Visiting one of the mineral "licks" in the Amazon is a wonderful experience. Hundreds of birds congregating and concentrated in one place is a bit of a novelty in an environment where diversity, not necessarily density is the name of the game. Many species seen during a tour to western Amazonia will only be encountered once or twice, but not so this morning.
Parrots visit the "licks" (the wall of a riverbank, or former riverbank) to take lumps of mud. It is believed that the mud from the banks contain properties that neutralise the harmful toxins ingested by these birds contained in their diet consisting mainly of fruit. There is thought to be no nutritional value in the process whatsoever.
Approaching the hide many parrots can be heard in the early morning mist, eventually they settle on the bank and begin to take the mud. The first birds to arrive are the smaller parrots, normally several hundred of them, mainly Blue-headed Parrots.
Some of the larger parrots like Yellow-crowned and Mealy Parrots (above) gather in the trees, before descending to the lick, mingling with the Blue-headeds.
Blue-headed, Mealy (top) and Orange-cheeked (right) Parrots, Blanquillo Macaw Lick, Manu October 2009.
The Blanquillo Macaw Lick is a particularly good place to see one of my favourite parrots. The ornate Orange-cheeked Parrot can be seen elsewhere, but the views obtained of this colourful bird with its red underwing, black head and wing tips, yellow shoulder and of course orange cheeks are something to savour for sure.
But of course it's the macaws that everyone wants to see on the banks. There's usually a lull in proceedings (good time for me to pour the coffee and dish out the pancakes) with little happening at the lick. Slowly the macaws begin to gather above the lick, although they are always reluctant and hesitant at first.
Only the Red-and-Green Macaws attend this lick regularly. Once the brave have ventured down onto the banks, others will follow.
There's usually plenty of other birds to see during the stint at the lick. Green Ibis, Sunbitterns and Wattled Jacanas frequent the small oxbow with Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Little Ground-Tyrant (above) and Yellow-browed Sparrow (below) in the vegetation below the hide.
Making the journey back to the boats the trail passes through secondary growth and plantations, a break from intact primary forest. Some birds at home in disturbed habitats like Barred Antshrike and Bluish-fronted Jacamar can be seen here with riverine species like Purus Jacamar and Straight-billed Woodcreeper present too.