“What’s that call?” I asked as we reached the field center. “Cicadas” was the usual answer. The forest was full of different sounds. The wooo woo woo wo wo wo wo wo of a gibbon, the myriad calls of cicadas, the occasional call of an elusive hornbill, red leaf-monkeys — the list was endless. the calls, always a pleasure to hear.
Come morning, the answer was different. “Argus,” Divya said. “aah,” i feigned with a knowledgeable sage nod. We were out trekking, climbing an impossibly high canopy platform and trekking some more. That sound was loud and close by. Argus. i told myself. Mental note: got to go and check up what it is — discreetly — sometime.
Borneo Field Guide to the rescue and it was all clear that evening. Argus. wow.
the next morning, after breakfast, i could not wait to get out on the West Trail. those trails were enchanting — like lost fairy lands with treasures everywhere. Mike, a researcher, was to lead us. It was all very mysterious. “Shhhh…” he kept saying and we plodded along in silence — that is as silent as our raucous group could manage to be. Someone or the other always ended up flouting rules and either guffawing or yelling out to another and drawing frowns from our fearless leaders. Soon the rain of the previous night made the going slippery and concentration stole our tongues.
Slick leaf litter over thick clay soil. Planks over streams covered in moss. Recipes for a nice slip-sliding moment, should your sandals have less than stellar treads. Mike hurried along on the “coffin trail” and kept beckoning us to follow apace. That sound again… Argus. It was somewhere in the forest ahead. We were headed there i realized s-l-o-w-l-y. We were tracking Argus!
suddenly, just as we crested a hump in the trail, mike hunched like someone telling you a secret does. A finger to his lips, he asked the “photographers” to go ahead. Ummm… that is 9/10 of us! we inched forward… in the clearing right up ahead, was Argus. Resplendent Argus. Standing 4 feet tall, blue-headed, spiky haired Argus. him of lovely ocelli and frilly tail feathers. Calling out for his mate. Lekking ground prepped and feathers preened. Dance routine in mind (where apparently he flares his lovely feathers full of eyespots and hides his own eyes behind them, looking out at her).
And then we had arrived and preempted his performance. Swishing this way and that, unsure whether to leave or stay, he gave us 30 seconds and then strutted off. Argus. wow.
Six of us had seen him, four had been a little too far behind. They stayed back in the hope Argus would return (he did not) and we took off following another mating call. “We go 500 yards, then make right turn. then climb to see another lekking ground.” Mike in his thick East Timori accent. You bet, let’s chase.
Aah this chase was everything a wet, thick, primary rainforest should offer. The enormity, the minuteness, the life at every level in between. the climbers, the lianas, the mosses and ferns, the ivy (ficus, no less!), the molts, the slush and the lush… and my favorites, the fungi!
And we trampled slip-sliding away with as much dignity as we could salvage, following THE CALL. climb, climb, climb, step over HUGE fallen log, cross creaky wooden mossy plank? ditch the plank, wade through the stream. climb, climb, climb…
There he was displaying on a log! wait…! But Argus had a mind of his own. And eyes for only her (they are monogamous birds.) he turned on his heels and was gone.
Argus 1, Argus2, what a lovely day. Want to apologize…. and thank you!
(and a big thank you to Mike too for the botany, the wonderful tracking and the infectious enthusiasm.)
*Argus is a hundred-eyed giant in Greek mythology. Named thus by Linnaeus in reference to the eyes-like pattern on its wings (Wikipedia).
** The pheasant is listed as NT (near threatened) acc to IUCN, and on Appendix II of CITES)