Occasionally seen in Ulladulla harbour, on the larger lakes and rivers, and rarely on the beach, the Australasian Darter, Anhinga novaehollandiae, is sometimes called the Snake Bird due to the long bendy neck.
Subspecies are found all over the world, generally known as Anhingas, and make up part of the cormorant family and very good at catching fish. The adult male is black with silvery streaks on the back and wings, brownish at the top of the breast, and a white streak below the eye. They have a greenish yellow beak, short thick legs and webbed feet. The female is similar but pale under the head, neck and breast with the young similar to the female. They tend to fly with the neck out stretched on broad wings.
When fishing, they will swim partly submerged with often only the thin long neck visible, like a snake, then dive under the water using their neck and sharp beak to spear their food before coming back to the surface to swallow their catch.
Like cormorants swimming in the cold water and eating cold fish, it requires them to bask in the sun with their wings open to absorb as much of the suns warmth as possible before returning to the water. More often seen on the inland lakes and rivers, they will follow local flooding events when fish populations explode and will breed within large colonies of cormorants, ibis and herons while the food bounty lasts.
During inland dry periods, there is a trend to see an increase of sightings in coastal areas before the bush telegraph lets them know there are better takings somewhere else.
Prepared by the Milton Ulladulla District birders (U3A) with information by Birdlife Australia and photograph by Charles Dove. Contact Chris Brandis and check out the Birdlife Australia, Shoalhaven website for further information.