Perhaps a 100-eyed giant is not so far off the mark. It does seem an impossible thing, the Great Argus. For a mostly bald and brown bird, the fact is it’s an absolute stunner. Found along the Malay Peninsula and south into the Greater Sundas, it is always a major target on our Malaysia & Borneo: Rainforest Birds & Mammals trips.
Named by Carl Linnaeus (himself the type specimen for Homo sapiens), he likened the many eyespots gracing its plumage to the Argus Panoptes, a 100-eyed giant of Greek mythology. Giant may be overstating it, but the avian argus is one of the world’s largest pheasants, and that tail is astonishing! The crooked beast looks as though a gentle breeze might topple it right off of that rock. Indeed, the tail feathers are among the largest and longest of any in nature, and only the Reeves’s Pheasant of China has longer tail feathers (some approaching 8 feet in length!).
Surely the Great Argus is one of the planet’s fanciest pheasants as well, and being a vocal species it is rather easily heard. It is quite another matter, however, to actually see it. Laying eyes to some of the other spectacular pheasants like the firebacks is an easier task, and signature birds such as the Bornean Bristlehead, while unpredictable, typically do cooperate. Some of the oddest animals anywhere are mainstays on this trip, including the Proboscis Monkey, the Orangutan, and often even the strange Colugo (believed to be primates’ closest living relative) makes an appearance. But to see an argus, one needs the birding gods to smile wide, which is precisely what happened on our tour when Keith Valentine captured this moment for us to share here.
Maybe this bird was feeding on some seeds or fallen fruit, or even some slugs or grubs as they are known to do, when it took notice of us. Or, maybe it was preparing the area for a display. Males like the one featured above clear the ground of debris to provide themselves with a stage where they dance to court the female, with a flabbergasting display, which is exactly what unfolded on this particular tour. Needless to say it made us gasp and then whisper to one another. Could it really be? This marvelous creature? This image reminds us, that for that day and that one moment, it really was.
Coming up shortly, we have a few spots left on Malaysia & Borneo: Rainforest Birds & Mammals from 19 May – 7 June, and also for 1-20 March on our Exclusive: Malaysia & Borneo: Rainforest Birds & Mammals. Exclusive trips feature smaller groups, which in the case of the latter means a maximum of 6 participants. However you wish to experience Malaysia & Borneo, you are sure to discover more with Rockjumper.