Duckling Rescue – Lend a Helping Hand to Animals Caught in a Storm

By Chad Beranek and Rodney Hunter

Storms are a natural part of life and essential for breaking down atmospheric nitrogen, to biologically available forms. Sometimes they rapidly escalate and wreak havoc upon human altered landscapes and Mother Earths ecosystems. Storms can form swiftly and forcefully, especially along the meteorologically erratic eastern coast of Australia.

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Urban areas are challenging enough for wildlife, before storms emerge and surge and endanger ducklings in drains near a road verge. I was driving home from a south coast adventure, when I noticed a distressed mother Pacific Black Duck anxiously patrolling a storm water drain. Curiosity compelled me to take a closer look.  Where I come from, ducks use residential swimming pools as crash pads. They’re everywhere in other words, however this one was unusually distressed.

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I emerged from my car with head torches to guide me and the eyes I came into the world with a quarter of a century ago. My vehicle travels with the care of a womb, not the recklessness of a tomb, it’s the mother ship. The environmental situation was more fixable 25 years ago, than it is today.

Tweeting ducklings alerted me to their presence in the storm water pipe. They must’ve been washed down with the recent rising surge. I drove home, in search of reinforcements (my mum and sister) and wasted no time returning.

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The mother duck was as paranoid and aggressive as a bipolar victim surrounded by peace time thugs. It didn’t know we came in peace. I detached the grating of the drain and handed the captured ducklings to my mother and sister, who gently placed them in a spare Tupperware container. Some of those fluffy little darlings hid deeper and deeper in the hostile drainage pipe murkiness. Eventually I managed to locate all of them, including the paranoia victims.

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We were astonished to find the mother duck had eleven offspring! Persistent in our efforts to capture her, we cut off the ring so to speak, in other words lured it into a tight spot, without making overly dramatic movements; for its own good. Not that she had any means of realising that though. Ultimately she was too swift and cunning. I feared she’d be squashed under the unforgiving wheels of a passing land rover. It was a close call.

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7Rather than continue the chase, we soundlessly emulated the march of the pied piper, by beckoning the Mother Duck to follow an offspring crate to my place. The ducklings tweeted the directions to their mother. Just as I was contemplating comics of cute baby ducks literally using the internet to find help, I was swooped by a shadowy sky being. I wondered if the shadowy sky being was one of those wingsuit inspiring sugar gliders. Well I would’ve if there were any in the area.

At that point it could’ve been Mothman for all I knew. Baffled, I scanned my surroundings. Nearby movement, in a dimly lit footpath shrub revealed the culprit. Quickly, I illuminated the dark silent figure. I marveled over the discovery, the shadow assassin, as I ultimately called it, was in fact a Southern Boobook, a species of owl to be vague. That swooping ninja must’ve recognized duckling distress calls and imagined a feast awaited it.

Southern Boobook

Evading the silent aerial ninga, the formerly panicking parent followed me and the duckling crate into the kitchen. She seemed too calm to be having nightmarish visions about what wasn’t on the menu, but would’ve been at some people’s places. My sister stashed the ducklings in a shower cubicle, in the hope their mother would fall for the benevolent trap, instead of risking injury by roaming around my spacious booby trapped headquarters. I don’t want Greg Hunt, the minister for environmental vandalism, to wander in unannounced do I.

Once again we failed to set our well meaning trap effectively. The mother duck seemed intent on doing laps of the hallway, as though she thought she was a Roman Colosseum chariot hero.

As the mother duck wandered into the lounge room Dad began to wonder what I might’ve blended with his lager saga. Eventually the unlikely vision reminiscent creature sought it’s sons and daughters, and found itself safely locked in the bathroom. The following day, the Pacific Black Duck family were happily released, in Caringbah’s painstakingly picturesque Camelia Gardens, a great venue for weddings

In summary, always be on the lookout to help distressed wildlife in storms. Below is a checklist of what to look out for:

  • Animals around storm drains
  • Animals gathered around fallen trees
  • Don’t be surprised if an animal takes up residence in your house to shelter from the storm! Warning to all those arachnophobics, Huntsmans seem to seek out shelter in houses during heavy storms!

