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Tales of the Unexpected


by Jamie Walker


Looking for birds is an uncertain business. We can positively target species in habitats they are proven to occupy, and our efforts can still fail. On the other hand, it is sometimes possible to benefit from surprising appearances which, in theory at least, are unlikely to occur.


Recently, on an early morning walk at Sandstone Lakes in Ningi, I found a Musk Duck, a species described by the late, eminent ornithologist Graham Pizzey, as ‘A very strange duck’.


The male has a leathery bladder under his chin, which is inflated during display. The bird’s calls amount to shrill whistles and grunts. A clumsy flyer, its plumage is overall slate grey. Its tail looks like an intimidating fan of hard spikes. You could never call it attractive.


It is also a predator – eating yabbies, crabs, and even young ducklings - and I noticed that little Australasian Grebes nearby were skirting around the bird very sheepishly.


What was remarkable about the encounter was that Musk Ducks are normally seen much further south, on upland lakes or diving among kelp along the seashore.


The Brown Songlark is a bird of open pastureland and crops in dryer, inland regions. It was therefore a surprise to me, to find one earlier in the year, in the moist, marshy flats of the Maroochy River valley.


The bird did everything a Brown Songlark is supposed to do. With an upright posture and tail sharply cocked, it sang from the top of a fence post in true field guide pose. It towered up into the sky in display flight and floated back down to the same spot. This was classic behaviour, but in the wrong place.


A week later, I couldn’t find it. In all probability, it had moved on; being unable to secure one of life’s essentials – contact with others of its species.


Early in May, I took a walk near Maleny’s weir. Moving between the bushes was a vibrant party of Silvereyes and Grey Fantails. With them was a little, yellowish bird which frequently hovered around the outer foliage, as it picked at small food items. It was my great pleasure to have found a Fairy Gerygone.


Once again, I had discovered a stranger – normally associated with old vine forest. We are at the southern end of its range, and it has been found at only a few sites on the Sunshine Coast.


Years of studying and searching for wildlife have taught me that hope and optimism are more valuable than expectation. If our searches come to nothing, we will be disappointed. But that’s birding for you.


At other times, the patient, alert, open-minded watcher will be rewarded and feel lifted by the experience.


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