2012 Scarlet Macaw Protection Documentary

Monday, July 12, 2010

Last trip in Belize, now back to Guate...

Brad and I headed back to the Chiquibul one last time. This past Friday, we loaded up early in the morning and headed out for two days of work on the reservoir. We started out by heading across the reservoir, opposite of the put-in at Ballerina Rd, to check on an apparent macaw nest. This was the smallest cavity nest that we had observed.

We paddled over there and I quickly scaled the tree and could hear the hissing of a chick. A foul odor wafted from the nest. The lighting is terrible and I cannot get a camera in there to take a photograph. Hmmm. However, I was able to enough of the chick to instantly recognize that this was NOT a macaw chick. It had developed enough in the past two weeks to obviously be a raptor...and then a bat falcon flew in and perched nearby. Okay, I get it. Last time, two macaws were perched nearby but this was just out of curiosity.

Nest cam on the reservoir.

I climbed down and we headed up the reservoir to get some real work done. One and a half hours later, we were up at the Macal/Raspaculo confluence and made our way over to the nest where the macaw had been shot. We had yet to be able to get an idea of the cavity structure of this nest. With the reservoir almost full, the tree was halfway submerged and we were able to use an extension pole with a homemade PVC camera rig to retrieve our temperature logger and take a video of the nest interior. And it worked! Finally!

Brad beneath one of the unclimbable, dead nest trees.

We then headed up to the next nest, quickly collected habitat data, and moved up to the poached nest at Francelia Line. We reached the nest and set the rope up. Brad was just about to climb the nest when I heard a loud 'whoop'. "What was that," I thought to myself. Brad was in the process of putting the climbing gear on, so I grabbed his machete and went back down to the kayaks. I scanned the reservoir and then spotted three guys standing on the opposite bank, about 200m downstream...xateros. Okay, it'll take them a bit to cross so no real worries, but were they communicating with someone on our side of the reservoir? That was my concern. I never heard a reply.

Since no threat was imminent, Brad quickly scaled the tree to retrieve the temperature dataloggers while I maintained a vigil watch on our friends across the water. So I watched them watch me. Soon Brad was coming down and needed assistance maneuvering around some vines. I helped move him around them and then returned to my position...they were gone.

We were soon back in out kayaks and heading back downstream. We rested about 400m downstream for a quick lunch in the middle of the reservoir and then made our way to the confluence.
One of the never-used artificial nest boxes installed as part of the Chalillo dam
environmental mitigation.

It was time to switch gears and begin visiting artificial nest sites for habitat comparison. At the confluence were two of these. We measured the first one near the water's edge and then penetrated the forest to access the second one. Upon arriving, we were shocked to stumble into the recent remains of a xatero camp. It would be our luck to have another close encounter.Abandoned xatero camp at the Macal River/Raspaculo Branch confluence.

We then headed up past the spring and up to a second set of artificial nests. Once again, xatero camps and trails...these guys own this place! It was getting late so we needed to head back down to the spring in order to camp for the night.

As we approached the last bend before the spring, Brad saw and heard splashing...Tapir? Nope...four xateros bathing in the reservoir. They saw us and bolted; four naked Guatemalans running for the safety of the forest from us, the big, bad gringos. It was kinda funny until we had to change our camping arrangements. Instead of relaxing for the evening, we now had to continue paddling all the way back to the confluence and beyond to camp on the Pine Ridge side of the reservoir.

We were set up at dark and relaxed for dinner.

It rained for much of the night and I arose early to get coffee going. We were on the reservoir by 6:30am and heading back to the confluence. We went back up the Raspaculo Branch in search of artificial nest boxes. We spent the morning and early afternoon bushwhacking our way around the edges of the river and by noon were heading back downstream.

As we paddled downstream, dark, ominous clouds pushed in from the south, sounding out loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightning. Close and closer, they finally reached us and a wall of rain passed over...cold, giant drops pounded us. We fought through it and by the time we reached the main part of the reservoir it finally began to lighten up. It was good timing because we were reaching the last of the artificial nests.

We quickly took habitat measurements, in pain now as my feet were now beginning to deteriorate with the hellish river rot that we cannot seem to escape from, regardless of the type of footwear and rigorous nightly cleaning. It's just painful.
The last kayak bilging for Brad.

We made our way to the Ballerina Rd take-out, reflecting on this project and the unreal nature of it and the fact that we had completed out season in the Chiquibul. Words really cannot describe this experience.

It was the most amazing place I have worked...it gave to me and it took away...I walk away a changed person.

Our fond farewell to the reservoir...one hell of a ride.

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