The pigeon with stars in its hair

2006 October 18
by David J. Ringer

UKARUMPA, PNG — Less than 48 hours ago, I slipped down an impossible track through the foothills of the Torricelli Mountains, hurrying toward the river plain below and the Cessna 206 that was coming to meet me, daring the clouds, racing against the setting sun.

My Pouye companions pointed out footprints left in the soft river sand by cassowaries, feral pigs, and crowned-pigeons. A hornbill whooshed high overhead. As I stumbled over tangled, slimy roots, my hopes for lowland rainforest birds finally slipped away.

The week had been good, but not for birds, and I grappled with disappointment. I don’t know when I’ll ever come back, if I ever do.

“Klostu liklik,” my guides were urging, when a loud rush of wings erupted to our right. “Guria,” said Roland, and I forgot my frustration in that moment, pleading for a chance to see the crowned-pigeons we had flushed.

Leaving the track, creeping through the sparse underbrush, I really let myself believe that I was about to see the enormous, spectacular birds. One man had glimpsed them, and we pressed closer — until another rush of wings knocked aside my hopes as quickly as the mud had taken my feet out from under me.

“Traim tasol,” I said, trying to remain cheerful. But I had no doubt that my only chance was finished. Done. Em tasol.

We trekked on, nearly finished with the grueling hike.

Then, in a moment I did not expect, we heard a rushing sound again. I peered frantically into the vegetation — and then I saw them: four huge blue forms ascending almost vertically into the canopy, more like ghosts than birds.

The minutes that followed were tense as I pulled out my binoculars and followed Roland, wondering whether we’d spot the birds. Alone, I might not have, but the Pouye people know these forests, and their eyes are keen.

In the end, I watched one bird through the leaves and branches, high in a canopy tree. Its size alone was awesome; its blues and maroons were stunning in the muted light.

But the bird’s true glory was its crown, which shimmered and danced as the bird’s head jerked in agitation. Each feather tipped with white, the pigeon seemed to wear a constellation in its hair, stars mounted in a fan of lacy feathers.

Tok Pisin lacks the words to express what I was feeling, and now I think that English fails me too.

The huge blue pigeon in the canopy will not fade quickly from my mind’s dazzled eye.

Related posts:

  1. Western Crowned Pigeon: New Guinea Wonderbird
3 Responses
  1. Pam in Tucson permalink
    October 27, 2006

    I had to google these and find a photo. Now I understand. I’m so happy you had such an amazing experience. Beautifully written post.

  2. Bird Advocate permalink
    December 22, 2006

    Thank you for sharing and taking us there with you! It was a fun trip, for a cool December morning.

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