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Black duck rescue

I guess it wouldn’t be winter unless I had to take the plunge into the ice cold waters of one of our rivers, a dam or a creek.

I was called to Nagambie Leisure Park to help a Pacific black duck with a hook in its bill just over a week ago. Once we reached the location, despite searching the entire park on both the river side and the lakeside, my son and I couldn’t find any Black ducks. All ducks seemed to be missing in action.

Apart from a pair of Wood ducks, we failed to find any, which is a bit unusual for the Leisure Park! We had searched for over an hour but didn’t want to leave as Nagambie is a bit of a trek for us and knowing it was a resident duck, we remained hopeful he’d turn up before dark. We knew if he didn’t show up, we’d have to return to try to find him the following day.

We were retracing our search pattern when a staff member called to ask where I was because some people fishing had a few Black ducks turn up looking for scraps. We made a beeline to the location, threw out some tucker but sadly, our hooked duck wasn’t with this group.

Anxious we were running out of time, we continued our search along the riverbank, retracing our previous searches yet again. A couple of swans were walking along the bank, saw our bucket of tucker so came to investigate. We obliged by throwing some seed out in the hope that we’d attract more than the swans. A few water hens, an Ibis and some Black ducks suddenly appeared. As each duck arrived we checked for hooks. Still no hooked duck.

Then suddenly I realised I was staring at the last one to climb out of the water and up the bank, less than a metre away from my feet and it had a hook sticking out the side of its bill!

Black Duck

I already had the pole net on the ground in place but had to wait for him to get in the right position beside my net to quickly flip it over to catch him. I also had the net gun on me. I decided to use the net gun to speed things up as it was getting late and cold. I didn’t seem to be quite on my game that day as the first shot flew a centimetre over his head.

The net gun is a great rescue tool and I’ve caught many flying birds with it over the years. I have a new one which was kindly purchased for me by the Goulburn Murray Landcare Network last year when my old net gun finally packed it in. The new gun is supposed to be the same, it is not.

Like everything these days, modifying something on the whim that it is better, at the sacrifice of a design that works perfectly, seems to be the standard.

The new net gun does not perform as well and it is taking me awhile to adjust to its shortfalls. Disappointed, I repacked the net head, which takes a bit of time, then stood ready for my second opportunity, waiting for him to come back into range.

The problem now was that most of the birds were full and weren’t that fussed to come in for food.

Finally, our hook victim decided to exit the water again. I was getting worried that I may not get another chance that day so took the shot. Got him! Both duck and I shot into action.

It’s important to run as soon as you make a successful shot as the net entraps them, but the bird can still attempt to get out of the net and sometimes can, if they’ve only been caught close to edge of the net.

This duck took off to where it knew it was safe - back to the water. He made it into the river, net and all. My heart sank as he struggled to swim, fully entangled in my net. These nets have small weights on each corner and I knew if I didn’t go after him, the hook was going to be the least of his problems!

Throwing off my coat and shoes, quick check of my pockets for anything not waterproof, I took the plunge, all the while hoping the duck didn’t make it all the way out into the centre of the river.

Lucky for me, the bottom of the net got snagged on an underwater branch about five or six metres out. Unlucky for me, the river here is well over my head about one step from the bank so entailed a full swim. I reached the flailing duck pretty quickly, grabbed it but the net was really snagged below the water. I didn’t like the thought of destroying an 80 dollar net but could not reach down enough while holding the duck to free it so I ended up pulling hard, felt something break and I hightailed it back to shore carrying the entangled duck.

Black Duck

Once high, but certainly not dry, we set to work extracting the poor duck from the net. Remarkably, my net was still entirely intact, even all the weights were there!

I was able to remove the hook on-site without causing any further damage. The hook was not embedded in the duck’s bill as first thought, it was straight through the centre of the tongue. The duck was a good weight and the hook hole was healed already at the edges of the wound due to how long it had been embedded, so we were able to release it immediately.

The duck certainly was happier than I as I knew my backpack of spare clothes that usually travels with me for just these occasions, was not in my van. It was going to be a chilly hour travel back home.

I cannot thank the couple enough who were holidaying in the cabin right where we caught the duck. I am not good with names so cannot recall their names but I was provided with a dry shirt, long pants and socks to change into! I was still very cold but considerably more comfortable for the journey home than I would have been. I’ve never had a bird drag my net gun net so far out from the shore in deep water before. I did not anticipate getting wet for this one. Moral of the story...always expect the unexpected and people please, PLEASE pick up discarded lines and hooks.