2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Saturday, January 30, 2010

25-29 January: Down the Macal...

Brad Westrich, Gliss Panados and I spent this past week kayaking down 32 miles of the Macal River in search of Scarlet Macaw nests. We were successful in locating two potential nests in the upper reaches of the river...very satisfying. In all, we observed 130 macaws this week although it's doubtless that some were repeats.
Driving over Mountain Pine Ridge.

Spent the afternoon of Monday driving over Mountain Pine Ridge, a granite cap covered in a regenerating Carribean pine forest, on our way down to the drop off point. We reached Despair Cairn Rd and then, after some discussion, headed down Pilon Rd. I had previously driven down this road back in June 2009. Man, the vegetation had grown up! As we wound our way down to the river, we had to get out and chop to fallen trees to clear the road. The grass was as tall as the jeep, so I had to creep it along at times hoping just trying to follow the road (with a drop off on one side!). We made it down to the river by late afternoon and loaded up the kayaks.

Gliss and Charles getting ready to begin the trip. (Photo by Brad Westrich)

Brad and Gliss at the drop off.

To begin the trip, my binoculars fell apart. The focusing knob fell off in the water. Luckily, Gliss spotted it and I was able to rig it up to work well enough for the trip. Thus began five days of being wet. We dragged our boats and floated for about a mile before setting up camp. This was our only dry camp.

Brad returning from checking out a potential nest tree.

On Tuesday, the rains arrived and came down periodically as we pushed on for another 7 miles. We stopped at a bend in the river with three nice cavities, one Quamwood and two Spanish Cedars. Brad foraged chest deep in the water to make his way over to the quamwood to 'knock' on the trunk. This will solicit a response from any macaws inside. He looked to be in survival mode...

Gliss and Charles kayaking downstream. (Photo by Brad Westrich)

We observed 15 macaws this day and made our way down many small rapids, some in the boat, some out of the boat. We set up camp in the rain on a slope with an old game trail going through it. Always have to wonder what might come ambling through in the middle of the night! We gathered under my tent hammock for a dinner of mac and cheese with a few additions; sauteed onion and garlic, oh yeah, some tuna and of course the Marie Sharps. Speaking of food, we spent this trip munching on some homemade beef jerky and dried fruits courtesy of the food dehydrator that Kristi brought down with her this past New Year's. Thank you Kristi!!! That was a HUGE hit with the crew.

Charles getting 'turned around'. (Photo by Brad Westrich)

Brad maneuvering through some rapids.

On Wednesday, we awoke at dawn and had our dose of coffee and granola before putting our wet clothes back on and loading up the kayaks. We kayaked 7.5 miles that day. At one point, I was in the lead and got snagged on a rock just above where Devil's Drive comes down to the river. While pulling myself forward when I looked up and to my delight, two river otter's had splashed into the river about 50 feet ahead of me. I watched them for about thirty seconds before they spotted me and quickly disappeared. Very cool!

Charles and Gliss checking out a potential nest site. (Photo by Brad Westrich)

A Scarlet Macaw foraging on a Ceiba tree.

We spotted 41 macaws on that day. Several groups with apparent juveniles flying with adult pairs. While cruising along, I scanned through a gap in the vegetation to see a two macaws on a large dead Quamwood. Then Gliss observed a third one appearing out of nowhere from the backside of the tree. It must have come out of a cavity. Another pair flew by and landed nearby angering the first set. They flew over, out of sight and all we could hear was a great rucous. Not much further downstream, I observed another pair on a quamwood. One of them was looking down. I followed it's line of sight down and there was another pair hanging out on top of a large cavity. Sweet! Two potential nests in the same day. Also on that day, Brad was leading and he spotted a five foot long Morelet's crocodile swimming through the clear water upstream. He yelled back to us and within 15 seconds of looking down sure enough there it was! It was beautiful...gracefully undulating its tail as it swiftly cruised upstream under and to the right side of my kayak. Wow!

