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Barba Azul: Blue-throated Macaws and so much more!

Barba Azul: Blue-throated Macaws and so much more!

My South-America trip still contained a gap of two weeks. The plan was to travel four weeks in Chile first and about two weeks after that would be my first day on a language school in Cusco. So it would make a lot of sense to travel through Bolivia, new country, new experiences and new animals! Only I didn’t really have a clue of what I was going to do. Three weeks before I would go away to Chile I suddenly stumbled upon a page from Asociación Armonía, the Bolivian version of BirdLife. The page about Barba Azul looked very interesting and I noticed there was a possibility to stay there working as a volunteer. I was supposed to get in touch with Tjalle Boorsma, which is a very Dutch name! So I just sent an email in Dutch and also received a reply in Dutch. Fortunately it was possible for me to stay there as a volunteer. So after Chile it was on to Bolivia!

The trip from Arica in Chile to Santa Cruz in Bolivia was long. Santa Cruz is a fine city to stay in though and in the Jardín Botanico I saw among other stuff my first sloth and in Curichi del Madre my first Squirrel Monkeys: a good start! However I needed to be about 500km further: to the city of Trinidad. After a two day stay in Santa Cruz I went off for a nightlong bus ride again and then I had an additional two days to spend in Trinidad. Trinidad is very hot so I decided to go luxurious and arrange for a hotel with a swimming pool. In the morning I went for walks to see animals. The locals were very helpful and pointed me to a locally famous pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaw. Close to the airport I also saw a beautiful Three-toed Sloth in a tree.

The airport is also good for more beautiful bird species which are included in the gallery below.


Apart from that at this airport it’s apparently the custom to just leave discarded planes -which may or may not have crashed before- just lying around.

The time in Trinidad was not too bad, but it also shouldn’t last too long. Luckily the plane to Barba Azul would leave shortly. That’s also some kind of enterprise. First you’ll take a Cessna to a little place called Santa Ana del Yacuma. This little plane is a kind of taxi which you’ll share with anybody who wants to go there as well. Everyone including the luggage gets stuffed in to that little plane, then a quick check if there are no drugs hidden in the luggage and there we go! In the air we had a beautiful view over the Beni Savannah.

No drugs!

At Santa Ana del Yacuma we are supposed to take another Cessna. Now all kinds of supplies need to go with us and they exercise strict control whether or not we are above the weight limit. Everything and everyone gets weighted and it turns out we are 150kg above the maximum. So we sort out carefully what we can leave behind. In the meantime there is some kind of local event going on and a lot of people on horses pass by. The inhabitants of the Beni Savannah live like the cowboys from the Old West! Finally we are stuffed in the plane again with all our luggage and we ascend again. After a flight of about two hours we land on a unpaved landing strip and there we are! Barba Azul!

The ‘Old Beni West’!

We’ve got a lot to take with us!

Everything and everyone gets weighted…

And we’re off!

Arrived safely!

Ready to get to work!

In this reserve we’ll have no internet and no phone connection, but there is power, delicious food and of course all those amazing animals! Barba Azul gets its name from the Blue-throated Macaw. This is a species that Armonía puts its efforts into to save and it is critically endangered. Barba Azul is home to the largest part of the world population of Blue-throated Macaws anywhere on earth outside of the breeding season. At the moment there are about 500 individuals in the wild worldwide (which is only in Bolivia because it’s an endemic) and that means the species is extremely vulnerable. Thanks to the efforts of Armonía that number has been growing steadily and at the moment luckily also the breeding areas get protected better and better. A good relationship with the local community is of course extremely important in this. The community here lives mostly of low scale cattle farming, but if everyone were to turn to intensive agriculture this would most likely finish the Blue-throated Macaw. Apart from this macaw Barba Azul has a lot more however: large numbers of Blue-and-yellow Macaws, the endangered Cock-tailed Tyrants and Black-masked Finches, Streamer-tailed Tyrants and much more. This place also plays an import role in the yearly migration of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and in the fall there once was a Big Day which ended with the astonishing number of 179 species in one day which was all done on foot! Apart from that this is also the best place in Bolivia to see special mammals like Giant Anteater and Southern Tamandua and also Maned Wolf is possible. This video made by Armonía gives some idea of how great this place is.


