Locums for a Small World Blog

Locums: Why did the Cassowary cross the road?

Posted by Saralynn White


Meet the Southern Cassowary: Australia’s largest land animal and the tallest bird (yes, it’s a bird) on earth. The adult Cassowary stands as tall as six feet (1.83 meters) and weighs in at an average of 130 pounds (59 kg), though the heaviest on record was a whopping 183 pounds (83 kg)!

Dubbed “the most terrifying bird on earth,” among other insults, the Cassowary has a reputation for being dangerous. One that is not well-earned. A single human death by a Cassowary has been reported; it happened in 1926 and the teenage victim was trying to club the bird to death. So the Southern Cassowary is potentially dangerous? Well, it stands 6-feet tall, weighs 150 or so pounds and has claws. You be the judge. It's also a bird, so next to a Sparrow it looks pretty intimidating. It's also gorgeous. Allow us, then, to allay your fears and make you a fan (just as we are) of this amazing avian creature.

cassowary-bird-australiaTo say this big bird has an odd appearance is an understatement. The adults have a bright blue head with a half-moon shaped helmet or “casque” atop its head, and crimson wattle that hangs from its neck. Remember the flying dinosaurs from the movie, Jurassic Park? The Cassowary was the inspiration. Reminiscent of dinosaurs, Cassowaries are the only birds in the world known to have protective armor. The head casque is made of cartilage and a tough, horn-like skin that protects the bird's skull while it moves headfirst through the thick forest undergrowth. And though they won't take flight, Cassowaries do have vestigial wings tucked under a mass of wiry, hair-like feathers.

cassowary-bird-pool-australiaShy and retiring, Cassowaries are happy to romp around in their forest habitat and go about their business. Solitary by nature, Cassowaries briefly tolerate each other during the mating season, when males make low, booming calls to attract nearby females. It's the female Cassowary who is dominant, however, and it’s she who selects a male for breeding. She lays a clutch of large green eggs, then the male is left in charge of the incubation and chick-rearing duties while the female moves on - usually to other males.

cassowary-bird-walking-australiaThe Cassowary has huge legs with three-toed feet that are thick and powerful. Equipped with a lethal, dagger-like claw (4.7 in/12 cm long) on their inner toe, the bird can easily tear flesh - though they're meant for digging in the undergrowth of the rain forest and for protecting themselves against predators. 

Stories of Cassowaries attacking are exaggerated. If the birds get used to being fed by people (which changes their behavior), they can become aggressive if you withhold food from them. SO DON'T FEED THE CASSOWARIES. The birds are also very protective of their chicks during breeding season. In the extremely rare event you encounter a Cassowary, the best thing to do is to remain calm and back away slowly and raise your arms to appear taller. Don't run away; the birds are fast runners and can attain speeds of up to 30mph/50 km/h on land. Cassowaries can also jump to heights of 9 feet and they're great swimmers. 

cassowary-bird-fence-australiaOften called “Gardeners of the Rainforest,” these beauties really are the good guys. Vital to the survival and diversity of the rainforest, the Cassowary spreads the seeds of over 100 types of trees and shrubs via their droppings. Unfortunately, this fine feathered friend is now endangered. Much of the Australian rainforest where the Southern Cassowary lives has now been cleared, and the birds that remain face threats from dogs, feral pigs, hunters, and motor vehicles. In fact, a “Be Cassowary Wary” campaign down under was attempt to make people more careful about driving speeds. Why did the Cassowary cross the road? To get to the other side of their habitat - which has been invaded. Three female adults were killed in a six-month period last year alone. With only an estimated 1500 birds remaining, that's significant.

The moral? Please do enjoy the view if you see a Southern Casswary, but do be cautious of the beautiful beast. Nearly every doctor who locums in Australia returns with at least one great Cassowary story they’ve lived to tell about. We'd love to hear yours.

Topics: Birdwatching, Southern Cassowary, Australia

For your next locum adventure, look to the skies

Posted by Saralynn White

colorado lake 123rfIt may take a bit to acclimatize to the altitude in Colorado, but once your locum feet are firmly on terra firma, look up. It's a bird...it's a plane...it's 450 avian species who all call Colorado home. In fact, that renowned Rocky Mountain high has a lot to do with the sport of birding.

king-bird-usaNow, don't go "tsk-ing" your tongue. Birders are no longer khaki or tweed-wearing geeks or binocular-toting Miss Jane Hathaways; they come from every walk of life and there are over 50 million of them in the United States alone. Some birders travel the world to add another "lifer" to their list. Others sit quietly in the woods, certain that one day a black-capped chickadee will look them straight in the eye. Still others take locum assignments in Colorado.

snowy-owl-usaThat's right, countless locum doctors are also birders (you could say they travel with binoculars and an MD), and as they take to the rivers and trails of Colorado, they also take to the "sights": falcons sharing the sky with droves of tiny white-throated swifts; owls snoozing inside hollow trees; and prairie chickens strutting across vast stretches of golden short grass.

yellow-bird-usaSlip on your environmentally friendly CrocsTM and wander Colorado's Kingbird Trail, nestled among the Black Forest of Ponderosa Pines that tower proudly over the region. This eponymous trail is home to the flying "tyrants" - their genus name and a richly deserved moniker (Kingbirds are known to guard their breeding territories aggressively, often chasing away much larger birds). They're also known to wait on an exposed perch for food or trespassers, though birders need not be concerned - unless they forget their wide-brimmed hats!

