2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cracked up on the Monkeytail

Another week in the Chiquibul and another week of challenges.

Unloading the Jeep at the end of the road on the Monkeytail trail
(photo courtesy of Kristi Drexler).

Kristi and Larry Santos from FCD dropped us off about 2km down the Monkeytail Trail from Las Cuevas Research Station. There is a large tree fall that blocks the road...and several others after that. We unloaded the jeep and started dragging the kayak at 11am.

Brad and myself getting our gear in order. Larry Santos (FCD ranger) helping us
(photo courtesy of Kristi Drexler).

The heat was on!!! Within 200m we had to stop and take a break; not good. Panting and drenched, we carried on...stopping at every spot providing some shade. Lightheaded, parched, and through and through exhausted we pushed. It was hard the last time we went down Monkeytail but this was ridiculous. By the time we began the descent into the Monkeytail valley our legs were cramping up and were beginning to fade. The sound of running water was all that kept up going. My kayak flipped over in a deep rut.

With the boat flipped over I was shocked to see the rear bilge hole stripped back exposing a large crack. Oh no! This is not good...definitely not good. We turned off the trail and headed down a small side trail to the water. Dropping the kayaks we immediately took our empty water bottles and plunged into the water; not moving for several minutes as our bodies cooled in the clear pool.

We then drifted up to the nearest flowing water and downed a couple liters of water. What a relaxing moment. Ahhh, time to get back to the kayak and inspect the damage.

Damaged Hobiewan. Notice the plastic weld job on the front bilge hole.
Now had a crack on the rear hole.

Brad started on a late lunch/early dinner. Considering how drained we were and that repairs were in order, I decided to stay put for the afternoon and camp there. The rear bilge hole was trashed with a large crack on the leading side. Knowing that the epoxy alone wouldn't hold I pulled out a cigarette lighter to melt the plastic and a stick to meld it together. I then applied a bunch of epoxy over it as a protective cover. Hmmm, we'll see. In the meantime, Brad discovered a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird nest right by our camp. There were two eggs being incubated and it tolerated us reasonably well. That evening, after dinner, we chased a couple of macaws around but they were just foraging on Quamwood seeds. Passed out by 7pm.

Rufous-tailed hummingbird near nest.

The next morning we took off down river but not before observing the same pair fly in from downstream to once again feed on the surrounding Quamwood trees. It wasn't long before the repairs on the kayak were rendered useless and the boat quickly took in water. In fact, we were having to bilge it every 20 minutes so it was quite ridiculous.

We tried several configurations, for example, putting a couple of bags on the bad boat and riding tandem on the good one. In the end, we had to load all of the bags on the good boat, leaving the cracked boat empty, and then just walk both of the them downstream. Then we just had to bilge every couple of hours.

Brad climbing the nest on Monkeytail and installing a temp sensor.

We reached the only nest discovered on Monkeytail and, sure enough, two macaws were on/in the cavity. We made our way over to it and Brad climbed the nest. To both of our dismay, there was nothing in there; no eggs, no chicks. Strange. No evidence of a failed hatch or predation. Maybe there on the next visit we'll get lucky.

Nest cavity on Monkeytail Branch.

In the meantime, Brad installed a couple of temperature dataloggers, one inside and one outside of the cavity. The flies down on the ground level were thick and driving me crazy. I couldn't wait to retreat!

Lunch fire on the river.

We continued down river to a major tributary and had the standard lunch of quesadillas. It was a great spot with a nice flat rock in the middle of the river for a small fire to cook them while lounging in the river. Afterwards we walked up the tributary a short distance to glass the surrounding area. No activity so we continued downstream. It seems amazing that for all of the apparent 'suitable' habitat, there really is a lack of macaw activity on the Monkeytail Branch.

Pulling the kayaks down the river.

The rest of the afternoon was an exhausting slog through deep pools and rocky, shallow pools and boulder fields with shallow water coursing around the rocks. Swimming with heavy boots while pulling kayaks is just futile. We pushed on into the late evening looking for a campsite before finally settling for a marginal site on a slope above the water just before dark.

We've been sleeping in a little later than usual as a result of our weariness but were on the river early and continued ambling towards the confluence with the Raspaculo Branch. We had a great look at a large Tapir crossing the river, loads of lekking butterflies and an immature Ornate Hawk-Eagle that Brad spotted above one of the leks. What a brutal walk, slipping, bruising shins. The nice part was continuously being in the cool, clear water and not in the searing heat.

