The Macaw Lick

Boarding the boats, Manu Nat’l. Park, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Peru Village on Madre de Dios Tributary of Amazon. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Our wildlife-seeking travel group had piled into motorized canoes and spent the next week on the Madre de Dios River, an Amazon tributary, exploring Manu National Park. The hike to the macaw lick was to be one of the highlights, and it was.

 

Found only in the New World, macaws are some of the biggest parrots on earth.

Scarlet Macaws, Manu Nat’l Park, Peru, South America.

Up to that point, we had been hearing them from our canoes, but they flew so high, they merely looked like ants way up there. The low, guttural squawk, however, made for easy identification.

Amazon river (near top) and jungle, aerial photo. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

In 1989 a research team began a macaw research project here. Big, bold and colorful, the birds had been diminishing for years, due to deforestation and illegal poaching for the pet trade.

 

The team chose an obscure section of riverbank for its natural mineral supplies that are important to the birds, and that’s where we were headed.

 

A macaw’s diet is primarily seeds, flowers, and fruits which have naturally-occurring toxins designed to protect the plant.  The minerals in the riverbank clay, at this site, have a neutralizing effect on the toxic alkaloids the macaws ingest.

 

The research team had built a blind across from the Blanquillo Clay Lick to study the macaws. They prepared palm trees to provide nesting habitat, studied nesting patterns, and over the years steadily increased the reproductive output.

 

The Macaw Society aka Tambopata Macaw Project 

 

To avoid disturbing the macaws, we left our campsite at dawn to arrive at the Macaw Lick ahead of the birds. We hiked the sloppy mud trail through a thick tangle of rainforest and moldy debris; walked through a small banana plantation, too. The Amazonian rainforest has lots of rain which means: mud, humidity, abundant wildlife, and a fast rate of decomposition.

Our bird group hiking to the Clay Lick. I’m in the center with blue backpack. Photo: Athena Alexander

This is the blind, below. You can see the clay riverbank in the back center (brown), stretching widely on each side of the blind, where the anticipated macaws were supposed to arrive if we were lucky.

The Blanquillo Macaw Lick blind, near Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Athena Alexander

We were told that once we were inside the blind, we would not be able to leave again until the birds had flown off. There was a toilet in there, and it had a door.

 

At first, for about an hour, there were no macaws. It was steamy and really hot inside this thatched hut, and biting mosquitoes were rampant. I kept myself distracted by studying whatever creatures came along. Those two empty chairs are where Athena and I sat.

Group inside the blind.

 

This beauty arrived, among many.

 

Julia Butterfly, Manu Nat’l Park, Peru

 

Then the thrill began. A few macaws flew in making a racquet, and landed in the palms. Cameras started clicking.

Red and Green Macaws on palm trees, Manu Nat’l. Park, Peru

Eventually more macaws gathered. They congregated in the palms, gregarious and animated.

 

Before long it was a cacophony of squawking and screeching, and a kaleidoscope of colorful macaws. They clung to vines and roots, and dug their strong bills into the clay soil.

Red and Green Macaws, Blanquillo Clay Lick, Manu Nat’l. Park, Peru

 

Red and Green Macaws

 

These blue-headed parrots also joined the party.

 

Blue-headed Parrots, Blanquillo Clay Lick. Photo: Bill Page

 

As the morning unfolded, the 100+ birds gradually began to move on, and eventually every bird had departed. They say the birds come every day, unless it’s raining.

 

A wonderful place in the river’s bend where birds can socialize and get their daily requirements, and humans can huddle on the sideline, bedazzled by this brilliant spectacle.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander and Bill Page, as noted.

Amazon Basin, Madre de Dios, Peru

 

91 thoughts on “The Macaw Lick

  1. How exciting to see such a spectacle. I am always in awe at the places you and Athena visit and really appreciate that you share these experiences with us.
    Thinking of you and hoping that the writing is going well. Janet 🙂

    • It is a great pleasure sharing the Amazon jungle and the macaws with you today, Janet. Thanks so much for your visit, as always. I sure enjoyed ythe virtual visit to Wales with you! Hope your weekend is a joy.

  2. Jet, I am bedazzled just with Athena’s and Bill’s photos……WOW! What an amazing observation to watch unfold. I was impressed with the blind too, I’ve never seen one so nice. 🙂 It all looks wonderful, but I know there’s the downside of being uncomfortable enduring the bugs and humidity as you waited. It’d be worth it to me too!

