Hyacinthine Macaws in the wild 5 — Volkswagen Brasilia

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Hyacinth cliffs. Journey to to see those beautiful blue By Angela Davids, editor of Talk. Published in the October issue of Bird Talk

It felt like waking up on morning, yelling Surprise! at a party, earning an A on a tough and coming in first in the 100-yard How I managed to keep my mouth as a flock of 40 hyacinth macaws just 50 feet in front of me is a

Even better, it was just one of amazing moments I had while the Hyacinth cliffs in Sгo Gonзalo, It was a week I will never

Day 1: Night Flight

Our group of travelers — two journalists, a an oceanographer, two educators and a nurse gathered at Miami International around 6 p.m. We were all to get to Hyacinth Cliffs in in Sгo Gonзalo, The site is based on 2,500 (1,000 hectars) of land to a former parrot trapper and acres (2,100 hectars) with funds raised by the Avian Foundation. Dr. Charles a senior conservation zoologist the Wildlife Conservation Society and an on wild macaws, would be our

Our mission was to see hyacinth macaws. the greater mission of the Kaytee Foundation and the Brazilian conservation BioBrasil is to preserve the land and its through ecotourism: The threatened is known as the cerrado — of millions of acres of dry forest and located south of the Amazon

The group had plenty of time to dinner and get to know one another at the Our 10 p.m flight to Salvador, Brazil had changed to an 11 PM flight to Sгo Paulo, which didn’t leave sometime after midnight. was an excellent introduction to an idea in both South America and fiction: time is not an absolute.

Day 2: A by the bay

We regrouped after landing in Sгo around 8 a.m. With the party-like atmosphere of the plane I wasn’t the only one who wished I have traded in one of my five of Spanish lessons for just a few of Portuguese.

Our flight from Sгo left around 10 a.m and we arrived in around noon. Throughout our Munn shared information on the top crops and native parrots of America. With 24 years of the birds of Peru, Bolivia and and 19 of those years spent ecotourism in those countries, kept us entertained and truly

Because of the flight changes, we the one daily flight from to Barreiras (where we were to the drivers who would take us to the Cliffs site), but our easy-going wasn’t worried a bit. arranged for us to stay overnight in South America’s city by the at a hotel overlooking the Atlantic. We the CETREL corporation’s impressive rehabilitation center that and went downtown in the evening for local cuisine and culture. The city of Salvador had a Old World with its elaborately designed and its bumpy cobblestone streets. It was in that we met up with our field — an unforgettable Brazilian a cockney accent — Gil Between Munn and Serique, we spoiled with their knowledge, senses of humor and skills.

Day 3: Camp Bound

The built as we traveled closer to Cliffs. Leaving Salvador by at 11 a.m, we arrived in Barreiras 1 p.m and were greeted by our three as well as two canary-winged parakeets in a tree in the airport parking We’d spotted our first parrots!

The five-hour drive quickly with scenery of birds, cattle and castle-like formations. On the way, the group to eat vine-ripened bananas and drink water, which is the juice of an coconut.

After spending the on dirt roads that even be found on local maps, we arrived at camp after dark. Each of us which palm-frond hut (or jungalo) we be sleeping in. The huts were 9 by 14 feet (2.75 x 4.25 m) and two beds equipped with netting. The site is in a dry area, so aren’t a problem, but many more comfortable with the suspended from above and tucked under the mattresses sleeping.

We settled in quickly and met at the area — a large, floor with tables and covered by a thatched roof. The of the former trapper cooked the of many delicious meals for us. and beans were a staple at meals, and then various meats, hot pepper sauces, and vegetables were added. a potato-like root, was served at every meal — frenched or prepared like salad.

During dinner we met the four men employed as field assistants. At three of them had worked in the trade, but I would soon see all as much more than trappers.

The site had no electricity and our had no energy, so we went to bed shortly dinner. But first, we counted shooting stars in a sky that like a silver-sequined, black evening gown.

Day 4: The Hyacinths!

being so close to the equator, the sun and sets at about 6 a.m and 6 p.m each We woke at 4 a.m to have enough to dress, eat a small breakfast of tea, breads and papaya, and hike to the hyacinth blind the sun came up. (The blind is a structure built of natural in which we could sit and watch the without being seen.) a quick ride in the back of a truck and a 15-minute walk in the through tropical forest, we the covered walkway leading to the The field assistants built the walkway to allow people to and go without the birds seeing

We settled ourselves in the blind the sun came up — loaded our took bathroom breaks and Munn any last-minute questions. then on, we moved slowly and

As day broke, we heard the calls of in the distance. Arahh! Arahh! cried. Although we felt jumping up and down, we patiently sat at the trees in front of the blind, that the field assistants had enticing palm nuts on the below.

The calls grew and soon a pair landed in the branches of the large tree in of us. The loud floop, floop, sound of their wings was the only sound that impress us more than call. Soon another arrived, and then came of about six and 10. I lost count 28, but we estimate that as many as 40 surrounded the blind.

A bold, beauty flapped down to a low and tree with branches inches off the ground. A few others and soon there were on the ground in front of us picking at the nuts. Some would eat right where they them. Some took back up into the tallest According to Munn, it typically a hyacinth about eight to consume a palm nut. It probably take a human an hour just to figure out how to get one. We stayed at the blind just past 9 a.m, in awe.

