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"Yes," John said. "Always have to point the cacophonous away from you."
"Why would anyone want to pick up the thing?" Victor asked.
We gazed into the fire. The form of the bird, phoenix-like, began to shimmer in the flames, as if our imaginations, like the workings of a horror film, were producing a corporeal reflection of what was in our minds.
"Whose voice shall we give the cacophonous?" I asked.
John suggested, "What about the shrike-vireo's? He goes, 'Peter, peter, peter, peter, peter, peter, peter, peter.' He starts doing this about 5 a.m. and finally he turns it off after the sun goes down. It just drones along. But it's nervous-sounding, too, which tends to put you quite on edge."
"Excellent!" Victor said. "Very good, Peppershrike!"
"You can't get away from it," John was saying. "It seems far away, but it has an astonishing penetrating quality; it comes at you all day long and well into the night."
"Is that the only sound that the shrike-vireo makes?" I asked.
"Sometimes he goes, 'Tchew, tchew, tchew, tchew, tchew,' and so on, but it's not much of an improvement."
I remembered that Stuart Keith, the famous bird watcher who, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has seen more birds than anyone—5,530 on his life list—had once described the cry of the black caracara. The bird lives in the rain forests of South America. Apparently it produces a sudden tuneless blare that makes the eardrums hurt—"A mixture," Keith had described it to me, "of shriek and trumpet. Like a diesel horn. As if a truck was somehow stuck in the jungle thickets at the edge of the trail."