Craig Cairns searches in vain for an ostrich in Ayrshire

This story appeared in The National on Friday 29 July 2016.

AFTER only a short time in journalism, I am still not 100 per cent sure what to expect.

Shortly after arriving for work yesterday, I began flicking through the morning papers and checking the wires in preparation for conference. Conference never came. Instead, I was asked to go ostrich-hunting in a small town in Ayrshire.

Chris, as he has affectionately been dubbed by some residents, was on the loose around Patna and there had been reports of multiple sightings.

Now, of course, I am willing to do the dirty jobs when starting out. What I didn’t expect was for dirty to be so literal and for me to be traipsing through muddy fields looking for a bird that’s usually found roaming around the African Savanna.

Before I explored the small town in East Ayrshire, I explored the internet for leads and discovered a few things. Firstly, Chris had been tweeting. Not content with being a viral news story, Chris was trolling those looking for him. “Nobody has the Poke-balls to catch me…” one post read.

Secondly, it turned out that Chris was not an ostrich but a rhea, a closely related species of bird more commonly found in Peru than Patna.

Overnight it had transpired that Chris had been missing for over a week and his owners had become increasingly worried.

Elaine Wilson, 51, and her husband Ian had owned the bird for six years, along with two others, and prospective buyers were viewing the birds when one escaped.

She said: “For some reason one of them got spooked by something. He managed to vault over a high stone wall and he was away. These birds have a top speed of about 40mph so there was no catching him. I have spent most of my spare time looking for him in the nearby fields. I am very worried about him. I don’t know if he will ever come back.”

I packed a bag and set out. Most bird-hunters take wellies, binoculars and a tranquiliser gun. I left the office with dress shoes, sunglasses and a mobile phone.

In Patna, I came across a row of shops and asked a few people if they had seen the “the bird”, as I was now calling it to avoid confusion.

No one had. Nor did they know anyone else that had.

When I asked for their view on the subject, one resident said: “It’s bizarre. We’re used to seeing plenty of wildlife around here, but an ostrich? I didn’t believe it when I was first told.”

I didn’t bother correcting her.

Little-to-no service on my phone meant I was now unable to look anything up and my battery was fading from using the GPS to get there.

I drove around aimlessly and came across a pharmacy. There, one employee consulted her colleagues in the back.

Upon hearing this strange request, everyone ceased dispensing medicine and gathered in mild amusement. One suggested I try Drongan Farm as there had supposedly been a sighting there.

Without GPS, I managed to come across what I thought was the farm, but still nothing. It was now late afternoon.

Before my battery died, I fired off an email to my editor, explaining the situation and not knowing whether to expect anger or advice.

“You didn’t find the ostrich then?” was the response, which faded along with my battery, before I was able to determine if he was mocking me.

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