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
unload
(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.

video
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.

video
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!

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