Comment below, if you have been involved in any interesting wildlife rescue situations!

 

 

 

Booti Booti NP: The Ruins Camping Ground

Booti Booti National Park lies on a thin strip of land that joins Smiths Lake up to Forster. This narrow strip of land is made of thousands of year of sand deposition and at some sections less than 500 m wide. Lake Wallis lies on one side and the ocean on the other side with only one stretch road that runs 8 kilometers through this unique geological occurrence. Almost 20% of this national park is classed as coastal rainforest with the rest being mainly wet sclerophyll and dry sclerophyll forest. Lying tucked away in this beautiful environment is the Ruins Camping Grounds. This camping area allows people to experience the tropical domain of Booti Booti NP and is only 40 minutes south of Forster and just under 2 hours north of Newcastle.

The Ruins Camping Grounds | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The Ruins Camping Grounds | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

Flat Rock Hiking Trail | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Flat Rock Hiking Trail | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

This campground is easily accessible off The Lakes Way, which is all sealed road. There is a small fee of around $7 per night to upkeep the camp and track maintenance. The camp itself lies a short walk away from Seven Mile Beach which is a vast stretch of seemingly never ending coastline with distant rolling hills that jut up as shadows from the landscape. This beach is not patrolled so ensure to lookout for you and your friends safety.  The Flat Rock Hiking Trail starts at the Ruins Camping Ground and snakes through thick coastal rainforest to high elevations from which you get panoramic ocean views. The Flat Rock Hiking Trail leads to other secret beaches such as Boomerang Beach and Blueys Beach.

7 Mile Beach | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

7 Mile Beach | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

Wildlife

Booti Booti National Park has a lot of different animals inhabitants to consort with. The Ruins Camping Grounds often has large Lace Monitors patrolling the area. Don’t worry, these lizards are not inclined to attack humans, they will however rob you of your food if you leave your tent open! Other reptiles you are likely to see include Water Dragons, Golden Crowned Snakes and if you’re lucky a Land Mullet. This is an especially good spot for bird watching. The national park has so far recorded around 210 bird species within the parks grounds, so make sure you bring your binoculars and a long lens camera! Its not uncommon to see Figbirds loudly chirping around the camp grounds, as well as flocks of Vaired Sitellas skipping around tree trucks, prying every crevice for insect prey. Pied Butcherbirds will also hang around camp sites to pick off any astray food items you leave around, especially if they consist of meat.

Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Australiasian Fig Bird (Sphecotheres vieilloti) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Australiasian Fig Bird (Sphecotheres vieilloti) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nearby spots to check out!

Wallingat Camping Area

Wallingat camping ground lies in the depths of the thick littoral rainforests of Wallingat State Forest. This conservation area provides habitat for an incredible array of biodiversity and contains threatened species, such as the New Holland Mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae). Situated about two hours north of Newcastle and four hours north of Sydney, exploring this area requires a full weekend for most. The road in can be quite rough in spots, so if you plan to travel here with a 2WD, make sure to be careful of  large ditches and loose rocks. The campground itself sits next to Wallingat River which is perfect for  scenic canoeing or paddleboarding.

 

Wallingat camping area entrance | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Wallingat camping area entrance | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

There are many areas of Wallingat State Forest itself to explore and expand out to from this camping ground. Wallingat picnic area offers a chance to spend lunch time in the littoral rainforest. The Cabbage Palm walking track offers a great tour of the Cabbage Palm (Livistona australis) forests which are one of the main canopy species in Wallingat.

