wildmacaws

Information here for School Reports!

Many macaw lovers would like to see macaws in the wild but imagine that it's far beyond their means to do so. If you take a fancy tour it may well be. However if you go on your own or with a few friends, the cost will, in general, be halved. It's perfectly easy these days to do this due to the excellent guide books now available. You can stay twice as long for half the money and not be rushed or pushed around. These tour companies make big profits! My own favourite guide book is the "Lonely Planet" series but there are others. Television programmes that imply that the location of some site is in a difficult to reach place are almost invariably lies. If they can get there with camera crew and some foppish tv personality so can you!

This website is about how and where to go, who will help and the likely costs. There are tourist industries in every country in South America. There are descriptions of our trips at the end of this page.

Having been on several journeys to South and Central America to see macaws, I have been forced to the sad conclusion that the only hope for these magnificent creatures in the wild is eco-tourism. You will find endless scientific material on the internet pontificating on various statistics but in the field in the end only money and population pressure counts. In the third world the only thing that will save the wild macaws is if they are perceived to have monetary value by the local people, ie tourist potential. The alternative is that their habitat will be destroyed and they will die or be captured for the pet trade. This is the reason for this webpage. Until you've seen hundreds of large macaws in flight you haven't seen anything. Be quick though, I feel despondent about how long it will be possible to see this incredible sight.

Macaws all come from South and Central America and a few of the Caribbean islands.

The countries of South and Central America are third world countries and the cost of living is extremely low, your biggest expense is getting there. Costs also depend to a large extent on how much time and effort you are prepared to put into research, both before and after you arrive. There's no doubt that, if you can afford the time, things can be arranged much cheaper actually in the country of your choice. At least a slight knowledge of the local language is often of some help here.

There are facilities in the towns and cities as good as anything at home however "out sticks" things can get a little primitive but this applies however much you have paid for your trip.

Eco-tourism is big business these days, it's not difficult in most countries to fix yourself up on a tour. At some places it's difficult to avoid going on a tour once you arrive! If arranging from home, Fax or Email is usually the best as its easier to sort out any language problems. Most tour companies however speak English. The "Lonely Planet" book has lists of reader recommended operators. I've never been let down yet by it! However don't fret if you can't make prior arrangements, almost always you can just turn up and be on your tour in a few days at most. I haven't found a place yet where there wasn't something of interest to kill a little time. I've never found a place yet where there was no-one to take me where I wanted to go. Most places there's someone falling over to take me where I want to go! Eco-tourism is often conducted from specialised country "hotels" or lodges. Usually included in the price are walks and excursions by boat, 4x4 or horseback. These lodges may be located in rain forest, farms, ranches or mountains. The degree of comfort varies widely as does what you get to see. Almost invariably the best wildlife is to be seen at the most remote lodges. Some eco-tour outfits run circular tours, calling in at a variety of places.

For us poor people there are camping expeditions. These can usually be fixed up at very short notice on the spot. What happens can be extremely variable. If you haven't done this before, go only with recommended guides.

The easiest places by far to visit are Peru and Brazil. If you've never been to South America before, Peru is the place to start, with a huge tourist industry, widely spoken English and things for all the family to do and be interested in. Transport, hotels and food are all very inexpensive. There is a wide range of levels of comfort, something for every budget. The range of activities these days is huge, as is the geography, the history and the climatic zones. There are at least sixteen macaw spotting sites in Peru. Tours can be arranged to most of them by EMail or in person at Cusco and Lima. The East of the Andes rain forests in Peru are some of the worlds best. The more upmarket jungle lodges are getting a bit expensive here these days, however camping trips can be locally fixed to all the best sites. As everywhere in South America the people are crazed, especially in the field of driving, Lima being the worst. Only Cairo, Tehran and Istanbul have more dangerous drivers.

The "Lonely Planet" Peru guide now has a recently updated and excellent Amazon rainforest section. There's information on almost all the jungle lodges, the whereabouts of their local offices and also how to fix "DIY" camping trips into the forest.

