The Wonders of the “Whaa Whaa”: Part II

After the excitement of the first day of the month long survey things were looking great. Spending time with Tim and Christine was fantastic; they were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the Yellow-napes. On our second day we were up early to try and locate birds for the vocalisation study and to locate the roost as the birds left for the day. This morning I was paired up with Molly, another research assistant from Pittsburgh Johnstown University; we had one of the cars and drove to a viewpoint overlooking mangrove. Here we sat scanning the forest below us, waiting to hear another “Wha Wha” contact call which is so unique to the Yellow-napes.

The morning went well and we even got a close up view of a pair when they flew into a nearby tree. Unfortunately we didn’t see any patterns in the direction the bird was flying, but Molly did manage to get some good recordings of the birds. After three hours watching and listening to the birds fly out to their feeding grounds we headed back to find the others. On our way to find Tim and Sophie (an intern from Cornell University) we were stopped in our tracks by the roaring of howler monkeys just above the road. These calm and slow-paced monkeys spend their lives eating fruits and leaves, howling to mark their territory but also taking exception to passing vehicles! When we were reunited with the rest of the team there was good news; the roost had been located so we had somewhere to focus our counts on that evening.

For the rest of the day most of the team set about processing their recordings from that morning, and this gave Sophie and I time to go and do some grocery shopping and explore a bit. We drove to the nearest town, Puntarenas, and picked up supplies for the next couple of days and also ingredients for a Costa Rican style dinner for that evening (even though we had no idea how to actually cook Costa Rican food).

After our shopping trip we went off in search of Punta Lora or Amazon Point, thinking that it might be named as such because it is home to a roost. So with our trusty map in hand we set off down what turned out to be a labyrinth of dirt roads. After we had been driving for over an hour the road gradually started to get narrower and narrower and the map suggested we were close to our destination so we ploughed on (quite literally). The dirt road became more of a mud road and the puddles became bigger and bigger and then the road ended. As much as this amused us, it also meant we had to get back out; luckily our little Suzuki Jimney was made for situations such as this and without even touching the sides we were back on our way. As we left the puddle-ridden mud road a local man came in the other direction, and so as not to seem like an arrogant tourist I – in my broken Spanish – asked for directions. Using the map and sign language we worked out that he had no idea where we were on the map, let alone the place we wanted to get to, so we moved on. Then ensued a further 3 hours of driving around the labyrinth without getting any closer to our destination, if it even existed. We finally gave up when we came to another dead end – this time though we were pretty sure we were on the right track but a swollen river blocked our path. As I slowly edged forward into the water I had visions of the disaster that was inevitably about to occur, with that I made the wise decision not to cross the muddy swollen river in a car no bigger than fridge and instead head home.

As the sun was nearing the horizon we split up and set off to try and do our first roost count; some people went directly to the roost while I headed back on the hill to double check there wasn’t a second splinter roost. Up on the hill I watched the sunset over the Gulf of Nicoya as Yellow-naped Amazons flew into roost below me, an unforgettable experience. Hearing the “Wha Wha” is something I don’t think I will ever tire of.

After a fun day of exploring and success with the Yellow-napes both Sophie and I were excited to cook a feast for everyone to celebrate. One of the main parts of the feast was to be patacones, which for those who don’t know them they are double fried plantain; first they are simply fried then they are squashed and then fried again to make crispy discs. Unfortunately for me I had no idea how to do this and the night ended in disaster with me flipping a pan full of boiling oil over my hand and torso.

Not to go into the horrible details but after a trip to the hospital, some burn cream and some morphine I was driven back to Punta Islita to spend the next two weeks in rehab while the rest of the team continued the surveys.

About the Author
Staff and volunteers at The Ara Project come from all over the world and all walks of life! Some of us have years of experience working with parrots and in conservation and for some of us, this work is brand new! But we all have one thing in common which is that we're dedicated to helping these beautiful birds roam free once again in Costa Rica.