Brad and I picked Ernesto up at his house around 6am and headed out of town. I drove a bit more quickly over the Pine Ridge than usual, mainly because we needed to get down there as quickly as possible.
After crossing over the Guacamallo Bridge at the Macal River we entered the Chiquibul Forest. A short drive later we stopped at the FCD ranger base and chatted to two of the rangers. I extended an invitation to them to come with us for the day. One of them jumped on the opportunity to get back in that area and advised us not to go down to Resumadero Camp road and instead to head to the Natural Arch. It made good sense. So we loaded up and headed out.
The road below Millianario Camp is ROUGH and only gets worse after Engineer’s Camp. It was at this point on the last trip that my transmission mount broke. Try finding a replacement! Ernesto and I had to rebuild it ourselves with a little Belizean ingenuity.
We reached Natural Arch around 9:30am. Immediately after exiting the vehicle we heard people hooting to each other…Xateros! Uh oh. Hmmm…what to do? We hung out for a few minutes and unloaded the gear. Guess we better get this show on the road and hope we don’t have any encounters by the river. Brad and I began to drag, or better yet, have the kayaks drag us down a very steep trail that descends from the top to the bottom of Natural Arch while Ernesto and the ranger stayed with the vehicle. After much physical effort we managed to reach the bottom with everything intact. The plan was to be gone for roughly 5 hours and return no later than 2 or 3pm.
No xateros at the bottom so that was a relief. We began our quick trip downstream. With the water slightly up it took maybe an hour to reach the nest. I half expected to see the tree chopped down by poachers or burned, because it is so huge. Thankfully, it was still standing. We took our gear up to the tree and with the new and improved slingshot, FINALLY zinged a line over the very top of the cavity. This nest cavity is just a top opening of the stump. There is one lateral branch but it sits too far below the nest to be of any use (tried that one on the last visit).
Brad climbing up the Ceiba.
Brad scaled the tree and stretched to barely be able to get the camera over the lip of the entrance to snap a few photos and some video. From the camera LCD screen, the nest looked empty. From the lack of poaching or predation evidence, it seemed like whatever young were there must have fledged. While up there, Brad went ahead and collected as much habitat data as possible and then descended. Working back in that area makes me nervous for obvious reasons. At one point I had to go check the boats because I heard something ‘knocking’ over there. Had no idea what it was.
Brad working at the top of the nest, and tree.
We ate a quick lunch of bollos in the kayaks and quickly paddled back upstream at noon. Two adult and one immature King Vultures were feeding on a Tapir carcass on the way up. We reached Natural Arch a little over an hour later and began the arduous ascent up that horribly steep trail. We each had to manhandle our kayaks up this beast. After getting maybe a third of the way up we changed our strategy and shuttled them up. We reached about three quarters of the way up when the fellas heard us and assisted getting them to the jeep.
Here I am in front of Natural Arch (photo courtesy of Brad).
That is when we heard of their ordeal. Apparently, the xateros were hanging out and around noon they began to sneak up to check out Ernesto and the ranger. The ranger acted quickly and ran at them screaming, “Alto, alto!” He fired a few shots in the air from his pistol which had the desired effect of causing the xateros to rapidly flee the area. Sounded like a hell of an adrenaline rush. All was well by the time we had returned. Glad we had the ranger with us!!!
We loaded up and Brad and I changed into dry clothes and got out of there. After dropping the ranger of at the base we headed back to down. Ernesto took over driving as I was completely exhausted from the day’s work. We paused for an hour at my friend Daniel’s place (we’re collaborating on a documentary of this project; check it out) before heading back to town.
Chillin' at Daniel's on the way home; Daniel, myself and Ernesto (photo courtesy of Brad).
The next morning, Brad and I were reviewing one of the videos shot down into the nest when I glimpsed a brief patch of red and white in the corner of the screen. We viewed it again, frame by frame…Two Chicks!!! Yes!!! They looked nearly fully developed. Cool.
A glimpse of two macaw chicks.
We received some hard rain yesterday so I am watching the weather before heading out on the next trip. If all works out well then we’ll be heading to the Macal River tomorrow.