Sunday, 28 April 2013

Chicken on a Hot Tin Roof

When I first moved to Australia I felt reasonably prepared. I knew about the spiders, although I had purposely not researched them very closely. I'd heard about the snakes. I knew who Steve Irwin was. And I knew only to swim between the flags (thanks Bondi Rescue). So when I moved into my $300/week room in a share-house in Brisbane I had absolutely no idea what was in store.

Kalle Kalkun
Of course, I started by making the same mistake any foreigner flying for 22 hours does - I fell asleep at 7pm. This, of course, resulted in me awaking fully rested at 3am and then lying anxiously in bed waiting for the sun to rise. And that was when I first saw it. The chicken on the tin-roof just outside my window. Now, first off I was NOT expecting my first encounter with Australian wildlife to be with a chicken. Secondly, I learned later that day that it was in fact something called a "Bush Turkey" (which would explain a few things, as I remember thinking the chicken was a bit odd-looking) and that apparently these things roam wild about the suburbs of Brisbane digging and kicking loose any patch of dirt they can find. I'm still not sure if they just like to spread dirt around or if this compulsive disorder has a purpose, but I do know they're not eatable. And this particular one seemed to know it, judging on it's behaviour the upcoming mornings.

Now, the thing about tin-roofs is that aside from being very beautiful, they never rust, they deflect heat and... oh wait. That's right, they do absolutely none of those things! What they do, however, is enhance any sound within a one block radius. Even the tiniest drop of rain sounds like a hammer hitting a metal surface with full force, and so you can imagine what a naturally early-bird, crazy ass bush turkey sounds like! Luckily, I was up anyway due to jet-lag, but for some reason absolutely none of my Norwegian friends back home seemed to believe my stories of this rabid bird terrorizing what was supposed to be a lovely morning enjoying the Brisbane sunrise. That was until the video, of course.

The trick to capturing wildlife on video, and I'm sure any skilled nature photographer will agree, is to blend into the environment. To be the environment, so to speak. And this is why, when I woke up at 4am, I made the necessary preparations. Fully charged battery - check. Beautiful pink camera with hardly any zoom - check. Un-natural crouching position next to the window overlooking the desired target area, but making it impossible to move - check. Bush turkey - two hours late. For once I was actually delighted when I heard it's tiny feet crash-land on the roof and instantly starting to peck away at every twig it could find. This was the moment! Of utter failure.

In all my preparations I had forgotten one cruical thing, which was to open the window so that I could actually poke my head out and shoot some mind-blowing "Hah! I told you so!" video. Sitting in nearly the same position for hours already my movements had also lost part of their usual grace. So I decided there was only one thing left to do - move with the speed of light. Luckily it turns out bush turkeys aren't very shy. In fact, I think this one was secretly hoping to become the next YouTube sensation the way it was strutting about as if a pale Norwegian girl hadn't just opened the window with all her Viking force and was hanging over the edge video-taping it's every move. But I got it. And David Attenborough can kiss my ass!

Armed with oh so sweet video proof, my Norwegian friends had no choice but to eat their distrusting words and acknowledge the existence of this strange and exotic creature that continued to wake me up at 5am every morning for the next month. Naturally, I named it Kalle, after my father.

Considering the past events, it should therefore come as no surprise when I the following week was astonished to see these bush turkeys flying about at night. Australia being the home of animals such as the Platypus - a cross between a bever, a fish and a bird - I honestly felt like I should not be astonished at all, and tried to act as if it was totally natural to have large red-headed creatures swoop over your head at dusk. I mean, why shouldn't they be nocturnal as well? You can therefore imagine the feeling of utter horror creeping up my spine when I finally realized they were, in fact, not friendly bush turkeys that I had by then become quite accustomed to - oh no, they were GIANT fruit-stealing, possibly blood-sucking, and most certainly venomous, bats! With a wingspan of up to 1 meter it's no wonder they're actually called flying foxes. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if at one point a red fox simply decided it would be nice to be able to fly - and voila! The birth of Australia' answer to Count Dracula was a fact. I refer to them as Night Turkeys, though.

I'll have to leave the story of my encounter with another of Australia's feared natives species - the beetle - for another time. But I can promise that you will never be fully prepared for what awaits you the first time you set foot on the beautiful island of Australia.

Have you had any surprising encounters with Australian wildlife?

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