In Search of the Imperial Amazon – 10,000 Birds

This near-mythical parrot has captivated my unconscious from the second I discovered of its existence. A large (largest member of the Amazona group of parrots) creature with searing crimson eyes set in a sea of blue, brown, and purple, the Imperial Parrot (Amazona imperialis) is a recluse of upper elevation forest on the island of Dominica.

Intimately linked to mature forest on a single island, the species – by this logic alone – faces an uphill battle. We’re all too aware of our predilection for placing chainsaw to tree, and whereas Dominica has remained largely inexperienced general, it has been made to pay the value for the transgressions of different international locations: the ever-strengthening hurricanes of the Atlantic invariably slam into the islands of the Caribbean, with Class 5 winds whipping hundred-year-old timber to shreds. Proof of that is seen even earlier than touching down on the island; the strategy to the Douglas-Charles Airport within the northeast entails a panoramic descent by means of verdant valleys – upon nearer inspection, nevertheless, one would discover the tops of all timber fully naked.

The Imperial Parrot is definitely considered one of two endemic parrots on Dominica, the opposite being the Purple-necked Parrot. The latter is rather more frequent, however nonetheless listed as Susceptible in response to the IUCN. Each species face the identical threats, however the Purple-necked Parrot has confirmed to be extra adaptable by way of habitat and meals; as it may typically be discovered making use of agricultural land to feed on citrus. Consequently, its numbers are a bit larger, so is the chance of seeing one. Though lots of the birds on the island had been new for me, the Imperial Parrot remained the holy grail!

Probabilities of seeing this fowl had been already slim given the dismal inhabitants standing (estimates are between 40-60 individuals!), however we had been undoubtedly there to offer it our greatest shot. Mountaineering into the totally majestic Morne Diablotin Nationwide Park takes one’s breath away; the haunting calls of Rufous-throated Solitaire and erratic flashes of Plumbeous Warbler within the moist, deep inexperienced foliage might tempt all however essentially the most targeted. Right here, there’s a single purpose.

Apart from the birds, the forest within the Morne Diablotin Nationwide Park is tremendously lovely. Sensible, mature timber, mossy buttress roots plunging into darkish, moist soil, and big broad leaves nodding back and forth in refreshing air begets a meditative and reverential expertise. Picture courtesy Joanne Husain.

Some motion overhead was undoubtedly a parrot – this was the primary of a number of Purple-necked Parrots that we’d encounter all through the day.

Naturally, we imagined our good perch for our meant goal. Picture courtesy Joanne Husain.

Periodically, an Antillean Crested Hummingbird would pay us a go to, maybe checking in to make sure that we hadn’t misplaced all hope.

A Blue-headed Hummingbird graced us together with his presence, our first sighting of this species for the journey.

Despite the fact that this Lesser Antillean Flycatcher perched close by, it nonetheless took a little bit of effort to find.

One other fowl perched someplace that was earmarked for parrots, this one a Scaly-breasted Thrasher.

There are a number of vantage factors alongside the reasonably steep slopes which permit for a substantial discipline of view, encompassing a lot of the valley and adjoining slope. We had been instructed to every take a place that may not hinder every other keen eyes, scan the vegetation on the alternative slope, and be prepared for motion at any time. And so we started, two dozen eyes scouring distant palms, stumps, and bromeliads for any signal of the Sisserou. Quietly, binoculars affixed to faces, breaths measured, we existed on this area. Periodically, clouds rolled in, every time seemingly dropping the temperature additional. Every now and then our hearts would race as pairs of Purple-necked Parrots flew previous. All of them had been frustratingly at all times flying away from us, aside from one pair that I had been following in my binoculars. They rotated and started flying again within the route from the place they’d come. The encounter was exceptionally temporary, I believed – however I finally revisited the idea of “temporary” by the day’s finish.

Purple-necked Parrot

Hours handed, and our guide, ever optimistic, assured us that each one was undoubtedly not misplaced. The climate and visibility had been nonetheless good, due to this fact our outlook remained constructive. However some people had been rising drained and hungry; we contemplated a quiet return to our autos. “Ten extra minutes and we’re accomplished” was the choice. Without delay, as if in response to this utterance – a most distinctive metallic name drifted throughout the valley. “That’s it! That’s the [insert age-appropriate word here] imperial!”

I had by no means earlier than seen individuals scramble and lose their footing while stationary, however there’s a primary for all the pieces. A surge of vigour washed over us, and we had been once more scanning with the fervency of getting simply arrived.

However the place had been they? I hadn’t a clue. They had been undoubtedly low down within the valley, most likely past our line of sight. Now, nevertheless, there was absolute proof that the birds (at the very least one) had been current. We had been sharing the identical air as a creature hanging on to existence on this planet; that alone was magical.

I don’t even understand how a lot time handed after this preliminary contact. Often, Purple-necked Parrots would fly previous as they’d been doing all day; now, nevertheless, their presence appeared to infuriate the group a bit. Spines arched, shoulders burned, however we endured. Virtually everybody was glued to their binoculars, taking a look at each department, any attainable perch a parrot might desire. I, in typical esoteric method, was basking within the unseen presence of this unimaginable fowl, considering what these hills might have seen, and what they might have endured through the devastating hurricanes of some years in the past. Often, my thoughts could be fully devoid of thought and I’d simply be wanting on the Purple-necked Parrots drift previous, their yellow-tipped tail feathers contrasting with the greens of the distant hills. Till I noticed a pair of parrots with none yellow. Furthermore, they had been darkish birds!

After all, I used to be the one one to see this. One of many birds alighted on a stump close to an enormous bromeliad, and I raised my digital camera and fired off a couple of photographs. It was extremely distant, I couldn’t discern even a fundamental fowl form by means of my digital camera viewfinder. After I pulled it up on the digital camera LCD, and zoomed proper in, there was little doubt. In a sequence of photographs, I had captured the holy grail, the fowl of all birds, twisting and turning throughout a stump. Utilizing its invoice and ft as locomotion as all parrots do, right here was the just about vulture-sized Imperial Parrot a minimum of a kilometre away!

You’ll be able to squint all you need, I simply ask that you just imagine me after I say that there’s an Imperial Parrot on this body.

How are my instructions? Discover the double trunk, then go to the big bromeliad to the proper of the proper aspect trunk, after which comply with the one o’clock stick. That darkish blob – that’s your Imperial Parrot. A zoomed-in model of this identical picture is beneath. Did you discover it?

Unsurprisingly some had been hesitant to imagine my proclamation – however quickly sufficient I used to be mentioning the bromeliad and stump again and again. In a poignant twist of the plot, inside these few moments, the parrot quietly slipped out of view. Certain sufficient, even with stellar instructions to the perch and all eyes wholly targeted, even with the scope zeroed in on most energy – there was no parrot. As I discussed earlier, I’m nonetheless grappling with the definition of “temporary”.

Such is the poetry of nature, her messages in all kinds and fashions. The general public I’ve spoken with who’ve been on this mission to search for this species ended up leaving empty handed. I solely noticed it as a result of I used to be wanting on the complete scene and never limb by limb. Not solely am I extremely grateful for the fleeting glimpse I used to be afforded, I’m decided to speak the transience and fragility of this species, threatened by the terrifying prospect of full erasure. Fortunately, Dominica has a legacy of conservation, with some measures coming into impact from as early because the 1980’s. The populations of each endemic parrots have elevated through the years thanks to those efforts, however it’s a fixed activity particularly with warming oceans pushing stronger hurricanes.

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