"Paradise Duck"? 1825 -A&NZ

Subject: "Paradise Duck"? 1825 -A&NZ
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 14:33:30 +1000
Greetings all!

In Uniacke's account of Oxley's expedition to Port Curtis & Moreton Bay (from Barron Field, ed., 1825), the following paragraphs appear, from about Sunday 16 November or soon after, somewhere around Boyne river-mouth/Port Curtis (Gladstone):

"In the course of the day I shot a very beautiful and uncommon kind of duck, which some of our crew had before seen in New Zealand, where it has the name of the Paradise Duck. The head and neck were white, the bill red, the back a glossy dark green, and the wings regularly striped with blue, yellow, green, and white. Its flesh, however, was dry, and very fishy."

Uniacke had been spent the day in an unsuccessful search for fresh drinking water, examining "different creeks, all of which ended in mangrove swamps," then returned across the snake- and shark-filled harbour to the vessel. (A "large pond" of fresh water was, however, found later, nearby.)

So -- what can this "Paradise Duck" have been?

From the description, the only two vague possibilities seem to be the Radjah Shelduck, or the Cotton Pygmy-Goose. The Radjah Shelduck fits some of the description (having a PINK bill, but a brown back), and has been known as the Burdekin Duck. The Cotton Pygmy-Goose -- called, in Cayley (1951), the Cotton Teal -- has a white FACE and neck, and green back, but its bill is nowhere near red (only the Green Pygmy-Goose has some red on its lower bill). Neither species fits the striped-wing description. This habitat is tropical, and Pizzey (2001) does NOT list the international distribution of either bird as including NZ; he gives the habitat of the Cotton Pygmy-Goose as freshwater. Morcombe (2000) shows both species as occupying coastal wetlands, and includes mangrove and littoral habitat in his description of the Burdekin Duck. From other references it seems that, in 1825, both these species would have been found further south along the coast, down into present-day NSW. Why then had the bird not been seen before by any of the crew (except in NZ)?

Does anyone out there have a NZ field guide, or HANZAB, to cross-check? Perhaps there's a similar white-headed "shelduck" in NZ... Perhaps there's even a bird there called the Paradise Duck.

(Also, about 12 miles up the "beautiful" Boyne River, on mosquito- and sandfly-infested, rich-soil floodplain, Uniacke shot "a kind of owl that none of us had seen before". He describes timbered hills nearby, but sadly does not describe the owl.)


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