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Sleeping Under Parrots and Stars

Waiting for the fog to clear so we can count parrots

LoraKim is off again! She is currently in Guatemala, working with our partners there to save the very endangered yellow-naped amazon parrot. Here’s a blog she wrote in 2016 about the same project:

What do you do when there aren’t many of a particular species left on the planet? You face the reality, dig into hope, team up, and do the work.

The team!

This is what is happening with the yellow-headed amazon parrot in Guatemala and Honduras. In March a group comprised of CONAP staff of Guatemala, CC-O of Honduras, and One Earth Conservation went to see if this species was still in Guatemala in sufficient numbers worth protecting. They only exist in Punta de Manabique, which is a Protected Area under the category of Wildlife Life Refuge (a RAMSAR site). One of our prime goals was to perform a count at a historical roost site, so we went there first after arriving at the CONAP camp at the mouth of Motagua River in Guatemala. We launched our boat from the beach with only stars to see by, entering the ocean through the dark and waves, and motored our way to the roost site. As luck had it, it was a foggy morning and we could only barely discern trees in the distance with our eyes, though our ears told us the parrots were there! Pelicans kept us company in the mist.

Pelicans waiting with us

After waiting off-shore for the fog to clear, the pilot hit the gas to get us through the waves and onto the beach. We were too late to see yellow-headed parrots at the roost site, but we did see red-lored amazon parrots, as well as evidence of a female crocodile burying her eggs, and an iguana. We also noticed that the location of the historical roost site as indicated by a GPS (global positioning system) was meters into the waves, which was also indicated by a partially submerged mangrove stump.

Iguana at roost site

Locals told us the shoreline has been receding and the ocean encroaching in this swampy area, perhaps due to climate change. This same ocean, the Atlantic, is dumping tons of trash upon the shores in the area of Pt. Manabique, Guatemala. This morning’s count was a total bust, but worth coming back to in the evening, and the next morning, which meant spending the night on the beach, with crocodiles, trash, and high tides.

We then motored off to present an education program to the school in San Francisco, where the children heard the story of Rosita, a young parrot chick who had legs and wings broken when poachers took her from her nest and family, but then was saved by conservationists.

Roger Flores telling the story of Rosita

When we came back in the afternoon, we immediately set up camp. My companions elected to set up in a small, dense stand of mangrove and I joined them, except they set up their tents and mattresses directly on the beach and I hung my hammock up in the mangroves. They looked at my preparations with skepticism and wondered how I would ever get a good night’s rest.

We then set off to count at the roost site as the sun set, excited to find 62 yellow-headed parrots there with us for the night, some of them directly over our camp. Just as we finished the count, the higher-than-expected tide came in, flooding the camp and chasing some to spend the night on the rock-hard boat and others to struggle with wet tents and sleeping clothes. I myself swung gently through the night perched in my hammock, looking through leaves up at the explosion of stars and the imagined dark silhouettes of parrots overhead.

My roosting location (Dr. LoraKim Joyner) under the parrots and stars

Up at 5 a.m. we went to our counting points and repeated the counts, saying good bye to the birds as the sun rose. Even though the camp was a bit of mess, and I was rather bit up with bugs, we were joyful, for the birds were there. We had documented families and flocks, which is a sign that reproduction persists in this isolated area, but not too isolated that poachers cannot find their way in.

But we won’t let them take the birds now that we have confirmed their presence. CONAP has begun patrols and counts in this area of Punta Manabique, as has CC-O just over the border in Honduras. We will continue to return to this roost site to understand more about the state of the population and poaching, as well as to count our parrot blessings, and return the favor to them, as well as to generations to come.

Dr. LoraKim Joyner passing the love of parrots to those who will come after us

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