Sunday, November 20, 2011

Clay Lick, Manu National Park

One day we woke up before the sun, and as soon as its first rays hit the Amazon tree line, we boarded a boat, and went up the river to watch hundreds of macaws, parrots, parakeets, and parrotlets eat their breakfast at a mineral-rich river bank known as a "clay lick."

Some foods eaten by macaws and parrots contain toxic or caustic substances, and initially it had been suggested that eating clay could help these birds neutralize the ingested food toxins, and help with their digestion. Newer research, however, suggests that the macaws–and few other bird species–flock to clay licks because of sodium, a mineral found near the ocean but otherwise not easily available.

No matter what the reason the birds have to come to the clay licks, they do put on a fabulous show for the observers. So as not to disturb them in their natural habitat, our boat stopped some 100 to 150 meters away from the clay lick, on the opposite bank of the river from the feasting birds. We hid under a canopy of palm leaves, and watched hundreds of parrots and macaws fly above our heads to get to their breakfast spot. The morning was so quiet, and the birds were so close to us, we could hear their wings flap. It was a bit more difficult to observe them once they landed on the clay lick, as by then they were pretty far away from us. The gloomy weather was not helping the visibility either. Even with my zoom lens I was unable to take good photos of the birds on the clay lick. Others, to be able to see the birds, had to use powerful binoculars. And, even then, we were not able to tell different species from one another. Still, it was a great experience that I would highly recommend, and I would not mind repeating it myself soon.

Parrots flying in the direction of the clay lick:

A gray-pink clay lick at the riverbank:

Macaw flying away after the breakfast:

Our boat: