Pecking order a real mystery

I was reading the recent Compass
article on Ching-Chings protecting their nests and it took me back to a
memorable experience with these indigenous birds when three grown women were
reduced to nervous wrecks in their own backyard.

Hurricane
Ivan had stripped Lynne, Carol and me of our various abodes and as we were all
great friends, we were not adverse to the idea of sharing a residence for a
while. Luckily my then-landlord owned a property on Palm Heights Drive – a
large four-bedroom house on the canal with a swimming pool and big back garden.
We moved in and understandably believed we were the only residents occupying at
that time.

One
balmy evening Carol was relaxing by the pool, lost in a good book. The sun was
just starting to dip below the horizon and the air was still. Suddenly, without
warning, something swooped from the sky and brushed her blonde hair before
quickly disappearing into the dusk. The result was electric. Carol jumped up
and screamed as though someone had set her legs on fire. Due to the time of day
and her unfamiliarity with all large flying things, her natural first
assumption was that she had been targeted by a bat. What she lacked in elegance
she more than made up for in speed, juggernauting through the patio door whilst
loudly announcing to anyone at home that she had been attacked without
provocation.

Of
course our first reaction was to laugh heartily in the face of her peril –
that’s what good friends do. The next step was to logically look at what it
could have been. I agreed with the bat theory. I think Lynne suggested an owl,
but I can’t really remember. About half an hour later Carol had calmed down
enough to realise that it probably wasn’t personal and we all retired to our
various evening pursuits.

The
next day, in the full light of the majestic sun, it all seemed a bit silly. Had
the mysterious intruder really been as big as Carol had imagined? No doubt it
was just a large moth that had been drawn to the light of her shining halo of
hair. We agreed that it was an irresistible beacon and the incident was as good
as forgotten…until later that afternoon. Lynne went out to the garden to grab a
towel left on a chair, and ZOOM – a black arrow from the sky dive-bombed her
head. Well the whole moth theory went out the window there and then. It wasn’t
evening and Lynne’s hair wasn’t blonde. It was a real-life Sherlock Holmes
mystery come to life in our very own home!

I
don’t recall who was the first of us to suggest that it could possibly be a
Ching-Ching protecting its nest. As we reviewed the facts, I suddenly had a
flashback of witnessing a hapless tourist walking past The Wharf, minding their
own business, only to suffer a Hitchcockian moment at the wings of a squawking
black bird. With a confidence I didn’t really feel, I stated that I would be
willing to walk outside and prance around our garden just to show the other two
that it was no big deal. I exited the patio and began to make my way across the
pavement and onto the grass. I didn’t realise at the time, but I bore more than
a passing resemblance to Inspector Clouseau awaiting an inevitable attack from
his trusty servant and sparring partner, Cato. Mind sharp and senses alive, I
twitched my head like a pigeon, taking in all angles with every step. Out of
the corner of my right eye I suddenly spied a Ching-Ching watching me from the
roof of the gazebo. What was even more interesting was the set of beady eyes
regarding me from the hedge to the left. 
I was in the kill zone and it was too late to back out. I turned around
and smiled and waved at the two cowering women peeking out from the safety of
the patio. At that same moment the sentry at the gazebo took flight and went
for me. It’s amazing how size doesn’t really come into it. I sprinted like a
champion as the first attacker landed and the second one in the bushes mobilized
itself. Even as I ran for the house, it occurred to me how ridiculous this was
– after all, WE were the ones paying rent!

“Well
they’re definitely Ching-Chings,” I announced unnecessarily as I panted my way
into the premises. Clearly going out unprotected was insanity, so now we had to
send out a decoy to figure out where the nest was. Still hot and traumatised, I
wasn’t ready to face it again. Lynne was surely the only logical choice, but
what armour could we employ? Ten minutes later our friend emerged with my
motorcycle helmet atop her noggin. I have a pretty big head so bless her, she
was Marvin the Martian wandering about trying to locate the birds’ nest with
reduced hearing capacity thanks to her well-padded headgear. The birds were
undeterred by her efforts to keep them at bay. It was quite something to see
this small body with an un-nervingly large bobblehead flailing at them whilst
trying to keep her mission in mind. At last she saw the nest, perched in the
tallest palm tree in the garden. Time to report back.

Once
we’d finished the debriefing, we weighed our options. How long was this going
to go on for? What was the typical lifespan of a nesting season? How much did
we really enjoy living here? In the end we had to reach a compromise. Basically
we completely avoided the backyard and let them have it until their babies were
grown. I’d like to say we’re all over the experience by now, but perhaps not.
Now that I think about it, Carol has steered clear of kites ever since…

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