    • Yes, the macaws were a great joy, and oh, such astounding tropical birds — I am grateful I had the opportunity to share them with you, Donna. The blind was actually pretty funky: buggy and foul-smelling and so very hot. But it was such a grand experience, as you say, it was truly worth it. I’m sure you would enjoy it too. Warm thanks.

  3. Brilliant spectacle indeed, I am still in ah of it all! Well produced and thoroughly thought out your
    exciting post on these exquisite products of nature delight the eye and fascinate the mind.
    Thank you for sharing your trip with us Jet.

    • Great fun to receive your lovely comment, dear Eddie. The macaws do indeed delight the eye and fascinate the mind, wonderful words from you, thank you. Thanks so very much for stopping by, Eddie, it’s a joy.

  4. What an amazing adventure! I’ve always loved macaws. In college, I had a friend who owned one. It was such a friendly bird. Thanks for taking us along, Jet. The photos are incredible!

    • I liked hearing that your college friend’s macaw was friendly. I have heard they are intelligent birds and live a long time. But I do like seeing them wild and free in the rainforest better. I’m happy I could take you, too, to the rainforest for an adventure today, Jill. Thanks so much for your visit, much appreciated.

    • Yes, it took some patience to wait out, but you’re right, it was worth it to see the beautiful birds on their daily routine. Thanks so much, Anneli. Hope your weekend is pleasant….

    • Yes, it was a spectacular experience, Eliza, and yes, noisy too. Smells in the rainforest, with the rapid decomposition of plants and animals, is pungent, like strong rotting or the compost pile. So there you have all the senses too, ha. Glad you liked that photo, those outstretched wings are so psychedelic. Always a pleasure, my friend, I hope you have a delightful weekend in your garden.

  5. I never cease to be amazed at the lengths you two go to to see special creatures. I am so grateful that you do – and that you share your unique experiences with us, as we sit comfortably at our computers…

    • Well thank you, Nan. This trip to the Amazon was by far the most trying physically, even harder than Africa. It is not an environment for humans, not really, and it is easy to see why Theodore Roosevelt got so deathly ill there. It, was however, really really fun and we saw so many incredible wildlife spectacles. Always a joy when you stop by, thank you.

  6. Your pictures bring me memories of the rainforest area of Peru. Manu has a wealth of never classified birds, waiting to be discovered. The macaws are colorful and beautiful birds. Thank you Jet for the wonderful post. 🙂

    • I thought of you, HJ, when I was composing this post, for all the great times you had in Peru long ago and just last year. Yes, Manu is a wealth of wildlife, some of it still unclassified. We are so lucky to have this pristine protected biosphere still on this planet. My warmest thanks, dear friend.

  7. The birds are so amazingly colorful, both the macaws and the parrots, that they seem almost unreal. I am always amazed by photos of tropical rainforests, where the birds, insects, and plants all seem super saturated and brightly colored. I am thankful that you shared the entire experience with us, Jet, and not just the beautiful photos that Athena and Bill were able to capture. The slog through the mud, the endless waiting in the blind, the bugs and the smells–all of that contributed, I’m sure, to making the encounter especially memorable for you. Thanks for taking us along.

    • Hi Mike, I am grateful that you enjoyed the Amazon post so thoroughly today. The wildlife was truly terrific, and you would love all the insects. You could spend years here and never know all the ant species. Thanks so much for joining the adventure, your visit is much appreciated.

  8. What an adventure! I’m glad the toilet had a door, although I’m guessing it was probably considered a luxury. I can see a good murder mystery arising from the macaws (perhaps you’ve already written it?)

    • The toilet in the blind was merely a pit toilet, so you can imagine how odiferous it was, and yes, the door was indeed a luxury. That week of adventures in the Amazon (espec., as you say, that blind) is indeed a good source of murder stories for this mystery writer, as you astutely thought. I’m working now, however, on a mystery set in the Wine Country, since that’s where I’m spending all my time during the lockdown. A great joy to have you stop by, always appreciated.

  9. Those macaw photos are so spectacular! We visited a couple licks along the Napo tributary in Ecuador. It really was the highlight of the entire trip. We only saw a couple macaws, but many other kinds of parrots.

    • I liked knowing you went to some Licks in Ecuador, Eilene. Ecuador has a vast array of tropical birds and rainforest. This Lick in Manu is apparently the largest Clay Lick of its kind in the world. I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just something the tour company concocted. Thanks for your contribution here, and your visit was a pleasure, as always.

  10. How absolutely fabulous! What wonderful colours – spectacular birds indeed. That’s an amazing butterfly as well Jet, but what about those mosquitoes? I guess you had some protection, yes?

