In Search of Emu

The Emu Saga: Part 1

Still haven’t gotten any good face-to-face emu time, but the more time I spend wandering the bush the better my odds are, right? My recently-new Vans are getting less cherry-red and more Outback-dust red, but I find no little satisfaction in recognizing my footprints day to day out on the trails near town, especially when they’re overlaid or intermingled with ‘roo and emu tracks.

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Emus are tridactyl- they have three toes, wide and leathery, that press into the red dirt as they walk. I love thinking about emu feet- they have to be pretty intense to hold up that much bird, to handle the prickly grasses and sharp stones of the outback, and to be able, as claimed by the emu Wikipedia article, to tear down chain-link fences.

Those feet are so formidable, in fact, that they pose a significant threat to unwise humans who attempt to make a full-grown emu do… I guess anything that a full-grown emu doesn’t want to do (cue joke about the 500-pound gorilla, except imagine that gorilla with sharp toe claws and a very wide beak. And feathers? Okay, this is just getting confusing now). I don’t think that the emu’s feet were the deciding factor in the frankly embarrassing “Emu War,” waged between machine-gun armed Australian troops and thirsty birds in the 1930s, but hey- I’m sure with those feet, an emu could handily (haha) kick my butt.

Anyways, I’ve been trying to find myself an emu friend. Apparently they’re curious about people, and will sometimes follow a lone human on foot; thus far, no such emu magic has happened to me, but I’m working on it. I’ve encountered fresher and fresher emu poops (see http://animals.io9.com/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-emu-poo-1570013557 for… everything you ever wanted to know about emu poop) as I’ve wandered the hills near Exmouth:

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The stuff’s like tar filled with seeds, and over time (days?) the whole mixture dries into a black solid mess, seeds browning and eventually sprouting as the black stuff greys out and (weeks later?) blows away. There is a remarkable amount of this around all of the bushy areas near our house, considering the also remarkable lack of emus on my walks. But I live in hope!

Another thing I have lived in hope for, however, has finally come true.

“Emus on the beach!” I cried on one of my first days on the boat, out by the Bundegi boat ramp. “I want to see emus on the beach.”

So quintessentially Australian, I thought. How funny would it be, gangly-legged birds with stringy feathers draped across their humped backs, trotting across the soft sand? Combine the gentle waves and romantic dunes with nobbled knees and perpetually surprised faces: what could be better?

Beachmus. Dreams really do come true:DSC_0011

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A Bit of Sand and Sun

After our first week and a half of science boot camp, we took off for a few days at the beach to hang out, explore, and look for turtles at night. We didn’t find any turtles, sorry to ruin the suspense, but if you know me well you know that I live for ocean. Set me up on the beach with a towel, a book, and a pair of goggles and I’m set for pretty much ever. I had really wanted to see baby turtles hatching, but so it goes- we saw lots of other awesome stuff.

One thing I had not expected to find at the beach was a giant walking stick, which has been on my list of must-see animals from the beginning of this trip. I love stick insects- their camouflage is fascinating, their stick-like behaviors are so fun to watch, and they are so gentle. All species of walking sticks are vegetarian, usually munching on leaves of the rosaceae family (but branching out too- I had some stick-bug friends at the Bohart Museum of Entomology last year who hailed from Australia and ate eucalyptus), and make really good hats.

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I spent hours in the sand right at the waves’ edge- I’ve found that people often think of white, sandy beaches as inert, simply there for suntanning and waves, mostly devoid of life, especially if the life isn’t obvious (turtles, jaguars, sharks, etc.), but right where the sand meets the sea a whole host of little critters are partying it up. Literally millions of little striped snails oozed in and out of the wet sand with each wave, and little greenish-grey crabs used the points on their sides to dig themselves in as well, leaving only the top of their carapace and their pointy claws showing. Big snails, small snails, crabs of at least 4 varieties, tiny fish, probably clams, and felt-but-not-seen jellyfish were all through the surf, so as we dove through the waves listening for dolphins and whales, I was always on the lookout for smaller friends. Image

Somebody besides me knows about the wealth of little critters in the sand. These little birds were foraging, probably for the snails’ little filter-feeding arms.

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This beach was beautiful beyond words, and a much-appreciated break. 

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More on mangroves soon! (Playing catch-up- we’re at Monteverde now and I’ll have lots of good photos from here soon as well. Yikes!)