As many of my followers know, I spent most
of January in Ecuador hoping to see and photograph some of the
1,600 bird species known to inhabit this diverse country that's
roughly the size of Colorado. Home to some 82 volcanoes, Ecuador
ranges from sea level to over 20,000 feet. The Andes Mountains
are steep, rugged and clothed in a botanists dream of trees,
vines, bromeliads, orchids and of course, clouds.
Along the Napo River in the Amazonian
Rainforest section of Ecuador our group stayed in the
thatched-roof huts of Sani Lodge for four nights. Our native
guide, from the Sani tribe, took us one morning to a clay lick
within the Yasuni National Park to see Scarlet Macaws up close
and personal. The vividly colored Scarlet Macaw was a species I
had on my bucket list.
Settling into our building that served as
our blind I baptized myself in mosquito repellant. I wondered if
the repellant wasn't actually an attractant as I watched a
platoon of mosquitoes drill right through my clothing and into
my skin. Fortunately I had taken malaria prevention medication
earlier. Our guide whispered something in Kichwa, the local
language, to the other guides present.
"It will be worth the pain and suffering,"
I told myself to see such a bird adorned as brightly as a
rainbow and one I had longed to see in it's natural habitat. But
could I be still and quiet long enough to not bring undue
attention to myself by swatting at the enemy?
The loud, raucous calls of the Scarlet
Macaws could be heard from great distances high in the forest
canopy as they cautiously made their way closer and closer to
the clay lick. But what exactly is a clay lick you may ask?
Parrots, parakeets and macaws will
intentionally ingest mineral rich soil to aid in the digestion
of many of the toxic fruits they eat. They've been doing this
for eons and know exactly where to find these areas. Birders
refer to these sites as clay licks. Think of cattle licking a
salt or mineral block and you get the idea.
They say time flies when you're having
fun. But when multiple mosquitoes are attempting to devour you,
time slows to a crawl. Fortunately our local guide carried a
machete to defend us from the larger mosquitoes. A few medium
sized mosquitoes attempted to connect an IV to one of the
tourists before their efforts were discovered and halted.
After two hours of calling and staging
themselves, the macaws began to assemble high in the trees above
the clay lick. Their keen eyes searched every inch for would be
predators such as hawks, snakes and cougars before their ever so
slow descent from the canopy. The birds descent was as if they
were walking down a set of stairs ever so cautiously, pausing,
keenly aware, always looking, always watching. Now visible, the
macaws caused me to temporarily forget the blood letting going
on in my body from these descendants of vampires - mosquitoes. I
was mesmerized as a Scarlet Macaw dropped to the clay lick and
began eating the soil. Then a second, third and fourth bird
joined the banquet. The birds dropped their heads to feed then
raised their heads to swallow in a well choreographed routine.
The only sounds were the birds and camera
shutters firing as we savored the moment some 40 feet away. The
event lasted perhaps 15 minutes as Orange-cheeked Parrots joined
the macaws. By now the trees were alive with hundreds of birds
including Cobalt-winged Parakeets. The noise of hundreds of
birds was so loud if this clay lick had been located in the
United States, our EPA would mandate observers to have hearing
Finally, our joy at seeing these beautiful
birds was shattered as a herd of 30+ Whitelipped Peccaries, a
mammal closely related to pigs, moved in to enjoy the mineral
rich soil. As the birds flushed into the safety of the trees I
wondered if any of us would require a blood transfusion to
return to the safety of our thatched-roof hut we called home in
the eastern portion of Ecuador known as Sani Lodge.