We reached the confluence before noon and made our way below the lowest rapid, now located at Kodd's Camp. Every week the reservoir dips a couple of feet so the flat water is always a little further downstream. This was our objective. We pulled over, bilged the Hobie, and Brad got a lunch fire going while I readied a fiberglass patch made to repair water tanks and radiators. I slathered the resin and hardener around the entire bilge hole, placed the clothe over the bilge hole and saturated the cloth with more resin/hardener. We then focused on lunch while the patch job dried.

After half an hour we carried the Hobie (or Hobiewan as we call it) kayak to the water and loaded it with my gear. No apparent leaking...alright! Back in business. So we paddled down and verified the active nest near Kodd's Camp. Passed the spot where a nest had been chopped down and stopped at the newly discovered nest downstream from that. We attempted to climb it but ran out of time as evening was approaching. Will have to revisit in the morning. Hot, tired and thirsty, we headed down to our camp located by a spring above the Macal/Raspaculo confluence. Along the way, Brad spotted a couple of trogons taking turns snacking on wasps. They would fly up every 30 seconds and pluck a wasp from the air just below the wasp nest and flutter back down to a perch and then repeat. Didn't realize they would eat wasps. I've only seen them eat fruits.

New nest along the Raspaculo Branch of the reservoir. Me climbing before
abandoning this attempt.

The next morning we were up early and headed upstream. Our feet were beginning to fall apart again, probably from the water and lack of air for our feet. Poor Brad had it rough while mine were not so bad. We observed a pair near the camp. They flew upstream and we one of them on a snag, then the other sticking its head out of a cavity on the backside near the top. New nest! We landed and loaded our gear. I shot a line over relatively quickly and began the ascent. But as I climbed, Brad noticed the the tree was swaying so I quickly descended and abandoned any thought of climbing that nest.

We made our way up to the nest visited the previous day. Again, the tree seemed unstable so the climbing attempt had to be aborted. We planned to visit a couple of nests on the Macal portion of the reservoir when I noticed that the patch on my kayak was beginning to fail and take in a small amount of water. Time to get off the reservoir! Now!

We paddled to the confluence and I was able to call Kristi on the sat phone. We had to get off the river a day early but looks like it'd work out fine. We bilged the kayak, had lunch, and paddled hard down the reservoir. Two hours later, often fighting with my kayak's tendency to drift in the wrong direction, we pulled into the Ballerina Rd cove. Not five minutes later Kristi and our good friend Daniel Velazquez pulled up in the jeep with BBQ chicken and cold beer. What a treat! That's how you raise morale.

Brad, Daniel and myself relaxing after getting off the river
(photo courtesy of Kristi Drexler).

The welding rods are now in and I repaired the Ocean Kayaks for the trip this week down the Chiquibul Branch. Let's go!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A week of healing

The crew had to take this week off after getting beat down by the Raspaculo Branch trip. Our feet were torn up, all of the boats had cracks and my jeep was having electrical issues; the parking/tail lights keep shorting out resulting in me getting a citation.

My aching feet!!!

I am glad to say that my feet, and Brad's feet, are on their way to recovery. They no longer look as though they require some level of amputation.

Hmm...something's not right here.

So, I've been having this electrical issue since my last trip to Guatemala to work with the WCS crew. There was some electrical short that would knock out the fuse for the tail lights and front parking lights as well as the lights on the dash. Could not isolate it with the little time I had to dedicate to working on it. This week, I was finally able to isolate that the short was not coming from the tail lights. I looked at the wiring diagram again and saw that the front parking lights were on the same circuit. Hmmm. I took them off and there it was, a partially stripped wire on the parking lamp. Taped it up and seems to be working fine now. We'll see if it holds.

As advised by the Menonites, the buckets make excellent welding material.

Even more worrisome than my feet and jeep was the status of the 'fleet'. Cracks in all of the hulls, primarily where the bilge holes receive countless impacts from rocks on these rivers and branches. No one in the country does plastic welding to repair kayaks. You can't use fiberglass, and epoxy and JB Weld just get scraped off in a day. It has to be welded. But where to get the proper plastic?

