November 23, 2002
Clay Lick and Scarlet Macaws
Tambopata Research Center, Peru
Another pre-dawn wake up call and we were off to the macaw clay lick. We slipped into large rubber boots and took the boat upriver then plodded along the trail to the observation area. Soon the macaws began arriving in pairs, passing the clay lick and landing in the trees above. When they deemed their numbers sufficient to discourage predators, a few macaws began circling the lick in search of a safe place to land. Others soon followed and eventually there were hundreds of different colored macaws feasting on the clay. Most had chosen to land at the far end of the clay lick, just visible to the naked eye. We took turns with binoculars and the telescope, identifying different species and admiring their beautiful colors. All 6 species of macaws stopped by the lick in addition to a variety of parrots, parakeets, and a few stragglers from other species. We waited at the lick until the last bird left, shortly after 7 am, and returned to the lodge for breakfast.
Steve had decided not to get up for the clay lick, but instead had a macaw come visit him. As he was lying in bed, a Scarlet Macaw landed on the short wall right in front of him and watched him for a few minutes. He teased me that he had a much better view than I had at the clay lick, but I was soon vindicated when the same macaw met our group for breakfast. He was quite forward, stealing papaya out of our fruit salad when the kitchen staff turned their backs. Aldo explained that he was one of the "Chicos", a handful of macaws who had been hand raised at the lodge in the early 90s as part of an experimental breeding project. The project was a success and similar techniques are now used elsewhere in areas that macaw numbers are dwindling. In Tambopata, additional breeding projects are not yet necessary so the project was discontinued. The hand raised macaws were released to the wild but often return for treats from the lodge staff and occasionally bring their shier wild mates along.
Later that morning, we took our longest and most stunning walk. We started out on a trail that ran along the top of the clay lick, just under the trees where we had seen the first macaws land that morning. The sun was excruciatingly hot as this trail was part of a dying bamboo forest and didn't have the welcome shade of the trails further inland. The heat and perspiration were bearable and we soon forgot our discomfort as we looked up to see a Dusky Titi Monkey with her young on her back about 10 feet above us.
Further down the trail we saw many of the macaws from the clay lick, but this time they were much closer, directly above us in the canopy. Brilliant colored Scarlet Macaws, Blue and Yellow Macaws, and a few Red and Green Macaws graced us with their presence. It was stunning to watch these birds take flight.
We continued on to the swamp where most Blue and Yellow Macaws nest in the dead palms there. It had started to rain so we didn't see many birds here but welcomed the cool drops. On the way back to the lodge, the skies had cleared but we began to hear a rustling like raindrops in the canopy above us. Playing and eating in the forest canopy was a group of squirrel and capuchin monkeys. They gracefully jumped from one tree to the next, showering us with leaves as they alighted on each branch.
Back at the lodge, I had another shower and prepared for our afternoon walk. This time when we heard the telltale leaves rustling, I knew to scan the treetops right away and soon spotted the monkeys feasting overhead. We watched as one sly squirrel monkey deftly broke off a stick in his path. Then the naughty primate threw the stick at us and the other monkeys followed suit. We were being besieged. The sticks weren't large but we quickly took the point that our disturbance was not appreciated and moved on down the trail. We spotted some peccary tracks but could never quite track down the large boar- like mammals. Aldo did entice a poison dart frog out of his bamboo pole home and pointed to the nest of a Goliath bird-eating tarantula that wasn't there when we called. We marveled at the huge kapok tree that was nearly 15 ft wide and headed back to the lodge as darkness fell.