“I saw the most magnificent bird on our land!”
I couldn’t wait to tell my eldest sister, who I knew to be a bird lover, about the most incredible sight I had seen. But it wasn’t just the sight of the bird that had me intrigued. The way it took off from the ground, with a massive flap, flap, flap, whilst running, using its wide expanse of outspread wings to become airborne, was completely different to how other, smaller varieties of birds took off from the ground.
“It was absolutely massive!” I exclaimed, “but with the face of a dove. The tail feathers alone must have been eighteen inches long. And the bird was predominately brown, of all colours. There was some mottling around its tail, but I didn’t get a good look at all the details. I can’t wait to see it again, it really was a sight to see, like no other bird I have ever seen before.”
My sister rolled her eyes. “Really, Jo, you do exaggerate….what did this miracle bird really look like?”
As far as my sister was concerned, I always exaggerated. If I said I was freezing cold, boiling hot, or couldn’t wait to visit mum, Anne regarded the statement to be an exaggeration. (If you were freezing cold you would be solid and unable to speak; if you were boiling hot you would be dead; and you will have to wait to see mum, but why the rush?) To my sister, I was the Queen of Exaggeration. In my eyes, Anne was a painful stickler for details.
But I knew this bird was big, and brown. It also had a pretty dove-like face. I had never in my life seen such an elaborate take-off either, thinking that all birds simply went flap, whooshka….up into the sky! This one didn’t.
Twenty-two years have passed by since that day, of my first sighting of what I now know to be a Pheasant Coucal. The next one to sight the bird back then was my husband (who hadn’t doubted my description for a minute!) We searched bird identification books, asked the locals, tried to see the bird again, all during which time my sister occasionally thought to question whether I had seen this Feathered Colossus again, using the most sarcastic tone she could muster.
After my husband had sighted it as well though, she had to accept that maybe, just maybe, Kid Sister really had seen an unusual, and unusually large bird.
During the years between building our house on our land and now, we have sighted the Coucal’s many times, but we hear them more often than see them. They are a very shy bird, nest in the long grass right down the bottom of our yard along the fence line, between us and the farm-house behind us, but we know they are there when we hear their cries, echoing through the garden. It’s a low-pitched sound, a constant “coo-coo-coo”, vibrating through the yard and around the valley. The sound is as magical as the sight of them.
Occasionally, I spot a Coucal, usually way down the back yard (we have one acre of land), or taking off in their laborious way, disappearing into the trees. Unfortunately, due to their inability to fly easily, we often see them on the main road leading to our village, victims of the cars moving faster than the coucals can fly across the road. They also walk a lot, another hazard for these beautiful creatures.
Pheasant Coucals are members of the cuckoo family, although unlike cuckoos, who invade the ready-made nests of magpies and currawongs, Coucal’s lay their eggs, usually three to five in number, in the long grass, caring for them themselves. And according to my book, “Guide to Australian Birds”, Pheasant Coucal’s are about fifty-five to sixty-eight centimeters in length. Conversion ~ twenty-two to twenty-seven inches long.
Large long-tailed cuckoo with body black (summer) or brown (winter and juvenile) and rufous barred wings and tail. Usually seen running across roads or perched (particularly on wet days) on fence posts or dead trees near long grass; when flushed flies heavily with laboured wing-beats. ~ The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds.
For so many years, which now seems like forever, I have tried, unsuccessfully, to take a photo of a Pheasant Coucal. Although their presence is felt, they remain hidden.
Earlier this week though, my daughter took breakfast outside, to be enjoyed in the cool morning air, just before a few spots of rain hit the ground. Before coming back indoors, I heard her calling to me, in a low, quiet, yet urgent voice. I grabbed my camera; I knew by her tone this must be important.
There, sitting in clear view, right on top of the shed, in all its glory, sat a Pheasant Coucal!
It didn’t stay there long enough for me to take a photo, (typical!) and flew down to a low tree in the garden. I sneaked around to the side of the tree, camera poised, but must have disturbed it, as it flew up into the branches of the pecan nut tree, which it seemed to decide was a safe place for its morning bath.
I took refuge from the now-steady rain, standing in the shed, happily clicking away at one of my mysterious, seldom seen, Coucals. It posed and preened, whilst I held my breath and quietly clicked. What a joyful few minutes it was.
I would like to think that Anne looked down on me from heaven, watching me with my camera that morning, in my (unexaggerated!) moment of glory.
Maybe she even arranged for the Coucal to be there for me….who knows? It’s a lovely thought, and a brilliant beginning to 2015.