Bird photography has become an escape for Carol Moyse.
For the past seven years, the 59-year-old has been taking photos of a wide variety of birds on her property in Dereel, south of Ballarat in western Victoria.
“It has started becoming an addiction,” she says. “They’re beautiful creatures and every time I take a photo I see something I haven’t noticed before.
“I’ve been through bouts of anxiety so for me it’s about getting away from it all, and being in the bush and taking photos of these birds really does it for me.”
Among her favourites is the pink-eared duck, which is one of eight native ducks listed as a game species in Victoria. This means they can be legally shot by duck hunters during the 12-week open season.
The Victorian government is facing pressure to outlaw duck hunting, after a parliamentary inquiry recommended a complete ban on the practice on both public and private land from 2024. If the government accepts the recommendation it will bring Victoria into line with Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, which have banned duck hunting.
The inquiry also recommended reserves used for duck hunting be converted into parks to provide “greater access to outdoor recreation for all Victorians, with appropriate investment in camping, boating and related infrastructure”.
Lisa Palma, the chief executive of Wildlife Victoria, says the recommendations are a cause for celebration.
“The future of our precious Victorian wildlife just got a little bit brighter,” she says.
But Labor MPs are already facing lobbying from duck hunters and unions who want the activity to continue.
‘An amazing bird’
For birders like Moyse there is much more pleasure to be had in shooting ducks with a camera.
“As far as ducks go, it’s at the top,” Moyse says of the pink-eared duck, which is also known as the zebra duck or zebra teal.
“It’s a fascinating duck. So gorgeous with its pink ears and it has this distinct call so you know exactly when there’s one flying around.”
Over the past couple of months, small flocks of pink-eared ducks have settled at a farm near Moyse’s property and at other waterholes around Ballarat.
Named after the tiny pink spot behind their eye, the ducks are specialist feeders. They have a spatulate bill, like the Australasian shoveler, with hairs that filter out food as they vacuum up water on the edges of wetlands.
They are common, settling around the Murray Valley and throughout western Victoria, but their exact location can be hard to pin down: they are nomads, following rainfall to the best water courses.
“Shallow, recently flooded wetlands are their favourite spots,” says Roger Thomas, a naturalist and bird lover from Ballarat. “If [the areas] are wet for years at a time they’re not of much interest to the pink-eared duck.
“They’re not in the Ballarat district all the time but we do have sightings nearly every year. They’re certainly a very appealing little duck and every bird lover likes to see one.”
Prof Richard Kingsford, an ecologist at the University of NSW, says the development of dams that divert water upstream of the floodplains – which pink-eared ducks depend on for food and breeding grounds – has contributed to habitat loss, which is impacting the species’ numbers.
Kingsford says the ducks tend to concentrate in large numbers in wetlands, making them more vulnerable to duck hunting.
“The pink-eared duck is an amazing bird. It’s probably my favourite duck in the world,” Kingsford says.
“It has amazing colouring, but they are also incredible animals – true nomads of our desert rivers and wetlands when they flood. They are also a spectacle when they fly in tight flocks, twittering to each other.”
Kingsford conducts the annual eastern Australian waterbird survey, for which surveillance flights will begin next month for the 2023 edition. The monitoring program, which has been running for 40 years, has provided key data in the argument against duck hunting.
The survey remains essential even if duck hunting is banned, Kingsford says, as uncertain weather patterns caused by the climate crisis are likely to impact the habitat and populations for a wide range of Australian water birds, not just those targeted by shooters.
Moyse shares Kingsford’s concerns.
“A lot of different species of ducks are losing their habitats left, right and centre, and then you add the shooting to it,” she says. “It’s going to wipe out a lot of these birds.
“I’m pretty much against the whole hunting thing. Period.”