I contacted Ocean Kayak and they have generously offered to send plastic welding rods for free. Very cool, but they won't arrive for a couple of weeks at the earliest and we need to be back on the river by the end of this week. I then noticed that the plastic buckets generally used by folks around here are a similar type of plastic. With this in mind, my plan was to experiment on the Hobie and Emotion kayaks with strips from the bucket and hold off to repair the Ocean Kayaks until the welding rods get in. I purchased a heat gun a couple of days ago for the job.

No caption needed

So this morning I tried it out and it seems to work. A friend of mine was taking a couple of tourists down the lower Macal River from Chaa Creek to the confluence here in San Ignacio and inquired if my kayaks were still unusable. I was just finishing the repairs and offered them up for use as a way to test the effectiveness of the welding job. Guess I'll find out how it went later this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A painfully productive week...

This week proved to be rewarding and debilitating. Kristi was great and provided us with timely transportation to and from the field. We were on the reservoir last week with the hopes to visit a couple of nests in the Macal portion of the reservoir before heading up the Raspaculo Branch all the way to the historic Cushtabani Camp.

Brad, Charles and James getting ready (photo by Kristi Drexler).

We headed out from the Ballerina Rd put-in late morning last Tuesday. We were at the Macal/Raspaculo confluence within a couple of hours.

The crew departing (photo by Kristi Drexler).

At the confluence we sat down for a nice lunch of quesadillas and other camping gourmet items. During our usual voracious consumption a couple of macaw flew in and alighted on a dead stump and began to get obviously upset with our presence. Wow...a new nest. Sweet! But how to gain access to this nest? That's the question...

Stumpy nest discovered during lunch.

James headed up to the spring on the Raspaculo Branch, not far from the confluence, to conduct more sampling of the fish present there. Meanwhile, Brad and I headed up the Macal to check the other nests. As luck would have it the wind was blowing hard so the two lucky shots that made it over were all for naught; the wind took out the slack in the line and kept us from being able to lower the line. After an hour we had to call it off and move on to the next nest.

An attentive mother.

Half an hour later we made it up to the nest we had to abandon the week before due to rain. Brad climbed this one and spotted two eggs and a newly hatched chick. Sweet! From there we high-tailed it back to the confluence and camped out at the spring.

No, James isn't dead, he's sampling fish in shallow water.

In the meantime, James had been able to spend a good amount of time at the spring, identifying several species and getting photos and videoing behavior of several.

Nest protection at the spring.

We moved upriver the next morning hoping to find more nesting activity along the reservoir. We passed an inactive nest site from last year and then approached a new nest area where we had observed pairs inspecting a cavity on two separate occasions. Something was askew. Where was the tree? We pulled up and I immediately notice both shoe and barefoot prints in the muddy bank. Hmmm...it's gone. We walked to the spot and sure enough, the tree had been obviously chopped down. In fact, after it was felled, the perpetrators had to dig to gain access to the nest. I think they were disappointed as the nest had not yielded any chicks yet. But sadly, another nesting location was lost.

Sadness...our first nest chopped down this year.

Further upstream, we approached a historically active xatero camp, both legal and illegal. As we paddled by I spotted a female with her head poking out of the cavity. With a little cowboy work I was able to photo two eggs and quickly descend.

Me playing cowboy. Had to lasso the cavity entrance and pull myself over.

We conducted some fish sampling just upstream, turned east at the Monkeytail/Raspaculo confluence, and began the push towards Cushtabani. Darkness began to descend within a couple of hours and we set up camp on a nice rocky bend in the river.

Myself, James and Brad at our 'kitchen'.

We began the next morning conducting a round of fish sampling adjacent to the campsite.

James and Brad characterizing fish habitat.

We then split up so James could finish up his fish sampling while Brad and I pushed to the next nest location. Within an hour we passed an active xatero camp. Hmmm...what to do? Should we wait for James? I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that the xateros were all out working and there would be no problems (which turned out to be true...thankfully). Around the next bend were four horses, most likely to haul xate back to Guatemala.

Xatero camp.

After the first major confluence we stopped for an hour to observe several pairs, chop our way to a tree with previous cavity inspection, and to have lunch. No nests but a good lunch. We then kayaked upstream to a nest with an egg the previous month. I scaled this nest and was bummed...the ceiling had collapsed and completely filled the cavity; probably burying the egg or chick. An interesting note was that a macaw did visit the tree while I was climbing and there were other cavities on the tree (with nothing at the time). So maybe they will use the tree. The pair might have moved upstream a bit as we observed a pair inspecting a cavity two hundred meters upriver.

