In January 2016, Cornell Lab of Ornithology supported the Asociación Armonía / Loro Parque Fundación Blue-throated Macaw Conservation Program discovering a new rainy-season roosting site of the Blue-throated Macaw.
Fifteen birds were recorded by Gustavo Sánchez and Rudy Alarcón at a roosting site, where the macaws congregate and spend the night, 40 Km North of the Barba Azul Nature Reserve in an area where BTM were not known to exist.
In 2003, the entire Blue-throated Macaw population was believed to exist only east of the Mamore River- a river that diagonally cuts the 160,000 Km2 Beni savanna in half. In 2006, Mauricio Herrera, the past BTM coordinator discovered a new site for the BTM 100 km west of the Mamore River, which led to the discovery of more birds in the general area. This in turn led to an expedition in 2008, supported by American Bird Conservancy and the Loro Parque Fundación to discover the largest concentration of Blue-throated Macaws in Beni, Bolivia, and hence the world. That site, which yearly counts over 100 BTM individuals has become the Armonía 11,000 ha Barba Azul Nature Reserve.
“The macaws are found in high numbers from May until November, when they use Barba Azul Nature Reserve to forage, roost and mate.”
After they mate at the end of October, beginning of November, the birds leave Barba Azul for at least 3 to 4 months during their breeding season (November until April). From March onwards, small flocks start returning to Barba Azul, frequently pairs with recently fledged chicks.
But the question remains, where do all these pairs go to breed in the rainy season? The rainy season in the Beni is characterized by hyper-seasonal flooding, where most of the grasslands are flooded. This pretty much stops vehicle traffic to most areas for 3-5 months- and swings the Beni culture back to the olden days whereby your trustworthy steed is by far the most reliable way to get across a swath of savanna habitat speckled with flooding, small rivers, knee deep mud and head high grasses. This climatic impediment has made breeding site research complicated and expensive, as it usually requires a charter flight to the closest airfield and then a mounted camping trip planned during a lull in the rains and flooding.
Given the cost and limited area such an investigation is hard to finance. The Blue-throated Macaw conservation program must be selective on which sites it can visit. The problem is confounded by the more abundant Blue-and-yellow Macaw that shares the Beni savanna treed habitat with the Blue-throated Macaw.
For the casual observer, the two birds are similar blue with yellow macaws, whereby many ranch owners claim proudly they protect the Beni endemic Blue-throated Macaw, when they only have the South America generalist Blue-and-Yellow Macaw. The Armonía Blue-throated Macaw conservation team has had more rough field trips than we would care to admit to verify a new site where the owner swears to have many Blue-throated Macaws, only to find local confusion with the Blue-and-Yellow Macaw. Thus, we were prepared to be burned again trying to verify this Beni savanna cattle ranch and the owner who was so confident he knew the Blue-throated Macaw and its distinctive field marks.
As a consequence, we are elated to confirm that the Blue-throated Macaws travel to this region in the rainy season, and that a roosting site with at least 15 Blue-throated Macaws is in the area. It also hints strongly that this area could have nesting pairs.
“The question is, are these the birds that winter at Barba Azul Nature Reserve?”
We think so, but we really need to confirm if they are the same birds, and if this is the generally preferred area for breeding. In order to shed some light over the interrogatives arisen about the movements of the Blue-throated Macaw population, we plan to install some 15 nesting boxes in the vicinity of the newly discovered roosting site.
We still have a lot of questions, the main one being is the Barba Azul population one loose group, all of them breeding in a specific general area, or does Barba Azul receive Blue-throated Macaws from across the 150 km Beni savanna population distribution? The knowledge of which is important for our long-term conservation strategy.
The Armonía / Loro Parque Fundación project plans to answer these questions with Blue-throated Macaw movement research and more punctuated flooded breeding surveys in the upcoming season. This discovery has been another important piece in the complex puzzle on the natural history of the Blue-throated Macaw.