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A Sad End for the Eggs of Encanta

Sarah Faegre | Oct 07, 2008


We discover that the macaws have been incubating dead eggs for the past three weeks and this sad news brings our work at Encanta to a close.

February 4th

Our time here at Encanta is wrapping up with 99% certainty that the nest is a failure.  Two dead eggs.  That is what the macaws have been carefully incubating and caring for during the past month.  After noticing that one of the eggs was smelling rotten and getting lighter and turning a dark, rotten opaque color, I removed and opened it, expecting to find a dead embryo inside.  Putrid, greenish liquid exploded all over me when I put a bit of pressure on the eggshell.  Either it was laid infertile or the embryo died after only a few days of incubation. 

We will leave the remaining egg of course, because we are not 100% sure that the egg is dead, although even if we were sure, it is probably best to let the macaws finish their nesting cycle naturally.  It would also be interesting to know how long the female would continue to incubate a dead egg, though chances are that she'll still be incubating it when we leave Encanta and no one will know how much longer she stays.  I wonder how common it is for Blue-throated Macaws to lay a clutch of infertile eggs, or for young embryos to die during the first few days of incubation.  Perhaps inexperienced parents do not always attend their eggs as consistently as necessary.  Yet, shouldn't they be able to tell that something has gone wrong when the eggs fail to hatch? 

All we can do at this point is take advantage of our remaining days at Encanta by getting the best photos possible of this pair.  The photos will be compared with past BTM photos and also used in future years of the project to track the activities of this particular pair.  This is a sad way to end my time with the Blue-throated Macaws, but it is also a reality check-the vast majority of nests fail during incubation, whether that is from predation, flooding, inattentive parents, or a doomed start with infertile eggs.

February 7th

Such complications!  Yesterday the boat finally came, bringing the family their long-overdue and much needed food supply.  As I climbed the nest one last time, I heard the motor approaching.  I candled the remaining egg for the last time and was overcome by a sudden uncertainty.  My experience candling parrot eggs was minimal and many years past.  What if I was wrong?  Could it be that the translucent, rosy pink color I was interpreting as a lack of life was actually a chick, filling the space within and nearly ready to hatch?  With this sudden feeling of absolute uncertainty I had to rush back from the nest, through waist deep water, in the broiling heat of the mid-day sun to arrive at Encanta just as the boat arrived.  This was our chance to get out, as least as far as Esperanza.  "Be ready in 15 minutes," one of the men told me. 

Steve and I took down the tent and readied our bags as fast as we could.  With all the rushing, the heat, and my sudden uncertainty about the egg, I was feeling sad and unprepared to leave.  I sat at the kitchen table with Lurdes, Rolando and 2 of the 3 guys who came on the boat: El Gordo, Don Basco, and Rolando's brother.  I asked them about getting to Trini from Esperanza. 

"Oh, it's extremely complicated right now," Don Basco told me.  "You have to get to the river, but there is no transportation passing on the road (1 km from Esperanza) because it is entirely flooded, and yet it is not the best route for boats coming from Loreto."  I told them that I could pay them to take us to the river from Esperanza, if they had the time to do so in the next few days.  "Not enough gas to get to the river," I am told.  And there is no gas for sale in Loreto right now. 

"When might more gas arrive in Loreto?" I asked.  My question was met with much laughter.  "Maybe August."
"So, can we get to the river by horse?" I asked. 
"Yes, yes, that can be done," they told me. 
"How deep is the water," I ask.  "Will the horse have to swim?"
"Yes, the horse will have to swim quite a lot, so you can only bring one small backpack." 
Okay, cross off that option. 
"So, it would be better to leave from Loreto then?" I ask.  "Is there enough gas to get us to Loreto?" 
"Yes, we can take you to Loreto," says Basco.  "But from there the trip to Trini is also complicated."
"Are there small planes traveling between Loreto and Trini?" I ask.
"Yes, but in these last few days the runway has flooded."
"So, from Loreto how might we get to Trini?" I ask.  I am given a complicated series of instructions about asking around in Loreto to find space on a boat going to a place called El Lomito (The Lump), where some people are living and boats can not cross because it is still dry.  From The Lump we must get another boat to the river, where, on the far side of the Rio Ibaré a truck might be making daily trips to Trini.  But Loreto is flooding, they tell me, and lots and lots of people are trying to get to Trini, so you might have to wait a few days to find space on a boat. 

