2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Chiquibul from above

This past Friday, Lighthawk generously provided a free flight for my project. The objective was assess potential habitat withing my study area since this is not so easy to do from the ground or the river. The pilot, Chuck Schroll from Tucson, AZ, was fantastic.

We had originally tried to fly a week and a half ago but a cold front put the kibosh on that. The guys assisting me from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) had to turn around and drive back to Flores, Guatemala. We rescheduled it for this past Thursday. And another cold front blew in the night before. Clouds and fog...grrrr! Since the WCS guys made the drive, we went for it. That lasted about five minutes. We couldn't even see the mountains much less fly over and around them. Canceled...

Brad on left. Chuck and Lenney up front.

So we just played it by ear. I could fly on either Friday or Saturday afternoon, depending on weather conditions. I touched base with Chuck Friday and we were on.

Flying past 1000ft Falls feeding Roaring Creek.

The flight was fantastic! The original cast of characters had to be changed due to short notice. Brad was able to accompany us on the flight and Lenney Gentle of FCD went along as navigator. We headed southeast out of Central Farm (east of San Ignacio) and cruised over Roaring Creek and past 1000ft Falls...simply amazing.

Baldy Hills on Mountain Pine Ridge

We kept gaining altitude and flew over the eastern edge of the Baldy Hills in Mountain Pine Ridge. To the east we could see the Sibun River watershed. We then dropped into the Macal River valley and began our undulating and largely circular flight path over the Chiquibul Forest in search of potential Scarlet Macaw breeding habitat, covering over 200 miles along the way.

Looking for Quamwood trees. Found them! All of the large white ones.

We flight path was roughly down the Macal River, up Blossom Berry Breek, down the Raspaculo Branch, up Monkeytail Branch, and down the Chiquibul Branch before heading back. Just an amazing sea of green below us with a seemingly large amount of Quamwood trees available for macaws to search for nest cavities. Near the end of the trip, we passed over the famous Natural Arch under which the Chiquibul Branch passes before diving underground through the Chiquibul Cave System and popping back up over in Guatemala. We also had spectacular views of the giant sinkholes that are scattered throughout this karst system.

Newly constructed Vaca dam on the Macal River.

Heading north, we met up with the Macal River again and followed it up passing over the dams. I hadn't seen the recently (currently) constructed Vaca dam, the last in a series of three hydroelectric dams. Pretty nasty impacts. It was already filling up and you could see one of the tributary waterfalls slowly getting submerged within the growing reservoir.

Parting shot of the crew: Chuck Schroll, Charles Britt, Lenney Gentle and Brad Westrich

The timing of the flight was perfect. After the work was done the clouds began to move in and spit a little rain at us. Following the Macal, we flew over San Ignacio and Santa Elena, affording a nice view of my temporary home, and cruised into Central Farm. It was a fantastic trip providing me with a better idea of potential areas that I need to visit throughout the Chiquibul Forest.

We head out to the Chiquibul Branch tomorrow!

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