird species. On this trip I used the picnic gazebo as an impromptu bird hide and spent a couple of hours watching the various birds feed and drink. I sawred-eared firetails, mistletoe birds, splendid fairy wrens, western spinebills, new holland honeyeaters, white faced herons and rosellas. The dam spillway feeds water to the pond and creek that provides a year round water supply which means that the birds are always active all here. If you are there at dawn or dusk then kangaroos can be seen feeding on the grass. It is a great little spot and doesn’t require too much effort to get there.