2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Thursday, March 25, 2010

That...Monkeytail: 22-24 Mar

We FINALLY made it to the upper Monkeytail Branch. And it quite lived up to its reputation. We drove down to Las Cuevas Research Station this past Monday morning. It was empty. No one is using the research station. Quite a bummer. It used to be humming with grad students. The only people there were a contingent of Belize Defense Force (BDF) who maintain a permanent presence there.

We spoke with the commander about the condition of the trail to the river and then planned on parking near the trailhead before beginning the long drag to Monkeytail Branch. We were happy to find the trail quite navigable for 2-3km before ending at a large tree fall. Leading up to that we cut our way through a few smaller blocks. The most devastating thing occurred when I approached a tree that was bent over, with thick vines on the other side of the track. I thought that it was high enough to clear...but I was mistaken. The halting crunch was not good. Looking up through the moon roof of the Jeep to see the kayaks gone was not good. And getting out to see the rear rack ripped off the Jeep was definitely not good!

We unstrapped the kayaks and moved them forward. Then I inspected the damage. The Jeep had some damage but not too bad...and the rack was fine. I just pulled out my toolbox and reinstalled the rack about 6-8 inches forward of where it previously sat. We strapped down the kayaks and pushed on.

At the major tree fall we unloaded and I headed back to Las Cuevas, parked the Jeep and hiked back. From there we began the 2km overland kayak drag. This is not quite as fun as it sounds but is a great workout. All was going well until the track began to go up hill. Then the track disappeared into a thicket of dense vines and herbaceous vegetation. I pulled out my machete and sliced and beat through this while dragging my kayak and gear. The track would reappear and then disappear. Over and over. Was I going the right direction? Onward I pushed and again the track would appear. Whew! Exhausting is an understatement. After awhile, I only chopped were necessary and barreled through the rest. Twice we had to go over massive trees that had fallen directly across the track.

Brad dragging his kayak down the trail.

Finally, we began the descent into the river valley. Still fighting through the occasional thicket and tree fall. With the descent also came the sliding kayak which sometimes careened into a deep rut. We heard the sound of running water and glimpsed the Monkeytail off to our right. Seeing a wall of vegetation in front of us on the road we abandoned that and headed straight for the river. We were there!

Instead of setting up camp, it was about 4:30pm, I wanted to go up a bit. Big mistake. Already tired and dehydrated, we now had to walk up slippery, uneven terrain. After a few hundred meters enough was enough and we set up camp. After a hearty meal of fajitas we both passed out cold.

The next morning we arose still sore. My collar bone was killing me where the strap laid across to drag my kayak. That took a couple of days to heal up. After breakfast we headed upstream a little ways before being turned back by an endless boulder field. We headed downstream, walking almost as much as paddling it seemed. But the habitat was great. Nice clumps of large Quamwood trees.

We heard and saw several pairs of macaws along the Monkeytail that day. I spotted a pair sitting still and not really doing anything. This was quickly becoming indicative of there being a cavity nearby. We sat there watching them. Finally, one of the dove down sharply to the right. Where it went was out of our line of sight. So I moved downstream about 50m and there she was, head sticking out of a cavity in a Quamwood. Very cool! She stayed in there for a few minutes before they left screaming and flying to the east.

We found a cavity on the Monkeytail.

We continued pushing down the Monkeytail, stopping for lunch at the confluence with a major tributary coming in from the southeast. We moved up this tributary for a little while before turning around.

Brad maneuvering through the rocks.

Moving down this river is just brutal. It crushes your feet, bites your ankles and bruises your shins. The uplifts of slick granite are just a nightmare to walk across, especially while dragging a kayak behind you. Seeing someone maneuvering down it must be hilarious to watch. Not so much to do. You finally have your footing and your kayaks comes up from behind and sweeps your feet out from under you.

Brad lowering his kayak down a waterfall...or waterless fall.

We made it to about 500m above the confluence with the Raspaculo Branch and found just a fantastic campsite. Beaten down, we plopped down and got a fire going. We were going all out tonight. Spaghetti, baked potatoes and roasted garlic. Mmmmm. friggin' fantastic meal. And we heard macaws flying overhead.
Charles at the confluence of the Raspaculo (left) and Monkeytail (right) Branches
(photo courtesy of Brad Westrich)

We headed down the reservoir the next day. There were two occasions were pairs were most likely investigating cavities but they wouldn't give in and flew off rather than show us the cavity. Also had a couple of nice foraging flocks.

We went up the Macal River a little bit but decided to make our way out of the reservoir since the wind was blowing in a favorable direction. Two hours later we were out and heading to the FCD ranger base. We unloaded everything and headed back to town.

Here I am driving back to town...maybe happy..maybe a little
crazy (photo courtesy of Brad Westrich).

1 comment:

  1. I went to Monkeytail and Las Cuevas Research Station in 2003 and I think I must have walked exactly the same trail as you! WOW! God I hanker for Monkeytail river again. I wonder if you used the same camp as us. It's probably unrcognisable now. We were doing wildlife monitoring before the dam was built. So sad it was afterwards. But I JUST read that harpy eagles are properly back in Chiquibul forest! We built their first reintroduction nesting box! I'm so glad. Thanks so much for helping with the preservation of scarlet macaws, I worry about them often. All the best!