The biggest bird about Cocklebiddy was Esmeralda – the Emu. Local avian experts here in the outback claim it is a female – a young one at that. By my reckoning, that made her the only hot young bird in the area. Her long legs certainly make her an eye-catching sight.
I’d been trying to get a good close-up photo with her for weeks but she was playing hard to get, always running off whenever I came remotely close. She was hanging around outside my house once but when I came outside she vanished. Always just teasing me and playing games. I tried sneaking up behind her several times and even chased after her in the Ute once but it was all to no avail.
The infamous Wedgetail eagles in the area are more in your face, which is probably why so many of them end up on the front window screen of the huge trucks that thunder down the highway. There’s quite a few of them lying dead on the roadside just a stones throw from the roadhouse.
Either that or they were catching some sleep after what must have been a very rough night.
Then there’s the ‘pets’ – twenty-something budgies and several quails. The sign outside the restaurant will have you believe there are seven quails resident at Cocklebiddy roadhouse. In fact there were just 3 when we were there. At least there were 3 when we arrived.
If you end working at an outback roadhouse in Australia, one of the duties you may be tasked with is the morning yard shift. At Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, this involved cleaning out the birdcage and replenishing their food and water. A pretty simple task, you might think.
As bashful as Esmeralda, the budgies usually squawked and flapped about above my head while the quails ran to the far corners of the cage to escape the stomping feet of the giant entering their home.
I was usually more worried about receiving a unwanted black and white gift from the budgies above me.
Therefore, I never really paid much attention to the quails until one afternoon when one managed to hop out as I opened the door to leave.
Calmly following it outside, I shut the cage door to prevent a mass breakout. I set down my brush and the bucket full of old seed and dead mice.
‘This shouldn’t be too hard’ I thought, after all they can’t even fly…
As I closed in, the little quail gave a hop, skip and a jump and breached the perimeter fence next to the public toilets and landed on the other side.
It’s ok, it’s ok. I’ll just go and get something bigger to catch it with, it hasn’t gone far.
Emptying my bucket I crept around the back of the toilet block. Approaching with the grace of a fox, I set my targets on the little bird. It was blissfully enjoying the new territory it had discovered just ten feet from his imprisoned friends.
Creeping closer, I raised my bucket and prepared to strike. This had to be a perfect shot.
If it was a bad shot, I could miss my only chance to capture the fugitive. If it was a really bad shot, I could nail the little feathery bugger with the lip of the bucket and kill him stone dead.
I only had one chance. If Mags discovered my failure, I feared I could be outcast from the outback.
I drew close, within striking distance, this was it.
Suddenly, the quail turned and saw me coming.
In slow motion, I saw the quail unfurl its tiny wings, then give them a little shake to fluff the feathers up as it prepared for take-off.
I rushed in, bucket aloft, mouth opened wide, eyes opened wider…
It hopped forward a few inches…
Clenching my teeth, I brought the bucket down hard…
It skipped forward another foot, the wings spread out…
The bucket crashed down, slamming into the concrete….
I missed by a few inches.
Turning to wink at me, the quail sprung itself onto the roof of the toilet block, and with barely a pause, it launched itself up into the air.
It soared high into the sky to join the huge outback crows that circled in the clouds.
My jaw dropped to the ground as I watched it sail away with the very birds that would no doubt eat it for dinner later that evening.
Scratching my head, I muttered aloud, “Ohhhh, so they can fly!”
Ever had a episode with an animal in the wild? Done something stupid while working abroad? Fly by the comments and open your beak!