Lovely weather for ducks!

We’ve had lovely weather for ducks in the last week – ever since I posted about last year’s rainfall, in fact, although I don’t think my post was the cause. I visited the Town Common on Wednesday morning and enjoyed sloshing around in intermittent drizzle before the really heavy rain started about 11 o’clock. Everything was beautifully green and the waterbirds were feeding happily.

cattle egrets on Town Common
Cattle Egrets and others under dark grey skies

Most of this group were Cattle Egrets (more precisely Eastern Cattle Egrets, Bubulcus coromandus) – which are pure white in non-breeding plumage and rufous in breeding plumage. The bigger pure white birds are Intermediate Egrets (Ardea intermedia).

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Jacana in Anderson Park

small wading bird on lily pads
Comb-crested Jacana foraging on the lagoon in Anderson Park

Jacanas (family Jacanidae) have adapted to, and specialised in, one particular kind of habitat, shallow freshwater lakes and ponds with floating vegetation. They live right across the tropics, with various species in South and Central America, southern Africa, India and South-east Asia through to New Guinea and northern Australia. We only have one species in Australia, the Comb-crested Jacana, Irediparra gallinacea, and it is found in northern and eastern coastal areas from the WA-NT border to about Sydney.

They were new and exotic to me when I first came to Townsville from Victoria but are not too uncommon here; I’ve seen them on Ross River, for instance, and on the Town Common, and I spotted this one on the lagoon in Anderson Park, one of Townsville’s three Botanical Gardens. They don’t move very fast but they can still be hard to observe because they tend to stay well out from the edge of the water, where they are safer.

Jacana showing the extraordinary toes
Jacana showing its extraordinary toes

Their adaptation is in their feet. The toes are enormously exaggerated and spread their weight so widely that they can walk on floating lily pads or other water weeds and exploit the food available on them or just under the surface of the water. The penalty is that they are somewhat clumsy when walking anywhere and can’t fly as well as they otherwise might.

Comb-crested Jacana on lily pads
The Jacana is not very big – its body isn’t much bigger than the lotus bud behind it.