Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Musk Ducks - or were they Loch Ness Monsters?

Today I went to the Boxvale Track, near Welby (just south from Mittagong). I went looking for Orchids, as I know there are some spring-flowering Greenhoods there, but I thought I might find some others at this time of year. You never know till you look.

As it turned out I found few Orchids (none in flower), but lots of birds. For me the least expected birds were Musk Ducks. For that I must thank a delightful encounter with a fellow birdwatcher, who told me about the Musk Ducks up on a reservoir (which I did not know existed, even thought it is barely 50 metres metres from the Boxvale Track, behind a rocky outcrop). So, tipped off to look for them I went there, and sure enough, a male Musk Duck was there, displaying aggressively.

Male Muck Duck, beak held high in the air,
with the pouch under his beak clearly visible,
is doing his "splash display"
In typical Musk Duck fashion, this bird was making loud splashing noises (with its feet) and creating very obvious splashes of water, while circling out in the middle of the reservoir. (Musk Ducks are typically "deep water" ducks, as they dive for their food, not dabbling upside down, in shallow water, like many Ducks.)
A big double splash, and a very noisy one.
Anyway, after just a few minutes of this performance, the male had some success, for a female paddled very directly across the reservoir from the reed-bank on the far side of the reservoir.

Here she comes.
It looks as if she is pale grey coloured on the chest, but
it is a "bow wave" created by her swimming so fast.
She is in fact sitting very low in the water,
with head and back (only) out of the water. That is normal for Musk Ducks.

She then circled around the male several times, and then moved in close to him. She then seemed to disappear. The light was not very good, so it was hard for me to see exactly what was going on, but there was a lot of water disturbance, so I believe they mated.

I have seen Swans mating, and the process involved the female being virtually completely submerged. Muck Ducks swim very low in the water anyway, so it really was very hard to tell exactly what was going on.
Male visible, possibly mating with the female (not visible).
That is partly based upon the amount of water disturbance.
There is a lot of paddling going on out there!

But shortly after the "disturbance of the water", the female reappeared, and swam off by herself (to the right). The male is bending his head (and beak pouch) down (to the right), but his rear end is sitting very high in the water (unusually), and his stiff tail seems to be held past the upright. It seems that it is being fanned up over his back, in a rapid movement. At this stage, the male was making his extraordinarily penetrating shrill whistle call, interspersed by deep clunking noises.
If you did not know that you were looking at Musk Ducks, you could be forgiven for thinking you had seen a very small, Southern Highlands version of the Loch Ness Monster.

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