And then, just as I picked up my backpack to begin loading our equipment onto the oxcart which would haul it 200 meters through the shallower water to the boat, Rolando came to me with an alternative plan: Steve and I will leave with Rolando and the school-age kids this coming Saturday or Sunday by hiring a boat (through a series of radio communications) to come and get us at Encanta and take us all the way to the river.  We'll see what happens...I sure hope he can find a way to make the plan work.  So here I sit, once again, in the blind at Encanta.

Now, a few hours later, I am back at the house, sitting in my hammock, strung up between two palms.  Below my hammock-water.  Surrounding the house and lapping at the doorstep-running water.  We are now part of the river system and the water is rising steadily, despite the change in weather.  This is the 4th day in a row without rain, though the towering cumulus clouds blowing in on the strong, cool, north wind are promising that this 4th day will not be completed without showers or perhaps a good drenching. 

The kitchen is now part of the river and this morning we got up and made a system of plank walkways from the fire place out the door of the kitchen and across the yard to the galpón, where we have moved the table, since its former location is flooded.  The galpón is an open, palm-roofed structure with a raised earth floor that is normally used to store saddles and hang meat or to rest in hammocks.  Now, after days of adding countless cartloads of dirt to raise the floor above the flood-level, it is the only dry space outside the house and thus has become the center of daytime activity.  And if these last few days are anything to judge by, it is only a matter of time until the water rises into the house, or turns the dirt walls to mud, collapsing the house all together.

Rolando butchered a cow today-an entire cow per two months is the family's ration of meat-and Rolando is now in the Galpón, busily turning the 600 lb. creature into piles of charque (think beef jerky on a massive scale), which will be smothered in salt and hung in the sun for at least 2 days.  With two days of hot sun and lot of salt, the thinly sliced meat will stay good for up to two months.  Lurdes is boiling a gigantic pot of the cow's internal body fat, mostly stripped from the kidneys, which will be turned into blocks of lard and stored for future use: anything and everything can be deep fried in lard.  Even rice and noodles are first deep fried before adding water (leaving the boiling grease so that they are cooked in the mixture of boiling lard and water).  The food tastes good, but I find that large amounts of lard, especially for breakfast, does not agree terribly well with my normally-strong digestive system.  Or maybe it's just the water.  We are now out of rainwater and are forced to drink the brown flood water that is flowing all around us.

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February 8th

Rising, rising, rising.  We hear messages on the radio about potable drinking water being carried in by Brazilian helicopters to families in Trini and Loreto.  Meanwhile, here at Encanta, the outhouse has flooded and all the contents are now mixing with the floodwater that flows through and around it.  Steve and I are both sick with diarrhea despite our efforts to drink only boiled water.  Miraculously, Rolando, Lurdes and the kids seem unaffected and tell us that the water is fine. 

Yesterday (before the outhouse flooded) one of the kids was about to use the outhouse when he suddenly ran out, screaming that the "sicuri" (anaconda) was entering the bathroom.  I ran over to see and sure enough, a 2-meter anaconda was slithering slowly through the gap in the boards.  Once inside the outhouse the snake proceeded down the hole and I got there just in time to grab its tail and haul it out of the outhouse.  It writhed and lurched and quickly freed itself from my uncertain grip.  It swam away quickly, across the yard, under the fence, and through the flooded pampas.  Luckily it wasn't aggressive and only had an interest in escaping, not biting me.