Don’t we love to watch the serenity of a duck floating on a pond or a cormorant contentedly drying itself with spread wings in the afternoon sun? But waterbirds are actually very busy creatures who must keep warm and dry in the midst of their watery world, raise families, be social, fly from place to place in search of amenable climates and food sources, keep a wary eye out for predators and compete for food. This matched set of photos attempts to illuminate some of this hustle and bustle.
Swan family on an outing at Floriade
The first time I saw a black swan I was startled; I didn’t know they could be black. I looked at the graceful neck of the glossy black bird and its smooth progress across a still lake in a Sydney park and knew it could be nothing other than a swan, but not as I knew them.
Australian Black Swans are native to Australia and New Zealand, and were unknown to western civilisation until 1697 when Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh discovered them in the Western Australian river he later named Swan River. Later, in 1790 John Latham, a noted English naturalist formally described them. It seems that before their discovery, a truism used in Europe was “all swans are white.” Australian Black Swans certainly played havoc with that saying.
The photograph below is of a mother (known as a ‘pen’) and her four young cygnets swimming in Canberra’s Lake Burly Griffen. The father (the ‘cob’), while not in this photo, was nearby. I love the way the cygnets look so unaware and distracted – it says a lot about how difficult a job it must be for the parents.
Sleeping with one eye open
I came upon these Australian Wood Ducks resting by Sullivan’s Creek at The Australian National University. I took the photo in 1999, but it could be any day at ANU because these ducks are a well-loved feature of the landscape.
I have always liked this photo because of the contrast between the alert eye and the sleeping position of the duck on the left, as well as the guarding position of the duck on the right. While humans are seldom a threat, they are vulnerable to foxes, dogs and cats.
Clearly, even while slumbering a duck needs to be aware of its surroundings. And it helps to have a mate.
Navigating the world of man
Every animal in the world, geese included, evolved in the absence of roads and cars.
These Pilgrim Geese waddled across the road in front of our car with only the tiniest of acceleration after seeing us.
Fortunately they live on a very slow road by a 90 degree bend winding through a rural Australian town and are likely seldom in danger.
After meandering across to the other side, they began nibbling in the grass and ignored our presence.
A Silver Gull takes wing
I entitled this last photograph A Silver Gull takes wing because it would be easy to think the gull in the mid-ground of the photo was either flying past or landing. But if you look to its right, you can see the splashes indenting the surface of Tuross Lake where the gull pushed off on takeoff. I took this photo from a boat dock where fishermen were cleaning their catch. These Australian Pelicans and Silver Gulls knew well that tasty tidbits could be expected to be thrown to them and were making their way over. The yellow rings around the eyes of the pelicans indicate that these two individuals are non-breeding adults.
Despite their often bucolic-seeming existence, waterbirds actually live very complex lives. They are constantly vigilant against threats and on the look out for opportunities. They need to be fit and resourceful, and need a lot of water, land and air to survive and thrive. Certainly they are deserving of our respect, admiration and conservation.
PHOTOGRAPHS: All photographs by Sabrina Caldwell, and other than resizing for web use, no alterations have been done to the photographs.