Trinidad part 1: Asa Wright Centre and nearby lowlands: 17th-19th June 2017   2 comments

Following on from my very successful trip to the Lesser Antilles (see earlier posts) most of the group continued on to the island of Trinidad for an optional five-day extension. Three didn’t take this option and one joined for the extension only. The tour didn’t visit Tobago, the island that forms a nation-state with Trinidad, as it only has one bird species that cannot be seen in Trinidad and that can be seen in Venezuela.

Although the island of Trinidad may be considered to be in the Caribbean, it certainly doesn’t have a Caribbean avifauna. In fact it’s avifauna is a watered down version of that found on the adjacent South American mainland (which is not surprising as they were connected during prehistory).

The island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 until Spanish governor Don José María Chacón surrendered the island to a British fleet under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1797. During the same period, the island of Tobago changed hands among Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonisers more times than any other island in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago were ceded to Britain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens as separate states and unified in 1889. Trinidad and Tobago obtained independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1976 (copied from Wikipedia).

Although I have never been to Trinidad before, I have an emotional connection with the island as Margaret lived here during her yachting days, as did her daughter Janis, and the two granddaughters were either born here or lived here from when they were a babies for a period of up to four years.

 

The island of Trinidad lies just 11km off the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela (and indeed I could see it from there when I visited northern Venezuela in the 90s). We couldn’t see the South American mainland as our explorations were limited to the central and eastern part of the northern mountain range. The northern mountain ranges of Venezuela are contiguous with the Andes and as they were once joined with Trinidad ….

 

…. the easternmost point, where Trinidad’s northern range runs into the sea, can be considered the furthermost reach of the mighty Andes.

 

On arrival we were met by our cheery local guide and driver Kenny. Our drive to the mountains was mainly though large areas of cultivation but fortunately some areas of forest have been protected around our destination ….

 

…. the world-famous Asa Wright Centre. Like many of these lodges it had a very ‘olde worldly’ feel to it, from the furnishing …..

 

…. to the old photos on show in the corridor.

 

Wildlife interest was immediately apparent as a Green Hermit had suspended its nest from the light fittings ….

 

…. but it was this scenic view and the birds on show from the elevated verandah that grabbed our attention.

 

Common species included our old friend the Bananaquit (note this race has a shorter bill and lacks the fleshy red gape of the birds we saw in the Lesser Antilles) ….

 

…. Spectacled Thrush (formerly called Bare-eyed Thrush but renamed to avoid confusion with the African species of the same name) ….

 

…. the striking male Barred Antthrush ….

 

…. Violaceous Euphonia ….

 

…. Green Honeycreeper ….

 

…. and the beautiful Purple Honeycreeper. All these species are widespread in northern South America (at least) but the great thing about Trinidad in general and Aza Wright in particular is the ease with which these birds can be seen and photographed. As such Trinidad makes a wonderful introduction to the Neotropics, clearly I’m not a Neotropical neophyte having visited some 25 times, but I still greatly valued getting such good views of these avian gems.

 

The many feeders were full of hummingbirds like this White-necked Jacobin, showing off its white neck and tail ….

 

…. however when they are at rest neither the white neck or white tail are particularly visible.

 

The star of the show was the diminutive (and very fast) Tufted Coquette. The exquisite male never visited the feeders but shot from flower to flower at such speed that I never got a sharp photo. Picture from Wikipedia Commons taken by Steve Garvie.

 

In the Lesser Antilles we saw four different subspecies of House Wren that looked and sounded different enough to be elevated to species status, but none posed for photos. The only one that did pose was in Trinidad and that was a bog standard House Wren just like you can see anywhere in the Neotropics.

 

The Red-rumped Agoutis walked around like they owned the place ….

 

…. and seemed quite unafraid of people.

 

We also saw the little Red-tailed Squirrel from the verandah.

 

Unfortunately it rained regularly, often heavily. As soon as a downpour started all the birds would disappear immediately ….

 

…. and re-emerge to dry out once it had eased off. Here are three species of common tanagers doing just that – Blue-grey ….

 

…. Palm ….

 

…. and a male Silver-beaked.

 

These White-necked Jacobins lined up on a bush in the rain ….

 

…. with tails spread, presumably enjoying a shower.

 

We also spent time on the forest trails (admiring the Cupid Lips bushes) as well as birding.

 

Overhead we saw a Zone-tailed Hawk, a bird that is thought to have evolved to sneak up on its prey by imitating the harmless Turkey Vulture.

 

One of our goals was seeing a displaying male Bearded Bellbird. The strange ‘growths’ on its throat are wattles which it shakes as it emits its ear-shattering bell-like call.

 

A couple of species of manakins were lekking as well. In well-defined display grounds we could see calling and dancing White-bearded ….

 

…. and Golden-crowned Manakins. As with all the species shown (except Tufted Coquette, which was a lifer) I was familiar with them from previous trips, but I have never seen them so well or been able to photograph them before. This, more than seeing a couple of endemics, makes a visit to Trinidad so special.

 

Other goodies included this Green-backed Trogon (back looks a little blue in this shot) ….

 

…. a distant Keel-billed Toucan …

 

…. and of particular importance, the endemic Trinidad Motmot, a recent split from Blue-crowned Motmot.

 

Also on the Aza Wright property is this cleft in the rock (so it’s not really a cave) where there are a number of nesting Oilbirds.

 

These bizarre birds, distantly related to Nightjars but in their own family, nest in caves. They are nocturnal frugivores and find their way about at night or in the darkness of a cave by echo-location. Conditions inside the fissure were wet (it was raining heavily outside and it was dripping down from above) and dark, my camera misted up and my photos didn’t amount to much.

 

Here is an excellent photo of an Oilbird from the Internet Bird Collection by Tony Palliser see here

 

Away from Asa Wright we visited a number of sites in the lowlands, we had to peer through the fence to see the birds at this water treatment works.

 

New birds for the trip included this Yellow-headed Blackbird ….

 

…. a Pied Water Tyrant ….

 

…. a pair of the amazing Black Skimmers ‘unzipping the pond’ ….

 

…. and best of all the bizarre Large-billed Tern which has a wing pattern reminiscent of a Sabine’s Gull.

 

Nearby a Peal Kite surveyed the scene from an overhead wire.

 

Also in the lowlands we visited an area of Moriche Palms near a disused airfield.

 

We found plenty of White-winged Swallows ….

 

…. a few Orange-winged Parrots ….

 

…. and a Black-crested Antshrike.

 

But the highlight were this flock of Red-bellied Macaws feeding on figs.

 

One of the smaller macaws, this species has a wide range from Trinidad in the north to Bolivia in the south. As is so often the case with bird-names the eponymous red-belly isn’t very striking.

 

So it was back to Asa Wright where a ‘crappy little chappy’ photobombed my shot.

 

Our visit to the Caroni Swamp a hummingbird mega-fest and the arrival of a cyclone will all be covered in the next post.

2 responses to “Trinidad part 1: Asa Wright Centre and nearby lowlands: 17th-19th June 2017

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  1. Gryllo, just in case you wonder if anyone ever reads these reports, I always do! Gripping stuff, I take my hat off to you doing so much travelling. I simply couldn’t hack it so it’s nice to do it vicariously!

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