Saturday, 7 July 2018

Freckled Duck, Herdsman


It’s a bit hard to explain why I should be so pleased to see six freckled ducks at Herdsman Lakes today. After all, they’re far from the most colourful bird I’ve seen on my travels around Aus, in fact to be honest they’re quite ugly looking ducks compared to most. I can sum it up best like this; freckled ducks are birders birds, or perhaps more specifically I should call them wildfowl enthusiasts wildfowl, because not all birders are enamoured by ducks. I count myself as a wildfowl enthusiast, in fact I’d go as far as to say that wildfowl are my favourite group of birds, so it was especially pleasing to see freckled ducks sharing the same reedy pool as the even more bizarre musk duck, with their odd lobes and strange display, and blue-billed ducks with bills so blue as to be straight out of a kids comic book. An Australian a scene as any you could imagine! All three species are endemic to the continent.


A look at the distribution map will show freckled duck as a widespread species in Australia, but that’s only part of the story because the species is at best uncommon and usually downright rare everywhere, endangered due to loss of habitat. It’s also primarily an inland species which of course makes it a pain for visiting birders since most of the places you are likely to go in Australia are close to the coast.  On top of that, they are a nomadic species, occurring in places often in large numbers when conditions are right, but then being mainly absent for several years.

They don’t even occur in captivity all that often. Quite apart from being a not very aesthetic species, they also don’t take kindly to captivity and are apparently difficult to breed. As far as I know they only occur in captivity in the UK at Slimbridge. Finally there’s no doubting that they are a strange looking species. Large, cumbersome, with an odd shaped bill and an odd peaked head. The ugly duckling that never came good.


So freckled duck ticks all of the boxes for wildfowl enthusiasts wildfowl. It’s ugly, it’s not colourful, it’s rare, it’s mysterious, nobody I know has ever seen one, nobody I know particularly wants to see one, you can't chuck it bread on the local park pond, it’s endemic, you have to work hard to see it in the wild, it’s virtually impossible to see them in captivity. Perfect! I had a chance of seeing them near Port Lincoln, they were said to occur at Big Swamp, but not while I was there. Mind you it was BIG so they might have been down the bottom end and out of view. Herdsman Lake, Perth was always going to be my best chance, but even here they were said to be only occasional. I visited the site on Thursday but couldn’t find any and had more or less given up seeing them. It looked like the species was going to be one of the few big holes in my Australian portfolio. However I still had today, with a morning to kill before my flight, so I decided to give it another go. I’d walked all of the way around the lake, in total about a 3 mile walk and was nearly back at the car, less than an hour before I was due at the airport, when I had one last look at a secluded pool. Yes it’s fair to say that I was pleased when six freckled ducks swam into the centre of the pool!


Blue-billed duck. All photos in this post are digi-binned.





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