Saturday 20 August 2016

Macaws at the Chuncho claylick, largest colpa in Amazonia, Tambopata National Reserve, Peru

Listening to macaws gathered in palms over a claylick must be the happiest sound on earth. In zoos they sound raucous, but in the wild, they are ecstatic, as they patiently wait for a safe moment to descend on what seems to be their shrine. The scientists at Tambopata Research Centre have been studying their behaviour at Chuncho claylick for years, and have various theories as to why the macaws, parrots and mammals all come here to eat the mineral rich clay. The cliffs at the side of the creek are carved into caves by their beaks. 

The first morning I was there, the macaws gathered in the trees while the mealy and blue headed parrots came down to feed first, flocks of them. The macaws are easily spooked, just the shadow of an eagle and they flew past, their tails streaming behind them, like blue, yellow and red sunrays. They gather always in twos or threes, monogamous, longlived couples with their single juvenile chick. Their calls are like the voices of sunrays passing through a delicious but dangerous planet. The claylick, or colpa, must contain sacred salts or minerals, essential for their health, but what I saw was how they worshipped it, perched for hours before descending. 

Even when they did dare settle, one would usually be a lookout, and I noticed that the lookout faced us over on the opposite side of the creek. They knew we were there and when one of our groups tired of waiting for them to come down and left, it was a signal. Then down they came, much to our delight; we'd been waiting since dawn and it was now noon. 

In the photos below you can see blue and gold macaws, red and green macaws, mealy parrots, blue headed parrots, and scarlet macaws. In the last picture, Laura from TRC and a scientist volunteer are with the tame wild scarlet macaws which were hand raised as chicks. They were once near extinction so the scientists removed the second chicks from nests (that the parents neglect so they die) and hand raised them. They nest up in ironwood trees near the centre and return for banana treats and reguarly steal the breakfast of guests. While I was there Tobasco stole my breakfast bun and the butter.