Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Morning at the Macaw Clay Lick

It had rained all night at the Manu Wildlife Center, in the Southern Peruvian Amazon.  So, it was a very soggy morning when Marlene, our jungle guide from Inkanatura, came knocking on my door at 4:30 to wake me up for our trip to the Macaw Clay Lick. This wake-up call turned out to be unnecessary since the thunderstorms had already performed that function.

Despite my exhaustion from the previous day's activities, my state of excitement and anticipation, had kept me awake for most of the night. I laid under my mosquito net, in my jungle bungalow, listening to the rainfall, the pitter patter of small mammals, and various animal sounds, throughout the night. 

Emerging from my mosquito net enclosure, I felt around for my trusty Mini Maglite. It was still dark, and I had to use flashlights and candles in my electricity challenged bungalow. The entire lodge had no electricity, only a generator which was used to recharge camera batteries and such modern day vital electronic gadgets. In the spirit of full disclosure, I  might also add it was used to make blended cocktails!

My Bungalow by candlelight!

This is what my bungalow, called, "Garza" or Egret, looked like in daylight.
It was cozy and had "jungle charm"!

Having prepared everything the night before, I dressed quickly, and donned my rain gear. Now, I was really glad I had bought the REI rain pants, which had been on the “recommended gear” list for this trip—there’s a reason it’s called the rainforest! I slipped a rain cover on my daypack which carried my all important camera gear. 

The Manu Wildlife Center lodge dining room became our standard meeting place. There were four of us in our group: Charmaine and Dan, a couple from northern California, Shinji a Japanese guy currently living and working in New York City, and myself. Marlene was our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide who was fulfilling her lifelong dream of working at Manu. There were also other groups and guides staying at the lodge. We had a pre-breakfast snack, by candlelight, to provide the fuel needed until our official breakfast at the Macaw Clay Lick lookout point.

An early breakfast by candlelight!

After boarding the motorized canoe, we headed south on the Madre de Dios River. It was overcast and sprinkling. I really enjoyed these canoe trips: The cool breeze, the fresh water spray, observing the river banks, looking for birds, caymans, and other animals. Marlene would suddenly point out a bird in the distance and we would struggle to locate it with our binoculars. Marlene could find a needle in a haystack, and was very determined and patient with us in her attempts to direct our non-trained eyes to these sightings.

The floating platform at the Manu Wildlife Center, from which we boarded
the motorized canoe. This, of course taken at a much sunnier time.

The Madre de Dios River presents a challenging obstacle course for these
motorized canoe drivers who must navigate around trees and branches which
have fallen into the river due to erosion along the river banks.
Also, there are a lot of small islands and shallow areas.

The motorized canoe served as our transportation up and down the river.

I looked forward to our relaxing canoe rides.

The canoe dropped us off at a point from which we then had to walk to the viewing platform. As I sank into the mud and wet vegetation with each step, I was glad I had worn the rain boots provided by the lodge, instead of my usual hiking boots.

The trail to the Macaw Clay Lick viewing platform.

Walking up to the viewing platform.

The expansive, open, wooden viewing platform was built on stilts, to accommodate flooding during the wet season. It was protected thatch siding and a corrugated metal roof. It had a large open viewing area facing the Macaw Clay Lick. Our group, took up positions along the viewing area.  

The Manu Wildlife Center Macaw clay lick viewing platform.

I set up my fairly new Nikon D90 DSLR on my lightweight Benro Travel Angel carbon fiber tripod, with a 70-300mm Sigma lens. I had this lens for years and now wished I had invested in a better quality, longer lens for this trip. 

Lens envy! 

Bird watching of any kind requires patience and we were at the observation platform for several very pleasant hours. We were never too far from our cameras and binoculars. At first we sighted a few Blue and Yellow Macaws flying around. They were difficult to shoot against the overcast sky. This was going to be photographically challenging for me, as I did not have much experience with bird photography.

Initially, the Macaws were just flying around, under an overcast sky.
I had trouble with the contrast, and condensation between my lens and UV filter.

The photo of this affectionate couple was taken
by Marlene Berrocal, our fearless leader.

Marlene had an interesting, and effective
technique of placing the camera lens against the telescope eyepie
Marlene and Charmaine

This photo was also taken by Marlene Berrocal through the telescope. 

Then, a few Red and Green Macaws appeared and started fluttering in pairs, from tree to tree. Soon, there were dozens upon dozens of them—perhaps hundreds—flying around, squawking loudly. Cameras started clicking like crazy, in particular those of us with DSLR’s using “burst” mode. Excitedly, we were all in a shooting frenzy, and memory sticks were filling up fast!

We all hoped that the Macaws would now decide to go down to the clay lick. But instead, after teasing us for a while, they started flying away, leaving us frustrated. We thought we had lost the opportunity to photograph them on the clay lick. Maybe our cameras were too loud, Marlene said. However, being the expert, she remained hopeful that the Macaws would return, because they need the clay nearly every day to help with their digestion. We would continue waiting.

It was overcast with storm clouds heading our way. Soon the wind picked up and it started raining again. I listened to the sounds of the jungle: the thunder, the leaves blowing in the wind, a bee buzzing around me, crickets, tree frogs, and cicadas. 

At 10:40 a.m. the Red and Green Macaws started congregating again, as Marlene had predicted. She told us to hold off on the photos (the rapid clicking of the burst mode disturbs them) until they descended on the clay lick. They look like they might be ready to go eat the clay. Then we could start shooting and they wouldn’t mind. All I could hear now was our whispering, and their loud squawking. I wondered what they were saying to each other.

Our colorful subjects were hanging out on the vegetation facing us, above the clay lick—a foreground of fluttering red and blue against a background of green. Although they are called Red and Green Macaws, they have more blue than green on their wings. 

Then, the time came, and they started descending and feeding on the clay lick minerals. The rapid firing of cameras resumed. The vibrant colors of the Macaws against the neutral clay, was dramatic. They remained on the clay lick for quite a while; I lost track of time, but realize that we were very fortunate to witness this display.

This is one of my favorite Images from my experience.

After their grand performance, the stars of the show—the Red and Green Macaws—started to fly away, first a few at a time, then the sky was filled with Red, Blue, and Green.

Leaving the Macaw Clay Lick and moving on to other adventures in Manu.

1 comment:

  1. Love your photos Anabela ... wish you had made them larger. Blogger offers this possibility ... Here are my recent adventures to the Amazon (including the clay lick) ... huge trees of the Tombopato Reserve and ... the macaw clay-lick on the Tombopato River of Peru hope it adds to discussion :)