And I’ve got this place almost to myself for a week! Of course I have to work for that too. I’ll help with placing several cameratraps in the reserve so it gets more clear which animals live in the area. If there is any other stuff I’ll help with that too. Nice and useful work and the best thing is of course that I’m right in the middle of the Blue-throated Macaws while doing it! So I take hundreds of pictures. Of course I’ll kick off with thé species of Barba Azul: the Blue-throated Macaw!

Like all macaws also this macaw is incredibly intelligent and they have an extensive social life. That is what keeps it extremely interesting to study them, a had a similar experience with elephants. Apart from that they also mate for life. If you look at them very superficially it might be imaginable that this species even in the eighties was still considered to be a subspecies of the Blue-and-yellow Macaw, but when you’ve seen the species actually in real life you can hardly imagine it. Of course the head looks different, the black in a Blue-and-yellow Macaw is blue in a Blue-throat. Apart from that there are also more subtle differences, for example the Blue-throated Macaw has a nice pink edge along the base of the bill. Also the way they fly is completely different. The Blue-throated Macaw is much slimmer and has thinner wings while the Blue-and-yellow is built more robust. Even the sound a Blue-throated Macaw makes is audibly different from that of a Blue-and-yellow. In short the Blue-throated Macaw is a much more subtle and prettier version of the big, boorish, and coarsely shrieking Blue-and-yellow Macaw! Below finally some photo’s to show the difference.

Find the Blue-throat!

Of course the Blue-and-yellow Macaw is also a beautiful bird. Here are also some pictures of that one.

They are actually more easier to take pictures of because they are much more curious. Blue-throats usually stick to their intended flightpath. Also for the Blue-and-yellow Macaws Barba Azul is a great place. An afternoon sleep migration count resulted in about 500 individuals!

Of course there is more than just the Macaws. One of my favourites is the Cock-tailed Tyrant. It’s also a rare bird on a world scale and it’s clear where the male gets its name from!

The Streamer-tailed Tyrant is somewhat less scarce on a world scale, but in the reserve it’s a more difficult bird to see. So I was very happy when a pair of them decided to perch closeby in a bush!

The Sharp-tailed Tyrant is a more subtle bird and also a real specialty of the reserve.

Another specialty from the reserve is the Black-masked Finch. Also a rare species on a world scale and he looks fine too of course!

And then there is the so called rest category. Species that might not be that rare on a world scale, but certainly can hold their own! I have put them all in a gallery, then it’s also easier to scroll through them!

Apart from the birds there are of course also the mammals. Every day I went searching to get that Maned Wolf, but sadly it didn’t cooperate. Luckily I could entertain myself perfectly fine with the other mammals. Without a doubt the Giant Anteater was the most impressive of all. An animal that looks extraordinary and has a huge tail. I had to put in some effort but in the end I stood eye to eye with this giant a couple of times. He approached me at one meter!

For the other one, the Southern Tamandua, I had to put in more effort. I saw it only once, but that was sufficient!

Then there are the Armadillo’s. I saw two species of them and the Six-banded Armadillo cooperated the best. Around our housing there were two of them constantly foraging and they could be easily approached. Really special animals to see!

We also had success with the Nine-banded Armadillo. That one is a bit bigger and looks clearly different.

And finally there is the largest rodent on earth: the Capybara. Giant Guinea Pigs, mostly suitable to serve as food for Jaguars of Puma’s. But there are also little Capybara’s!

The Collared Peccary is a nice little pig!

I also saw a Red Brocket Deer, also nice!

And then finally a non-warm blooded. The reserve is also a good place for Black Caimans!

They make it sometimes a bit hard for themselves, one of them lacked a piece of his upper jaw most likely thanks to one of his brothers of sisters. That really looks peculiar!

I left Barba Azul with a great feeling. Sadly it lasted only a week, but I certainly didn’t go back empty handed. On to Peru!

The camera traps I placed turned out to do their job just fine! That also proved that in the reserve there also plenty of amazing animals that did not show themselves during my visit. Yes that Maned Wolf actually exists! All photo’s are property of Armonía by the way and can also be found on the Flickr page of Armonía and it’s of course with permission that they are showed here.

And if this piece has made you enthusiastic to visit Barba Azul go for it! Visit this page on the website of Armonía or send me a message!

The Maned Wolf!

Ocelot with cub!

Pregnant puma!

Marsh Deer, a big and also rather scarce deer.




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