Thursday, 17 September 2015

Blue-billed Ducks

Blue-billed Ducks (Oxyura australis) are small, stiff-tailed diving ducks found in deep, well-vegetated wetlands. They are endemic to Australia.
Secretive, elusive and wary birds, they are possibly Australia’s most uncommon duck, though they may be locally common in some areas. They are a thoroughly aquatic duck and rarely leave the water, except to breed. Being well adapted to swimming under water they are not well built for walking on land.
The male Blue-billed Duck.
Ideal Blue-bill habitat, a heavily vegetated deep freshwater wetland,
where the photos for this post were taken.
At least some of the South Eastern Australian population migrates annually from their stronghold in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) to coastal wetlands in Victoria and South Australia. Blue-bills are probably nomadic to the extent that they are forced to seek refuge in coastal wetlands during droughts in the MDB. There is a separate population in South West Western Australia.
Coastal wetlands in East Gippsland are on the edge of the Blue-bills’ core range, therefore we do not see them here very often and when we do it is always a special pleasure that comes with seeing an uncommon species. I was fortunate to observe and photograph about a dozen Blue-billed Ducks in a local wetland near Bairnsdale recently.
One of about six male Blue-billed Ducks in a group of about 12 birds.
The birds readily dive when threatened or vanish into the dense reeds.
This young male has not yet developed a blue bill and is only showing a hint
of the rich chestnut body feathers and dark black head.
The grey female Blue-billed Duck - reminds me of Freckled Ducks!
Male and female side by side - I could find no breeding records for this species in East Gippsland.
I can't see why they would not breed here!

The stiff tail feathers are usually carried below the water surface however sometimes
they are carried erect in a fan.

I like the colourful patterns formed by the reflected reeds on the slightly disturbed water surface.
The birds formed a lose flock suggesting they are not in breeding mode. During breeding,
birds form into pairs and disperse to take up breeding territories.
A pair of females to compliment the above shot.
It was a privilege and joy to get close enough to this shy species to observe and take photos.  

Post script:
Here is a belated post script with clear photographic evidence for Blue-billed Ducks breeding in Macleod Morass near Bairnsdale. The photos in the above post were taken on the 17th of September 2015. At that time the dozen Blue-bills did not appear to be breeding however I could see no reason why they would not breed in the Morass. On a subsequent visit to the same area of the Morass on the 7th of November 2015 two females were photographed with nine ducklings, 3 were clearly older/larger than the other 6 and two females were in attendance. The ducklings had formed a creche, which is not unusual among duck species.
Close up of one of the female Blue-bill Ducks with the nine ducklings.
One female with the nine ducklings.
Both females in photo with the ducklings.
It was good to confirm Blue-bills breed in our area and have photo evidence. Musk Duck were also found breeding in the same area of the Morass.