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Posts Tagged ‘Atherton Tableland’

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Freckled Duck ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter ~ 9/30/13

Several friends have inquired how I got on with the quest for Freckled Duck photos a fortnight ago, so here it is as bird of the week as it’s a rare and unusual duck, even if these ones didn’t want to cooperate in the portrait photo category. There were perhaps a dozen or more at the reported site of Hasties Swamp just south of Atherton town, but only two came within cooee of the hide and spent most of the day sitting on this log. Note the diagnostic ski-jump-shaped bill and the slight peak on the head of the bird on the end of the log. The duck beside this one is a Hardhead, so they’re approximately the same size.

It was a lovely day at Hasties (second photo), so it was no hardship loafing there waiting for the ducks to do something. The log the ducks liked is the farther one in this photo, but this was taken with my phone and makes it look farther away than it actually is. It’s a two storey hide, and this was taken from the upper deck, though I spent most of the time downstairs. The log was popular with various species of ducks including Pacific Blacks and Grey Teal, so the Freckled Ducks, all in non-breeding garb were easy to overlook.

Hasties Swamp, Atherton Tableland by Ian

Very occasionally, one of the ducks would swim over to a smaller log (hidden behind the branch in the second photo) and peck at a coot if it came too close. You can see the coot in the third photo.

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

Sometimes it would swim away to feed, but always on the other side of the log. In the fourth photo it is maybe contemplating such a foray, and is testing the water behind one of several Nankeen Night-Herons that came out to feed in the late afternoon – apparently they roost in the trees near the hide.

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

The fifth photo shows a distant pair of Freckled Ducks thirteen years ago in breeding condition at Werribee in Victoria and you can see the characteristic red colour of the male. The peaks look more conspicuous on both sexes, but I don’t know whether these feathers grow longer then or whether they are erectile.

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) by Ian

So why is this rather drab duck so interesting to both birders and avian taxonomists? Firstly, it’s endemic to Australia and rare, particular in North Queensland. It’s main breeding range is in inland areas of New South Wales, Victoria, Southern Western Australia (an isolated population) and the channel country of Southwestern Queensland where breeding takes place in densely vegetated lakes and swamps, including lignum in more arid floodplains. When these areas dry out, the birds move to the coast, which is when they become easier to find. Presumably the birds currently in North Queensland (they’ve been reported in both Townsville and the Atherton Tableland) are from the Cooper’s Creek and Paroo River catchments.

Secondly, taxonomists find the Freckled Duck interesting because it has no close relatives. It is the only member of the genus Stictonetta and both morphological and DNA studies support placing it in own sub-family that diverged from other ducks and geese very early on. The name Stictonetta means ‘spotted duck’ in Greek and, in a case of tautological overkill, naevosa means ‘spot abundance’ in Latin.

I was going to include a Snake of the Week but this is getting rather long, so I’ll hold it over till next time.

Best wishes
Ian

**************************************************
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

What birdwatchers and photographers won’t go through to find those special and rare birds. Thanks, Ian, for showing us yet another interesting member of the Anatidae – Ducks, Geese & Swans Family. I am so thankful that Ian is letting me share his newsletters here on this blog. We have been introduced to numerous birds we have never have heard of, let along seen.

Check out all of Ian’s Anatidae Family photos.

Here are a few more facts about this duck from Wikipedia. The Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) is a moderately large, broad-bodied duck native to southern Australia. The duck is protected by law. Dark in colour with fine off-white speckles all over, it is most easily identified by its large head with a peaked (as opposed to rounded) crown.

The Freckled Duck feeds by dabbling in shallow water, often by wading near the edge. It prefers large, well-vegetated swamps, but moves to open water after breeding or in dry periods.

In flight, it has a distinctive rapid wing beat and holds its head low, making it appear hunchbacked. It does not turn rapidly and lands clumsily.

In dry years, the ephemeral wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin and Lake Eyre disappear and Freckled Ducks migrate to permanent water in coastal regions. This concentration in populated areas, coupled with their habit of circling repeatedly at low altitude when disturbed (even when being shot at) makes them particularly vulnerable to hunting.

