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Afternoon at the Clay Lick

Elizabeth Hobson | Apr 16, 2010


The main activity at the colpa takes place in the early morning, usually from about 5:30 or earlier to 7:30 or slightly later.  This period of activity is usually dominated by small macaws and parrots.  The large macaws return in the late morning or afternoon and it is during this later activity period where hundreds of the three large macaws have been seen feeding on the clay.  The small Cobalt-winged Parakeets visit the clay almost exclusively during the afternoon period, although I did once see them come down during the early morning activity which is extremely rare and out of character for them.  Because of this variation in the times of day when different species visit the colpa, researchers have to stay at the colpa for 10 full days every month.  This is usually broken down into two shifts, one from before sunrise to 11:00, and one from 11:00 until about 5:00 in the afternoon.  However, there is not always a boat available during the afternoons, and it is sometime difficult to complete the 10 days.  When this happens, we could hike up Trail A to a spot which overlooked the clay, and observe from there.  This is not an ideal spot because only parts of the clay are visible and only those birds that I could see could be recorded. 

29. June 2003 - Letter Home
I've got the afternoon clay lick duty today.  Usually we do the monitoring from the beach down in front of the clay, but you can only get there by boat and today there wasn't one available so I'm up on Trail A which loops along the top of the clay lick cliff.  I'm at a little overlook where I can see the main places the birds usually land.  I've been here since 11:30, and now it's 16:05; only 55 minutes to go.  When I got here this morning, there was thunder rumbling in the distance and I thought it was going to storm, but the clouds seem to have circled around me and then stalled as they hit the Andes, blocking out even the small hills with their lumpy coating of cloud forest.  The sky is all blue and wispy again now except for some low-lying straggling puffs.

The shadows have started lengthening and the trees are starting to get that golden glow of the last rays of sun slantingly angled towards them.  There's a bunch of Red and Green Macaws in the trees around me, calling and squabbling good-naturedly with each other.  There's a big flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets looking like they're going to land on the clay, but they keep changing their minds at the last minute and wheeling away from the clay in a mass of tiny bright green bodies and flitting deep blue flashing wings.  It's been a pretty quiet day actually; just the Red and Greens and a few Blue and Yellows came down at 12:30, and only stayed for a few minutes. 

A breeze has kicked up which makes all the broad leafed trees and shrubs I'm sitting among whisper together and the purple orchids sway.  These orchids are growing like crazy around here, and they don't have that fragile look like they do in flower shops, like they're somehow missing something.  Here they grow in great masses, weaving their way along branches and twigs, and have a kind of delicate strength about them, even if they are parasites.  I'm being periodically bombarded by a hailstorm of neon grasshoppers while butterflies sail by on their captured updrafts.

The Cobalt-wings are making a huge racket and their flock has swelled to maybe sixty or seventy birds but they're still circling over the clay undecided.  I've just heard the boat coming upriver with the next bunch of tourists (and maybe some mail?). 

A mixed flock of large macaws just flew in and finally something has landed on the clay.  I can see 14 Red and Green Macaws and 3 Scarlets, but I'm sure that there are more over the ridge in the clay where I can't see them.  None of them are staying long, just grabbing a chunk of clay to eat later and then flying off to be replaced by more waiting in the trees. The Cobalt-wings have apparently given up for the day and just flew over me in a screaming mass of over a hundred birds in a fluttering whoosh.  For such little birds, they can sure cause a commotion. 

The toucans have just started calling behind me, but there are walls of foliage between us and I can't see them.  All the macaws just left the clay and have started to drift back to wherever they came from, flying off in pairs, sometimes trailing an adolescent offspring.  I rarely see any loners, although I did once see one bird in a pair without a tail looking embarrassed and unbalanced, his beak suddenly too big for his head without his long tail to counter it. 

I found this video clip that shows all three species of large macaws visiting the clay. This group is dominated by the Blue and Gold Macaws, but a few Red and Green and Scarlet Macaws are also visible. Based on the species, I would guess that this clip shows activity at the clay lick either during the late morning or afternoon. Enjoy!