The most spectacular places to see macaws are at the clay "licks" or "colpas" (Spanish). These are clay cliffs, often at a river side, visited by macaws and other parrots in order to eat this clay. At the best sites hundreds of macaws come, an amazing spectacle. It's thought they do this either to protect their guts from the effect of poisonous seeds they eat or for trace minerals. Some of the jungle lodges are located right next to these licks. The macaws come at first light, you have to be there for around 0500hr to see the show.
Note they don't come if it rains, check the time of the "wet" season, the show is much reduced and may not happen at all!
North of the equator, the wet season runs from July to September. South of the Equator it runs from November to February. These are approximate times which vary from year to year and may vary due to the local geography.

In some places there are no colpas, so they manage without. Another of life's mysteries!

I have recently heard that certain unscrupulous eco-tour companies are taking people into the rain forest in the wet season. You should be aware that travel in the wet season can be really miserable, apart from the macaws lurking out of sight. You haven't seen rain, thunder and lightning until you've seen a tropical storm. It very dangerous to walk about the forest in the rain due to trees falling and also branches, large nuts etc. Leeches abound, and by the rivers, sandflies appear in their millions. Too tiny to see, you only find their bites a few hours later. They itch like crazy and can carry disease. They get into all your kit, your bodily orifices, absolute murder. Tellingly they are called locally "pica pica" (bite bite) or "los pulvorinos" (dust) which about sums them up. They seem to thrive on "DEET" and every other insect repellent I've tried. Only smoke seems to deter them a little. Sandflies by the way operate round the clock and can get through your normal mosquito net as sold in Europe. You need a local one which is a much denser weave and also suffocatingly warm. Mosquito activity is also racked up several notches in the wet season. Wild life in the dry season is conveniently concentrated by water sources where it can be observed. In the wet season it disperses, there being water everywhere. You could also end up marooned in some remote spot by bad weather and miss the rest of your holiday not to mention your flight home!

It's very important to be well researched up on your proposed destination. Sources:-

Most of the upmarket "Jungle Lodges" have a presence on the internet these days. Often you can make a booking direct. However do not book through any third parties, (especially first world ones,) it will cost you an arm and a leg! Almost invariably, you can make your way to the nearest town and arrange to stay there for a fraction of the cost! Additionally there are a host of accommodations that are much cheaper and more unsophisticated. Often these are mentioned in "traveller's tales" on the net.

The best reference book is Forshaws "Parrots of the World". This has pictures and detailed descriptions of the habitats of every parrot. Sadly, the distribution maps of the various species are now way out of date as I have personally discovered.

The best areas for macaw spotting often can only be reached by river. This usually means motorised canoe which is by far the most comfortable and pleasant form of travel. The rivers are the highways in the best parts of the rain forests.

The climate where macaws are to be found will be generally hot and humid, often rain forest. However, cold fronts can pass through even the tropical rainforest bringing cold weather and violent rain storms.

Have a route and some sort of time and date order sorted out. Be prepared for things to go wrong and also leave slack for things which might catch your interest. Internal flights in South America are notorious for being late and being cancelled. (Even having a boarding pass doesn't guarantee your place on the plane in S. America.) Do not arrange connecting flights with no time between connections. International flights by South American Airlines have to comply with some sort of standard. In the poorer countries, some of the internal flights appear to me to be a bit dodgy. Sometimes however they can't be avoided. Maybe I'm a little paranoid!

Personally I prefer to travel by bus, you can see more. Distances can be enormous, be prepared for some interesting experiences! Most people in South America can't afford a car so the buses are frequent and well patronised. Quality varies from the mobile rabbit hutch, to ex-US school buses, to the best buses to be found anywhere. The interest of the journey is almost invariably inversely proportional to the newness of the bus.

Many of the trains in South America are badly run down, even the well patronised tourist runs, which is a great pity. They tend to be slow, badly maintained and very poor time keepers. Mostly they are very cheap. Some of the routes are incredibly spectacular, engineering wonders of their age. (Especially in the Andes.)

Good travel insurance is a must. Make sure it covers repatriation in the worst event. Make sure you know exactly what else it covers.