 

CR - Wallingat River

CR - Camp area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Wildlife

Wallingat is a wildlife biodiversity haven. There are amazing numbers of species from all animal groups. There are numerous bird species, with some a striking examples being the Scarlet Honey Eater,  White-naped Honeyeater and Grey Goshawks. This area is also a hot spot for amphibian life; if you are visiting during summer after heavy rain, there’s a good chance you will see the tropical looking Australian Red -eyed Tree Frog. If you happen to be cruising on the road around night, be sure to drive cautiously as there are often many animals crossing the roads. There are many reptiles in Wallingat such as Diamond Pythons, Scaley Foot, Stephens Banded Snakes and Pink-tongue Skinks. At night time you may also hear rustling around the camp site, don’t be frightened off, these noises are most likely from Bandicoots, Bush Rats and Antechinus.

New Holland Mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

New Holland Mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Red-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chloris)  | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Red-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chloris) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Stephens Banded Snake - unbanded morph (Hoplocephalus stephensi) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Stephens Banded Snake – unbanded morph (Hoplocephalus stephensi) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Diamond Python (Morelia spilota spilota) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Diamond Python (Morelia spilota spilota) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearby spots to check out!

 

Danjera Dam Camping Area

Danjera Dam is about about an hour drive west from Nowra and lies tucked away in an isolated and scenic canyon. The drive to the camping ground is spectacular and offers a full immersion into pristine dry sclerophyll woodland, and wet sclerophyll forest as you descend into the gorge. The road can be fairly rough in some spots but are still manageable for cars without 4WD capabilities. Be sure to keep your eyes pealed for Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Euros and Brown Quails as they make their quick darts across the road! Once you cross the bridge over Yalwal Creek you have arrived at the destination.

 

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Nowra -> Dinjera Dam | Copyright Google Maps 2016

Nowra -> Dinjera Dam | Copyright Google Maps 2016

The campgrounds which are scattered around the dam are all completely free. The campgrounds offer basic facilities such as drop toilets and campsite fires so ensure you come prepared with full camping gear! The dam itself is great for a swim or a kayak. Even paddle boarders have taken to the expansive beauty of this location. Towards the drainage end of the dam there is a wonderfully scenic waterfall which flows into Yalwal Creek. There are various fire trails and bush walking tracks which are also worth exploring.

 

 

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Wildlife

Being surrounded by wilderness, Danjera dam has an abundance of wildlife. In the morning an afternoon, the camping sites are greeted with flocks of countless different bird species. From Bowerbirds to Fairy Wrens and Whistlers. Grey Shrike Thrush seem to be quite common around the woodland areas as well. Yalwal Creek has sandy banks which makes this a prime breeding area for Eastern Water Dragons. Also be sure to spotlight at night as the dam is home to beautiful frog species such as the Southern Stoney Creek Frog. The male Stony Creek Frogs turn a brilliant yellow colour during the warmer months and can be found on the more rocky sections of the creek and dam. The creek is home to Southern Stream Frogs (hint: they love to hang out on the Lomandra!). The water itself is teeming with aquatic life. There are multiple species of native fish present such as Common Jollytails, Gudgeons and Australian Smelt.

Comment below if you have experience this wonderful campground, especially if you have witnessed any wildlife which I have not mentioned!

Southern Stream Frog (Litoria nudidigita) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Southern Stream Frog (Litoria nudidigita) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Juvenile Eastern Water Dragon (Instellagama lesuerii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Juvenile Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Southern Stony Creek Frog (Litoria lesueurii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Southern Stony Creek Frog (Litoria lesueurii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camp Map

Danjera Dam local map | Copyright Google Maps 2016

Danjera Dam local map | Copyright Google Maps 2016

 

1. Yalwal Camping Area

2. Toorooroo Campgrounds

3. Danjera Dam waterfall

4. Yalwal Creek bridge

The Casuarina Corridor of Life

At this time of year the days are becoming colder and most animals are becoming less active, or migrated north. This stillness and quietness of winter becomes evident. However there are a few specific vegetation communities which can occasionally provide an abundance of life in the onset of winter, and it’s all controlled by food. One of these vegetation communities are the Casuarina swamp lands which line undisturbed river lines in eastern Australia. Most inland rivers are cloaked by the River She-oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana), usually 20 meters each side of the bank, but sometimes more or sometimes less depending on the geological architecture of the area.

