Trinidad part 3: Grande Riviere: June 20th-22nd 2017   Leave a comment

This post covers our final destination on the Lesser Antilles and Trinidad tour, the area around the small town of Grande Riviere on the north-east coast of Trinidad.

 

As I described in the last post in late in the afternoon when we arrived at our lodge at Grande Riviere we found there was no electricity due to the previous nights cyclone and therefore no aircon and little water supply. Power was restored about lunchtime the following day.

 

There was just enough time before it got dark to admire the sunset ….

 

…. as the lodge was situated right next to the beach and you had a great view from the balcony.

 

Apart from a few Frigatebirds, vultures and a single Osprey there wasn’t much to see on the beach during the day although that would change big time when we ventured out first thing in the morning or at night.

 

A White-tiped Dove was seen near the lodge but our main ornithological interest lay ….

 

…. in the hills behind the town.

 

Our main reason for coming to Grande Riviere was to see Trinidad’s other endemic bird, Trinidad Piping Guan.

 

A large garden above the town held a small group of these impressive cracids and we all had excellent views.

 

Other birds seen in the area included Fork-tailed Flycatcher, this bird has a shorter tail than most, either the feathers are old and have broken off or are new and are still growing!

 

Skulking deep in cover we located this White-bellied Antbird.

 

Overhead was a Rufous-browed Peppershrike, which isn’t a shrike at all but a vireo.

 

It looks like a kiskidee but has a stonking bill, the appropriately name Boat-billed Flycatcher.

 

The largely diurnal Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, which has a range that extends from Arizona and Texas all the way south to Argentina.

 

Short-tailed Swifts shot by overhead ….

 

…. and skywatching revealed the presence of the lovely White Hawk ….

 

…. and several Common Black Hawks.

 

They must have been displaying or driving off an intruder as one would often sweep low with its undercarriage down but yet made no attempt to land.

 

Whilst we were watching all these birds up the hill our local man Kenny returned to the lodge and tried to locate where the rare and elusive Lilac-tailed Parrotlets were coming to roost. After a while he returned with a smile on his face and we all bundled into the minibus and got back in time to see these gorgeous little parrots. They were high up in a tree and photography was difficult but you can see the lilac tail on one of the four birds illustrated. A great find Kenny. Along with the two endemics plus Tufted Coquette and Green-throated Mango this meant I had five life birds on Trinidad – plus one very good mammal.

 

However good the birds were I’m afraid they were overshadowed by a reptile, and what a reptile, the fourth largest in the world (and the only one in the top ten largest reptiles that isn’t a crocodilian). On both morning at Grande Riviere we left the accommodation just before dawn ….

 

…. and searched the beach for evidence of these giants.

 

It didn’t take long, along with a group of students from the USA we soon located the last of the previous night’s Leatherback Turtle females crawling back to the sea after laying eggs in the sand.

 

Although sometimes the crawl was a bit erratic.

 

They seemed completely oblivious to us, although I think this young lady might be approaching a bit too close.

 

As I said above they are considered the fourth largest reptile in the world after Saltwater, Nile and Orinoco Crocodiles. Males are considerably bigger than females weighing as much as 650kg (heavier ones have been claimed but not verified). Females (of course all the adult individuals we saw were females) may be about half that weight. Although nesting occurs or has occurred in the Caribbean/Central America, Africa and the Far East the majority of important nesting sites are now in the Caribbean, indeed the largest nesting site in the world in Malaysia has been totally destroyed because all the eggs were harvested for food.

 

The beach was covered in Black Vultures looking for late emerging hatchlings and unearthed eggs.

 

Although it may seem like the vultures are digging up the eggs the majority of eggs on the surface are due to turtles accidentally uncovering previously laid eggs as they dig pits in which to deposit their own.

 

Whilst we were watching the adults, hatchlings from earlier layings were erupting out of the sand at our feet,

 

It was strange to see a patch of sand suddenly quiver and and then see tiny turtles appear ….

 

…. and immediately head off to the sea.

 

Many fall prey to the Black Vultures and the local dogs ….

 

…. but at least this little fella made it ….

 

…. but then of course it had to navigate the pounding surf and the Frigatebirds. Its estimated that less than one in a thousand hatchlings will reach maturity.

 

You were not allowed (quite understandably) to wander the beach at night looking for laying turtles. However for a small fee a ranger equipped with a red torch would take groups out to see these leviathans laying. They appeared to be completely unaware of us and seemed to be in a trance.

 

The pit is dug with the hind flippers and then the female lays a clutch of about 100 eggs.

 

The best time for the hatchlings to emerge is at night when predators aren’t present, but there is one major disadvantage to this. The hatchlings have evolved to head towards the any light source as the sea is usually brighter than the land at night. This doesn’t account however for man-made light pollution, clearly not a problem when turtles first evolved in the Cretaceous period, 110 million years ago. On our second night (but not our first as we had no electricity then) we were suddenly aware that the dining area was being invaded by hatchlings. Several children present and the staff collected three boxes of hatchlings which were then taken to the sea by one of the rangers. At least this boxful will avoid the vultures and the dogs.

 

One afternoon we visited a headstarting’ facility. Here Leatherback and Green Turtle hatchlings (above) are raised in tanks until they are a few months old when they are far less vulnerable to predators and then released in the sea.

 

A member of staff gave us a close up view of a Green Turtle (this species breeds earlier in the year than Leatherbacks and the adults had already departed the beaches). Great as this program is you cannot get away from the key problem. Turtles and predators have co-existed for over 100 million years, its the lack of secure breeding sites for them, free from those who collect eggs for food and free from light pollution that is the underlying problem. And I know that by visiting these areas and staying at the beach side lodge I’m adding to the light pollution problem but at least the locals have a reason to protect the turtle beach if it brings in tourist’s money.

 

So I’ll end this saga with a couple of Caribbean sunset shots. It had been a great trip, almost every life bird seen and a great mammal (Silky Anteater) and a great (literally) reptile too. We asked if for this part of the trip we could vote for Leatherback Turtle in the ‘bird of the Trinidad’ competition. The leader agreed and it won hands down.

 

We had some additional birding the following morning then it was a drive to the airport and the flight home. The trip around the Lesser Antilles and Trinidad was a bit whistle-stop tour, but it was very, very worthwhile. There are still a few birds I haven’t seen in the Caribbean, I missed quite a few on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico in the 90s and I’ve never been to the Bahamas so I expect I’ll be back one day.

 

 

 

 

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