So how hard might it be? Well there's no need to be a Tarzan but mental resilience is needed to overcome the heat, the humidity and insects. Comfort and cost are sometimes interchangeable. Often you will be travelling by motorised canoe. How good a swimmer are you?
The most comfortable stays are in the jungle lodges. However don't expect air conditioning even here.
The other option (sometimes the only one in the best places) is to camp. This can involve either tents or hammocks. Most Westerners will be familiar with tents but maybe not hammocks.

Age is not a barrier. If you can climb a flight of stairs, you can go to your jungle lodge. The more outrageous camping trips need some thought but I have seen seventy somethings on the most extreme expeditions! In fact the older person often survives the "rigours" of the jungle better than the younger due to having more common sense!


Hammocks can be slung in a temporary shelter or in the open between trees. Mosquito nets are essential and a plastic sheet in case of rain. The hammocks used in South America are generally larger than seen in the first world and more comfortable if slung between trees sufficiently far apart. I don't have a problem with hammocks and find them more comfortable than airbeds. The quality of food provided on these trips depends largely on how much you've paid. It's best to be there when the food is purchased to see what you're getting. Some guides have a pre-dilection for fishing to supplement the food supply. Some river fish is OK, some is not. I fancy it largely depends on the cooking skills of your crew.

Needless to say only go on a jaunt like this with recommended guides.


In general Spanish is spoken everywhere in South America except Brazil where it's Portuguese, In French Guiana it's French. With Guyana and Belize it's English. Virtually all tourist companies however speak English.

For a local jaunt you could hire a taxi for the whole day, if you find a driver you like. It's very cheap. Don't get a taxi from by the large hotels or airports, you will get ripped off. Negotiate the price first. Haggle it right down. If the driver is helpful you can always give him a tip. Sometimes these drivers can take you to fascinating places that tourists never see. If they know there is a tip in the offing you can have some memorable experiences as they tax their brain to please you!

Persons unacclimatised to tropical climates, e.g. Northern Europeans, are well advised to take things easy for a few days before dashing off on strenuous activities. Beware of dehydration, take plenty of fluids and rehydration salts.

The best areas for seeing macaws are usually remote from towns and cities. This is not a problem, unfortunately sometimes added expense. There are few places in the world inaccessible these days. Conditions may get a little primitive as you leave the towns. However things also become cheaper!

Take careful note of any seasonal rains, macaws don't like the rain. (They skulk out of sight.) Unsealed roads are often impassable after rain.

Take good note of the political situation before you go. Ignore all newspaper/TV accounts, take the advice of the foreign office of your own country.

Petty theft and corruption is a problem in most South American countries. Use your common sense, read the guide book. Look poor and inconspicuous. Don't bring anything you couldn't bear to lose. You will need a FLAT money belt kept UNDER your clothes. (Passport, money, traveller's cheques and air tickets, keep them on you at all times.) Velcro on the pockets defeats pickpockets. Be alert in crowds, markets, bus stations, airports, train stations. Always watch your baggage and cameras. If you put them down, put a foot through the carrying strap. Keep your camera in front of you. Watch one another. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by any strange events. Violence is most unusual. (Note The current situation in Colombia should be particularly examined before a visit. Colombia has a reputation for violence.)

Most South Americans are great people, humourous, generous and cheerful, in spite of the extreme poverty some have to endure.

There are some quite nasty diseases, read the Lonely Planet guide carefully. In the poorer countries I have found food hygiene to be the worst problem leading to diahorea. My own personal solution is "Imodium". However there's no need to be paranoid, the chances of anything serious happening to you are remote. You must wear a hat, preferably broad brimmed, baseball caps are useless. Sunglasses are also essential.

In my experience the worst aspect by far is the (biting) insect life of the lowland areas most macaws inhabit. Take the most vile insect repellent you can find (DEET is my favourite) and wear long trousers and sleeved shirts. Sleep under mosquito nets. You will need anti-malaria pills, see your local doctor before you go.

I don't believe that the all the large macaws will become extinct, they are too big and beautiful for that. There will be captive bred macaws. There is a very strong possibility however that they will disappear from the wild along with their habitat, or even before. Spare a thought too for the small and ugly creatures that no-one cares about that will also be lost for ever.