This land of birds is also home to some of the most beautiful grasslands along the fruited plain, where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. Spend some time in the high country above the tree line and you'll sight rosy-finches, grouse and woodpeckers. You'll also discover golden eagles, mountain plovers, belted kingfishers, jays and bluebirds.

Scenery freak? Get on over to America's Mountain, the great Pikes Peak, where the landscapes change as often as the weather. Spruce-fir forests, sagebrush hills and short grass prairies are home to green-tailed and spotted towhee, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and pygmy owls. Other notable wildlife includes bighorn sheep, pika (a small, chinchilla-like animal), mule deer and bobcats - the latter of which we advise you to avoid whenever possible.

Finally, save the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge for last. Here in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (which means Blood of Christ), you may glimpse a bald eagle nestled in the tops of cottonwood trees or fishing in the ponds, wetlands or Rio Grande River. This emblem of a nation impresses even non-birders with their strength and majesty.

Any birder will tell you that great sightings come and go with the seasons, so if birding is in your blood, head to higher elevations this summer. After all, Colorado is for bird lovers and locum tenens alike.


Topics: Rocky Mountains, Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Kingbird Trail, Pikes Peak, Colorado, Birdwatching, Locum Tenens, United States

The daily concert outside my window

Posted by Saralynn White

Written by Elma Johnson, MD 

australia tasmania park 123rfTo say that I have itchy feet is an understatement as travel has always been my biggest hobby. Growing up in the Caribbean, I have always had a strong curiosity about different countries and cultures. Living in New York for the past 20 years has further fueled my curiosity. Australia just happened to be one of those countries that grabbed my interest.

Living on the coast reminded me of being in the Caribbean; beautiful scenery - with ocean on one side and mountains on the other. The people were very nice, met some global travelers like myself and was made to feel welcome and at home. Australia is amazing, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. Speaking of which, I was constantly amused by the craziest and funniest bird sounds that I have ever heard. There was a daily concert outside of my window.

bird-on-stick-australiaMy hospital was approx 45 minutes from Brisbane, which was perfect for me. It was fairly busy with lots of good medical cases. There was quite a bit of minor trauma with a few major trauma cases and my training in NY more than prepared me for this. I also learned a few things while there so it was a very good exchange. The workload was definitely manageable as I was coming from a very busy urban hospital.

My experience in Australia both as a physician and traveler was one of the best that I have ever had. Will I consider returning? Absolutely. I'm planning on it. I now keep telling some of my colleagues that a sabbatical down under is something that they need to do at least once.

Elma Johnson, MD is an Emergency Physician from Brooklyn, New York, USA, whose itchy feet never let up. Expect to see more dispatches from her locum travels right here.

Topics: Birdwatching, Caribbean, Dr. Elma Johnson, Brisbane AU, Locum Tenens

Never anger a male cassowary, and other lessons from a bird-loving South African locum

Posted by Saralynn White

Written by Kenneth Goulding, MD

australia-cassowary-eyeBeing a bit of a bird-watching fanatic, I found the outback of Queensland an amazing place - we managed to see 285 different species and learn a lot of new calls during the year. I am sure that a more diligent and more clued up observer could easily improve on that tally! I experienced the adrenaline rush of meeting the endangered, angry, male cassowary on a narrow path in the Atherton Tablelands, and then being chased back down to the creek. Later in the trip we were fortunate enough to see 9 more cassowaries, including a male with 3 chicks.

In the Angela National Park, it was exciting to hear and find a noisy pitta
- a very colorful forest bird. In the same park we saw platypus busy in the river at midday, which was rather unusual. We had seen them before, but only at dawn or dusk! From the boat during a conducted tour of the Mareeba Wetlands, we saw pigmy geese and jacanas amongst the flowering lotuses. We were shown the captive breeding, gouldian finches - most colorful little birds. Whilst in Mt. Isa during the hot summer, we were privileged to see swarming black clouds of hundreds of thousands of budgerigars coming in to drink at the lakes edge.

black-swan-australiaA walk around the Apex Park lakes would regularly yield 30-40 species, including a majestic pair of black swans with 7 cygnets and hundreds of plumed whistling ducks. I will really miss the colorful parrots and the rousing dawn chorus of the kookaburras, magpies, crows, currawongs and the ubiquitous "kamikaze pilots" of the Australian skies, the rainbow lorikeets!

I would strongly recommend this itinerant locum stint in Queensland for any nature loving doctor wanting to get to know the avifauna of Australia more closely.

Dr. Kenneth Goulding is an MBCHB (General Practice) physician from Port Alfred, South Africa. Dr. Goulding has worked as a locum for Global Medical three times - twice in Australia and once in New Zealand. He's a proud grandfather and travels frequently, but he doesn't go by the slick travel brochures - he takes his pages from the Birdwatcher's Handbook.

Topics: Birdwatching, Dr. Kenneth Goulding, Angela National Park AU, Atherton Tablelands AU, Apex Park AU, Mt. Isa AU, Queensland AU, Locum Tenens

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Twice a month, our inquisitive locum tenens community asks us to tackle topics ranging from cuisine and culture to recreation and entertainment. We also include great storytelling from our doctors. Have a topic you’d like to read about? Let us know.

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