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Parrot Conservation in Nicaragua: Looking for Loros

Published 04/27/13

Dr. LoraKim Joyner of Lafeber Conservation and Wildlife blogs:

Have you ever gone looking for something really precious that you know should be where you put it, and when you cannot discover its location, you succumb to a feeling of senseless loss and frustration? If so, then you can well imagine being with me and my cohorts this past week in Nicaragua as we went in search of parrots. I traveled with Kim Williams-Guillén and Martin Lezama López of Paso Pacifico, and Tom White of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Project.

We had a two-fold goal: learn about radio telemetry through Tom’s guidance, and place several radio collars on the target species, the yellow-naped amazon known locally as the loro. The other objective was offering my experiences and skills in yellow-naped ecology and health by demonstrating and training during nest and wild chick exams.

The week started off well with Tom teaching radio telemetry during a workshop in Managua that also included a hands on field exercise. The day before we went into the field, Tom had placed radio collars near the trails in Finca Montibelli outside of Managua. I had watched him do this and thought, “Hah, this will be too easy and will take no time at all.”

Well finding what you are looking for can take longer than expected. Calculating from the fact that people reported spending about 10 minutes a day looking for lost items, the average adult over a life time uses up 152 days searching for objects, with over two weeks of that time being just looking for car keys. I always thought that I needed a key that emitted a beacon so I could hone in on its location. But then I would probably misplace the receiver that picked up the beacon’s signal.

With radio receivers in hand, three groups went searching for the hidden radio collars. I tagged along with one group, who without Tom’s guidance would I imagine still be out in the woods trying to recover the collars. When we did find a collar each in the group suddenly was infused with energy in the melting heat, much like a child who finds the carefully hidden prize egg during an Easter egg hunt. We laughed and smiled with one another, and without words affirmed that life is often a lot harder than one would imagine. If things were quick and easy, we might not gain the satisfaction of challenge, completion, and contribution.

Quick and easy is not radio telemetry, nor is parrot conservation.

It takes determination, clarity of focus, and a kind of stubbornness to keep on in the struggle, despite the difficulty of obtaining the goal – free flying parrots flourishing in their native habitats.

These characteristics became readily apparent in my traveling companions as we left Managua and headed south into Rivas near the town of San Juan del Sur. Without missing a beat we all agreed to meet for coffee at 4:45 a.m. and then to start the day in search of yellow-naped amazon nests.

The first nest brought a shout of glee when the climber reported two chicks! The team soon grew quiet when the species was identified not as napes, but as mealy amazons. This made a lot of sense as two pairs of mealys had been quite vociferous upon our arrival – not so much yelling at us as at each other in their marking and protecting of nest and territory. The next nest had a camera high up in the tree that had indicated the chicks had suddenly disappeared last week. Indeed they were gone when we checked by climbing the tree.

Over the next two days we walked, lugged, climbed, sweated, and despaired. No chicks.

There had been nests but they had already been poached, and in a few cases, had successfully fledged. On the last afternoon the nest tree was down a deep ravine. I waited half way due to a knee injury and not wanting to walk up and out at night. From Tom I heard the story how this nest, like the first one, had been a tease. The climber reported “seeing something green” and hopes rose. With a flashlight, though, the green turned out to be fresh parrot feces – the birds had flown!

For the days’ work, no radio collars got placed and no live chicks examined, but not for want of trying. Turns out the only parrot I handled was a dead one. A family that protects one of the nests had found a dead chick at the base of the tree. After a 13 hour day already, I was handed a frozen carcass to be necropsied before dinner. The team gathered around me as once again bad news was given. “This is not a yellow-naped amazon, but is a white-fronted amazon.” Apparently killed by a predator, this young female would not give us the data we searched for in regards to nape nesting success. We couldn’t even find a dead one of the desired species!

On the night drive back to Managua the mood brightened. We had worked hard and the Nicaragua team knew more about how to conduct the study next year. Tom agreed that he would be delighted to return to help them place the radio collars. I will too if schedule and financing allows.

Even without the success of finding chicks this year, the days were not lost time such as when looking for keys. The key here is obvious – the efforts of Paso Pacifico and their conservation team members matter. For they are looking for what all of us have lost – abundant parrot populations throughout their country.

With such a challenging goal before us, we wished each other good hope and safe travels, saying as we departed, “Next year in Managua!”

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