Zane Mirfin – Waves of feathered paradise

September 07, 2010

THE Mirfin family was in Blenheim recently to watch the musical The Sound of Music. The production was awesome and the whole family had a great theatre experience, complete with icecreams at halftime.
The Marlborough Civic Theatre is a wonderful community facility and I found myself chuckling during the musical, thinking about the curmudgeonly naysayers we read about in The Nelson Mail most weeks and their vehement opposition to a performing arts and conference centre. The thought did cross my mind that I do actually like having to travel two hours to Blenheim to watch performances and stay with the in-laws for the weekend – at least that way I’ve managed to squeeze in a lot of duck shooting over the years as well.

My Blenheim-based mate, Clayton Nicholl, is a great bloke, a real outdoor enthusiast with a heart of gold, and what better thing to do than go bird hunting with Clayton on a wet Sunday while the rest of the family was off to church.

Clayton had previously sussed out paradise ducks that had been frequenting a farmer friend’s irrigated green feed paddocks, so I’d towed my shuttle trailer over the hill, full of bulky layout blinds, decoys, wet-weather gear, guns and ammo. We spent late morning sitting out the storm at Clayton’s drinking coffee, while the rain poured down and we listened to radio reports of savage flooding to the west in the upper Motueka Catchment. When the sky brightened we were off over Weld Pass to the lower Awatere valley in search of parrie ducks.

Wet days are always difficult days to shoot ducks as the birds tend to spread out all over the countryside, with feeding opportunities – grubs and worms – everywhere due to flooded pasture. Our anticipated large number of parries was nowhere to be seen but about a dozen birds were spread about the green feed area.

Throwing our gear over electric fences, we set up in the middle of the irrigated area in a recently grazed-off pasture. Layout blinds out, full-body and silhouette decoys around the hides and we were ready to go.

The first birds took half an hour to announce their arrival with the loud, shrill ‘‘zee zee’’ call of the white-headed female parrie duck and the quieter ‘‘zonk zonk’’ call of the male. As they swung over the blinds, both Clayton and I threw our blinds open, sat up as the parries flared, fired, and watched both birds plummet from the sky. Clayton did his best Julie Andrews impression calling out from his blind ‘‘the hills are alive with the sound of gunfire’’, and I knew it was going to be a great shoot.

Paradise ducks (Ttadorna variegate), putangitangi, or ‘‘painted ducks’’ as Captain Cook named them in Dusky Sound in 1773, are a common sight around New Zealand these days. They are one of a few species of native birds, like pukeko, that have done very well with the development of agricultural land.

Paradise ducks are actually a Fish & Game conservation success story with special paradise duck hunting seasons sometimes necessary to stop large mobs damaging farm paddocks and crops with their grazing.

So for any local landowners out there, I’m in the phone book, and if you have any parries, pooks or feral pigeons that need a life-changing experience, my mates and I will be only too glad to oblige.

Truly New Zealand’s birds of paradise, parries are a very colourful and beautiful bird with the female having the rare distinction among bird species of being the brighter coloured bird with a white head and chestnut body. The drake is larger with a black head and barred black body, with both male and female having striking white wing patches and bright green speculum on the wings.

Parries are a shelduck or goose-like duck, and although they are claimed as endemic to New Zealand, we’ve shot their very close cousin, the Australian mountain duck, on the West Coast’s Lake Brunner and in South Westland.

The piercing cry of the ducks is one of the great sounds of the New Zealand countryside and they are wonderful birds to hunt with their bright colours and obliging ways. Layout blinds have revolutionised hunting in open fields and birds are able to be lured close to waiting hunters.

Much hunting takes place on pastures well away from water, where lead shot is able to be used, so most birds can be harvested in good condition. Steel shot tends to rip birds apart due to the larger pellet sizes required to reach terminal velocity but must be legally used when shooting over lakes, riverbeds and ponds.

Decoys can be very simple. There are now high-priced full body decoys available but effective silhouette decoys can be fashioned from corflute real estate signs and painted three colours – white, black, and chestnut.

Ducks can be hunted all day and with all methods, but the best tallies are always over decoys set up are in feeding locations such as pasture or crops, or resting areas such as riverbed duck camps well in advance of incoming birds.

Fish & Game has managed paradise duck numbers well. As recently as two decades ago they were not common in waterfowlers’ bags. The current daily bag limit in Nelson-Marlborough is a generous 10 birds per hunter and the ducks are very tasty to eat in casseroles, stir fries, minced in lasagne, or legs and thighs baked in the oven.

Years ago I used to shoot South Westland regularly and I can still picture some of those epic mornings where big numbers of paradise, geese, swans and dabbling ducks would pour into our decoy spreads set up on pre-scouted duckcamps out in the middle of big braided riverbeds.

On those halcyon mornings where everything goes right, packing up decoys and cleaning downed birds with ringing eardrums never seems like work as the highlights are relived again and again.

Zane Mirfin

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XXS 90-95 35-37
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130cm / 51.2"



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