National Geographic : 1994 Jan
work began is 12 winding miles from the Cocha Cashu station up the 200-yard-wide Manu River. Near the lick we cleared ground for the Machiguenga Ccollpa Biological Station. A thousand-square-foot raised wooden platform with a palm thatch roof serves as kitchen, dining room, and work area. There are seldom more than a dozen scientists and assistants in camp at any one time. We sleep on the ground in tents with win dow mesh fine enough to keep out the tiniest insects. We stock the station each May, at the end of the rainy season, by loading food and gear onto a lumber truck in Cuzco and crossing the two eastern ranges of the Andes on a single-lane dirt road. More than five hours out, the road peaks at the top of the sec ond range, and the green sea of the Amazon basin swells to the horizon below. A seven-hour descent from cloud forest to lowland forest brings us to the eight-family village of Atalaya on the Alto Madre de Dios Riv er. The next morning we move our supplies into 55-foot cargo canoes and push into trackless rain forest. After five hours we meet the Manu River and veer northwest for three hours. The next day six hours of slow mo toring brings us to camp. We sleep well that night and awake at dawn to the cries of macaws. AUDY, RAUCOUS BIRDS would seem to be easy subjects to track. But when macaws fly into the dense forest canopy to search for food, they become invisible and almost silent. To learn what they were eat ing, my assistants and I spent the first two seasons of the study A GALLERY of portraits enables author Charles Munn and his wife, Mariana, to identify individual red-and-greens that visit a nearby clay lick on the Manu River (above). "Lines of face feathers are as unique as fingerprints," Charles explains. With this knowledge of the local macaw community, the Munns can build a picture of each bird's habits and interactions throughout the four decades of its life.