2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eggs in the Chiquibul: 16-19 Feb

This week we traveled back to Cushtabani Camp on the Raspabulo Branch in hopes of revisiting three nests we had found earlier in the season. For our 100km of paddling, we were delighted to find eggs in two of the nests locating three additional cavities with macaw activity.

We began this past Tuesday morning, driving out early after munching on an assortment of street vendor greasy breakfast foods...quite filling. We loaded up at the FCD ranger base and were on the reservoir by 10am. By the time we reached the confluence of the Macal and Raspaculo Brad and I felt as if we had both ingested about 5 Benadryl each. Lethargic and sleepy, we searched the confluence for macaw activity. Finding none, we set up camp at the spring near the confluence.

The next morning we began the trip up the Raspaculo leg of the reservoir. On the way up, observed 3 pairs moving around checking out several cavities along one stretch. One pair eventually flew downstream, another pair visited a cavity that was active the week before and the last pair looked on as this pair inspected the cavity.

A macaw pair inspecting a cavity on the reservoir.

We moved on not wanting to disturb these macaws as they were still in the inspecting phase of nesting. We continued up the river, observing 39 macaws along the way. There was one tree with several pairs all displaying various forms of pair-bonding; from simply preening each other's heads to another pair hanging upside down while spreading their wings completely out. Another couple began to copulate nearby. Hmmm, maybe there is a nest tree nearby.

One the 18th, we were able to visit two nests observed on the last visit. Both had eggs! The first was rather close to the river. We made our way up a Tapir track to the base of the tree. Then had to clear out some vines in order to get a shot at putting a line over a branch.
Nest tree up the Raspaculo.

The real problem was that the female wouldn't leave the nest and I didn't want to risk hitting her with the slingshot. Brad tried slapping the tree a few times to no avail. I then walked up to the tree and gave it a solid sharp slap. She popped out like a cork!

A stubborn pair and there egg.

We pulled out the climbing gear and I shot a line over. We were ready to roll. The next issue was maneuvering through the canopy of vines and acacia. I made it through but t was slow going. After making it up to the cavity I put the camera in the hole and snapped this shot of a single egg. Nice! They've started. I quickly switched over to the descending gear and lowered myself back through the canopy with Brad swinging me away from the nastier parts.

video
Working on their nest the month before.

We pushed on to the next nest location situated just below Cushtabani Camp. Along the way we heard macaws on the north side of the river. A glimpsed something red through a crack in the dense riparian vegetation. There was a macaw inspecting a slit cavity located on a tree trunk. It then flew over to an adjacent tree and inspected another cavity with its mate. Still in the inspection phase, we noted the location and moved on.

We reached the next Cushtabani nest location where about a month before we had observed a pair checking out a cavity. Where was it. We neared the location and Brad spotted the place where a river otter had hissed at that very spot. We moved about another 25m or so upstream. Ahha. We were looking at the tree from an angle upstream of the tree itself, but still no activity. I then looked up at a tree with a large broken fork and there was a macaw with her head sticking out just checking us out! 'Ah, and there is the macaw', I said with my best nonchalant voice belying the excitement I felt.

Nest below Cushtabani Camp and their three eggs.

We chopped a path up through the eight feet tall grass and pushed into the open gallery understory. Not bad...but how to shoot a line with a slingshot through all of those vines? Well, we're here so let's try. Three shots and we were in business. Maybe the repetitions were beginning to help? It was Brad's turn at climbing this one. Man the canopy was twice as dense. I tried to help through moving the rope this way and that but in the end he had to do most of the moving. The parents were rather cooperative in exiting the nest and hanging out nearby...shreeking from time to time.

Brad maneuvered himself to below the nest and shoved the camera up into the cavity. Snap...looking at the photo he called down with excitement, 'Three eggs!' Very cool. That's a large clutch. Maybe two of those will survive to fledge. Brad then maneuvered back through the dense canopy and we were done for the day.

View from the nest.

Daylight was beginning to wind down for the day. I wanted to push up to look for a campsite. We made our way up another few hundred meters and there was another pair hanging out in a tree. Eventually they flew down to some notch. Not being able to see well I paddled upstream. They were sitting on a cavity. Another hundred meters up was a decent place to camp. As we were moving our gear up I turned back and observed one of the birds entering the cavity. Very cool!

The next morning they were still there. We moved up to Cushtabani and then turned around. All of the nests were still occupied aswe moved downstream. We camped up on a nice slope on the Raspaculo. However, we discovered the next day that I had left my leatherman at the last site and Brad left a sock. We'll see if they're still there the next time we visit the area.

My poor beaten down binoculars; the workhorse (in addition to the kayaks) of this adventure.

The last day started out very nice and scenic. We stopped at a beautiful pool to take it in and listen to some nearby macaws. We then noticed a huge xatero trail, new trash and a couple of recently used campfires. Hmmmm.

Brad and myself taking in a beautiful pool on the Raspaculo Branch.

We paddled down the reservoir and decided to just go for taking out that evening. It was crazy; the wind turned swiftly against us. We paddled into gale force winds. The chop was throwing water into our faces and the wind nearly ripped the paddles out of our hands...it was intense! and exhausting. We passed Rubber Camp on the main part of the reservoir as the light began fading.

Being afraid of missing our pick up, I picked up the pace. Darkness began to descend and the clouds rolled in. Soon we were paddling across the reservoir in complete darkness with only the faint sillouette of the hills sides acting as a directional guide. I paddled into one inlet to find that I had turned in too soon. I pulled out my headlamp and flashed it back towards Brad before continuing on. Soon I could see the shape of an island (now a peninsula in the low water of the dry season) that sits across the Ballerina Rd take out. I flashed my headlamp and Gliss flashed the headlamp from my Jeep. Ah, a sigh of relief. We were out.

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