    • I’m happy to see you today, Alastair, and receive your wonderful comment. Yes, it was exhilarating to see these beautiful and colorful birds wild in the rainforest. I love that butterfly photo, too. The mosquitoes, well they were pretty bad, but definitely worth it. My warmest thanks, Alastair, and best wishes for a great weekend and week ahead.

  11. Another truly wonderful photo story from the two, pardon me, three of you. I have spent some time in Peru but I never noticed such a beautiful butterfly or got to see such colourful birds. Awesome photos!
    Wishing you a good weekend. x

  12. The macaws are exceptionally beautiful, and I’m thrilled that you were able to see so many. On the other hand, I confess I was more attracted to the blue-headed parrots. Their colors, just slightly muted, are especially elegant, and the distinction between the head and the body emphasizes them wonderfully well. I was interested in the clay licks, too. I’m accustomed to salt licks, and when I read your title I wondered if a similar feature was involved. Indeed, it was. The birds coming to the lick reminded me of butterflies ‘mud-puddling’ for their minerals.

    • I, too, find those blue-headed parrots so very elegant, Linda. I’m happy you enjoyed the clay lick, and yes, similar to the salt licks. The butterfly on the gravel probably was soaking up salt or other minerals as well, as you say, same concept as mud-puddling. Never ending mysteries of nature, ahhh. Many thanks!

    • Yes, it was a remarkable experience, BJ. I’m sure you would love that spot in the world. The birds down there in Manu are so varied and abundant. Myh warmest thanks for your lovely visit today.

    • Yes, so right, Michael Stephen, the macaws and parrots are indeed so photogenic. Usually the macaws fly really high in the sky, so this was a great photo opportunity. Thank you for your visit.

  13. What a thrill to see these Macaws and blue parrots! Amazing colors and stunningly beautiful.
    Thank you so much, Jet for sharing this special trip with us.

    • I just looked up the Timneh African Gray, they are beautiful birds. I read they are intelligent and good mimickers, too. Glad you could join the Amazon macaws and parrots today, Sherry. Always a pleasure to have you stop by, thank you.

    • You bring up an expansive topic on the reason for bird coloration, Andrea. Color has many functions, two are attracting mates and camouflage. I do love birding in the tropical regions where parrots and macaws like these are so strikingly bright and bold. I’m happy you enjoyed the macaw post, thanks for your visit.

    • I’m glad you felt like you were there in the Amazon with us and the macaws, Kirt. Knowing how much you celebrate bright colors, I know you would enjoy seeing flocks of these glorious birds. Many thanks, Kirt.

  14. Oh what a thrill! I can almost picture being there, but without the heat, humidity and biting insects. What about reptiles? Were there any reptiles? Not asking for much am I? Must say that you and Athena are inspirationally intrepid. (is that a word?)
    It’s great to be able to do this armchair travel with all the comforts of home. Literally. 😀

    • This adventure in the Amazon was by far the most physically taxing, so it’s a good one for armchair travel, Gunta. There was so much dampness one could never be in dry clothes. Great fun though. Yes, reptiles were present. We saw plenty of caiman along the river’s edge, and some of the group saw a rainbow boa one night. Believe it or not, it was the ants that were most commonly menacing, because they were everywhere all the time. Some ant species, like the bullet ant, have especially potent and painful stings. I got bit by an ant that dropped out of a tree onto my hand. My hand swelled up instantly and got really big. I took a Benadryl right away and it was okay within 24 hours. I’m glad you could vicariously join us for this adventure. Always a delight to “see” you, my friend.

  15. Fantastic birds in all the colors of the rainbow. I have only had the privilege of visiting Peru once. Unfortunately no macaws, but much more. Can not help thinking about our fascination with colorful birds. Unfortunately, in many cases it has led to illegal capture and sale. This type of photo safari may give some species a chance back. Thanks for a nice report.

  16. So colourful! I love your adventures, particularly how you describe what it takes to reach where you need to be. The biting bugs and malodorous blind – I couldn’t do it. Hats off!

    • I have no doubts that you could and would venture through unpleasantries for the adventure, pc. You who picnic in the cold and rain, and take large youth groups out on boats and trail-building trips. I think we both love the outdoors so much that the thrills far outweigh the momentary discomforts. Truly wonderful to receive our words and visits today. Appreciate you taking time out on BC Day to stop by. Happy BC Day!

    • There is a surreal aspect to it, I imagine, so many colors and parrots. But there’s something about the humidity and strong odors and bug bites that assure you while you’re there, that it is indeed real. Great fun to share it with you, Inese, thank you.

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