 

Tree top view of a Casuarina swampland along Wollondilly River.

Tree top view of a Casuarina swampland along Wollondilly River.

 

 

These Casuarina swamp lands can become a very important niche for many different species of birds during the onset of winter. The reason for this does not lie with the Casuarinas specifically, but surprisingly a parasitic plant which lives on the Casuarinas. These plants are known as mistletoes. While mistletoes have adapted to mimic a multitude of different host tree species, the mimicracy displayed by the Needle-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema cambagei) is extraordinary. This mistletoe has evolved to mimic Casuarinas and Allocasuarinas, and does a remarkable job of disguising itself amoung the Casuarina needles. Unless you are a mistletoe expert, the only sure-fire way to discern mistletoe from Casurina is to witness the Needle-leaf Mistletoe in flower (which are incredibly beautiful and unique!). Casuarina flowers are much different from mistletoe flowers and look like small fluffly red or brown parts on the leaves (needles), while the Needle-leaf Mistletoe flowers have large bright red anthers that a readily distinguishable, and are probably that bright to attract the birds!

 

Needle-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema cambagei)

Needle-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema cambagei)

 

The Needle-leaf mistletoe usually flowers at the beginning of spring, however I must of been at the right place at the right time as thousands of Needle-leaf Mistletoe were in flower, giving the Casaurinas bright red highlights which contrast well among their dull foliage. This earlier flowering could probably be due to the large quantities of rain south eastern Australia has had in the preceding months. With waning nectar resources from other tree and plant species, it seemed all the nectar feeding birds in the area decided to take advantage. We were treated to an avain frenzy of tweets and feathers. There were many bird species I didn’t manage to get a photo of and many bird calls I couldn’t identify, but below are some notable entries.

 

Yellow-faced Honey Eater (Lichenostomus chrysops), preparing for flight.

Yellow-faced Honey Eater (Lichenostomus chrysops), preparing for flight.

A Mistletoe Bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), flutter around the canopy tops in the Casuarina.

A Mistletoe Bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), flutter around the canopy tops in the Casuarina.

Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis), eyeing off a flowering mistletoe target.

Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis), eyeing off a flowering mistletoe target.

Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusila)

Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusila)

Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)

Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)

A mating pair of Turquoise Parrots (Neophema pulchella) take off.

A mating pair of Turquoise Parrots (Neophema pulchella) take off.

 

The last bird shown above is the Turquoise Parrot which is threatened in NSW. This was an especially great find! They even landed for me to take a photo, however they chose the ugliest invasive weed species to land on, I was in any case excited.

 

Turquoise Parrot (Neophema pulchella)

 

While the bird life was astonishing, there were other appearances which you usually only get to see in areas which are healthy and remote from urban development. The area harboring this biodiversity is situated between Nattai NP and Yerranderie Conservation Area along Wollondilly River, which gives wildlife to solitude it needs to become especially diverse and abundant. The healthy sections of this river is known to be home to the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), which I was especially lucky and excited to witness. The photo isn’t great but I was able to view it with binoculars as it would emerge and submerged for ten meters. On the banks of the river I was also able to see a healthy Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) grazing, and well as huge amounts of butterflies fluttering around, which turned out to be the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and Lesser Wanderers (Danuas chrysippus). I am unsure if these butterflies were here for the mistletoe nectar or for some kind of migration.

 

Platypus frolicking in Wollondilly River.

Platypus frolicking in Wollondilly River.

A healthy looking wombat, seemingly untouched by the current wombat disease epidemic, mange.

A healthy looking wombat, seemingly untouched by the current wombat disease epidemic, mange.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). This butterfly is a male, which is distinguishable by the pair of black dots on the lower wings.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). This butterfly is a male, which is distinguishable by the pair of black dots on the lower wings.

 

 

To witness this spectacle of nature was an inspiring reminder that there are still untouched oases of life which escape the reach of man with the addition of wonder with how many features of animal ecology remains unknown.