Sound Ideas: The Great Potoo

by Carl Strang

“The Great Potoo” is a song I wrote to commemorate the tropical ecology course I took as a graduate student. Tropical ecology was becoming a hot topic, and this gave me the opportunity to balance out my own subarctic research on glaucous gulls with something quite different. We spent a couple weeks at the Purdue campus in preparatory studies, then a month in Panama. The wonderful aspects of the tropics cannot be expressed well enough, and can only be suggested in the song.

The Limbo Hunt Club

The Limbo Hunt Club

The Great Potoo by Carl Strang, copyright © 2006

Refrain: “You can look, you can look, you can look but you will never see a great potoo.

You can look, you can look, you can look but you will never see a great potoo.”

Verse 1: “The great potoo’s a strange, strange bird, both camouflaged and rare.

We’ll be a month in Panama, but you won’t see one there.

But that’s OK,” our teacher said, “the tropics they are full

Of many strange and wondrous sights all biological.”

And so we flew to Panama, in book study well versed.

In tropical ecology we were to be immersed.

But first we stayed a day or two in the City of Panama.

The sounds and sights and noise and smells unlike Indiana.

(Refrain)

Our first field camp was aptly named, all mud and mold and rust.

“The Limbo Hunt Club” it was called, what could we do but trust?

But it was set upon all sides by tropic forest rare.

And I still think in fondness of the time that we spent there.

The walking sticks were walking branches, hummingbirds galore.

One student caught a fer-de-lance upon the forest floor.

And flowers and trees, and stingless bees, leaf cutter and army ants, too.

Lizards, frogs, and butterflies; at night moths and bats flew.

In the tropics things are big and wonderful…

(Refrain)

But then one morning, perched above our open-sided shack

The tree branch sported a new stub, we looked and it looked back.

Our teacher in amazement said we couldn’t ever hope

To appreciate our luck, the great potoo was in our scope.

We climbed up high, and crawled down low, we traveled to both coasts.

I held a sea snake in my hands, chased crabs that looked like ghosts.

But of the many highlights, one that stands out is the view

From the Limbo Hunt Club clearing of that bird, the great potoo.

(Refrain).

I held a sea snake in my hands, and someone took this photo. The scales are set like little bricks, not overlapping like those of other snakes.

I held a sea snake in my hands, and someone took this photo. The scales are set like little bricks, not overlapping like those of other snakes.

No, this is not a great potoo. The roll of film with my potoo pictures jammed in the camera. I thought I was extricating it in a sufficiently dark place, but I was wrong. Most of the photos were ruined. This picture of a slaty flower piercer was one of the few, albeit washed out, survivors.

No, this is not a great potoo. The roll of film with my potoo pictures jammed in the camera. I thought I was extricating it in a sufficiently dark place, but I was wrong. Most of the photos were ruined. This picture of a slaty flower piercer was one of the few, albeit washed out, survivors.

You can see photos of great potoos here, and recordings of their roaring call here.

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