Here I am getting ready to ascend.

That day was extremely challenging; we pushed hard, very hard to make it to our farthest up nests near Cushtabani Camp. I have to give Brad some real props here. His feet were in really bad shape but he didn't complain and didn't hold us back. A tough guy. Along the way we had a fantastic look at a large male Tapir slowly ambling up the river for five to ten minute. We then spooked it around the next bend and sent it galloping into the vegetation.

Bird's eye view of the river.

At the camp, Brad and I found our misplaced items from the camp; my leatherman and Brad's sock. The next morning we visited three nests, finishing at noon. One had three chicks, the second had two chicks, and the last one egg.
These were the largest and oldest chicks to date. Ugly ducklings for sure!

Brad checking on three recently hatched chicks.

Parents express their opinion of our efforts.

Here I am climbing a new nest. One egg at the top.

It was noon by the time we were finished and had a LOT of river to cover that day. By late afternoon we were nearing the xatero camp. This had me concerned as they would probably be at the camp. We passed five horses this time and as we made our way through the rapids above the camp I could see a few individuals there. We continued downstream and as we neared I waved and called out 'Buenas tardes'. They waved back and said hola. No prob, we continued on to a campsite well below them. Along the way we discovered a new nest. Too late to check so we'll paddle up the next trip after going down Monkeytail Branch.
Brad's poor feet. We all were suffering.

Our feet were in absolute horrible condition. I was really concerned about it. Walking around the camp in Crocs was an excruciating experience and we still had a long day ahead of us. We ate well, enjoying fried tetra fish, baked potatoes and stir-fry, but I didn't move more than ten feet after sitting down. The rain poured that night while we hunkered down under the tarp eating, drinking, and chatting until 11pm (an absurdly late night for us).

The next morning, I discarded my shoes for Crocs only and as soon as we were on the reservoir I pulled my socks off as well. Found another nest, just downstream of the one that was chopped down. I wonder if it is the same pair? At the confluence, James retrieved a cache of beer; two for each. What a treat! This was lunch as we decided to forgo stopping and made our way to the take out.

Brad, Charles and James loading up the Jeep (photo by Kristi Drexler).

We went past another cache of beer and were stocked for the trip down the dreary reservoir. Twenty minutes after we pulled our boats out, Kristi arrived. YES!!! Bringing cold refreshments for all. We cruised to town for BBQ and a shower. Being the last night for James in country, we desired a night on the town but the thought of walking more than ten feet at a time was too much to bear. We settled for relaxing at the house and enjoying the drive to the airport the following day.
Myself, James and Brad at Boiton's BBQ in Santa Elena (photo by Kristi Drexler).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nesting is picking up

This past weekend my good friend and colleague from NMSU, James Morel, arrived to spend a couple of weeks collaborating on a fish sampling project in the upper Macal River watershed. Following a late night welcoming him to the country we awoke the next morning to pack and take care of the logistics of the trip.

It was Easter Weekend so most things were closed and the normal crew of rangers that help us out were on holiday. Hmmm, how to get some work done? It dawned on me that my good friend Ernesto Garcia was working up in Mountain Pine Ridge and could help us out with a drop-off/pick-up on the run down the lower Macal below the Guacamallo Bridge. So I lined that up and we headed up to Baldy Sibun where a communication tower is perched on the eastern side of the ridge.

(Right) View from Baldy Sibun on Mountain Pine Ridge. (Left) Ernesto Garcia working his culinary magic.

We wound our way through the pine ridge and arrived at Baldy Sibun around 4pm bearing all the necessities for a good evening. What a view! Perched atop Belize we could see for miles and miles. Ernesto prepared an amazing dinner of stew chicken, beans and tortillas. After darkness descending, we pulled his little 6" TV out into the patio, using my jump cables as an extension cord, and enjoyed the college basketball championship game.

James guiding his kayak down the rapids.

The next morning we loaded up ad headed down to the Guacamallo Bridge and were on the river by 9am. What a fun river run that is. Unfortunately, we still haven't had much macaw activity in this area. Three pairs flew overhead and downstream at the first bend but that was about it. That is probably the extent of the habitat below the bridge.

