Many bird observers visit the Olympic corner at Lake Wendouree to view the rare freckled ducks that rest during the day, only a few metres from the main walking path.
Last month, an unexpected sighting occurred when a dozen freckled ducks suddenly left their perches on the willow branches and fluttered not away from the path but in towards it. They behaved as though they were racing to the shore to be fed.
The reason for this unusual behaviour was soon evident. It was a male musk duck that had surfaced, low in the water, alongside the ducks’ perching place.
Many of these freckled ducks rest with their feet in the water or just above it. They were clearly very wary of a prowling male musk duck.
The musk duck soon slunk silently under water again and moved on, and the freckled ducks gradually swam out from the shore, back to the perching places they had been scared from.
A musk duck wouldn’t offer a serious threat to an adult freckled duck, but the low-swimming, reptilian-looking male probably scared the group of freckled ducks by his appearance and behaviour. Other waterbirds tend to give male musk ducks a wide berth too.
Female musk ducks are considerably smaller, and would probably not make such an impression on the freckled ducks.
Male musk ducks might take a few ducklings and other young waterbirds from time to time. Their usual food is aquatic animals of various sizes, with yabbies one of the more common items. Mudeyes, water snails, small fishes, water beetles, leeches and similar small aquatic creatures add to their diet, along with a small amount of aquatic plants, including lakeweed (water milfoil).
The male musk duck isn’t the only creature that scares other lake dwellers. The rakali (water rat) needs only to swim near coots and ducks to cause obvious alarm, active avoidance and close observation.
The rakali’s food is similar to the musk duck’s, but it will tackle larger items, such as the largest yabbies and sometimes fishes 20 or more centimetres long. Mostly, however, its prey consists of smaller things.
The yellow gum is a winter flowering tree of the Clunes-Maryborough and Campbelltown forests. Last weekend, we found several yellow gums flowering and attracting fuscous, yellow-tufted and yellow-faced honeyeaters, plus other birds. A few musk lorikeets flew through the bushland, but the uncommon swift parrot could not be located, despite being seen in the Clunes and Talbot areas in the last few weeks.