Musk Ducks don’t look or behave like other Australian ducks. Their bills are short and solid, the bulldogs of the duck world. The tail is equally distinctive, a sparsely feathered spade shaped paddle. Musk Ducks float so low in the water that in anything other than perfectly flat conditions all you see is a suspended head.
The male Musk Duck’s head that displays the species’ most distinctive feature, a fleshy disk that hangs between beak and chin. The disk is about the same diameter as the bill is long, around 5-7 centimetres. The male’s tilt their heads upwards to show off their disks.
Musk Dusks dive to feed on aquatic weeds and the myriad of invertebrates that live amongst the weeds. Although weed growth is concentrated around shallow edges Musk Dusks have a strong preference for deep dams and ponds, situations where they can retreat beyond the reach of terrestrial predators.
I used to see Musk Dusks in Centennial Park, right in the heart of Sydney. More recently they seem to have disappeared from the ponds, possibly because of the increasing sedimentation of the ponds. All of which made it a real treat to once again see Musk Ducks during a trip to Armidale.
My first sighting at Armidale was in the early afternoon, when the Musk Ducks were resting out in the middle of the dam. Returning the following morning I spotted the male in a weed bed only a few metres from the shore.
It was only just after dawn and I was shooting into the rising sun, making the duck a dark silhouette. I focused on the movements of the duck as it prepared to disappear below the surface. It looked strangely reminiscent of a diving whale, especially the sinuous flip of the tail to drive the animal underwater. It seemed an unlikely parallel until I thought about the term ‘duck diving’. A human duck dive starts by pulling your head and chest underwater with your arms, then bending at the hips to lift your legs out of the water. The weight of those raised legs then drives you down with remarkably little effort.
So, no real surprise that a Musk Duck would be duck diving. Sometimes the obvious only becomes so when you narrow your attention and concentrate. In this case the gloom of early morning and my efforts to capture images of the diving duck did the job. The magical capacity of the camera to freeze action didn’t hurt!
Odds and sods