Saturday, 5 January 2019

Tufted Duck - first sighting in Australia

It has been a (very) long time since I've posted something here but the sighting of a new vagrant species in Australia this week prompted me to get out and find the bird this morning. A male Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) was spotted at the Western Treatment Plant (WTP, aka "Werribee Sewerage Farm") earlier this week and it had the Australian twitching community all a flutter (pun intended). This was the first ever sighting of this species anywhere in Australia. So, camera gear and binoculars packed in the car, I picked up my son at 7am for the hour's drive to Werribee. We initially investigated the location at which the bird had been spotted on Wednesday but, while there were plenty of interesting birds, there were very few ducks and no sign of the foreigner.

Twitching (searching for new/rare bird species) at the WTP has some distinct advantages over other locations:
  1. LOTS of birders go there and when a new species is sighted you can guarantee you won't be alone,
  2. The country is VERY flat so you can see for kilometres,
the result of which is that when searching for a rarity, it's easier to look for the crowd of birders than to look for the bird.

As we were leaving our first location, a little disheartened, we spotted a collection of cars (yet to find a suitable collective noun) a couple of km away at another series of ponds. A few minutes later, we had joined the throng (below - the gap in the middle is where we had been) - binoculars, telescopes and long lenses pointed towards a flock of ducks (mostly Australian Shelduck) and a few grebes and coots clustered on the other side of a pond.

It only took a few minutes for the first call of "I've got it!" to rouse the gang into cries of:
"You see the last hangar...just below the right hand side of that"
"You mean near the pile of dirt?"
"Yes, just near the those swans close to the bank"
"Wait, I see it, no, it's just dived..."

My 300mm lens was never going to be sufficient to see the bird clearly so I added both 2x and 1.4x tele-converters to my Pentax K-3 (crop factor of 1.5) giving me a virtual focal length of 1260mm. Even then, the bird was not much more than a blur in the distance.

Tufted Duck (centre of photograph near the grassy bank) with Australian Shelduck and Eurasian Coot
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 lens x2 and x1.4 adapters, 1/125 sec @ f/12.5
Fortunately, video is more forgiving of having so much extra glass and I (unusually) had the foresight to switch to video for a few seconds, capturing the bird preening and wing-flapping.

I'm not sure how many species that is for me now in Australia (I'm not a fanatical counter/ticker) but it's always great to find such a rarity and very happy that it's my 300th bird in Australia on this blog.


  1. Hi. Just a question... Should this lone duck be captured and transported to where others of it's species are? Amazing sighting, but worried for the future. Will it attempt to fly elsewhere to find a mate? Bit sad it's all alone.

  2. Southern Australia is a long way out of it's normal migration zone but for whatever reason, this bird ended up here. I think he (it is a male) should be left alone. It's not feasible to capture and transport the bird as (ignoring cost) we don't know from where it has come - the species distribution is quite broad across Europe.


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