2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rain, rain go away

After spending a week helping the NMSU Belize Field School, Brad and I headed down to the Monkeytail Branch with the help of Kristi and Ernesto. It was nice to get back in the field...or so we were thinking.

After picking up Ernesto we headed over the pine ridge and down through the Chiquibul forest reserve to Las Cuevas research station. From there we tried out the new kayak cart system (Kristi calls this the Yak buggy or yuggy for short). The last visit to Monkeytail was quite a trial. From that experience we decided to avoid dragging our kayaks overland since they take enough of a beating once on the river.

The trip to Las Cuevas was uneventful but that was only the beginning of a very long day. We arrived and were invited to have a cup of coffee and something to eat before heading down the trail. The man in charge, Jimmy Boucher, decided to come out with us and bring his chainsaw. Apparently they had opened up the trail more since our last visit...sweet. We piled into the jeep and headed down Monkeytail trail, sloshing and swerving until finally getting caught up on a large leafcutter ant mound. After unsticking ourselves we made our way to the top of the Monkeytail Branch valley. Time to unload.

Brad and I installing the cart system (photo by Kristi).

Brad and I installed the wheels and began the descent. Everything was going so well until we began hitting the tangles of small vines. It's hard to move forward when ten vines are encircling a wheel...stubborn. I soon developed all sorts of new names for the cart system...even threatened it with my machete at one point.

Brad and I dragging the kayaks down the trail (photo by Kristi).

The short trip was actually exhausting! Pull, pull, chop, pull, chop...grunt/swear. Jimmy was up ahead of us with the chainsaw working on clearing some of the fallen trees. Along the road down we heard three pairs of macaws flying around and making a raucous. One of the pairs I recognized by their distinct calls....interesting.

Brad and I look on as Jimmy cuts up a tree fallen over the trail (photo by Kristi Drexler).

We made it down far enough where we could hear the river roaring...ROARING! Oh man. We hit the side trail and were shocked by the height and current of the river. None of the boulders or uplifted slabs were visible. Just down river the river was spraying up at the first rapid. Hmmm. Guess we'll try it.

Flooded out Monkeytail Branch.

Jimmy departed a little but earlier and were followed by Ernesto and Kristi after we got settled down by the river. About twenty minutes later I decided to paddle across the river to a 'slow' spot and check out the approach to the first set of rapids. Whoa! The current was killer and felt extremely unstable. The slow current was fairly powerful as well. I paddled back across where it seemed tame and hopped out of the kayak to walk back upstream. It ended up taking all of my strength to pull myself upstream using the overhanging branches. Scared me...if it's like this here, what is the Raspaculo going to be like? In fact, 2-3 days of more were predicted so I made the decision to call it off. But Kristi and Ernesto were heading out.

Brad is a runner so I sent him to try to catch them before they cleared Las Cuevas or, at worst, get on the radio at Las Cuevas and have the FCD rangers send them back at the junction before leaving Chiquibul. I thought there might be a good chance that they got stuck at some point; buying Brad a little time.

Ernesto inspecting the stuck in a rut jeep.

As you can see, indeed they got stuck in a nice sized hole. They had to let the jeep cool down while Jimmy ran ahead to get the golf cart to tow them out. Apparently, just after they got unstuck and headed down the road Brad was nearly upon them. He say them as they drove off! and he had to run another mile to Las Cuevas. Luckily they were still there.

Potential new nest along the Monkeytail trail.

While Brad was gone I decided to head up the road and check out a decent-looking cavity. So I hiked up the road. I reached the cavity and noticed something dark inside it. Suddenly a long, lanky, streaky bird flew out and away...hmmm. Then a macaw pair flew in and one perched above and the other perched atop the cavity. It continually looked into and worked around the cavity but would never enter the cavity. It flew off but quickly returned and attended the cavity entrance for twenty to thirty minutes.

Wicked-looking caterpillar.

I headed back down the road to check on the boats and grab a snack. After chilling there for a few minutes I hiked back up to the cavity. Nearing the nest, I heard the macaws screaming and moving away. Upon arrival I was surprised to see, perched above the cavity, a Black Hawk-Eagle. It spotted me and quickly retreated. All very interesting. It might have tried to go after one of the macaws as a prey item.

I then decided to hike a little further up where we first observed macaws in the area. Nearing that location I heard the low rumble of the jeep...YES! Way to go Brad!

Kristi stayed at Las Cuevas and the cook came along with Ernesto and Brad to help haul gear up out of the valley. They also brought some much needed lunch. The guys at Las Cuevas rock! I repaired the front rack (which had been ripped off by a branch when coming back in) while they all headed down. We then had the laborious task of hauling all of the bags and kayaks up the road to the jeep...exhausting! But we did it in good time.

Brad, Jimmy and I doing the kayak train to haul the kayaks up the road.

Now the fun begins...driving back out of the slippery, muddy and, now, heavily rutted road. It was crazy. Only got stuck once and not bad. But I swear I was only driving the jeep straight down the road about half the time. Mainly fishtailing and swerving...barely missing trees, stumps and massive holes. Crazy. Meanwhile, Brad was in the back holding the chainsaw...yikes!

We made it back and enjoyed a cup of coffee before heading out as darkness approached. Glad to make it out but kinda bummed that we had to delay our nest visits. Oh well, can't defy mother nature.

Getting caught up on some much-needed jeep maintenance and looks like I'm heading to Melchor, Guatemala tomorrow for some heavy metal injections...on my birthday! Yes...going to feel like crap. Just got the positive diagnosis on the leishmaniasis. It's for real and it's eating my leg! Time to get rid of this and get back on the river.

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