The Amazing Bolivian Parrot and Rare Macaw Escapade
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part 6 of the great bolivian parrot tour: the episode where i hop on a cessna and find the hyacinth macaw

2011-04-30 - 8:31 a.m.

all photos � 2011 by elaine radford
me with our cessna

Saturday, April 16, 2011, Santa Cruz to San Matias, Bolivia

You have reached Part 6 of the incredible Bolivian parrot tour. To start at the beginning, you may want to follow these links:

There was a huge, noisy rainstorm about 6 in the morning. I got some calls telling me that our plane would be delayed. More than one call, because the weather report kept changing and the pilot kept calculating new departure times, some later, some sooner. Either way, I had time to go forth and inspect the hotel breakfast buffet, which was a full buffet with everything including an omelet station. Good food and bad coffee, a theme of my trips to Bolivia. After awhile, I got the final phone call telling me that it was time to head out to the airport, so I checked out of my room and away we went.

I now met Parrot Guy for the first time in person, instead of just by email. He wanted to check out the scene himself, to see if there any possibilities for bigger tours. Also, I gathered that it had been awhile since he'd seen the Hyacinth Macaw for himself, so why not? At the airport, a large group of us waltzed from roadside to airside without passing through any security, although after awhile some guy came out and scribbled down the information on our passports or identity cards. Oh, and we met the owner of the ranch. You can't tell any more if a tanned, Botox'd person who gets their teeth professionally whitened is 40 or 60, but at first I took him to be 40, and then I realized -- the televangelist teeth in question were the tip-off, I'm afraid -- that he could just as well be my age or older, just very expensively preserved. Who knows these days? In any case, I figure he has to be the richest person I've ever met in Bolivia. Well, no duh...we're leasing a private airplane from the guy.

This Cessna seats four -- so it was S, me, Parrot Guy, and the pilot. The flight lasted about two hours and didn't get up too high, so I was highly entertained trying to snap photographs out my window.

After awhile, I couldn't avoid noticing that the darker patches on the ground that appeared to be shadows didn't match up with the clouds in the sky. It was a little spooky. I still haven't figured it out.

When we got to the ranch, we were still toting our bags to the door when we heard an unmistakable squawk. Macaws! It was the middle of the day and quite hot, but we grabbed our optics and dashed out into the yard. I saw some Piping-Guans but they slipped away before I could get anyone else's attention -- not to worry, though, we'd see others. Meanwhile, swoop! Two Hyacinth Macaws did a slow fly-by and then perched in a nearby tree. Heh. That sure didn't take long. I was informed that the Hyacinths had a route, and that it was supposed that this pair flew over from Brazil every day, since they tended to show up every day a bit after noon.

In other words, our timing was just about perfect to fly in and tag the bird with no waiting.

I was soon to learn that, like Peachfronts, Hyacinths are very affectionate birds who go two by two and spend most of their time in a state of togetherness. S. had a cute phrase that he had occasion to use several times whilst observing Hyacinth Macaws: They're embracing! And so they were. Snuggly, cuddly, huggy, kissy-face Hyacinth Macaws really touched your heart to watch them in action.

This part of the Bolivian Pantanal is 11 kilometers from Brazil and is, I think, 90% flooded. Having tagged the bird, we could kick back and drink cerveza for the rest of the visit except, oops, the ranch owner had not ordered any cerveza. After lunch, S. and I headed out to bird the airstrip, which is on relatively dry land, while PG went out to make some sound recordings.

In addition to more sightings of Hyacinth Macaw and Peach-Fronted Conure, we picked up a number of new life birds, not just for me, but also for S, since he had never visited this area before. Oh, and as we strolled over the wooden bridge, I finally got an excellent view of the Amazon Kingfisher in his metallic emerald finery. There many Monk Parakeets with big nesting colonies in various trees around the property, including a colony that had gotten so big that the nest had fallen to the ground, but for some reason I snapped a photo of a nosy Monk checking out a Rufous Hornero nest. This time, S. saw the Piping-Guans and we got the pair in the scope...Blue-Throated Piping-Guans, a nice lifer for me. The Nancunda Nighthawk also gave us great views. I'm not sure what it was doing, but it took plenty of time to do it, circling low and slow to give us views from every angle.

One of the best sightings of the day was not a life bird but, instead, an old friend, the Bat Falcon. The bird was perched right out on a bare snag, so S. got it in the scope. Once I had my eyes on the bird, he suddenly spread his wings and did a complete pirouette, to show me his handsome figure in a 360 degree spin. I have no idea of the purpose of the behavior, but I have to admit that I was utterly charmed.

As sunset approached, we noticed another bare snag with a hole in it. Two White Woodpeckers were perched outside, and a third one was peeping out. As we watched, more White Woodpeckers joined them, and I counted at least 10 in view at the same time. Do they all roost together at night? I thought it quite odd, but it made for a nice show.

two peach-fronts keeping a hairy eye on the funny-looking tourist birding the airstrip

The List

Today's fine crop of lifers, brought to you by the Hyacinth Macaw, will be marked in bold.

  1. Blue-Throated Piping-Guan
  2. Southern Screamer
  3. Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck
  4. Rufescent Tiger-Heron
  5. Black-Crowned Night-Heron
  6. Cocoi Heron
  7. Great Egret
  8. Whistling Heron
  9. Plumbeous Ibis--they are nesting now
  10. Buff-Necked Ibis
  11. Jabiru -- also nesting
  12. Wood Stork
  13. Limpkin
  14. Turkey Vulture
  15. Black VUlture
  16. Snail Kite
  17. Savanna Hawk
  18. Roadside Hawk
  19. Southern Crested Caracara
  20. Bat Falcon
  21. Wattled Jacana
  22. Southern Lapwing
  23. Picazuro Pigeon
  24. Pale-Vented Pigeon
  25. Ruddy Ground-Dove
  26. Picui Ground-Dove
  27. Scaled Ground-Dove
  28. Long-Tailed Ground-Dove
  29. Hyacinth Macaw
  30. Blue-Crowned Parakeet
  31. Peach-Fronted Parakeet
  32. Monk Parakeet
  33. Yellow-Chevroned Parakeet
  34. Blue-Headed Parrot
  35. Blue-Fronted Parrot
  36. Smooth-Billed Ani
  37. Guira Cuckoo
  38. Nacunda Nighthawk
  39. Amazon Kingfisher
  40. White Woodpecker
  41. White-Fronted Woodpecker
  42. Rufous Hornero
  43. Rufous Cacholote
  44. Cattle Tyrant
  45. Great Kiskadee
  46. Tropical Kingbird
  47. Thrushlike Wren
  48. Rufous-Bellied Thrush
  49. Chalk-Browed Mockingbird
  50. Sayaca Tanager
  51. Grassland Yellow-Finch
  52. Red-Crested Cardinal
  53. Buff-Throated Saltator
  54. Crested Oropendula
  55. Troupial
  56. Epaulet Oriole
  57. Chopi Blackbird
  58. Bay-Winged Cowbird

More adventures seeking the Hyacinth Macaw -- on horseback! -- in part 7.

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