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Moon Rising Over Macaws in Guyana

Yupukari Village, Guyana March 2018

From sun up to sun down, researching red-bellied macaws in the Rupununi savannah

The Rupununi savannah in Guyana is full of life. Hard to traverse due to flooding much of the year, it is now March 2018 and we are driving along paths that we could have swum or boated over in the rainy season. We approach Yupukari village in Guyana to continue our investigation of parrots that started in October 2017. One of our target species is the red-bellied macaw that roosts, nests, and feeds in the Ite palm oases throughout the area.

Pair checking out a nest or roosting cavity in Ite palm trunk

We use a population counting technique known as Fixed Point Transects that allow one to get a rapid assessment of the minimum number of distinct individuals in an area. For this particular count we had 3 counting points spread out over 4.5 kilometers. These points are really too far apart to get a precise count, and we don’t mind so much because this is just a preliminary survey to see how many birds there might be here and how the birds use the oases. We also want to discover what might be the best methods for counting this species in this habitat.

Double-stripped thick-knee and chick in savannah, spied on our way to set up points for the count

In our short time there, conducting only one formal count, we found that counting these birds between oases is challenging, or even counting them in one oasis. They sleep communally in cavities in the same trees where they perch. This basically means that we lose sight of them and cannot be sure if they have moved off or have stayed in a particular area.

Point #1 in our 3-point transect

They are also incredibly squirrely and swirly birds. They may approach an oasis in one flock, but then they split off, presumably in family groups or multiple families, and then these groups recombine with other groups or pairs, take off flying again, swirl around an oasis, pick up more birds, and either land again (and again) or head off to another oasis. For this reason, we can only offer an estimate of 253 red-bellied macaws observed along a 4.5 kilometer area. It will take repeated counts to get more precise results and to perfect the technique.

Eating Ite palm fruits and preening as part of their day

Normally this is not a species that conservationists emphasize monitoring because they are not threatened, although there does seem to be an overall population decrease across its wide range. Here in the Rupununi not much is known about this species, and it might be a general indicator of how well the biome is doing and what the trapping pressure(s) might be on all parrots there.

Moon rising at the end of our count as we finish our sunup to sundown day int the field

I, for one, would love to continue studying this species, because there is nothing like an energetic parrot flying in front of a rising moon to stimulate one’s sense of awe and beauty, despite how hard they are to count!

Thanks to Brian, Danika, Marcellus, and Peo for this first fixed transect count of macaws in the area!

Thanks to Marcellus, conservation guide for Yupukari and Caiman House

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