Thursday, October 23, 2008

We saw a Cassowary and lived to talk about it.


My #1 target bird for our Australia trip was the Southern Cassowary. In case you're not familiar with this bird, it's the third largest flightless bird on the planet and lives in the tropical rainforests of northern Australia and New Guinea. They are typically shy, frugivorous birds who are solely responsible for dispersing the seeds of many native fruit trees. This makes them a keystone species in the forests in which they live. Sadly, they have a bit of a bad reputation because they've been known to attack humans with their powerful legs if they are disturbed.

Our cassowary experience started with a rainforest tour of the Daintree Rainforest in northern Queensland - the most ancient rainforest on earth. We spent the day touring different areas of the rainforest, all the while looking out for Southern Cassowaries. Sadly, many cassowaries have been killed by vehicles so there are signs throughout to the area like the one above. The local wildlife managers have gotten into the habit of chasing off cassowaries by smacking them on the bum with plastic pipes. This has made human interaction and sightings less frequent - good for the birds, not so good for the birder.

Our day went well and we saw many beautiful sights, but no cassowaries. On our exit out of the park, our tour leader took a detour on one road and we hit paydirt. A beautiful cassowary was standing in the road. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a photo of it before it disappeared into the forest. It was one of my most memorable birding experiences - seeing such a huge, magnificent bird in the flesh was amazing.


david said...

Wow, that's awesome. I'm jealous! I remember seeing the tracks of a Northern Cassowary in soft mud along a stream in northwestern Papua New Guinea. I asked the local guys whether we had any chance at spotting one, and they just sort of chuckled. I did visit several villages where birds were raised in pens for meat. They are awesome animals. Maybe a visit to far northern Queensland would finally let me see one in the wild -- it worked for you!

Patrick Belardo said...

Definitely get there! From what I understand, there's a relatively big population in Mission Beach which is further south of where we saw ours. It's an impressive bird for sure. I felt like I was seeing a prehistoric creature. I wish the view was more than 20 seconds long though.