James and myself doing a seine haul.

After the first bend, we were able to start fish sampling. It was one of the few locations with a run, riffle, pool situation. After that it was a lot of bedrock runs and falls.

Maneuvering down the runs.

By Tuesday afternoon the rangers were back from holiday and in the Chiquibul. We picked them up and headed over the pine ridge to the put-in to run the upper Macal. We arrived just before dark, set up camp by the river, and settled into a fajita dinner before retiring to our tent hammocks.

Wednesday morning greeted us with an infusion of macaw activity in the immediate area; beginning with a couple of pairs and ending with 26 foraging

Pair that I thought was inspecting a cavity...no dice.

At the end of a good day on the river we saw and heard a pair two hundred meters down the river. James and Brad prepped the campsite while I traveled down to check it out. Sure enough, a pair was hanging out and even copulated. Then one of them dropped down and behind the upper trunk. Yes, surely there is a nest. The next morning we excitedly made our way to the tree and I climbed it only to find that no cavity existed. Too bad...

The view for a macaw is a bit more scenic than what we experience...but we get glimpses.

On Thursday, we checked three nests. Only one of them was active having a newly born chick and two unhatched eggs. It was a challenge to get a photo. The rope was a good five feet away from the nest on a lateral branch (see photo below). I have to break a branch it was stuck on and then had to loop another rope over and pull myself close to the nest and then take a photo. After seeing the chick and eggs I quickly descended.

This was a tricky nest requiring a little extra rope work. Well worth it!

Traveling down the Macal, James spotted a a motionless male iguana (below). Brad picked it up for a photo and then I placed it on a large rock to warm up. Guess it got too cold in the water and couldn't move any longer. Wonder if it warmed up before a Hawk Eagle nabbed it for a meal?

Brad handling an ice-cold male iguana, or bamboo chicken as they say in Belize.

As we proceeded down the river on Friday, I glanced over through a gap in the riparian vegetation just in time to see a macaw head sticking out of its cavity. I think that the females definitely do this as a survival behavior; observing things from the cavity. This is how we find many of the nests. They might hear us as well and stick their heads out just out of curiosity as well. Works for me. Climbed the nest to find two eggs.

Always have to vigilant with the search effort. The right direction at the right
time reveals a macaw in a cavity.

We hit the reservoir. It's getting lower each day. Brad had developed a crack in the rear bilge holes at this point and we were glad to be off the rocky, shallow river bottom.

A cold front began brewing and then dumped rain that we hadn't seen in months. You would have believed we were in the rainy season instead of well into the dry season. An interesting note is that this dry season has been delayed and then interrupted periodically by rain. This might have delayed this year's breeding season which probably helped buy a little time for me to get things organized.

Is it the dry season? Brad and James (coming from the desert, he's enjoying the downpour).

The rain stopped after an hour and we were able to enjoy a large social flock of macaws preening and foraging on both sides of the river. Toucans and crested guans were abundant and we even had great looks at a laughing falcon. We then rounded a bend close to a historic nesting location which had been cut down the previous year. The unmistakable sight of red caught my eye. There was a female attending her nest (below). We maneuvered to the area and unloaded our gear. Just after we shot a line over the rains came again! Can't climb in the rain so we packed it up. Just have to visit the nest the next week.

A female checking us out checking her out. The rains kept us from this nest.

As we made our way to the campsite near the Raspaculo/Macal junction we spotted a pair on the south side of the river. Then a crocodile swam across in front of us. Brad was slowly sinking as his kayak continued to take in water. It was also getting late so I told them to head to the campsite and I would continue to observe this pair. About ten minutes later, the pair flew across the river and perched in a small tree. After a minute, one of them flew into a snag and into a cavity located and the top of the trunk. Cool! Another nest.

I then paddled hard to get to the campsite before dark, arriving shortly after James and Brad. After a good night's sleep we headed to the take out and home. All in all, a good trip.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sometimes you get lucky…

It was time to revisit the Chiquibul Branch. It’s a short run but that worked out because Easter Weekend was coming up and it was a short week for our support team; the FCD rangers. The main objective was to check the nest site where a pair of macaws was observed inspecting a potential cavity.