See:

Freckled Duck – Wikipedia

Ian’s Anatidae Family photos

Anatidae – Ducks, Geese & Swans Family

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Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Sarus Crane ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 9/19/13

I went up to the Atherton Tableland at the weekend to photograph Freckled Ducks at Hasties Swamp where these rare birds had recently been reported. The ducks were still there perching on a log at an inconvenient distance from the hide and, although I spent several hours on three occasions in the hide, they never came any closer and I gave them a wooden spoon award for being undynamic and uncooperative. However, Sarus Cranes, which winter in fields on the Tableland were more cooperative.

Before I tell you the odd story of their history in Australia, here is a spot-the-difference exercise comparing the Sarus Crane, first photo, with the much commoner and more widespread Brolga, second photo.

Brolga Crane (Grus rubicunda) by Ian Montgomery

Brolga Crane (Grus rubicunda) by Ian Montgomery

You have to spot only two differences: the red on the neck of the Sarus Crane extends much farther down than on the Brolga, and the Brolga has a dewlap, the flap of tissue hanging down from the chin. There is another difference: Sarus Cranes have pink legs, and Brolgas have grey ones, though this is often difficult to spot as the legs can be pinkish-grey in the Sarus Crane. Anyway, more about distinguish them later.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

We first discovered a small party of Sarus Cranes feeding near the Malanda-Atherton Highway (opposite the upmarket Gallo chocolate and cheese place). While I was taking photos of them, a flock of about 60 joined them in the field except for 5 which obligingly flew over us, photos 3 and 4. In flight they look positively Jurassic Park-ish and make wonderful, insistent, gurgling, trumpeting noises.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

The next day, when I got bored waiting for the ducks to do something I went to Gallo for cheese and lunch and found a family, I presume, of Sarus Cranes – 2 adults and a juvenile – close to the road that goes from the Malanda-Atherton road to Yungaburra via the Curtain Fig National Park, photos 5 and 6 (the other adult is in the first photo).

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

In juvenile Sarus Cranes the red colour is replaced by buffish-cinnamon, usually darker than the one these photos.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) Juvenile by Ian Montgomery

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) Juvenile by Ian Montgomery

The reason for the spot-the-difference exercise was to show that the two species are not hard to separate in the field. So, why were Sarus Cranes not positively identified in Australia until 1966 (in Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria)? The fashionable explanation at the time – which got unobservant birders off the hook – was they had recently colonised Australia from, presumably, Indochina, the nearest other place that they occur naturally. The Australian birds were conveniently similar to the Eastern Sarus Crane (race sharpii) that occurs there, even though it doesn’t migrate. Maybe they couldn’t cope with the sounds of war in Vietnam. It is now though that the Australian Sarus Cranes form another smaller race, gilliae, and have been here all along nesting in remote swamps on the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York Peninsula with at least some moving to the Atherton Tableland in winter.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Ian Montgomery

The last photo shows the nominate race, antigone, in India. It has white tertiary feathers (the bustle) and with a length of 176cm/70in (weight to 12kg/26lbs) is the world’s tallest flying bird. The population in India is perhaps 10,000, Indochina 1,000 and Australia 5,000. It is extinct in various countries including the Philippines (probably yet another race) and Pakistan and is under threat in Indochina. The Australia population is thought to be stable and may have benefitted from clearing of land for agriculture on the Atherton Tableland.

Best wishes
Ian

**************************************************
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

Thanks again, Ian, for sharing another great bird. I encountered my first Sarus Cranes at the Zoo Miami’s Wings of Asia Aviary. They were walking along the sidewalk, and like Ian said, they are tall. I am only 4’10” and they are over 5 feet. Needless to say, I gave them room when they walked by and also had to look up to them.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Lee at Wings of Asia

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Lee at Wings of Asia

Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me. (Isaiah 38:14 KJV)

Sarus and Brolga Cranes belong to the in the Gruidae – Crane Family and are also Birds of the Bible.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Lee at Wings of Asia

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) by Lee at Wings of Asia

Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 KJV)

See:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Ian’s Crane Photos

Sarus Crane – Wikipedia

Gruidae – Crane Family

Birds of the Bible – Cranes

Birds of the Bible

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