Margaret Hodge

A flock of Australian wood ducks got a surprise in our garden dam recently.

The dam is a safe haven for lots of birdlife including generations of Australian wood ducks or Ngawurk in Dja Dja Wurrung language.

Over the past decade we have welcomed countless families of wood ducklings to our garden and dam each spring. We love watching the little ones grow and learn their survival skills from attentive parents and other adults. They are very social birds doing most things in groups of ten or twenty or more. Ngawurk feed on grass and, a couple of times each day, head to the dam to drink, cruise, bathe and just hang out.

One fine day recently, Tim saw a flock of wood ducks get a surprise. It was late morning on a beautiful still day a couple of weeks ago.

A flock of a dozen wood ducks flew in over the house, in formation, heading for the dam. As they approached the water, the wings curved down in unison like a squadron of sci-fi planes exploring the universe. Their flight was silent except for the sound of air movement. They used subtle postural changes to swoop around trees so they’d safely reach their safe base, the middle of the dam.

Out came the landing gear, a dozen pairs of webbed duck feet propped forward in anticipation of a smooth gliding entry onto the water. But no, it didn’t happen!

Instead of a cruisy rippled landing, the wood ducks skidded across the surface, quacking in surprise. “What the quck?!” Ice! A frozen dam, solid from shore to shore.

The ducks came to a stop, stood up, shook out their feathers and looked around. Strolled around for a bit, quacked to each other, maybe checked they were all okay? A couple stayed for a little while before they followed their group to warmer water.

This was the first time our dam had frozen right across the surface in 10 years. The ice only started breaking up around midday when the sun reached it. Maybe it’s a feature of this particularly chilly Autumn? .

Wood ducks standing on an icy dam near a pontoon June 2024. (Photo: T. Bach)

Margaret Hodge is a Daylesford resident and keen observer of nature. Tim Bach is Margaret’s husband and the Editor of The Wombat Post. He did not participate in editorial decisions about this story.