A 1934 account of the
There's a still backwater thrown by the flooded river. It forms a swamp. Along its edge a brilliant bird is moving. This fellow's a gaudy caricature of an earth-bound rainbow, and it's working its way towards us. Let's stand still while it passes. As it gets closer we notice it's an out-size in water-hens. It has been coloured by a cubist artist in a jazz dream. Apart from that, it's composed apparently of oddments of ornithological structure.
It's a woggy (Bald Coot). Everything seems wrong with this bird. Its beak is too heavy, its legs too cumbersome; its toes seem twining serpents in their grotesque length, and its stubby tail is but a stump. Its eyes are smouldering specks of fire, its beak and bald head have been dipped in blood, its wading legs show scarlet when they're lifted from the water, its twitching tail is white, and the rest of its body is an opalescent flame of blazing indigo and daubs of black.
The bird passes a few feet distant. It barely deigns to notice us as it turns over scraps of water weeds and stabs at minute forms of aquatic life. We hold our breath before this marvel, wondering whether to laugh out loud at Nature's joke, or to gasp in admiration before her masterpiece of incongruities.
If only that bird could sing! It can. Our woggy tilts its head aside as some shadow is thrown on the water beside it. It recognizes one of its own species above. Perhaps it's a mate. To that friend in the air it sends a glad song of joy and welcome. Compared with the noise made by a woggy a worn key turning in a rusty lock would sound like the twanging of harps!
The woggy above swings in a circle in response to its mate's call. It spirals down and planes to a spot a few feet away from the wader. Then, in common with most waders when about to settle, it thrusts its feet far before it, it breasts up to the wind and flaps clumsily with its wings. It rests, letting itself down lightly and tentatively feeling the water as it alights. All's well--firm mud is beneath its spreading feet, and it draws in its sails and stalks beside its companion.
The woggy, to a certain extent, splashes the water, omitting finesse entirely from its list of accomplishments. When it finds a water weed it wants to shift it tugs furiously, snapping almost at that resisting stem. Occasionally in its excitement it runs.
The woggies are wading farther out in the swamp. They catch the hawk's attention. It dashes at them. Again it shears off. The woggies, in spite of their clownish appearance and harlequin costume, aren't fools. They too just stand still and do nothing. But their hammer of a beak is a weapon which is pointed at the sweeping hawk!
From An Aviary on the Plains (1934)
by Henry G. Lamond (1885-1969)
Chapter 38, Life on the Water, p.184.