Collecting data in the bush doesn't always have to involve high-tech gear and fancy equipment. Sometimes, household items and tools will do the trick just as well, and much more affordably.
On our trip into the Pantanal wetlands with biologists from the Hyacinth Macaw Project, we were able to see first hand the simplistic type of equipment they use to collect data on macaw chicks. All we took into the swamp was a bucket and two backpacks filled with a cloth, a tarp, a sack, a small scale, cardboard tubing, two measuring tools, a pasta ladle, some water, a pad of paper, a pencil and some basic climbing equipment.
Once we arrived at the nesting tree, the effort started with Rodrigo Lott – a biology
||"Amongst the deafening noise, Rodrigo places the chick back in the hole and rappels down the tree."|
student and researcher for the project – using a small collection of ropes, pulleys and a harness to raise himself up to the earlier identified macaw nest about 35 feet up a manduvi tree. While hyacinth macaws also use acurri and bocaiuva palms for nuts and occasional nesting, the manduvi tree is their preferred nesting site. Approximately 90% of the hyacinth macaws in the Pantanal use this tree, most likely because the manduvi has a soft kernal – frequently already hollowed out by termites or woodpeckers – which can easily be increased to provide a safe place for large young macaws.
Once Rodrigo gets himself positioned beside the nest, the chicks begin squawking and creating a horrendous racket. Douglas Kajiwara, the Project Biologist for this site, sends up a bucket and cloth with the rope and pulley.
After sticking his arms into the tree opening up to his shoulders, Rodrigo – still suspended in the air by ropes and his harness – is unable to pull either of the two chicks out as they retreat further into the hole every time he reaches for them. This continues for about thirty minutes, until Douglas finally sends up a kitchen pasta ladle with an elongated handle. Rodrigo uses the ladle to corral one of the chicks within reach.
||Collecting data on one nest can take three and a half hours.|
When Rodrigo pulls the chick out from the tree, he throws a dark cloth over its head, which immediately calms it and stops the squawking. The darkness of the cloth immobilizes the chick, so he is able to put it in the bucket and carefully lower it down to Douglas.
By now, we've spread a light tarp on the ground to work on. Douglas pulls a tube-shaped piece of cardboard over the still cloaked bird, which works as a sleeve – or straightjacket. This allows us to weigh the bird on a small scale without risk of injury to it, and determine how much weight the chick has put on since the last time they captured it.
After marking its new weight, he uses a tape measuring stick and calipers to determine the new size of the chick's bill, tail and flight feathers, body length and claws. When he is done writing all the new figures down, he puts the bird into a white sack with a string cinch, and puts it back into the bucket. He then hoists the bucket back up the tree where Rodrigo is waiting.
As soon as Rodrigo takes off the hood, the chick begins a low, braying squawk again, which immediately gets his sibling chick in the nest going too. Amongst the deafening noise, Rodrigo places the chick back in the hole and repels down the tree.
Normally, Rodrigo and Douglas would collect data on both chicks, however, today we are cutting it short and heading back as we have a plane to catch. The whole procedure took about an hour. So if you tack on the 40-minute walk through the swamp each way, and another hour or so for the second chick, collecting data on this one nest can take three and a half hours.
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