Manu National Park, Manu Wildlife Center
August 2, 2015
This morning we got up at 4:30 AM, walked down to the Alto Madre de Dios River and boarded our two boats in the dark. The reason we left so early was to be in place at the lick before the parrots arrived to reduce stress on the birds. We boated about a half-hour back up the river, disembarked at an unmarked place on the river bank, then walked for about an hour across a forested island that was formed by a bend in the river to the Blanquillo Macaw Clay Lick. The blind was an impressive structure consisting of two large covered raised platforms (with swivel chairs placed in front of the opening and a toilet no less) connected by a covered hallway. The red clay cliff that formed the lick was no more than 30 meters directly across the narrow river from the blind. We were the only group there this morning so we could move between the two areas freely depending on where the birds were. We settled into the chairs with our cameras and waited for the show to start.
Each species of parrot had its modus operandi. When we arrived, a group of Blue-headed and Yellow-crowned Parrots were flitting between tree tops and then the Red-and-green Macaws started arriving, followed by Scarlet Macaws. The Macaws always travel in mated pairs sometimes accompanied by their grown juvenile. The birds first settle in the trees in single-species groups, to gain confidence and check for predators. After about 90 minutes, a few parrots cautiously flew down, grabbing the cliff-side with strong claws, then a few more joined until a tipping point is reached and all the parrots joined, all the while squawking and calling to each other in a loud ruckus. At one point there were 50 or more birds on the cliff-side. Getting a close-up look with a spotting scope, we could see the macaws plucking chunks of mineral-ladened clay from the cliff, holding it in their dexterous feet, and nibbling it with strong beaks. Now and then, some unknown cause would spook all the parrots off the cliff in a noisy chaos, when they would have to start the confidence-building process all over again. Throughout their range, parrots must ingest clay to supply the salt in their diet that is normally absent. Salt helps keep toxins ingested with seeds and fruits in solution so kidneys or liver can eliminate them from the body. Clay-licks are a strong attraction for the birds as well as humans who otherwise wouldn’t get such a nice look at all these wonderful parrot species in one place.
After getting a few good looks at the spectacle, a complete breakfast was served: coffee, French toast, hard boiled eggs, and other assorted goodies that the guides and boatmen brought for us. After quite a show, at 10 AM we trudged back down the path to the boats and returned to our lodge for lunch.
After lunch and a short power nap, many of the group reconvened for a hike that took us to another clay lick – this one was popular with Brazilian Tapirs. During our walk we saw Brown Capuchin Monkeys and Black Spider Monkeys. We all agreed that spider monkeys are aptly named after watching them easily navigate high in the forest canopy. As they dangled and moved between tree limbs they resembled large spiders with long black limbs stretching in what seemed like impossible directions.
About 90 minutes before dark we arrived at the tapir lick – a very different one from the macaw clay lick. A dozen mosquito-netted beds (single mattress with sheet, pillow and blanket) were laid on a high platform overlooking a very muddy clay area below. Satu and Juan ported our box dinners and now distributed them to us as we chose a bed and scrambled under the net. Satu explained to us that we would hear the plunging and sucking of tapir feet as they walked in the mud in the dark. We finished our dinners as it grew dark then we lay down and started our wait for the tapir – it was unbelievably dark in the middle of this remote forest. As we lay dozing, Satu informed us that the tapir had arrived but we only caught a brief glimpse in his flashlight before the shy animal scurried away. We remained at the blind until 7:30 PM but the tapir did not return. We did watch many large bats flying above the lick. As we hiked back to the lodge by headlamp we saw an Amazon pink snake, a nasty looking poisonous scorpion, and other nocturnal creatures.