Tuesday, 5 January 2016


What a great way to start 2016!  In January 2015, Lake Wollumboola presented me with a White-rumped Sandpiper.  Now, in January 2016, it has miraculously produced a Paradise Shelduck.

Twitchers had gathered at the lake (located near Nowra in New South Wales) to admire a Hudsonian Godwit.  For several days they overlooked an aberrant shelduck amongst the teal.  Then someone noticed that it was in fact a Paradise Shelduck from New Zealand.  HANZAB records that some Paradise Shelduck were seen on Lord Howe Island in 1950.  There are no previous confirmed mainland records.  

I heard about the shelduck last week, but decided I did not want to drive that far alone.  (My computer told me it was a little over 8 hours' drive.)  James Mustafa (who had driven up to see the Hudsonian Godwit, and noticed the odd shelduck but not paid it sufficient attention) said he was free on Monday afternoon.  We set off at 3.15.  We spent the night at Goulburn and recommenced our journey at 5.15 on Tuesday morning.  We were at Lake Wollumboola at 7.30 a.m.  It was raining, but we did not let this dampen our spirits.  A group of men identified themselves as birders by their cameras and binoculars.  They were standing, chatting under umbrellas, on the lake's edge, quite near the car park.  We rejoiced.  This must mean the shelduck was very close by.  We donned rain jackets, grabbed the scope, and hurried to join them.  

No, they said.  The duck was at the far end of the lake with the swans.  They did not know where the hudwit was.  We didn't bother to ask them why they were standing under umbrellas by a lake on a rainy Tuesday morning.  We set off immediately towards the swans.  It was then 7.45.

The rain hit our faces unkindly.  My precious notebook, inside my supposedly waterproof jacket pocket was soon quite wet.  So was I.  We skirted the nesting Little Terns, and tried to think positive thoughts.  I told James that, in circumstances like these, when I was with my father, he would recite poetry for me.  He'd learnt Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin as a child and had never forgotten it.  I also remember a ballad about Inch Cape Rock.  And others.  Surprisingly, James remembered some very beautiful poetry.  I had not expected that.  And it certainly took my mind off my wet feet, wet clothes and the heavy wet tripod I was lugging along for company.

We had our heads down, trudging into the rain.

'The rain will be behind us on the way back,' said James cheerfully.

I needed my entire concentration just putting one wet foot in front of the other.  I could not think of anything suitable to say and did not respond.  Suddenly James stopped.

'Look,' he said, grinning stupidly.

The Paradise Shelduck was grazing happily, not 100 metres in front of us.  It was in company with some Grey Teal,  a long way away from the swans at the far end of the lake.  It was 8 o'clock.  Really a very easy twitch.

We retreated to the cover of some nearby scrub.  I was happy with my January lifer.  James attempted to get a bit closer, using the scrub as a shield.  The teal soon flushed.  The shelduck honked, but did not fly.  James took a photo and then left the shelduck in peace.
Paradise Shelduck, photo by James Mustafa

Really, a fantastic start to the year.  Can 2016 continue this high standard?

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