2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Working with partners across borders

Female Scarlet stands guard at the entrance to her nest. Notice the nest is on a dead tree. This is just one of the many nesting trees which died after the reservoir was flooded. The dam brought higher energy rates at the expense of an endangered and declining species. Not only did nesting trees get affected, but also critical foraging habitat. 

Approaching the confluence. This used to be a large floodplain with dozens of large Quamwoods suitable for nesting and as food source. Now, only a few dry trunks pierce above the waterline. Yet, the beauty in the background still reminds us of the magic left in this forest...

Why I work in the natural world? For its sheer beauty and staggering resilience! The Chiquibul has survived the country's largest and most devastating Hydro dam, poaching every year for the past two decades and beyond, illegal hunting and logging in multi million figures, illegal farming and settlements... its been thru it all. Yet, the beauty within, springs right back, sometimes in the simplicity of a gentle rainfall over the canopy... sometimes in a towering and more formidable manner.

This year our colleagues from WCS-Guatemala once again sent us help. Here one of their expert climbers goes up to retrieve the chicks from the nest. Below our wildlife vets wait anxiously to begin health checks.

Dr. LoraKim Joyner shows me that the stet goes on the chest, not the head, to listen for heartbeats. LOL. I was listening to neural activity. 

Hope in such a tiny body. And to think that this lil scarlet could bring new genes to this isolated population, hope for the species, all in such a tiny lil body! 

 Listening to a tiny Scarlet Macaw chick's heart beat. It instills so much hope into me, replenishes my pride and polishes my determination to help save these iconic birds of the Maya Forest.

Check out posts by our Partners:



Saturday, April 20, 2013

A few stumbles but a great start

This past week we deployed the guys to the field to begin locating nest sites and begin the monitoring and protection season. After adequate training, the crew is ready to climb trees this year. After an early start we arrived at the reservoir and began the journey upstream and keeping a close lookout for active nests.

It wasn't long before we began to locate new nest sites. Time to chop our way over to it.

After arriving at the nest it's time to pull the line over and then the rope. It was quite a steep shot so it took a few attempts before we got the finishing line over. Once that was accomplished everything else happened pretty quickly. The female observed us from a nearby tree.

Charles climbed the first nest to kick off the 2013 monitoring season. There were 4 eggs! (Photos coming soon).

Coming back down is always a little bit of a relief.

We continued upstream until we reached a pair of nests that were under intense pressure last year. We started almost a month earlier this year so we're hoping these nests will be able to avoid the poaching they experienced last year. They did successfully re-nest last year but it'll be great if they can finish up earlier this year. The female patiently watched and waited for us to finish up.

Evidence of poaching from prior years.

Rudi and Luis getting the rope prepped to haul over while Rufino get's his climbing hear ready.

Here is Rufino climbing his first wild Scarlet Macaw nest!

He took some photos in the nest and observed three eggs. Unfortunately, there were small bees nearby that didn't like his presence one bit.

The female flew off and came back later on with her mate to observe us.

The guys stayed up there for a week searching for new nests. Six nests were observed and one more climbed which had 3 eggs. One of the eggs was predated, we believe by a lizard. The boat suffered a puncture but was repaired at the end of the week. The jeep also is experiencing clutch problems, but will get repaired soon. Conservation is not without its complications that's for sure. 

The crew headed back out yesterday and next week will be a nice advancement in the program. Drs. LoraKim Joyner and Isabelle Paquet-Durand will be heading out with us to provide guidance and training with monitoring the health of chicks for this season. Little by little we are advancing the Scarlet Macaw conservation program in Belize.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The 2013 Scarlet Macaw nest protection effort has kicked off! After a delay starting out training on Mountain Pine Ridge, we headed down to San Antonio Village to conduct climbing training. So, the Jeep clutch went out. The guys did fantastic! Two solid days learning the ropes (literally), safety, data collection, etc. However, the crew is now ready to take the monitoring this year to the next level.

Belarmino, Rufino, and Charles working on setting up the gear.

Rufino all geared up to climb.

Rufino on the rope.

And up he goes.

Good times...

Luis heading up the rope.

Belars getting comfortable on the rope.

Going over the datasheets/

Rudi heading up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wrapping it up

The final trip began early on 15-May. After picking up Eddie Tzib from Cristo Ray village and Roni Martinez from San Antonio village, we made our way to Blancaneaux Lodge to pick up gear and on down the rough and tumble road to Kinlock Camp. It's no small miracle that we avoid getting stuck each time we take that route. The tires on the Isuzu Trooper were never made for the terrain.

Arriving at 10am, we were on the river by 11am and making our way up to the nest Erin and I discovered the previous week.

After cutting our way to the nest Marcial quickly scaled the tree and accessed the nest cavity. To our delight, there were 2 nestlings of approximately 40 days of age. The parents arrived back at the nest about 40 minutes later.

The waiting game began...

We heard the pair all afternoon but had no luck catching the female. Before dusk, Eddie and I made our way back to camp on the other side of the river. Marcial made his way back to camp and informed us that the female entered the cavity.

