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Annual Spectacle at World's Largest Macaw & Parrot Clay Lick

Created: 13 September 2013

June 20, 2013

When I first scouted the Tambopata Reserve in South-Eastern Peru in the early 90's it was sheer luck that I happened to be there in early October, during the peak activity of the world's largest macaw and parrot clay lick. During September and October, the number of birds at the lick swells to upwards of 1,000, with five species of macaws and 15 species of parrots and parakeets. The sky is literally full of color and sound! It was one of the first times I remember feeling like I had stumbled upon one of nature's greatest events.

The first morning I was there, I got up early enough to witness the first rays of dawn light up the Amazon. A lone blue-and-yellow macaw circled above the red riverbank cliffs. A flock of scarlet macaws followed shortly thereafter, with flocks of Blue-headed Macaws, Mealy and Yellow-crowned Amazons and Dusky-billed Parrotlets not far behind. Suddenly, the sky was full of brightly colored birds, circling above the tall clay walls and landing on the cliff with loud squawks. Within minutes the red clay was transformed into a shifting kaleidoscope of pulsing blues, greens, reds and yellows, as more than a thousand squawking macaws covered every foot of clay. The show continued for about 3 hours until an eagle arrived, and the macaws, sensing danger, all departed at once in an explosion of sound and color. No amount of words can do it justice. It was an experience of a lifetime.

This clay lick, the largest in the world, is located in the "Reserved Zone" of Tambopata Reserve, a 5 hour motorized boat ride from the "Cultural Zone." The wildlife in the area around the lick was an unexpected surprise to me after guiding in Costa Rica for many years. Within a few days, I had seen a jaguar, 8 species of primates, giant Amazonian otters, and a rich array of other mammals, amphibians and birds. The lack of geographical boundaries within Peru's rainforest, combined with the dramatic biodiversity (nearby Manu Biosphere Reserve, also included in our tour, is the #1 park on earth for biodiversity) means that the odds are in favor of less predictable, and more exciting wildlife encounters that are once-in-a-lifetime sightings - even for a guide like me. And they were happening several times a day! In one morning I had seen a jaguar, a tapir, a long-tailed potoo, a coral snake, an ornate hawk-eagle, and well over 1,000 macaws at the clay lick. This was a wildlife lover's dream trip as far as I was concerned.

I had to find out if I was just lucky, or if this was the norm. The other guides verified what I thought - with the exception of the jaguar, this was the norm. I had a sense that even jaguar sightings could be improved. Over the next year, I contacted over 30 guides in the region, and found that less than 15% had ever seen a jaguar themselves. But there was a common thread to all of their sightings; nearly all of them reported that it had been at dawn, by the riverside, as the jaguar came down to drink. Because of this, I created an exclusive activity for Wild Planet's guests, our Jaguar Kayak Float. On the morning we're scheduled to leave the Reserved Zone, we get up at dawn and float silently downriver, looking for jaguar and tapir by the riverside for several hours, until the motorboat catches up with us. Our sightings of Jaguar jumped dramatically, to about 25%. While this can't compete with the 1.5 jaguars per day that we see in Brazil's Pantanal, it's still probably the best track record for jaguar sightings in Peru. Recent visitors this year saw 3 jaguars in one trip!

There is no better time to visit Peru than this September and October. You'll not only take advantage of the year's peak activity at the world's largest macaw and parrot clay lick, you'll also benefit from dramatically less tourist traffic at Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, which is the final component of our trip, along with Tambopata Reserve and Manu Biosphere Reserve. To celebrate the annual peak activity at the macaw clay lick, we're offering rare discounts on select Galapagos Ultimate Wildlife Cruises during September and October so you can create a Peru & Galapagos Ultimate Wildlife combination trip for a truly legendary wildlife vacation of epic proportions!

Josh Cohen

Director, Wild Planet Adventures

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