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Birds: Red-Combed Jacana

It was hot enough to make your skin crawl and we were in search of an elusive bird. Bill Crew was taking us on a birdwatching tour of Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia, and it was bloody hot. The kids were along for the ride, reluctantly, as they submitted to and put up with Dad’s passion for feathered friends. That afternoon Bill Crew guided us to a lake/reservoir private reserve.  He knew the owners of the reserve and had been granted permission to unlock the gate, open the wire fence, and birdwatch with his clients.  Bill was on the lookout for one bird in particular.  He felt it would be the perfect place and time of day to try to see a Jacana.

heron

White Necked Heron

It was mid-day by the time we drove down from the Daintree National Park to the private reserve. The sun was directly overhead and it was sweltering. I was doubtful that we would see anything unusual, since braving the noontime heat and humidity is for mad dogs and Englishmen. Bill’s Australian accent was starting to sound a wee bit British to my ear. I was seeking some shade. The skeptic in me predicted we might catch a glimpse of a heron or two, but certainly not a Jacana.

However, having never seen a Jacana before, and having birdwatched only a few days in this sun-baked country, who was I to judge so hastily?  I was not sure exactly what the Jacana habitat looked like, nor where to spot one exactly.  

We braved the beating sun and the profusion of sweat as we walked along the lone dirt road in the reserve. One thing I knew for sure was that this elusive water bird is often called by its common name, “The Jesus Bird.”  The metaphor refers to the Bible story of Jesus walking across the Sea of Galilee and Peter chasing after him only to sink in the sea (Matthew 14:22-33). We could all use a buoyant Jesus sighting once in awhile.

jacana 2

As if it can actually walk on water, the Jacana is very fleet-of-foot. It walks quickly in its waterlogged environment, with high knee bends, and fast steps. It is a very light-weight bird, with a red comb, and enormous feet: its toes dance “the quick step” on lily pads in the shallows of native Aussie lakes.  The bird appears to be walking so fast that it, like Jesus, is levitating! 

Stopping to get a drink by one of the expansive lagoons in the reserve, we identified a flock of Black Ibis, a lone White Necked Heron, several Black Swans, and two White Shags. Walking about a hundred yards ahead of Bill, I asked the girls to keep their eyes pealed off to both sides of the road. Suddenly off to the right, Kathleen saw a small bird with a curious red spot on its head. The red spot looked like a ruby colored piece of fruit balanced on its crown. The bird looked like a dancing Carmen Miranda on the lily pads. Taking out a camera, I zoomed in and got some good pictures. The near-flightless bird was casually dining on the bugs that surfaced around the blooming floating pads in the area.

As the rest of the family quickly came up, we gathered in the shade and took turns with the binoculars. Without warning the colorful bird soon took a sharp turn and dashed across the lily pads and into hiding. Its feet moved faster than the eye, as it sped to the privacy of the tall reeds. We hung around for a few more minutes, searched the area some more, and saw that the Jacana had scampered to another part of the lagoon, too far away for a good viewing. I was grateful to have my camera, as proof of our Jesus Bird sighting.

We next headed off to a second private reserve to see the platypus, another unusual animal from Down Under.

Thanks, Bill. A real water loving beauty!  Amen to that.

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