Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Macaw Clay Lick of the Tombopato Reserve, Peruvian Amazon







the riverbank of the Tombopato
the riverbank of the Tombopato
We wake at 4 AM, using torches to navigate our way to the riverbank and onto the boat, immediately embarking on our journey upstream to the heart of the Tombopato Reserve and its highlight, the macaw claylick.
It's pitch dark, save the starry Amazonian sky. Our guide scans the banks with a high beam of light, in hopes of catching the red glow reflected back by the animals of the jungle. A pair of capybaras are spotted, though it's too dark to appreciate their form as they quickly hide, submerging themselves beneath the murky water.

video: the Tombopato River, just after sunrise

The sun rises sometime after 5 AM, soon after we veer away down a maze of smaller tributaries before we finally dock on a muddy bank. I step out of the boat, my boots sinking deep into what's nearly quicksand. It takes great effort to haul myself up the bank.
video: this is the riverbank I speak of above, and walk to the clay lick 
through the drenched pathways of the jungle

macaws arriving @ Tombopato macaw claylick
The Tombopato Reserve macaw clay-lick (on the right) from afar as the birds arrive
blue headed parrot
blue headed parrot- can you spot it with
what is otherwise perfect camoflauge

A five minute walk through the water laden ground, and we emerge at the observation area of the clay-lick. The dawn air is thick with mist and voracious mosquitoes which my arms windmill away, swatting a few in the process. 
So as not to disturb the shy birds, the observation point is situated in excess of 100 meters from the nutrient rich cliff, separated by a small river and swampy ground on the other side. It doesn't exactly lend itself to good viewing via the naked eye, so in turn we set up a telescope where we can get an eagle eye's view of the show.

Right on schedule at 6 AM the first wave of birds rolls through, in this case green and blue headed parrots with a few of the larger macaws intermixed.
It's rather fascinating to watch bird behavior mirror that of humans. When the parrots first arrive, they sit in the trees above the clay-lick, surveying, cautious, wary of predators, specifically their eternal nemesis, the Harpy Eagle. ...
Then one brave bird ventures down and begins to pick at the clay. Thirty seconds later another one joins, and following the psychological principle of "social proof" (defined by the belief that what everyone else is doing must be right/ safe) the rest of the birds follow suit and join.
green parrots + scarlett macaws @ Tombopato macaw claylick
green parrots + a few macaws- first feeders

The birds continue to feed until they've either had their fill, or are frightened away by a predator. When it's the latter, they fly away in unison, squawking the entire flight.
Some of you might ask, and rightfully so, I thought parrots ate fruit? Well yes, they do, and the clay lick offers the birds minerals which detoxify their body. (holistic healers rejoice)
Waves of parrots descend upon the clay-lick, cautiously nibbling, then leaving, making way for a new groups of feeders.
While mixed, most waves contain a predominant number of birds from a single species, today ranging from the early feeders- blue headed and green parrots, which give way to red and green macaws, then blue and gold, then finally followed by the scarlet macaws who close out the diner.
The birds nip and dig into the nutrient rich cliff until 10 AM. We're there for a full stimulating and awe inspiring four hours.
This was by far the highlight of the time I spent in the Amazon Jungle, and not to be missed. Absolutely fascinating and intoxicating.

by far the best video I took. It starts with a look at the claylick from afar, then jumps to the view of the feeding macaws through the telescopic lens, then at around the 1:35 mark, the birds get scared and fly away in unison, squawking the whole time.  

 birds feeding on the clay-lick at 4x zoom
birds feeding on the clay-lick at 4x zoom- you can see other in the trees (from well over 100 meters away)
macaws @ Tombopato macaw claylick
blue + gold with scarlett macaws

video: watch macaws gingerly descend on clay-lick
blue + gold macaw with scarlett macaws in trees
blue + gold macaw with scarlett macaws in trees
blue + gold, scarlett macaws @ Tombopato macaw claylick
feeding time

scarlett macaws @ Tombopato macaw claylick
scarlet macaws @ Tombopato clay-lick
macaws @ clay-lick Tombopato Reserve
macaws @ clay-lick Tombopato Reserve
macaws @ clay-lick Tombopato Reserve
such beautiful birds (red + green intermixed with scarlet macaws
 macaws @ clay-lick Tombopato Reserve, Perumacaws @ clay-lick Tombopato Reservefeeding macaws @ clay-lick Tombopato Reserve

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