Ducks channel-surfing at Werribee (Vic)

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Subject: Ducks channel-surfing at Werribee (Vic)
From: Brian Fleming <>
Date: Sun, 09 Dec 2001 21:01:45 +1100
On Sat 9th December, we had a very enjoyable afternoon at the Western
Treatment Plant, thanks to Shirley Cameron. She showed us one
astonishing scene which I doubt if I shall ever forget. After turning
left at the south end of Farm Rd, we paused on a bridge over a strongly
running outlet channel (I think this is No 15 East).
   Downstream of the bridge is a fairly short stretch of channel with
steep banks; this was running very strongly and carrying streaks and
ribbons of foam, before forming a sort of whirlpool under a great mat of
foam at the southern end. (Here the water apparently passes out under
another bank via a pipe.)

   Among the foam were hundreds of Pink-Eared Ducks and Blue-winged
Shovelers, plus a few Grey Teal and Hardhead and one or two drake
Bluebills. Brian says there were a couple of Aust. Grebes among them,
but these I missed. The grebes seemed to be diving and feeding.

   All these birds were being swept at dizzying speed downstream among
the foam; some were borne out of tributary channels to join the throng.
At the far end they swam through the whipped up foam masses - often with
only heads intermittently visible - and then swam upstream close to the
channel edges where the current was somewhat broken by plants and
grasses hanging into the water. Many had their backs loaded with foam.
Once well upstream, they let themselves whizz down in the current again.
The process was repeated again and again. Some came ashore on the banks
-for a rest? - then launched themselves again in a group.

   Some of the Pink-ears seemed to do a little dabbing at food items off
surface and grasses as they swam upstream. Now I have seen Black Ducks
on strongly flowing rivers feeding as they float downstream, then flying
back up again rather than swim against the current. But feeding didn't
really seem to be these ducks' reason to be there, and none of them flew
from the water. I am left with the assumption that they found it
exhilarating and were doing it for fun. It certainly looked enjoyable.

 I have never seen so many Shovelers so close up. I tried taking photos,
but it was definitely a subject for a video camera. Shirley says that
this behaviour has often been seen there, but doesn't happen every day,
so we were lucky. I hope others will enjoy this sight too. Just the sort
of subject Attenborough would love!

 Conditions were fine and sunny with a southerly breeze (12 noon- 4.45
pm). Tide ebbing.
For those that like this sort of thing, here's our combined list of 73
species, all seen on the WTP Farm property: 

Waterfowl: Bluebills, Musk Ducks, Freckled Ducks (2), Black Swans, Aust
Shelduck, Black Duck (very few), Bluewinged Shoveler, Grey Teal,
Chestnut Teal, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead.

Grebes: Australasian and Hoaryheaded.

Cormorants etc: Darter, Little Pied, Pied, Little Black and Great
Cormorant. Pelican.

Herons etc: Whitefaced Heron, Great Egret. White Ibis, Strawnecks, Royal
Spoonbill (1).

Raptors: Blackshouldered Kite, Whistling Kites (7 immatures + 2
flying),Swamp Harriers, Brown Falcons.

Rails: Purple Swamphens, Dusky Moorhens, Blacktailed Native-hens,
Eurasian Coots. 

Waders: Marsh Sandpiper, Cmn Greenshank, Rednecked Stint, Sharp-tailed
Sandpiper, Curlew-Sandpiper (very few), Pied Oystercatcher.
Black-winged Stilts, Banded Stilts, Red-necked Avocet, Red-capped
Plover, Red-kneed Dotterel, Masked Lapwing.

Gulls etc: Silver Gulls, Pacific Gulls (immature), Whiskered Terns,
Crested Terns.

Pigeons: Rock Dove, Spotted Turtle-dove, Common Bronzewing.

Parrots: Galahs, only!

Passerines: Superb Fairy-wrens, White-browed Scrub-wrens, Yellow-rumped
Thornbills, Red Wattlebird, New Holland Honeyeater, White-fronted Chat,
Magpie-lark, Willie Wagtail, Magpie, Little Raven, Skylark, Richard's
Pipit , House Sparrow, Eur. Goldfinch, Welcome Swallow, Fairy Martin,
Clamorous Reed Warbler, Little Grassbird, Golden-headed Cisticola,
Common Starling, Common Mynah.

A very enjoyable afternoon, even if the only bird at Kirk Point was one
solitary Greenshank.
Anthea Fleming in Ivanhoe (Vic)
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