Last waltz with a noisy pitta

posted in: Morphology-Develop., Species | 1

Pittas are such enigmatic, ground dwelling bird species that birders simply find irresistible to ignore. Despite their colourful plumages, they are not easily seen when remained quietly perched at low branching and roosting spots.

Four species visit Australia, but only two have found permanent residence in NW coastal Northern Territory and the eastern seaboard of Australia.

To be realistic and a lucky chance to view one…. just one, I would go for the Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) – a local migrant that breeds roughly between the months of October to January. They migrate down from the mountain forests during winter to the coastal lowlands of Queensland State and into New South Wales.

My first sighting of the Noisy Pitta came in 2004, on my first birding visit to a National Park. The scenic Glass House Mountains provided a dramatic visual backdrop to a fantastic birding location and an exhilarating experience shared with Australian birding pals – John and Hazel Noyce.

Equally too with Hans and Judy Beste and Vera – my birding pals of four years later, that a second brief encounter was seen at Lamington National Park of 200sq km – one of the five hundred or so pristine National Parks of Australia, well known and protected wilderness areas of natural and environmental importance.

Australians are indeed most fortunate to have their much emulated National Parks zealously protected by good governance, good maintenance and observing high standards in habitat flora and fauna conservation practices.

My visit turned out to be easier to digiscope a Logrunner (Orthnyx temminckii) – a ground dweller and forager on the run than to seek out the ‘walk-to-work’ taunting alarm calls of this menacing Noisy Pitta playing ‘hard to get’ at Lamington National Park.

This is a real wild one alright…

While Noisy Pittas are still classified as moderately common under some bird Australian field guides, their infrequent sightings is truly a cause for concern.

The importance of preserving natural bird habitats cannot be more real than rather wait and wonder one day, why local and foreign visitors need pay high entrance fees to view endangered bird species in conservation areas.

The only opportunity to be more knowledgeable and to document those rarities, difficult to find in the Australian wild nowadays is to visit a well maintained bird sanctuary – one preferably supports a conservation programme.

I did just that and the entrance fee came to a whooping equivalent of a month’s wage of a Cambodian policeman! I made two visits to ensure I saw them all. In the second visit, I found the conservation area tucked in a corner, less visited and easily overlooked.

The deafening, winding squawks made by the Chiming Wedgebill (Psophodes occidentalis) pair were unavoidable. It led me to investigate further.

I began reading the identification plates fixed modestly above the compartmental fencing enclosures of several endemic species.

One reads, ‘NOISY PITTA Pitta Visicolor’

‘Oh, my God! The Pitta is here!!’

I looked hard into the enclosures to locate a black-headed bird with green and turquoise above, buff below with red vent amongst artificial made shift habitat of ground scattered, dead and brown foliages.
Sexes of pittas are difficult to visually tell apart for they have similar plumages. For putting a story to this article, let’s call this Noisy Pitta ‘Christine’.

Christine was hiding behind and camouflaged by a tree branch, on ground level in a decent 10 x10 feet approximate size, enclosure. Her behaviour was observed for a good forty-five minutes. She was alone and there was a food/ drinking dish in her enclosure but I could not see what was in it (below left).

Simpson & Day’s field guide mentions Pitta’s diet, in addition to vermin that I had earlier documented, to be of insects, reptiles and invertebrates- such as land snails. They are smashed opened on chosen stones or roots used as anvils leaving behind litter evidence of empty shells. Feeding on fallen fruit and berries is a probability yet to be documented.

What is it like for Christine to spend time alone, living in confined space called conservation area? Perhaps feeling bored, losing the zest of life to mate and rusted its predatory skills?
Perhaps sick to death having to put up with noisy neighbours, getting too plump for lack of exercises in foraging activities and feeling a bit lonely without a companion?

And resorting to staring at the wall like this image (below middle)?

Christine movements were rather lethargic and she was too shy to approach the edge of the front enclosure to be interested in the world beyond. She made no calls through out the duration of my visit.

Was she simply content and resigned to live and be fed by humans in a conservatory? Perhaps, getting a mate for her might help. It may be quite a challenge to acquire a suitable one of the opposite sex from the wild.

To overcome her shyness, I decided to take my observation further away to give more distance space for a frontal approach. I imitated the call of a Pitta.

Christine responded eventually and approached to check me out (above right). A conversation with a Pitta issued.

“Hi babe… Didn’t expect to see you here. Feeling bored and lonely?” I asked.

“You bet. I see you’ve come a long way to visit. I don’t get many visitors come this way, you know,” replied Christine.

“Don’t feel so bad, luv. Come, I know you love to dress up. Let’s play pretend. You dress up and get ready for a festive ball and I find you a dashing guy JUST… for this evening. That will cheer you up and keep a nice memory of my visit won’t it?” I said.

“Yap, I guess so. But… who is this guy you got in mind?” asked Christine.

“It’s Monty. Ptilinopus superbus, the Superb Fruit-Dove.”

“Oooo…!” Christine rolled her eyes.

A delightful Christine returned later. This time, gleefully she charmed me through the scope with a stunning evening dress for which she received a whistling ‘pheet phew!’

She wore a plumage of salmon, shaggy frontal and a pom-pom pinned on her black, contrasting throat to match Monty’s neck scarf. Christine had her black hair jelled up with brown highlights in the middle and she wore an African nose stud.

It would be the closest ever to get a stunning shot of such a happy and co-operative Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) of what a digital camera could do with a fieldscope (below left).

Monty on the other hand, cloaked in green was handsomely clad in military regalia- like with royal blue epaulets. With a broad, black breasted belt and a pair of trouser looking pockets to match, he looked so smart up wearing a striking bright purple beret and red boots on too (above right)!
A perfect matching pair I thought in dress code.

“Now…Christine, this is only for one evening to enjoy the difference. Monty is a frugivore and nests on tree tops. You feed and make your home on lower grounds ok?”

“I’m ray….dee!” squawked an excited Christine, all caped up (left).

Well…I shall leave the imaginative assistance of readers to turn pumpkin and mice into gilded stagecoach, coachmen and horses for their evening ball.

It would be nice to just bring a sparkle into the mundane lives of Christine and Monty holed up in a conservatory. Steal a short moment of freedom for them; see them enjoy their first and last waltz together. That would be a nice thought to leave them and remember them by in pacifying our imaginations……


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