We arrived at the ranger base around midday this past Monday and began getting our gear in order, mainly our food. The lone ranger, Larry, arrived with two guests from Southern Illinois. The plan was to get dropped off down at the Chiquibul Branch when the combined ranger/BDF patrol were getting extracted from a recent patrol. However, as often happens in the Chiquibul, the plan needed to be modified. The patrol was back early and there were an unspecified number of people who had unspecified injuries. So Larry and I went to Las Cuevas to pick up the Land Rover and I assisted with the extraction and put off our own insertion into the jungle for a day. The patrol was greatly relieved to see us. I can understand this part. No one likes waiting in the jungle after hard work.

We got them out and went back to the ranger base where Curt and Cathy were waiting along with Brad. It was Curt’s birthday, thus the trip down to Belize, so he was preparing a large dinner of chicken, salad, mac ‘n cheese, and beans. This was definitely a hit for the recently returning rangers but we all ate with gusto. We relaxed for the evening with rum libations and Curt pulled out his guitar and sang about the rivers around his part of the world…a very cool evening.

We loaded up early on Tuesday morning and were on the road by 6:45am. Arriving at 8:30, we got on the river and began the run down the Chiquibul Branch. It went smoothly…mostly. I got caught up on one rock that tried to flip me. Actually, I was out of the boat but managed to manhandle the kayak so it turned on its side but didn’t quite flip over. After that we continued on past the cave and through Natural Arch. That never gets old.

Lunchtime on the Chiquibul. Typical goofiness...

We were already planning a return trip into the cave; with headlamps this time. Natural Arch is just a wonder. Jungle on the sides and jungle growing thickly on top with vines hanging almost a hundred feet down. Then you enter into the quite of the arch with stalactites scattered across the ceiling and limestone overhangs along the water’s edge. Just amazing…

We paddled down to the nest area…no activity. Then we heard macaws! Two pairs. One pair flew silently to the south and out of sight, gone. The second pair squawked and landed back in the vicinity of the nest, perched and squawked some more. Then they flew to the right on perched again before taking off and heading downstream. Hmmm, maybe they’re using that cavity, but from their behavior they still seemed to be in the nest initiation phase. Time to check the tree with the cavity. I went to grab my machete…it was gone! Oh no. Oh no. That’s the most important tool you can have out there. Must have fallen out when I nearly flipped. Man, that’s the one my dad gave me and we’d had that for years. It was finally getting some serious use. Shoot! Oh well, maybe I’ll get lucky and find it on the way back.

We linked up with tapir trails and took those as far as possible with Brad clearing a little here and there but trying to keep it to a minimum. It was tough to really gauge where we were in the tall thick grass and vine thickets. But we made our way to the tree and shot a line over it. I scaled this one. I scaled the tree rather quickly and checked all of the knobs and holes…nothing. The cavity that the macaws were checking out last time was beginning to open up but still needed more time to rot out. Man! Bummer! So I tried to look around to see if I could spot where that first pair went to. Alas, this location was widely encircled by a wall of thickly vine-covered trees obstructing the view. No machete, no nest. Damn!

Here I am climbing what we thought was a nest tree...no such luck!

Oh well. I went back to the area near the river to review the area and I was beginning to doubt that we were at the correct tree. The angles get so weird. I decided that we’d head downstream for now and reconnoiter the area further the next day on the way back upstream. So we loaded our stuff up and paddled downriver. About 200m downstream we passed a large Ceiba stump on the north side of the river. It appeared to be dead with only to lateral branches hanging on. Going another 100ft or so, something made me hesitate. ‘I’m going back to check out that stump,’ I informed Brad. So we turned around and paddled back up. I noticed something really red up on the stump as I peered through the riparian vegetation. ‘There’s a macaw!,' proclaimed Brad. We watched it for a few minutes while it watched us from its perch; the top of the stump. It then took off away from the river but quickly returned and continued to watch us; a sentry atop its tower. It then disappeared down into the stump. Alright!!! Score!!!

An ACTUAL nest site not 200m downstream of the place we struck out.

I decided that as it was getting late, we’d leave it alone. We might not have time to cut a trail to the nest, scale it and do our work and then have time to find a camp spot before dark. So we moved downstream, passing through the limestone slot canyon to the Resumadero area and turned around to the camp at the water’s edge.

Getting caught up on field notes in the evening (photo by Brad Westrich).

