Earlier this week my wife and I took a short three-hour break from being with our grandchildren and family here in Sydney. We enjoy visiting Lane Cove National Park just north of the CBD. It is also the closest park to where our son lives, being only a ten-minute drive away.
We packed our lunch, a thermos, some fruit and my camera and binoculars. Can’t forget the binoculars – it’s only happened to me once in all my many years of birding. I also forgot my camera that day, but despite these drawbacks, I still managed some great birding.
After deciding on a spot to set up our folding chairs overlooking the river, we had a late morning cuppa. We were immediately joined by a Crimson Rosella and an Eastern Rosella perched in the tree above us. I scrambled for the camera, but they flew off before I managed to get the camera ready.
A few minutes later our peaceful relaxation was disturbed by the raucous calls of a small flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos flying overhead. I then noticed one of them perched at the entrance of a large hollow in a nearby gum tree. Every few seconds he would screech noisily, raising his wings as he called. Something was annoying him – not sure what.
Within a few minutes, we were joined in our picnic by several Pied Currawongs. They eyed off our mugs and bags looking for something to gobble up. They were not successful. Neither were the Laughing Kookaburras which also joined the party.
Earlier, as we pulled into the car park, I noticed a walking trail leading off up the hill. I remember walking that trail with other family members one Christmas some years ago on another visit. I checked my bird database; it was December 2008. It was time to investigate this track once again. Ignoring the hip and leg pain caused by the intervening years, I steadily climbed the track until I had a good view of the river below.
Numerous small brown birds chirped away in the vegetation, but none posed long enough for photos – and not even long enough for good views through my binoculars. Most of them were undoubtedly Brown Thornbills, a species I have seen here a few times before. The only other good sighting was a very brief view of a solitary Red-browed Finch. Never mind – I managed a few good photos of some flowers and a lovely butterfly. I left by butterfly book home so I can’t identify it.
As we were leaving, I drove slowly through the park to the exit gate. This took us quite close to the Lane Cove river at times. Not far from the gate I was suddenly aware of a male Australian Wood Duck heading aggressively towards our car as we passed by, head down, neck stretched out and I think he was hissing. He looked quite fierce for a few seconds. Pity I didn’t get this on my camera. This reminded me of another incident on the other side of the river a few days earlier. Another male Australian Wood Duck hissed at me in a similar fashion. I understood completely; he was guarding the female and three juveniles feeding nearby.
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Last week I had a medical procedure in a hospital in North Adelaide. The procedure – an endoscopy and a colonoscopy – went well and nothing nasty was found, though the lead up to it was challenging. Being on a fast for 25 hours was testing, as was the mixture one has to take to purge one’s alimentary canal, but I survived to tell the tale.
On my way to the hospital we had to pass Elder Park on the banks of the Torrens River immediately to the north of the CBD. This wide expanse of lawned area was being occupied by hundreds of Australian Wood Ducks, all grazing on the grass. I was driving so I was not able to get an accurate estimate of the numbers, but it seemed to be at least 200 or more.
And I didn’t have my camera either, so here is a photo of a family of Australian Wood Ducks taken at the Mt Annan Botanic Gardens in Sydney.
I was amazed at the danger this Australian Wood Duck had placed itself into. It was quietly grazing on the grass in the African Wild Dog enclosure at the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, and with its back to the pack sunning themselves about 30 metres away. They are cunning hunters and quite capable of sneaking up on an unsuspecting, tasty meal like a duck. I guess that they are well fed and have no need to chase after wildfowl, or any other birds which stray into their enclosure.
This reminded me of a guided tour we had a some years ago through our local Monarto Zoo, just 10km from my home here in Murray Bridge. The tour bus was slowly moving through the cheetah enclosure when the guide announced that the cheetahs loved running at full speed and catching the local ravens or magpies before they could get airborne again.
I decided then that I would never try to outrun a cheetah!
There are two commonly accepted common names for this duck: Hardhead and White-eyed duck.
The second name is self explanatory and most appropriate. It always helps in the process of identification.
The name “Hardhead” is also commonly used, but its origins are far from obvious. The initial use of this name seems to come from the early days of settlement in Australia. According to one reference book (see below) it was the name given by early shooters. “While there is no evidence that its skull is particularly solid Frith (1967) commented that ‘owing to a very dense plumage and apparently great stamina, [it] is hard to kill.’ It presumably arose spontaneously” because it was already in use in 1898.
The photos on this post were taken of several ducks on one of the ponds in Centennial Park, Sydney, earlier this year. The last photo is of a female; note the lack of a white eye.
Fraser, I and Gray, J 2013: Australian Bird names: a complete guide. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.
Frith H J, 1967, Waterfowl in Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.