Stuck in the mud, again!
In September I joined colleagues from Guyra, Universidad Nacional Asunción, and Fauna y Vida to survey parrot populations in the department of Concepción. We conducted driving, stationary, and fixed transect counts. Along the way we also interviewed workers at the ranches and people with parrots in their homes. The picture that we gathered was that the macaws are heavily sought after for the illegal wildlife trade and have numbers that we surmise from anecdotal evidence and what we counted, are in very low numbers. The macaws in this area include the red-and-green, hyacinth, blue-and-yellow macaw, golden-collared, and blue-winged.
After last year's survey we had been told that amazon parrots were not being poached, but unfortunately, that is not the case. The newspapers reported on turquoise-fronted amazon parrots being smuggled out of Paraguay headed towards Hong Kong just the week before we arrived here, and we saw this species in homes throughout the area.
Turquoise-fronted parrot as pet in Paraguay. They seem to be in every other home, and often not in great condition such as this parrot that is thin, in poor feather condition, and managed inhumanely.
Our second week in this region, therefore, we concentrated on this species to see how they were doing, as well as the orange-winged and yellow-faced parrot, two recent additions to the bird list of Paraguay, and of whom little is known.
Cattle ranches abound in the area (termiteria in background)
We visited every estancia (ranch) we could in the area, with our hopes high for Estancia Pyahu where we had been told was a roost site for the yellow-faced parrot. After getting our truck unstuck from the mud we joined the family that ran the ranch station (retiro), called Cerrito. The father told us that just recently a well known poacher had come to him asking him to trap the adult parrots as they came into the roost site. Taking chicks from their parents is a hardship for the birds, which many don't survive, but the more mature wild adults suffer more greatly when trapped, handled, and transported.
Owner and workers of Pyahu, and Angie from Fauna y Vida
Before the evening count began, we each took a guess at how many parrots would be there. Numbers guessed ranged from 50 to 3000, with the family assuring us that a great number of parrots came to roost here. At first we saw just a handful of yellow-faced and turquoise-fronted parrots, but when it got too dark to really see which species was which, the amazons did come in, numbering over 300.
Turquoise-fronted parrots coming into the roost site at dusk
We heard quite a number of orange-winged parrots, but could not count them accurately because we had limited counters which we had not placed in optimum locations. The family invited us to return to document the roost site with more accuracy, and we accepted.
Turquoise-fronted parrots playing at roost site
We would return the next day and count the parrots in both the evening and morning, and would place counters encircling the trees of the station. After setting up our camp on the porch and doing some afternoon birding, we were in our places. Here's what we counted:
Turquoise-fronted amazon (Amazona aestiva) = 217
Orange-winged amazon (Amazona amazonica) = 150
Yellow-faced amazon (Alipiopsitta xanthops)= 5
Peach-fronted parakeets (Eupsittula aurea) = 19
Chevron-winged parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri)= 2
Orange-winged amazon parrots roosting
Given that the orange-winged amazons came in late and we only had their calls to rely upon for identification, we went trampling through the roost trees in the dark to document their presence - and indeed we did!
Orange moon over orange-winged parrot roost site
We also saw groups up to 38 of orange-wingeds, and plenty of family groups of 3, 4, and 5. In the morning we got plenty of videos and pictures of all 3 species, sometimes even in the same tree!
Video of parrots leaving roost site - mostly oranged-winged parrots in this clip
Video of parrots at roost site (you can hear and see orange-winged and turquoise-fronted in this clip)
Given the spectacular concentration of parrots roosting here, we made an arrangement with the family that they would protect and monitor the birds, and not trap them to sell to the local poachers and buyers. They will report monthly until we can return again to study this area further. They tell us that even more birds come here in November - January, perhaps double or triple the number. They also say that 4 years ago there weren't many birds roosting here, but the numbers of had been steadily increasing since then. We don't know the meaning of this, given the possible nomadic nature of these birds, the pressure from poachers to live trap adults, and continued habitat loss due to logging and cattle.
Family of protectors at Pyahu with conservation team - Andres, LoraKim, Angie (showing "Fly Free" wrist bands and flying ourselves)
The pressures are great, and so is the beauty and wonder. Surely we can motivate ourselves and other yet-discovered-parrot-conservationists to take a stand here, to keep the parrots flying free in Paraguay.