2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

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).

1 comment:

  1. I love the picture of us loading the gear into the Jeep from this trip, but what it doesn't show is how pathetic we all are. We were all limping around in our lounge shoes motivated only by the thought of a nice BBQ meal in a few hours.