This week’s photo wouldn’t win any photographic competitions, but the Chowchilla – http://www.birdway.com.au/orthonychidae/chowchilla/index.htm – is an interesting bird and there’s a story to go with the photo.
The Chowchilla is one of two Australian members of a rather obscure family, Orthonychidae, or Logrunners. The Chowchilla, which used to be called the Northern Logrunner, is a wet tropics endemic and is reasonably common in dense rainforest between Paluma, north of Townsville – where this photo of a male was taken – and Cooktown, north of Cairns. They’re best known for their loud, ringing calls – ‘chow, chowchilla, etc’ – made by family groups at dawn and dusk to maintain their territories. It’s one of the great sounds of the wet tropics rainforest.
When they aren’t loudly proclaiming their sovereignty, they use their very strong legs to rummage around in leaf litter looking for food. If you’re lucky, you can hear them scratching around and you may seem them dart across the path in front of you. They are reasonably approachable, but usually stay well hidden in the tangled undergrowth of the rainforest which – in combination with the poor light – makes them very hard to photograph. The females, incidentally, are brighter than the males and have a rufous breast and white belly, though in the gloom of the rainforest, rufous is perhaps less conspicuous than white.
On this occasion, I was waiting – flash at the ready not long before sunset – in the hope that one or other of a small group of Chowchillas would cross the path, when I felt a faint wriggling sensation on my lip and then on my upper gum. ‘Yuk, leech!!!’ I thought and was then faced with the dilemma of whether I should remain still in the hope of getting some photos or try to get rid of the leech. Clearly, the photo opportunity won the tussle and I then had the problem of extracting the leech. It’s hard enough to grab hold of one at the best of times, but quite impossible when its covered in saliva and out of sight. In the end, I had to make my way back to the car, half a kilometer away so I could use the mirror to find and get rid of it.
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To Hear a Chowchilla – Click Here
Several nice videos from Internet Bird Collection: Chowchilla (Orthonyx spaldingii) especially the first one “A male removing dry leaves and feeding”
LOGRUNNERS Orthonychidae from Bird Families of the World, 9th ed.