A night walk in the rainforest is an amazing experience when a whole new world comes to life....fireflys, flashing "click" beetles, the gleaming eyes of nocturnal predators (and the predated on), the unseen scuttle and scurry as nature's battle for survival continues.

In the rainforests of South America is most amazing and marvellous variety of insect life.......ants, spiders, cockroaches, fireflys, beetles........ At night however the mosquito net cures everything.

I have only occasionally seen poisonous snakes, however they are a slight hazard. Most are not aggressive unless provoked. Good boots coming up the ankle are best, don't go poking in holes or under things. Don't lift logs or boulders. Be wary in long grass. Best of all let someone else walk in front! Make sure serums are available if you are a great worrier. After all many locals wander around barefoot.

There are crocodiles, pirana and other large predators in many South American rivers. These are in general ignored by the locals who swim freely in the rivers. More hazardous is the micro-biological life sometimes present. Personally I leave swimming in the rivers alone!

As well as macaws you will be sure to see lots of other parrots and wildlife!

I always feel almost like I'm in some great cathedral when walking in the rain forest, the emphasis on the vertical, the strange accoustics, the dim light filtering from above, the feeling of being watched (yet strangely also the aloneness), the "composty" smell, the alien bird song, the very privilege of being there.

Now photography. This can be a tricky one. Don't think for a moment you are going to go in the rain forest for a couple of days and return with some real hot shots of macaws! The people who do this have very expensive gear and spend weeks on site. There are a couple of problems. The first is that the rain forest climate is very unkind to delicate mechanical and electronic equipment. I have ruined perfectly good cameras with fungus growing in the lenses. Cameras and lenses will have to be kept in sealable plastic bags, ideally with silica gel to get the moisture. You will need a lens that goes out to 300mm at least. The other problem is that in the forest light conditions are very dim, yet out on the river say, light conditions can be very bright. Long lenses that can cope with dim light run out lots of cash and will be at risk due to the humidity. These remarks also apply to video and digital cameras, also there is the problem of recharging batteries. This sort of equipment is also the target of thieves. I have to confess that some of my best pictures were taken opportunistically with a very cheap camera! Others have been scrounged from local photograpers!

If you too have made an independent journey to see wild macaws please submit an account of your experiences!

Here then are accounts of our travels in South America. Contacts, telephone numbers, etc. at the end of the articles. You will see that with a little planning and forethought there is very little problem in traveling in South America. Many of the newspaper and T.V. articles you see are wildly exaggerated.


Note the dates of our trips. Things can change. Check up before you go!

Hear the wild macaws on this site, download realplayer here free.


CAPTIVE MACAWS.

CAPTIVE MACAWS


"REPLICARA"

Soft toy macaws. Ideal Christmas gift!


(Our first expedition 1995) COSTA RICA

Scarlet Macaws.


The Devil Dancers of PANAMA.(1995)


(Our second expedition1996/7) PERU

Scarlet/Blue&gold/Greenwing macaws.


(Our third expedition 1998) BRAZIL

Hyacinth/Greenwing/Yellow collared Macaw.


(Our fourth expedition 1999) BOLIVIA

Blue throated/Red fronted/greenwing/blue and gold macaws.


(Our fifth expedition 2000) VENEZUELA

Part One, Los Llanos. Scarlet Macaws.

Part Two, Amazonas. Green wing Macaws.

Part Three, Delta Amacuro. Blue and Gold, Hahn's and red Bellied Macaws.


Expedition 2001.

Wild Cockatoos.

Go to our new webpage "Wild Cockatoos"


Expedition 2002.

Papua New Guinea.

Disaster!


Buffon's Macaw, an appeal by Rosemary Low

Costa Rica, a report on the status of the Buffons macaw, Ara ambigua 2001.


rings

Rings around the world.


Links

Faraway places, The Old World. (Links),

Links

Faraway places, The New World and Oceania. (Links),


Webpage by Harold Armitage.

Visitors.

Email "Wild Macaws"

macaw.wav (Audio sound file) provided by and copyrighted to Naturesongs.com, 1997-2001

The best Latin American music of the Andes site I know here and listen while you browse! Streamed audio.
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