The next morning we arose at 4am and arrived at the nest around 4:30am. Unfortunately, the line to close the trap had slack in it and did not close in time to catch her. After breakfast, we headed back to the nest to wait for her return. At around 11:30am, as I was sitting under the nest tree daydreaming I heard a 'snap' to my left. Turning my head, a jaguar was standing less than 5 meters from me! It turned its head and we locked eyes. After a long three seconds, it turned its head and vanished into the forest understory. Let's just say that I was frozen and had a serious adrenaline rush!

At the end of the day we went back to camp and chilled out for the evening. Lots of catfish were swimming around after dark.

We arose the next morning and, as soon as the sky began to lighten, we caught the female.

By 8:40am we released the female and she flew up into a small tree. She then climbed up and within 3 minutes she flew off.

We paddled down to Kinlock camp, ate lunch, and relaxed. We spent the afternoon searching the other side of the river, eventually splitting up. Eddie and I walked the old logging road to Blossom Berry Creek. While we both found macaw pairs, a nest was not located.

The following morning we paddled back upstream in the morning. About 1km upstream, we encountered a pair flying out from a clump of Quamwood. After cutting our way to the nest, Marcial climbed up the suspected tree. All that was found was an empty nest. He stayed up there waiting for the pair to return to the area. After a couple of hours they returned...to a cavity about 150 meters away. We made our way over to the tree. Marcial quickly climbed the tree and found a 30 day old chick.

After setting up the trap, we waited until dark.

As darkness came upon us we returned to camp. The female entered the nest after dark. The following morning we were up early and succeeded in catching her as Marcial climbed the tree.

This macaw seemed quite large. We quickly placed the collar and leg band on her and released her. She climbed up a stalk of dumb cane before flying over to a small tree. There she stayed for 5 to 10 minutes before flying off.

Success! What a relief! I can hardly believe that we pulled this off in the window of time we had. It was all due to the skilled support of the personnel involved. Now we wait to see where they fly to...

A Little Recon

On 11-May, Kristi, Ernesto Garcia, Erin Manzanero, and I headed out to explore the areas north of Kinlock Camp. We rented an old Isuzu Trooper to brave the road to Kinlock Camp that caused us so many problems last year. Once off the Brunton Trail area, we drove past the old spot where we got bogged down in the prior year.

Several spots were absolutely terrible but passable ruts. Eventually we hit a wall of dumb cane and vines. Ernesto, Erin, and I chopped for 2.5 exhausting hours to re-open the road to the river. Hearing the sound of the river, we broke through, stumbled, and fell into the refreshing embrace of the Macal River.

After this refreshing respite, I walked across the river to visit an old nest from 2010. I discovered it to now be occupied by a hive of bees. Erin and I piled into our inflatable kayaks and paddled upstream a couple of kilometers upstream to visit another nest from 2010. Unfortunately, upon arriving, we noticed that the top part of the tree had cracked off in a storm at some point the past year.

On the trip back to camp, we noticed a pair flying around a Quamwood. So, we stopped and soaked in the river while watching for them.

After about ten minutes later, Erin spotted the female's head sticking out of the cavity entrance.

Not wanting to disturb them further, we made our way back to camp by early evening. Kristi and Ernesto had spotted another pair in the area nearby.

After camping for the evening we left the following morning knowing that we had at least one other nest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Back in Belize

Well, I'm FINALLY getting around to updating the blog to show last year's (2011) work. Let me start out by thanking everyone how made this possible. This was a collaborative effort with Dr. Janice Boyd of the Schubot Center, whose work in using satellite telemetry to track macaw movements made this project possible. Loro Parque Fundacion provided the necessary funding without which this project would never have begun. Marcial Cordova of Wildlife Conservation Society - Guatemala provided the essential technical expertise. Mark Hagen and the HARI (Hagen Avicultural Research Institute) staff, especially Josee Birmingham, were essential to this project as they provided project training, advise, and equipment. Roni Martinez and Eddie Tzibof Blancaneaux Lodge, as well as Ernesto Garcia and Erin Manzanero, provided with logistical and field support. None of this work would have been possible without the unflinching support of my wife, Kristi Drexler, to whom I (and the macaws) owe much gratitude. And thanks to everyone else that helped this project be a success.

Okay, we were back in Belize! The goal was to deploy three satellite telemetry collars on nesting females in order to gain an understanding of movement and habitat use during the later stages of nesting and post-breeding; one year in total. We picked up Marcial at the Benque border on 3-May and the next day headed to the Chiquibul, picking up Roni along the way. We were on the reservoir by 8:30am.

Paddling up the reservoir, we encountered a couple of Brown Pelicans near Rubber Camp and reached the Macal/Raspa confluence around 12:30pm. There were several pairs actively flying in the area. None of the nests in proximity to the confluence were active. One had broken off about halfway up the trunk. We stopped and checked out a probable nest in the vicinity but it was a broken stag and would not have been possible to use for this project, so we moved on.