After the hike back to most of us were hot, and in need of a nap. Some some relaxed in the hammocks and read. We ate lunch, did some watching at the campsite and continued to out of the heat until 3 p.m when we back to the blind. The field told us it is common for the hyacinths to to that area for a final to eat for the day, and indeed they

That evening, a few of us confessed we afraid we weren’t going to anything we ate, but we all had been and had stuffed ourselves at every so far. For dessert, we ate the most pineapple any of us had ever tasted. on the vine, it was sweet and tender. Our seemed both pleased and by our reaction, and each night they would ask Munn, One or two?

Day 5: Red cliffs notes

We in until 5:15 a.m, ate a breakfast and made it to the blind before sunrise. The hyacinths much more relaxed the day before, and the sunrise appeared golden. This was probably our opportunity for great pictures of the I brought a camera with a zoom lens, but I would others taking this to bring a 200- to 400-millimeter Also, be sure to pack the powerful binoculars you can get your on.

We spent three solid at the blind before most of the were scared off by a pair of toucans. Although I was there to see hyacinths, I’ll never the sight of the tocos flying gracefully with their large beaks. As we walked toward camp, a pair of hyacinths flew over our and then circled back to us out once again. That was the I felt most connected to and I understood exactly why we were

After lunch the group into the back of the pickup for a adventure. We were on our way to the red cliffs the hyacinths nest, which is a two-hour drive when you have seven tourists in that is. We stopped frequently to pictures, ask questions and look at bird species. Most were a burrowing owl, two Amazons and a red-legged seriema looked and ran like the velociraptors Jurassic Park). The area we across was a savannah dotted palm trees, cattle and nests the size of Volkswagen

At the base of the red cliffs, we climbed out to the rest of the way. Shortly the walk, we spotted a peach-fronted perched high in a tree. We up various loose rocked so that we could get a view of the cliff where two of the field would show us how they had to the hyacinth nests. The nests are in cavities half-way down the and 14 to 20 feet into the rock. than 50 percent of the nests are to even the most skilled Field assistants Paulo and scurried up the foliaged side of the with no effort and prepared to themselves with a $60 natural-fiber While we waited, another assistant told us how he once 50 feet while cliff sliding across loose all the way.

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We watched as Paulo and each took a turn the rock side of the cliff and thankfully when they done. Maybe it was the altitude, but I a very deep sigh of when they were again.

I knew these trappers would rather this dangerous task a few times a year for tourists to frequently risk their their families and their if they were to continue parrots as a profession. Ironically, it was our guides’ experience as trappers made our trip so rewarding. know where each is, when the birds eat, the birds eat, what certain birds will to the camp and what sound about any native bird It was exciting to see how their way of life was to preserve the land instead of it for the pet trade or sell it for large-scale

Preserving nature is a common of many industrialized (and countries, but to people who have lived off the land, conservation is a new It would be like someone us we can buy food from only one at the grocery store.

Ecotourism an alternative way of life when the people see that the land has value as tourist sites. ecotourism efforts in Peru directly created 150 jobs and been indirectly responsible for more. The Hyacinth Cliffs is in its third year, and more will be created as its popularity tourists increases. For just the of us, there was a field director, field assistants, a cook and two

Day 6: Monkey business

On this our last at the camp, we split two groups: one group went to see the at the blind, and the other group on a hike to see the sun rise from the red cliffs. Back at camp, we a pair of blue-and-gold macaws on top of a tree in the distance, and then pair on a closer palm we could walk to. They off when we were about 350 away, but we got an excellent look Munn’s high -powered (7×42, Swarovski brand).

lunch we began the drive to the town of Barreiras where we stay for the night. On the way there, we to look for monkeys. The field spotted a tufted-eared marmoset and two howler monkeys for us, and one of them climbed a tree and shook it so the monkeys would run right us in the trees.

There were a few on our way back to Barreiras, but they added to the adventure. First we detained by IBAMA, the equivalent of Fish and Wildlife, for nearly an They checked our passports and our three cars to be sure we transporting anything illegal. It was a tad at first, but we glad to know if any birds were being by anyone, they would them.

Our second detour was by one of the vehicles breaking down, but we the time to continue working on our We could say: good good evening, cool, it’s good, white car and up to seven.

We arrived at a great hotel in around 10 p.m and then headed to a pizza place overlooking the Rio river. Brazil is well for its music, so we were surprised to American country music as the of such a young and hip-looking

Day 7: Politics and pop

Before going to the we visited a 140-foot waterfall. of the group swam, and others fed a of small, iridescent fish gathered upstream. Pictures capture the magnitude of the fall or the way it people away when got too close.

Our flight out of Barreiras was by about an hour because the from Salvador (which on to Brasilia, our destination) was carrying a politician and a Brazilian pop star. We when that airport had seen so much action in one

We had about four hours to in Brasilia, and that’s when a expert like Munn came in handy. We did it all: saw the at the zoo, took in a view of the from the TV Tower and drove to see how this retro-looking city was out. Brasilia was built in as the country’s new capital, and it has a very and deliberate design.

We got back to the in time for our 7:30 p.m flight to Sгo and then flew from Sгo to Miami, arriving around a.m on Day 8.

Nothing can compare to my experiences in I felt close to nature, to my fellow travelers and grateful to our I can’t think of another in my life when I learned so and felt so fulfilled.

(Website information on tours can be found at the website.

Volkswagen Brasilia
Volkswagen Brasilia

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