A dream comes true. The title does not refer to music or depression, but rather to the magnificent, endangered Hyacinth and Lear's Macaws of Brazil. Ever since the first organized Kaytee trip in 1997, my wife, Rita, and I had this adventure high on our dream list. However, time and cost had prevented us from going. Then Dr. Charles Munn, formerly a senior conservation zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and presently Chairman of the Board of a nonprofit conservation group called "Tropical Nature" (www.tropicalnat:ure.org), sent us a photo of the Lear's Macaw and an invitation to visit not only the Hyacinth site but also the more recently opened Lear's site. Tropical Nature is an international conservation organization that works closely with various partners to achieve conservation through ecotourism. To facilitate this nature-based ecotourism, Tropical Nature owns Tropical Nature Travel (TND, a full-service travel agency (www.tropicalnaturetravel.com). We were to he hosted, with a reduction in the cost of the adventure, by the BioBrasiJ Foundation (www.biobrasil.org), one of Tropical Nature's partners, which is dedicated to the conservation of threatened fauna and flora throughout Brazil. Charlie also suggested that we plan our travel dates to take advantage of an existing charter flight to me Hyacinth site. Offers we could not refuse. So, we called TNT (877-888-1770) to make the arrangements.
Getting there. I've got to tell you up front that this is not an easy trip. It started out poorly when our originating flight in the U.S. was cancelled due to weather and then other delays caused us to miss our international flight. We had lost a valuable day! 1 was able ro contact TNT's Elizabeth Sanders and she linked up ro the folks in Brazil to advise them of the delay. Cid Simoes and Ms. Paola Segura, of BioBrasil, reacted with well-thought-out revised arrangements. They met us at the Salvador airport, took us to the very nice
Posada Eckerlina where we could refresh and eat, and then transferred us to the bus station where we connected with an overnight sleeping bus or "leito" to Barreiras. The 11-hour ride was not too bad as we were on a full size, air-conditioned bus with only 23 seats, each of which folded out into a bed. We were met at the bus station by a small truck and driver for the 180 mile (roads were pretty bad at times), 6-hour drive to the hamlet of Sao Goncalo de Gurgeia, in the state of Piaui, and on to the Hyacinth site. Our guide for this portion of the trip, Marie-Helene Burle from France, accompanied us. Marie turned out to be one of the most serious and knowledgeable ornithologists that we have ever encountered.
HYACINTH SITE Hyacinth Valley Camp
We actually visited three sites within this cerrado (bot, dry and scrubby) area of Brazil. Our fast stop, and main base of operations, was the Hyacinth Valley Camp. It consisted of seven separate, double-occupancy cement and tile-roofed cabins or bungalows, each with private shower and bath. There was also a covered social and dining area as well as the owner's home.
The owner "Lourival" owns 2,500 acres of the surrounding acres and keeps a few cattle and horses. From the 1970s through 1994, Lourival was a master animal dealer and trapper. He made an excellent living dealing in wild parrots and other animals until he met Charlie Munn in 1995, who convinced him to become a protector and to show off wildlife rather than trade in the black market. Thus, in return for the promise of income from tourists and other incentives, Lourival no longer poaches wildlife. He makes less money than he did as a trapper but is happy that he no longer has to wony about being arrested and jailed or to risk his life climbing the cliffs where the
Hyacinths nest. He knows of several men who have been seriously injured in falls and has learned from a cohort how nasty a Brazilian jail cm be.
Finally, Lourival genuinely enjoys watching the birds fly free and earning money by showing off the wildlife on his property. For the next 5 clays, Lourival was our constant companion in driving our safari-type truck and spotting birds and other wildlife that even Marie missed. He knew the territory!
After a late, but typical, Brazilian lunch we headed straight to the Hyacinth blind about a mile from the camp. In seven trips to Peru to study parrots in the wild I have been in many blinds, but have never seen one like this' After passing through a 500-foot-long, thatch-enclosed tunnel we entered a large concrete building with coverable portholes from which to observe the Hyacinths from a distance of about 30 feet. This large blind (approx. 12x25 feet) even had carpet!
An area 20 to 30 feet in front of the blind is regularly "baited" with palm nuts, a favorite food. Thus the Hyacinths visit every day, March through midAugust. tourists or not. This regular supply of food not only guarantees certain sightings but also keeps the birds healthier, promotes second chick survival clue to food abundance, and reduces their need to make dangerous food-seeking flights to remote, unprotected areas where they would be at risk from "sport" hunters during the non-nesting season.
The afternoon "show" was great with upwards of 40 Hyacinths making an appearance. The blind was well positioned so that we could observe the Hyacinths feeding, close-up, at ground level. Just above, they preened and played in the trees, making raucous sounds. The photo opportunities were outstanding and I took far more pictures that I ever imagined - but how often does one see this many magnificent creatures at one time? J realized, at this point, that the rigorous journey was already well worth the effort.
On the walk back to the camp, and on other outings nearby, we were treated to sightings of a myriad of
birds. We saw the Peach-fronted Conure, Blue-fronted Amazon, Blue-fronted Conure, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Red-shouldered Macaw, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Fork-tailed Palm-swift, Parauque, Common Potoo, Tropical Screech-owl, Rusty-margined Guan, Tanagers (Sacaya, Hepatic, Hooded, and Guira), Green-barred and Lineated Woodpeckers, Blue-crowned Trogon and Motmot, Rufous Hornero, and the Brown-crested and Boat-billed Flycatchers. The Swallow-tail Kites, Helmeted Manakins, Red-legged Seriema, and Curlcrested Jays were also seen among many others that we enjoyed.