2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

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.

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