Rosemary Low tells us about her trip to Mato Grosso.
To read part 1 click here.
In Brazil it is illegal to keep Parrots, except for half a dozen very common (mainly exotic) species. But still, poaching of Amazon chicks goes on in most areas.
At this ranch the Parrots are not only safe but increasing. André set up a release programme in 2009, with confiscated birds, under the auspices of the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA.
After two years he has released 162 Blue-fronts and 24 Blue and Yellow Macaws. They spend some time (varying according to their flight capabilities) in large release cages not far from the ranch buildings.
While confined they are visited by wild Blue-fronts and this surely makes their integration into the flock much easier. One pair did not go far. They were nesting under the roof of a building close to the release site! Here the female was incubating three eggs.
Nesting closer to the lodge, right at the entrance to the drive, were Quakers in their stick constructions.
I was there at first light one morning to see them fly out to their feeding area. The departure of about fifty was synchronised. A few (perhaps incubating) stayed in the nests.
It was very interesting, to observe on two consecutive mornings just before it was fully light, a mating pair of White-eyed Conures.
It appeared that they were using a compartment in one of the Quakers’ nests. I noticed that the male had quite large areas of red feathers on his face.
Next to the Quakers, of all the Parrots in the area, the Hyacinths were the easiest to observe. This is not only because they are large, loud and unmistakable, but because they are the least concerned about the presence of man. Unfortunately, this led to them being trapped in huge numbers in the past, causing a dreadful crash in their populations.
Fortunately, in the Pantanal they are doing well now, protected by conservation-minded lodge owners like André. He also provides artificial nests and plants acurí palms, whose nuts are the principal food of this, the biggest and most imposing of all Macaws.
It was always a delight to come across them, generally in twos or fours, and when they were perched they allowed a close approach, peering down and growling if they thought we were getting too close. But often they did not take off but just regarded us with interest.
When they did depart, the sight of them in the air was spectacular! Huge beak, enormous wingspan and long tail make them unforgettable. To say nothing of the deep blue, glossy plumage! It is a privilege to see such a sight in nature! However, it also causes one to question the ethics of keeping such large, mobile birds in captivity.
All too soon it was time to leave the Pantanal, where the wealth of wildlife included capybaras (of course), caimans (dozens crammed together in pools at the end of the dry season, waiting for the rains), otters on the river, coatis, peccaries, a small group of black-tailed marmosets and, at night, even a tapir with a young one.
We returned to Cuiabá where we took a flight to Alta Floresta in the Amazon region. We stayed at the famous Cristalino Jungle Lodge in the Cristalino Private Forest Reserve.
The lodge is situated in a small clearing at the river’s edge within 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of pristine forest. The individual bungalows are the height of luxury. Only electricity is rationed.
With relaxing boat trips every day (bird spotting on the river with hot sunshine on one’s back is my idea of heaven!) and only the odd shower of rain, what more could we have asked?
The lodge here has two excellent observation towers, each 50m high, with extraordinary views over a seemingly endless sea of rainforest. On our first morning, as we climbed the steel steps, we had high expectations. Low cloud soon obscured our view — but not before we had seen in the distance two special species.
The first was the Yellow-tailed Caique, the little known sub-species of the White-bellied Caique which has a striking pure yellow tail. The second was Kawall’s Amazon, discovered as recently as 1989. It resembles a Mealy Amazon with bare patches of white skin on either side of the beak — a very unusual Parrot.
My priority here was the two species of Pyrrhura Conures, neither of which I had previously seen in the wild.
These Conures, unlike Aratinga species, are among the most difficult Parrots to observe. A covered observation platform “hide” had been erected above a small muddy pool whose mineral soil attracts Conures and other birds.
The Crimson-bellied often visited this area. From this hide one morning we saw four come in silently and settle on a horizontal branch about 18m away.
A fifth bird, the sentinel, was perched just above them. The other four birds seemed quite relaxed and preened themselves and each other.
The fifth bird knew we were there. He appeared to be observing us all the time, never relaxing for a second. His air was that of extreme watchfulness that I have observed in my own Crimson-bellieds when they believe a hawk or some other danger threatens.
After about twenty minutes, when they had not moved from their perching place, something frightened them and they suddenly departed silently. A few minutes later the sentinel reappeared, then the others came into view. Most of the time they were close to the perch they had used previously. At one point they descended a little way but the sentinel watched us for about forty minutes, apparently deciding it was not safe for them to descend while we were present. It was fascinating to see this behaviour in these small, highly intelligent birds.
One morning our guide Jorge took out a boat to take us to a small island which had been cultivated, with groves of cashew and mango trees. A first we were disappointed: no Parrots were seen.
Gradually they appeared: Blue and Yellow and Severe Macaws (they like to perch in palm trees), Blue-headed Pionus, White-eyed Conures and Orange-winged Amazons in the mango trees, Hawk-headed Parrots perched at the top of a tall tree and Blue-winged Parrotlets. A single, very beautiful little Orange-cheeked Parrot obligingly let us approach closely to photograph him as he sat in a cashew tree.
We would never have seen the Parrotlets if our guide had not pointed them out. Parrotlets resemble leaves in size and colour! But here they were not in a deciduous tree but right at the top of a cecropia, feeding on its catkins.
Cecropias are shaped like parasols and the Parrotlets were under the “spokes”. They were almost invisible! But Jorge knew where to look and when he got his scope on them, I was interested to see that one of these Blue-winged Parrotlets had a yellow face. He told me that he had once seen a lutino specimen.
These Parrotlets were the smallest Parrots in the area, along with the Dusky-billed, of which we had fleeting glances. The largest were the Green-winged Macaws (Hyacinthines are only very rarely seen in this Amazon region).
They were also one of the noisiest, most common and conspicuous Parrots. There were numerous sightings. The most memorable occurred one afternoon when four Green-wings flew into a tree loaded with orange fruits. They were so intent on feeding that they took little notice when we stood right below them, taking photos and listening to the cracking sound as they opened the fruits. After about 20 minutes they departed with bulging crops.
Of course, Parrots and other birds are not so easy to observe in the rainforest. It is much more challenging to actually watch birds.
Mato Grosso must be one of the most exciting places on earth to watch Parrots and other birds. I can’t wait to return! Perhaps I will even have a close-up of those beautiful Yellow-tailed Caiques!
To learn more about Parrot species like the ones Rosemary Low encountered on her trip to Brazil, and many others, view the Parrot Species Guides.