Sunday, July 20, 2008

a day with the birds (port douglas day 2 of 5)

Today, our second day in Port Douglas, we went to a rather gimmicky but enjoyable little zoo down the road for breakfast. A sumptuous buffet of fresh and dried tropical fruits, baked goods, and heavy British staples allowed us to eat for an hour straight. We wanted to linger, as we were surrounded by rude yet charming dining companions: the zoo’s vast aviary, flying and roosting all around us. Cockatoos, parrots, ducks: you name it, they wanted our breakfast. The silly rainbow lorikeets, the most personable, especially wanted muffins and coffee, while the shy egrets were after the bacon. They were not allowed handouts, but this rule was only loosely enforced. I worried about their nutrition, but they all seemed healthy.

After breakfast, we wandered off into the animal enclosures—and I mean into, as it is another lovely park-like set-up where you wander around fields and swamps and the like with the animals free with you within the large enclosures. Our first stop was the kangaroo and wallaby field. Wallabies are like mini kangaroos, and are rather painfully adorable. We got to feed some of the more adventurous little hoppers, including a mom with a tiny baby (‘joey’) in her pouch. Their little mouths feel rather like rabbits’, and their paws feel like rodents’.

As we wandered out of that field, Petra was accosted by an emu who was VERY interested in making friends with her and her handfuls of remaining food. While a friendly fluffy bird may not sound very intimidating, remember that emus are as tall as Petra, have beaks as big as my hand, can run very fast, and have a look in their eyes at all times that can only be described as psychotic. Petra bore up well under the emu’s attentions, though, and parted from the well-fed bird with all her fingers in tact.

A close relative of the emu was also at this zoo, though it was cordoned off in one of the few areas where visitors are not allowed to wander. The cassowary is a little smaller than the emu, with a brightly coloured head and razor-sharp claws. It’s pretty much a dinosaur’s head and legs stuck onto an emu’s torso. Cassowaries live deep in the rainforest of this part of Queensland, and were originally thought to have died out with the rest of the dinosaurs years ago. While the Aboriginal people of the area knew they were still around (as they were a favourite meal), the birds remained an enigma to white scientists for years. It was quite remarkable to see its lizard-like movement, hear it’s belly-tingling deep thrumming call, and feel the effect of its vicious red-eyed stare. Even its keeper is scared of it—calls it the Psycho Karate Chicken, as it can make gigantic leaps and can kick in any direction. It somehow seemed more threatening than any zoo animal I’ve encountered before. Must be something in the genes: run away from dinosaurs!

Too bad these instincts didn’t extend to little marsh chicken things. There were native wetland birds that looked like guinea hens that a goth had painted (black bodies, blood-red heads, black eyes) running rampant around our feet in the grasses and hummocks of the main enclosure. Unfortunately, my flip-flop(‘thong’)-clad feet strayed too near a nest that one such bird was attempting to build right on the edge of the path. I was pulled harshly from my adoration of the cassowary by a beak sinking into my big toe. I later found out that this particular bird is named Swampy, and has a reputation for being beak-happy and for building inconvenient nests. While I mopped up my bleeding toe, the keepers went off to move his nest again.

The culmination and highlight of the day were the koalas. We were mesmerized by watching a teenaged koala scamper around his sawed-off trees. It was quite the sight, as they hardly ever move. This one must have covered fifteen feet in the twenty minutes we watched him! After this energetic display, we went off to meet with his sister who was working as a model for the afternoon. (Scanned version of touristy photo forthcoming.) Working animals in Australia are unionized, so she had to get her timecard punched at the beginning and end of the photo shoot. By law, as a koala, she is only allowed to work half an hour a day, 3 days a week. Holding her for the photo was fascinating. She was very heavy at 20 lbs (9 kilos), and smelled pleasantly but distinctly of eucalyptus and musk. Her fur was soft, rather like a healthy dog’s, and her paws were hard and rubbery. She was very warm, and clung tightly to my torso, bottom paws on my hip bones and arms on my shoulders. Wonderful.

And there were arboreal kangaroos, too. Yup, you read that right: kangaroos that live in trees. But I’m tired and want to go to bed now, so you can read up on them yourself. :) Sorry. Goodnight.


Shayn said...

woah, what an amazing variety of critters you got to hang out with!

glad the visit with the family is affording fun vacation time.

A'Llyn said...

So much cuteness!