Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Horned Screamer

When we travel on the Amazon it is always hard to see the big river as anything but straight. But the truth is, like all rivers the Amazon twists and turns like dribbled honey. And it changes its course, often cutting loops off and leaving them as isolated lakes which we call "Ox-bows" owing to their distinctive shape. In Peru they are known by a Quechua term, "cocha." The fauna of cochas includes fishes and birds not usually found along the river itself, so we visit these lagoons to see special creatures. And one that never fails to interest and amuse us is a ponderous bird that looks for all the world like one of Dr. Seuss' creations. It is the Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta), one of only two species of bird that comprise the family Anhimidae. Aside from the cumbersome body, this vegetarian sports huge feet to help it walk across islands of floating vegetation. There is a long, bony spike protruding from the head, and an additional pair at each shoulder. Although graceful in flight, watching these immense birds struggle to take flight, seeing them walk and observing them uncomfortably perched in palm trees is somehow funny. Up close they look and act like the original Godzilla model. They just don't seem like birds!

Ranging from Venezuela and Colombia south through the Amazon Basin to Bolivia, these strange creatures suffer hunting pressure in several countries. Fortunately, in Peru they lead fairly tranquil lives so we are usually fortunate in seeing them, and they can almost always be heard. Their sonorous honking sounds like anything but a bird calling and the sound is the subject of several popular jokes told by local fishermen.



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