We set up, spread the tarp and got a campfire going. Fajitas…mmmm. That night I didn’t sleep well at all. Woke up completely parched and with a massive headache. I realized that I drank maybe 2 cups of water the previous day. Stupid. I took a couple of Alieve and downed a liter of water and went back to bed. Fitful sleep and was up at dawn. Still had a headache and let’s just say that the water didn’t stay with me either. Barely could eat any breakfast and I really felt like sleeping another hour but there was work to do, so we packed up and headed upstream.

We reached the nest around 9am and easily made our way to the nest via a winding series of tapir trails. Turned out that the Ceiba still had a single live strip of bark on the backside leading up to a small leafed out branch. There was our macaw…staring down. Okay, let’s scare this macaw off the nest and see what’s happening. Brad and then I took turns slapping the tree. And while you could tell it was getting agitated it would not budge. Fifteen minutes and nothing! I guess that means it’s really using this site. I wasn’t about to shoot a line over the tree with the macaw just hanging out up there for fear of injuring it in the process. From previous experience, that stubbornness suggests incubation. So, hopefully when we return next time there will be a couple of recently hatched chicks in the nest.

That was exciting! A confirmed active nest. Morale was up and we moved back over to the first suspected nest area just upstream. We reentered the area and stumbled into a series of clearly well used xatero trails and a small and not recently used lean-to frame. We used the trail system to gain better vantage points from which to scan the trees for other potential trees…nothing. Okay, this area looks pretty dry. There was one forked stump with potential.

Brad standing next to a xatero lean-to.

We left the area and began our exit to Bordel Camp. Passing back through Natural Arch and arriving at the cave it was time to have an hour of fun. We grabbed headlamps, cameras and a couple of candles and climbed up into the cave. We walked around and then headed back to the inner cavern. Using the candles was better than the headlamps; providing light all over and brighter light. Guess my headlamp is less than one candle power! It also lends an ambience to the cave. The formations were small but pretty cool. One nice column and one nearing completion… in a few hundred years. But definitely some active formations. What seemed like the beginning of a potential cavern on the previous visit was really not there. With the lighting we had, it was apparent that the cave did not really progress much farther. So we took a few more photos and headed back to the mouth of the cave.

Beauty of the cave...and some cave dwellers.

From there was stripped to the waist and jump down to the water; Brad doing a crazy back-slapping flip and I cannon-balled it. The water felt great!

Brad doing a flip from the cave.

We scrambled onto the kayaks and headed up. Going through series after series of rapids we finally reached the one I recognized. That’s where I almost flipped over. I slowly walked up the boulders, looking down intensely. A small white splotch caught my attention. It elongated for a moment and then shortened. I reached my hand down and felt in between the cobble. There it was! My machete! Wedged down in the rocks. Man I’m glad I wrapped the handle in white, waterproof medical tape only a few weeks before. Lucky! Things were really going well now.

We progressed past the Smokey Branch confluence when an Ornate Hawk-Eagle flew in and perched above us. That was a first for Brad but it never gets old. Those are magnificent birds with a brown head leading to a black crest. Just beautiful. It flew across the river and perched again, upsetting the brown jays and scaring a pair of mealy parrots.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle above the Smokey Branch confluence.

We camped out at Bordel and I was out early…just exhausted from the day and a lack of sleep on the previous night. Larry and Jaime (FCD rangers) arrived at 8:30am and in a couple of hours we were back at the base. There was still plenty of time in the day so I decided to do a run down the lower Macal for a few kilometers to check out some potential areas. There was activity seen just below the Guacamallo Bridge last year. We put in and kayaked down to the first bend, slowing down and really scanning the quamwoods on the south bank. Nothing going on there but then I heard macaws on the opposing side. There was a pair sitting on a Quamwood tree just preening each other. We spread out to get a better look. After ten minutes of squawking and preening they flew downstream and out of sight.

We continued downstream and ran several nice rapids; one that knocked Brad out of his kayak and pinned him for a few seconds but he righted the boat and made it out. I was stuck on the same rapid on a rock. You can just feel the force of the water. When I unwedged my kayak, the force was frightening; like riding a bull, it lifted my kayak and shot me through the rest of the run. But it was really some exciting stuff. I’ll have to mount my camera on the front of the kayak the next time we go through.

All in all, it was a good trip. Next week, we hit the Macal.