Colpa Chuncho

Red and Green Macaws

Red and Green Macaws

One of the tourist activities offered here in the Tambopata Nature Reserve is the chance to camp at Colpa Chuncho, one of the bigger macaw and parrot clay licks in the area.  Daniël, Anouk, Kevin and I jumped on the boat with two German tourists; one of which didn’t hide the fact that she had a serious case of khaki fever for Marco, the guide for this particular expedition.  Pedro, the multi-talented and master of all, accompanied us as cook and to help set up camp.

On the way to Colpa Chuncho

On the way to Colpa Chuncho

Upriver the forest and river changes from sandy beaches and murky brown water to dense stands of Cecropia trees, dark water and rocky beaches.  It took us four hours to reach the campsite where Pedro and the boat driver raked away the leaves and expertly erected the tents, complete with drainage channels to prevent water from entering the tent.  The toilet is a hole in the ground with a makeshift seat placed over it, the only privacy a plastic sheet covering one side.

Our home for the evening.

Our home for the evening.

The luxurious toilet in the forest.

The luxurious toilet in the forest.

That afternoon we went for a forest walk to explore the area.  Throughout the walk, poor Marco had to discreetly discourage the advances of the German tourist – who was substantially older than he is; it was hilarious to watch his discomfort as he tried to be polite while he covertly showed his distress whenever she wasn’t looking.  Thankfully, there was a lot to see, including several mammal prints, some belonging to a jaguar.  Later, by chance, we managed to acquaint ourselves a little more with the likely owner of these prints (more on this later).

Daniël walking on the pebble beach next to the Tambopata River

Daniël walking on the pebble beach next to the Tambopata River

The following morning we went to visit the Colpa – a long stretch of steep mud bank where birds and mammals come to eat clay.  It was amazing to see the massive flock of over 500, if not more, noisy macaws and parrots gathered on the trees around the clay lick.  Any disturbance triggered a chain reaction whereby all 500+ birds will scatter into the air, accompanied by a cacophony of sound, only to eventually treacle back to their chosen vantage points when the threat is over.

A pandemonium of Mealy parrots

A pandemonium of Mealy parrots

One such disturbance was an unidentified raptor that managed to capture a parrot in mid-flight.  While the raptor was tearing away pieces of flesh from the now deceased parrot, the rest of the birds circled ominously around the tree where it was eating, making every effort to chase away the intruder with their incessant noise and mock mobbings.  It finally decided to leave – I suspect it was hoping to preserve its acute sense of hearing for another day – allowing the mob to settle down once more.

Parrots restlessly circling a tree where a raptor is devouring one of their mates. If you look closely, you will see the raptor in the tree

Parrots restlessly circling a tree where a raptor is devouring one of their mates. If you look closely, you will see the raptor in the tree

The parrots eventually gave up and left whilst it took the macaws the better part of the morning to finally feel comfortable enough to come down and eat some of the clay.  The bright colours of the feathers against the reddish orange clay makes for beautiful photos causing the big group of tourist (including yours truly) to click away frantically in order to capture every moment.  This natural spectacle is something to behold and highly recommended even to those with no interest in birds.

Colpa Chuncho clay lick

Colpa Chuncho clay lick

While on the way back to Explorer’s Inn, as I drifted to sleep on the gently rocking boat, I could see it playing repeatedly in my minds’ eye, the image of a moving mass of vibrant colours forever etched into my memory.

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2 thoughts on “Colpa Chuncho

    • The theory is that Macaws eat clay to boost their sodium levels. Sodium is a vital element that is scarce in environments far away from the coast. Macaws increase their clay in-take during the breeding season, as they feed clay to their offspring as well. There are theories that Macaws use the clay to neutralise toxins that they consume, but studies have shown this not be the case. The other theory is that the clay contains B12 which is something their usual diet might lack, but this is yet to be proven.

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