Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bird Gossip

I'm starting to know and appreciate the brush turkeys that hang around Rainforest Hideaway. At first I didn't like them because I thought they were ugly. Indeed, there is little to admire (from a human perspective) about their clashing primary colours, especially the coarse, sparse, black hairs decorating their red head. But I engage with them every day on the back veranda where they come for breakfast with the guests, and I have come to like their cheeky personalities and bright sparkling eyes.
Learning to tell the difference between males and females was a step towards recognising individuals. I'm pretty sure there are three regular visitors: two males and a female. The dominant male will chase anyone off including females and scrub fowl (though he makes himself scarce when the much bigger cassowary come to call). When the dominant male senses the other male he makes a deep booming noise and puffs out his yellow neck into a big dangly bag.
The less dominant male has taken to coming onto the front veranda to get to the house without having to deal with the boss at the back. Unfortunately that's also where we keep our seedlings (papaya, passionfruit, coriander and lemongrass) and turkeys have already scratched a number of seedling trays to oblivion. So when I hear his claws tapping up the steps I chase him off.
One morning I tried imitating the dominant male's 'boom boom' as I chased him, thinking that might be a sound he would respond to, rather than my high-pitch telling off in English. He ran away from me but came back immediately and repeatedly so I think my booming wasn't very convincing. Several of the guests heard me though and got all excited thinking it was a cassowary booming.

Paris and Nicky the cassowary chicks (long legs, small brains, love being photographed, no sign of parents from a young age)

The cassowaries are no longer such frequent visitors as when I first came to live at the Hideaway. Instead of almost daily, we might see one every week or two (but that hasn't stopped me naming them all). First Mama Cass stopped calling, but Papa Cass and little Paris and Nicky would still come by. Then one day I saw the chicks here on their own. I was dreadfully worried that something had happened to their dad and they would be vulnerable without his protection. But the two chicks came by several times without an adult, so they were obviously surviving ok. Then late one afternoon just one of the chicks showed up alone, acting very disorientated. It was back again the next morning wandering around the house for ages. I really started to worry that both the father and the other chick had been gotten by dogs or hit by a car or something.

Paris in foreground (Nicky's large feet behind her head)

Fortunately that weekend I had an opportunity to ask Lawrence Mason, who has been guiding here all his life, about them. He told me the chicks had been seen together that very afternoon on his adjoining property and that they were of an age when the father would no longer be willing to have them around (cassowaries are very solitary and territorial). A week or so later I saw Mama Cass at the house for the first time in ages, and then I heard that the chicks were establishing themselves a couple of kilometers away at the Cape Trib Farmstay.


Carol said...

Fascinating stuff Meliors,I had no idea that the babies were left to their own devices so early. Paris and Nicky are great names for them.

Jane in said...

Wow, Meliors you've certainly had some adventures since I last had time to read your blog (about 2 weeks ago). Ooooo that stinging tree sounded awful and excrutiating! Thank goodness you got some relief sooner rather than later.... Take care!