As we approached the Francelia trail area, we encountered three probable guaceros (parrot poachers) who disappeared into the jungle on the north side of the reservoir as we approached. Not a good sign.

A bit further upstream, we stopped to check on a historic nest and found it scarred from the poaching event from the previous year. Quite sad. But, with the macaw activity in the area, we decided to make camp here and attempt to locate an active nest in the area. The chances seemed good.

The following morning we split up. Roni and I walked downstream along the shore and then cut into the jungle, attempting to locate the trail and a nest tree from the previous year. We were unsuccessful with this. But we did have a startling, and sad finding...a dead macaw, obviously shot and left to decay. How old was this bird? Was it raising a chick? It was a somber moment.

We returned to camp...malo suerte. We loaded up and continued upstream to a major creek flowing into the Macal River.

Reaching the confluence, I glassed the old nest tree from a distance to find that familiar red head poking out of the cavity entrance. YES! We pulled our kayaks out of the water and made our way over there with the climbing gear and net.

Marcial climbed up the tree and verified that a chick was present and old enough to allow us to continue. If they are too young then causing the female to spend too much time away from the nest could be fatal to the nestling. We then helped him set of the trap. After testing the trap and having everything set up, Marcial descended and we hid ourselves below the understory canopy.

Playing the waiting game sounds easy, right? Well, try that with no distractions, no view, being absolutely quiet and still...and picking an amazing number of ticks of your pants, shirt...and your person. Not fun! As darkness approached, it was apparent that the female was EXTREMELY wary of the net, refusing to enter the cavity and standing to the side of the nest, eyeing the net with grave suspicion. Marcial ascended the tree, removing the net, to allow the female to enter the cavity for the night. We then made our way back to camp, set up, and proceeded to have dinner before retiring to our hammocks.

The following morning we returned to the nest and set up the trap again. All day we waited. And all day the pair flew around squawking and chattering...obviously upset. The female would land on the side of the nest and peer over at the net, and fly off. This happened repeatedly. As you can see, this time I armed myself with a book. After a full day of sitting, Roni and I retreated to begin dinner while Marcial continued the vigil.

After darkness had descended, Marcial appeared in camp, informing us that the female had entered the nest! With giddy anticipation we ate dinner and retired for the night.

Before sunrise, we made our stealthy approach to the base of the tree, cringing at any noise made as we snaked our way through the understory. We set ourselves up, observing the nest. Then Marcial gave the signal and Roni pulled the trap closed. As the female leaped out of the cavity and into the stretched out net, we closed it behind her and lowered the net. Marcial quickly ascended the tree, placing her and the net into a bag and down they came.

We quickly extracted her from the net and worked on installing the first collar on her. After finishing this we placed a leg band and then took her out to an open area for release. We first placed her on a small shrub and she flew unsuccessfully, landing down on the ground. She eventually made her way up into another small shrub and hung out there for awhile until her mate began calling to her from a nearby tree. After ten minutes, she finally took off, flying past us and up into the trees.

What a sight! And what a relief. The first collar deployment was a success. Whew! On to the next.

We made our way back to the confluence to head up the Raspa, where there was a good chance that we would encounter a couple of active nests. And indeed there were. Unfortunately, one of them was in an old, dead Ceiba snag. Climbing that was out of the question, so we searched around there unsuccessfully for another nest. We then made our way towards Kodd's camp. Along the way we found an active nest that was mentioned on a tour operator's blog. It was still active, which was amazing since it was near a very busy xatero trail.

Marcial and I made our way up there and he eventually climbed up. The nest had a chick! But it was very young, maybe a day or two old. So, we pulled out of there. It was getting late and we needed to set up camp. The best spot was across the river and downstream a bit. But it was a terrible location, obviously by a major trail and a well used location. I guess we were tired enough to not care. So we set up our hammocks. I got bit by a harvester ant soldier. OUCH! Had to move my hammock. As we were having dinner, a gunshot rang out from upstream. We tensed. Someone was hunting up there. Later on a second shot was fired. This was not good. That is where we needed to go!

The next morning we packed up and cautiously made our way upstream. Roni spotted a smoldering campfire on the bank. As we stopped, we could hear muffled Spanish back into the forest where we knew a historically occupied nest was located. We then heard a pair of macaws screaming. The nest was being poached! And we could do nothing about it. With anger...and sadness, we had to retreat. These nests along the reservoir are so vulnerable. In fact, Friends for Conservation and Development found that 89% of nests located along the reservoir were poached in 2011! 89%!!!

After a long paddle back to the Ballerina Rd put in, Kristi was there to pick us up and haul us back to town. It was great to have one collared, but we needed two more and where were we going to find these? The area up the Raspa seemed hot with illegal activity. I needed to think about this.

We agreed that I would conduct a reconnaissance trip while Marcial was working back in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Guatemala) and then we would come back out to the Chiquibul after more nests were discovered. Let's just say that there was some concern.