There are events in the emotional roller-coaster of avian rehab that remind us of why we do this job. Last week was one of them.
Continuing on from our success of 2014, in April this year we received 9 baby yellow-heads from the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment managed Payne's Creek National Park. We hand raised the birds, and also added a further 4 older yellow-heads that have been liberated from the illegal captive wildlife trade.
After a few false starts over the last month, we finally picked a day and stuck to it: it was time to take the TIDE yellowhead babies back home.
As luck would have it the trip coincided with one of Amanda Margraves’ visits to Belize. She’s an extremely experienced rehabber from Florida, and pops down occasionally to take a break and get her ‘Belize fix’. Amanda loves being around the wild parrots so we thought it would be great for her to go on a parrot release: something very few rehabbers get to experience.
The evening before the big day, we caught up the 13 birds from their outdoor enclosure at Belize Bird Rescue, weighed them, did a last quick once-over and crated them overnight ready for an early start the next day. To appease their indignation, they received a treat in the form of a rare helping of sunflower seeds.
Having put the birds through this indignity, and previously agreed to stick to this date ‘come what may’, we were dismayed to see that the unseasonably long, dry spell we had been experiencing had broken into a tropical wave. “Never mind” said Amanda and Oscar, “we’ll be fine: it can’t rain all day”
How wrong can you be?
With the usual mixed feelings of satisfaction and trepidation at seeing our long-term rehab birds leave the centre for release, we waved them off (not so) bright and early at 7am. Despite less than ideal driving conditions, Oscar had everyone at the dock in Punta Gorda by 10:30am. Unfortunately, the rough seas meant that the boat didn’t make it for another hour and a half, stripping them of our early-start advantage.
The birds, supplies and people were loaded into the boat, and they headed off toward Payne’s Creek National Park. It didn’t take long for Amanda to realise she had been conned into a ‘nice trip down south and a gentle boat ride’ as the boat slammed into every one of the ‘giant’ waves, sending a tsunami of icy seawater into Amanda and Oscar’s faces. There wasn’t a dry spot on anyone or anything: miserable people and nervous birds.
Finally they reached the dock. The pre-release enclosure was given a final check to make sure there were no holes or breaks in the wire since last year, a couple of new perches were added and a new feeding platform to accommodate the many more beaks that would be occupying the enclosure for the next 2 weeks.
All birds were unscathed and content and an awful lot drier than their human carers. They were released into their temporary home and headed straight for the food dishes as if nothing had happened.
After the final instructions to the wonderful TIDE rangers and a quick farewell to the birds, Oscar and Amanda re-boarded the boat and were subjected to another hour of salt-water facials.
It was approaching dusk by the time they arrived back at the dock. They gave up looking for something dry to sit on or even just wipe their faces with, jumped into the vehicle, turned the heat up full blast and headed home. They arrived tired, soaked and cold 4 hours later. Apparently Amanda has written me a stern note, but she hasn’t yet given it to me. Maybe I have already been forgiven…
In two weeks the TIDE Rangers will open the hatch on the enclosure and the 13 parrots will be free to join their families once more.
Thank you to everyone involved in this amazing journey: Dr Lorakim Joyner and Charles Britt for assisting with the 9 babies’ relocation to BBR back in April and for carrying out extensive health checks on these and other birds since
Oscar Valle, Sarah Mann, Marc-Andre Villeneuve, Lauren Whitfield, Amanda Dilbeck, Carla Zepeda and Lisa Matthews who all having a hand in raising the Payne’s Creek babies
Lafebers and Hagen (Prime, Tropican) for fabulous donations of hand-feeding formulas and other essential products, not to mention Belize Forest Dept officers, especially Hannah St Luce Martinez and Victoria Cawich for their amazing work with the Captive Wildlife Programme in Belize.
And of course, Mario Muschamp and all of the TIDE rangers who work tirelessly to protect this incredible and unique species.