Charles and Gliss cooking under the shelter of a tent hammock. (Photo by Brad Westrich)

We camped just above Kinloch's Camp that night, crawling into our hammocks not long after finishing dinner and amusing ourselves with stories. After the food began to settle, the weariness of the hard day's work drove us into our sleeping bags.
Baird's Tapir making its way down to the water.

On Thursday, the 28th, we reached the reservoir and covered over 11 miles and observed about 43 macaws. We had excellent looks at a Baird's Tapir as it fed on the leaves of shrubs along the north bank of the reservoir. It was cool to see it raise its long snout and sniff the air before pulling the leaves off a shrub and munch. With some time to spare, I decided to go a short distance up the Raspaculo Branch of the reservoir to check on a nest used last year. It was being used but I think I might have found an additional nest. Lots of macaw activity in this area. Also had great looks and several Pale-billed and Lineated Woodpeckers. We camped in an area near the Macal/Raspaculo confluence which ended up being very...ticky. Fun!

Misty morning on the reservoir.

The last day, I awoke and began to heat up some water going for coffee. I heard a couple of macaws nearby and ducked out of the canopy to the upper part of the shoreline. Just as I emerged, two macaws approached from upstream, looked at me and then circled before landing right above me...interesting. They stayed for about ten minutes before taking off. The rest of the day was rather quiet as we made our way to the take out at Ballerina Rd, a little shy of five miles downstream . Along the way, we observed two macaws feeding on oak acorns. This might be a newly observed food item, maybe. An interesting sighting was eight Brown Pelicans cruising around. There was a single pelican on the reservoir last year, but now the numbers seem to be increasing.

We dried our gear out and enjoyed some camp beans with onions, garlic and jerky while waiting for the pick up from the park rangers. We then chilled out for the evening while awaiting our ride out of the Chiquibul and arrived back in town late, late. Now it's time to process all of this data and get prepared for the Chiquibul overflight tomorrow morning. Should be fun seeing the Chiquibul in a Cessna!

The field crew after the trip: Charles Britt, Gliss Panados, and Brad Westrich.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

El Peru, Guatemala – Nests, Macaws, Bees and…

Brad and I were able to kick off our field season in Guatemala this past week. We met up with my Guatemala collaborator, Samuel Merida, at the Wildlife Conservation Society office in Flores, Guatemala. From there we picked up food and headed out to Paso Caballo; a Mayan village within the Nacional Parque Laguna del Tigre. I left my Jeep at the house of one the locals who works for WCS. That night we stayed at Guacamaya Camp and were hosted by BALAM.

El Peru field station

Puebla that we cooked on for every meal

The morning of the 14th, we loaded up and drove for another couple of hours to the El Peru field station, our home for the next week. Equipped with luxury lagoon bathing, old mattresses, and a puebla to cook on we were ready to roll.

We spent the next week climbing 20 nest trees, taking measurements and encountering macaws and non-macaws (bees, angry spider monkeys, and wasps). I even lowered myself into a gigantic nest cavity to find a barn owl defending her six eggs.
Taking nest measurments

Brad climbing up a Cantemo (Acacia glomerosa). Cantemo is Mayan for macaw tree (Cante = tree, Mo = macaw).
I was able to climb into this cavity. WCS wanted me to remove the false floor that was installed last year. And what I found underneath the floor was...We worked hard during the day and relaxed in the evening, dipping into the lagoon to rinse off the grime. All in all it was a fantastic first effort at collecting nest cavity and tree data.

The WCS field crew out there were fantastic. Antonio Xol and 'Chus' Jesus Cholom Tec were a tremendous help, guiding us to the nest trees and showing us the ropes in that area.

The Crew: Samuel Merida, Brad Westrich, 'Chus' Tec, Charles Britt, and Antonio Xol

We returned to Flores for a night. Not being tired enough, we joined the rest of the WCS crew for indoor futbol; leaving us completely spent. After meeting with Rony the next day, we headed back to Belize.

On to the Chiquibul!