Saturday, February 12, 2011

Who are you calling feral?!

They don't come much cuter than this little fluffy duck.
With at least 9 ducklings seen in two clutches this week, we can officially say we are on the first step to these Muscovy ducks being feral on Norfolk Island. Animals must be recorded as breeding in the wild for a number of years before they are officially feral. Here is the proof of the first time breeding of the Muscovy ducks at Norfolk. Along with a lot of fowls (chooks as we call them in this part of the world), many other breeds of ducks, and grey and white geese are deposited in the area of the island known as the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area (KAVHA). It's a bit like a retirement home for elderly or unwanted poultry of various kinds, which the owners have no inclination to kill for their supper.This could be because of squeamishness or because Henny Penny or Daffy could be a bit too much like a family pet.

 Mother duck and the whole flotilla are spending most of their time paddling on the Watermill Dam these last few days, but when I first found them they were waddling about on the grass, with (apparently) Dad hissing at me when I went near. I could not help but notice how blue his eyes were as he threatened me with violence. (This was a rather awkward situation as the ducklings were continuously coming towards me, and not the other way round.)
The rather unattractive red wattling all over the face of these ducks will be the look of these little yellow ducklings before we know it, so it's a good idea for locals to take the kids to see them while they are still cute as bathtub ducks.

It was an extraordinary day in KAVHA, as I wandered amongst the ruins of the colonial and convict past, as the chooks at every second pace seemed to be cluck-clucking to newly hatched chicks. I frequent this area often and have never seen so many brand new chicks at one time.

The Watermill dam was originally built in 1790, only 2 years after the settlement of the island.  The dam was constructed of earth, and placed at the confluence of three streams, with the swampy ground below it drained by a man-made channel, rendering the area more suitable for agriculture. The stone mill building was a later addition, coming many years later after the first settlement had been abandoned in 1814 and the infamous convict settlement begun in 1825. The mill was constructed in the 1830s and was used for the grinding of grain for the little colony whose population peaked at around 3000.

 The remains of the mill building can be seen nestled below the pines to the right of the picture.
(Double-click on any picture to magnify it.)
Later in the 1830s a report reveals that the earth-walled dam was no longer able to hold water, and stone lining was added to make it more secure. In the days after the Pitcairn settlers arrived, (1856) it was obviously no longer watertight, as it was used as a market garden, and the 2nd generation owner of the property from which this photo was taken tells me it was still a vegetable garden in the 1960s. By the 1970s it was once again being used as a reliable water storage facility.
As well as providing a place for retired farmyard birds, the dam attracts weary travellers which rest here on their way to and from New Zealand, some coming from across the northern Pacific or heading back to Siberia and Alaska to breed. Blown off course we sometimes see spoonbills, cormorants, egrets and of course ducks.

In the image above, the roadside is lined with Norfolk Island pines. The mill is in the shadows cast by the trees at the top end as they march along Aunt Jemima Avenue. It's a lovely custom on the island, that 100 trees are planted to celebrate the 100th birthday of a resident, and Aunt Jemima's avenue was lovingly created by her family and friends in 1971.

(Thanks to Liz at the KAVHA Research Centre for the historical information on the dam, and to Ron for his recollections, and helping me get above the dam and mill for the image.)

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