2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Sun's Fury: Macal and Raspa 9-12-Mar

Brad and I had a good but seriously exhausting week paddling 50km on the upper Macal River and Reservoir. The weeks of past overcast skies were long gone and the tropical sun beat down upon us with draining intensity. We made our way down to the Upper Macal via Despair Cairn Road atop Mountain Pine Ridge. Having to stop once to clear a fallen tree from the road we arrived at the drop-off around 10:30am.

Kayaking down the upper Macal.

It started out nice, but things got intense once we needed to visit trees off the river where we had observed macaws inspecting cavities a few weeks prior. Grabbing our machetes, we beat a path through thickets of spiny vines, tangles, and eight feet tall grass as thick as bamboo. All the while, biting horse flies swarmed assaulting our backs. For all that effort, the cavities were not active as yet. We did notice a lot of plumbeous kite pairs along the river and a solitary eagle soaring high above. Another interesting observation was a river otter in the same location as our last visit; must be a den somewhere nearby. All in all, we observed 10 macaws that day and 7 the next.

Chillin' around the campfire.

We chilled in the evenings, setting a campfire the first two nights to ward away the swarms of biting insects. The nights along the river are active. At least three species of frogs calling, the occasional shriek of a night heron, and my favorite, the loud stomping and crashing of a Tapir running by the camp towards the water. Gets your blood going...

While going down the river, we developed a survey method to increase our visibility of the trees beyond the tall riparian vegetation. At each stretch of long pools, we alternated standing on our kayak while the other person towed. So one of us had a great look at the surrounding area. Worked out well. On the shorter stretches we both got up and rowed gondola-style.

While doing this, I was pulling Brad when I noticed something large, dark, and not very rock-like in the water...Tapir! We were able to observe it for 10 minutes and get within 20 feet of it before it lost its cool and barreled off through a fallen trees and blasted into the vegetation.

Baird's Tapir drinking in the middle of the Macal River.

Tapir swimming away from us.

Now in full retreat.

We really hit the reservoir on day 3 and were punished severely by the sun. Having finished all of our water at breakfast, we wanted to wait to get to a spring located a little ways up the Raspaculo Branch; the reservoir water is just nasty. So we made our way down the Macal portion of the reservoir towards the confluence, stopping to check out an areas we saw a pair attempting to locate a cavity. They kept flying back into an areas and were chased away by a pair of Amazon parrots at one point. But we didn't find anything.

We made it to the spring, parched and maybe a little loopy. But it was great. It comes pouring out into a small waterfall, running down these stalactites that you can row under, get showered and fill up your water bottles. Fantastic and refreshing! We retired to a shady spot on the eastern bank for lunch. During this time a pair of macaws flew over the western ridge and landed above us. We wrapped up lunch and paddled away from the bank to observe them. They were perched and doing...nothing...absolutely nothing. After two hours of observation and splitting up, myself under the tree and Brad on the opposite bank, they finally revealed their nest to us in a concealed location on the backside of the tree.

It was too late to try to climb the tree and they were really bothered by us so we went across the river to camp and try again the next day. Along the reservoir, Macal and Raspaculo portions, we observed about 40 macaws that day.

On Friday morning, we headed upstream to check out a couple of nests, one from the previous year and a new one. Both were inactive. During this time, FCD brought some tourists from Blancaneaux Lodge for a tour in their motorboat. All I heard was voices and was wondering who was by our kayaks. We grabbed our machetes and ran down to the river. What a relief! So we all returned to the cavity and they watched as I scaled the tree. No activity. Oh well. We went up to the next nest and while the cavity looked great there was no activity as yet. We observed 11 macaws that day.

We headed back to the active nest and tried...for two hours!...to shoot a line over the fork above the cavity. No luck! The slingshot was just not powerful enough. Our best shots hit the trunk below the fork. Time for an upgrade. So we had to abandon our attempt for the next trip and we began our long exit trip to the take out just above the Chalillo dam.

What an exhausting paddle! The wind was at gale force; nearly ripping the paddle out of our hands. The chop assaulted the bows of our kayaks and water splashed in our faces. Onward we paddled, mile after mile in the waning light. We passed Rubber Camp and Brad was lagging behind. I didn't want our ride to leave without us so I pushed on.

We now paddled in complete darkness. The clouds were set above and the features surrounding the reservoir became alien. Was this the right inlet? Hmmm. I finally reached into my bag and pulled out a headlamp. I shined it back towards Brad so he could see where I was then I pushed forward to the next inlet. Then shined my light. Gliss, one of the FCD rangers, flashed the headlights of the Jeep and called out. We made it! I pulled my kayak out and Brad pulled up about ten minutes later.

Exhausted, we loaded up and changed into dry clothes. Off to the ranger base we went and back to town for a nice shower and a cold one...

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