January 2019, Surama Guyana
Entrance to Surama Village
We came into Surama Village, a well known tourist destination for the Rupununi area, which is in southern Guyana. They have been set up for years to share their culture and wildlife with visitors as an ecotourism enterprise, though they did not have a particular orientation towards parrots. They agreed to meet with us to see if we could work with them on parrot conservation.
I was ushered quickly towards the school building where the leaders were meeting, when a scarlet macaw swooped over me to land in the trees over the school. As I walked up, the scarlet macaw was flying and interacting with several children, landing near them and then entering, and quickly leaving the room where the committee was waiting for me.
Two homed parrots of Surama joining us for the evening count
I was enthralled and asked the nursery school teacher the story of the bird. "We rescued him, Rio, as a chick, and he follows the children everywhere, especially one in particular." Then the meeting started with me saying a few words, and as I got up to speak, I noticed two other parrots perched in the room by the windows - a red-bellied macaw and an orange-winged parrot. It was a bit disorienting - was this a meeting of humans, birds, or both (and shouldn't all our meetings include all of life)?
The leaders of the village agreed to work with us for two days of parrot population monitoring, and said we could also lead an outing with the wildlife club the next day. I asked, "I'd like to scout out areas to count, can anyone show me areas to count?"
"Yes, you can go with Darell." A boy in the back of the room went right to the two parrots in the room, had them perch on a stick, and followed me out of the room. He and his parrots and friends loaded into the truck to show us possible places for counting, and later to help us count at the lodge. While counting there, he told me that he didn't trap these birds, but rescued them from other trappers in the area. He also told me that the red-bellied macaw lost his/her mate a few months ago to a hawk.
Hawk near Surama Village
The next day we met with the wildlife club, and the ever present parrots of Darell (below are 3 photos of the count; thanks to Danika Oriol-Morway of Foster Parrots for many of these photos and for the two videos). He was such a good observer of parrots, knowing nearly all the many species found there. During the count I quizzed the children on the calls of the parrots by playing back recordings on my phone. When I played the recording of the red-bellied macaw, the surviving mate vocalized (video below).
Also helping us was a guide of the lodge, who had been the major parrot trapper in the village years ago. The village had forbade him to trap, and so he left. The desire for community eventually called him back home, and he has turned his parrot love to conservation. After the count we met with the children to give them a presentation, and to show them two parrot conservation films. And of course, the two parrots joined us (photo below).
The next morning we did an early count with the ex-parrot poacher, who told us how many fewer parrots there were throughout Guyana due to trapping. The manager of the lodge told us during breakfast that he used to eat parrots, "but there were a lot more here when I was young." As we drove away I imagined the skies over Surama with many more parrots. Instead all I saw was Rio perched in the trees over the school, patiently waiting for school to let out. It was touching how bonded the parrots of this village were to the children.
Compton and Danika showing their "Sun Parakeet Fly Free" wrist bands during the morning count
Parrots have been such good company for humans, but I wonder if their patience is wearing thin, waiting for us to love them so much that we no longer take them from their wild homes against their will, needs, and desires. For once where there were scarlet macaws and sun parakeets flying abundantly over Surama, there are now none, or only one, waiting, waiting...