A moment of magic in the jungle
There are only an estimated 400 Great Green Macaws left in Costa Rica and possibly as few as 2000 left in the world. My mission was to capture footage of these endangered parrots during their breeding season, but it was not going to be an easy task. I would be searching for the vivid green parrot amongst one of the lushest green jungles, in an area almost three times as large as Washington DC. What at first seemed like a game of cat and mouse, soon turned into my favorite memory of the Costa Rican wilds.
It was about 4 pm and it had been a long, hot, sticky day in the field: we had spent hours in the hot midday sun in search of the elusive Great Green Macaw. After a lot of water, sun cream and a whole bunch of empty nest cavities, I had resigned myself to the fact I may not see any of the birds that day. With our feet sore and stomachs grumbling, we pushed on to the last location of the day. So far we had come up short, only faint “squawks” in the distance had teased us of their presence. We headed to the last place, which wasn’t an easy drive, over steep, uneven hills and muddy ditches in unkempt farmland. We even had to drive over very precarious remains of a collapsed bridge–a great crack in the land, full of boulders and rubble. Despite the few extra beats added to my heart rate, every hair-raising moment was worth the breath-taking landscape that finally surrounded us. The evening sun started to gleam through the trees creating rays of light, which illuminated the forest flora and fauna. Everything sparkled under the afternoon sun and although still farmland, much of the area was forested and home to a variety of wildlife.
As we continued, we headed down a hill into a secluded patch of forest that opened up to reveal one of the largest tree cavities I had ever seen. The huge opening was large enough for a man to stand in, with room to spare, and I can only think that it must have been just as impressively deep too. Soon, an evening mist started to roll in through the trees, creating an enchanted forest, that you could only imagine existing in fairy tales. Even if I didn’t see any Great Green macaws I would still have been happy to be in such a beautiful area. As we got nearer, we found an enclosed patch of forest and we settled into position, hiding behind bushes and ferns trying to mask our presence. After waiting for what only felt like a couple of minutes, we heard that familiar “Squawk, Squawk” that we had been chasing all day. From overhead, a pair of the magnificent Great Greens suddenly swooped down gracefully to the cavity. The beautiful birds played, preened and cooed to one another. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to witness them in the wild. Their spectacular colours of green, blue, red and yellow contrasted the dark brown bark of the tree, showing their almost iridescent coat in all of its glory. After a few minutes of this amazing display, one of the macaws entered the enormous cavity, only to re-appear moments later re-join her mate. The field team quietly whispered amongst themselves about the possibility that there may be chicks inside the nest and that the pair had returned to feed their young. A thought that filled me with hope and delight for these endangered birds. The happy couple watched their nest eagerly from a nearby branch while continuing to preen each other, then after what felt like a blink of an eye, they left as swiftly as they arrived. Although brief, it was a breath-taking experience, and now, with the end of the day near and all data recorded, it was time to head home.
Feeling satisfied with our encounter we loaded the car with our gear. As we packed the last bag into the car, all ready for the long journey home, we noticed a large dark cloud moving above us at an extraordinary speed. Only it wasn’t a cloud, it was countless migrating black vultures. Watching them circle and swoop in such numbers was mesmerizing as they carefully glided in between one another. We all started guessing how many there were, “500”, “No! a thousand”. As if this was not a fantastic enough experience on its own, all of a sudden, piercing through our chatter, “Squawk, squawk!” We whipped our heads around, searching the sunset horizon for them, hoping we could spot even just a glance once more before the light faded. However, to our astonishment, a flock of 15 of the emerald macaws flew overhead and graced us with a low flying pass. The mist that had rolled in earlier now engulfed the forest floor, and the orange ember glow, danced on the silhouetted forest edge. It made for a magical scene. We stood in awe of these beautiful parrots and the scenery for as long as we could, but dusk was upon us.
Once we were no longer able to see the magical macaws, we started our long journey home. A feeling of electricity and joy flowed between us during the dark drive home. A feeling that charged us for the following morning, another day in the field. All just a day in the life of a wildlife conservationist.
Thank you for reading,