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Cock of the Rock!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The falls, the tank bromeliads, the froglets would have been enough, more than enough. But Guyana's Kaieteur Falls Park would give us so much more in our too-short afternoon there. Because there is a bird living there, in this impossibly magical, vine-draped steaming forest, who can hurt your eyes with its color. It is the legendary cock of the rock.

I know. It's a weird name. Google it, and you get all kinds of heavy metal images right alongside stunning photos of a brilliant bird, an impossible bird. I didn't understand where it got its name until I walked in its habitat.
The cock of the rock needs rocks where it can nest. Huge, towering walls and slabs and jumbles of rock. The Science Chimp is elated to say that she will report later on the nesting habits of this marvelous bird. First, she needed to see her very first COTR. You can just imagine how excited I was. Wending our way silently through the forest, the wet floor padding our footfalls, we watched our guide and froze when he motioned that he had spotted the bird, low down in the jungly tangle, some distance ahead. We were approaching the lek site of a group of male COTR's, where they pose and display, hoping to attract visits from the burnt-brown females. Our first looks were a bit compromised by vegetation, but it was clear we had one heck of a bird in our sights.
As quietly as we could, we maneuvered around until we could see and shoot around the obscuring leaves.I shot image after image, upping my ISO to 1600, leaning against trees for support to lessen lens shake. I'm not digiscoping here, just pushing my 300 mm. telephoto lens to the maxx in the almost hopelessly dark and lightless jungle.This is not some little songbird. It's a cotinga, one of the suboscine passerines, and a honkin' big one, about the size of a city pigeon. And the color of a neon orange traffic cone. There's no missing it, even as it sits quietly and still. Think about a pigeon this color and you get some idea what an impression it makes.

Nearer, nearer, trying hard not to upset the beautiful bird who perched so calmly for us. Ooh. What's that foofuraw coming off his back?
They're filamentous plumes, orange as shredded carrots, that the female COTR likes to nibble on as the male crouches motionless on the ground before her. Nice touch.

Changing perches, he showed what a beefy broth of a beast he really was. Look at those strong yellow feet. Hey, Mr. Tangerine Man. That's a semicircular crest, neatly edged in burnt orange, that he can erect and push forward so as to completely hide his bill. Not a whole lot of tail on this bird. But he's got a very cool rump. The frills on it reminded me of those awful panties people used to put on little girls, the kind meant to stick out from under a too-short Easter dress, with ranks of frills on them. I wish I could purge such untoward thoughts when I look at a bird, but they well up nonetheless.
Though it's not that close, this is my favorite shot of the bird, on alert.
Let's blow that one up, shall we?
Right after I took this photo, he whirled off to a deeper, more obscure place, on a gasp of pinwheeling wings. Who'd have thought he'd be tricked out in black and white wheels? I was laid out, so much more than I'd ever hoped to see of a bird I'd dreamt of since I was seven. Ahh, thank you, cock of the rock. We'll leave you in peace now. And I will use this image later to rekindle my connection with you...

14 comments:

My heart skipped a few beats looking at the photos of this bird. Gorgeous!

what a beautiful bird...and i loved your christmas greeting!!

My Grams used to call those panties, "Spanky Pants".

I don't even know what to say about that bird. I would have been a blubbering mess, seeing one in real life. You MUST get like that, with all the exotic, unique birds you get to see. What does a JZ-Full On, Bird Geek-Out look like?

Wow, a bird with petti pants. So 60s -- just about the time I first laid eyes on a Cock of the Rock in the bird house at the Philadelphia Zoo. That's the only place I've ever seen one in the flesh, you lucky girl. But you're a deserving one, too, so I can't begrudge you your up close and personal encounter.

What a wonderful description. I'm not a bird geek (h is, I'll have to show him this), but you had me right there, step by step with you looking at that amazing bird.

How cool!!! Wow. I can't imagine seeing a bird that color and THAT big. I love the "ruffles" on his tail. Bet he can shake them too. All my shots would have been blurred as I would have been shaking with excitement!

Susan, you crack me up! Yes! Spanky Pants! Catbird--Petti pants! I knew they had to have a name! Now you tell me what to call those elasticized bands with a bow on them that some people put on the heads of bald baby girls so that everyone knows their gender. As if it would kill the baby if people referred to her as a he. I dressed my bald baby Phoebe unisex just to throw those people off, and I'd be much more worried about the red mark those dopey bands leave on that warm, precious little head.

And to answer your (hilarious) question, Zick in full-on tropical life-bird geek-out is not a pretty sight. Picture a spaniel, the kind that gets obsessed with her tennis ball, muttering under her breath, spluttering, breathing too hard, bent forward in a ready-for-anything crouch. People just have to deal with it. At the farewell dinner I was voted "Most Enthusiastic." 'Nuff said?

What a bird. I did imagine a tangerine pigeon out back...wow. That crest!

No idea what those foofy flapperish bald baby gender I.D. helper headbands are called. But the Unisex Baby Gambit reminds me of a great old movie, Christmas in Connecticut, in which Barbara Stanwyk plays a single writer posing as a 'married with kid and fab country house domestic goddess' magazine columnist. Pushed into a corner to host her publisher and a naval hero, she acquires a faux husband and borrows a baby (actually, two -- a boy and a girl, one dark, the other fair, both supposed to be the same kid). Not sure what manner of being she's dealing with, she calls them 'It.' Repeatedly.

Ack! Ironic word verification: peticu!

Way to maxx out that 300mm Julie! Thanks for sharing this very cool bird that most of us will never get the oppportunity to see in person!

I added your gorgeous blog to my blogroll at http://mouthfeel.wordpress.com and also tweeted your url on Twitter. I hope a lot of people come visit you because your writing and photos are stunning. I wore some of those ruffled panties, by the way.

What a gorgeous bird! Thanks for sharing that. That had to be a real thrill to see a bird you have wanted to see since you were 7.

I like to look up the birds you and Bill post on the Internet Bird Collection site. It has videos many birds so one can see them calling, flying, preening, etc...

http://ibc.hbw.com/ibc/

Janet, what a lovely gift you just gave me!! I just looked up both COTR and Bearded Tachuri--both birds I would have loved to see more of. Amazing! Two videos of each! Everybody, check it out.

Wow. That's all I can say.

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