Archive for the ‘Trinidad’ Tag

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.

 

 

 

 

Trinidad part 2 The Caroni Swamp, Yerette’s hummingbirds and a cyclone: 19th – 20th June 2017   Leave a comment

I had intended to do just two posts on Trinidad, but as always there were too many I photos that I wanted to share. So this second post covers our final hours based at Asa Wright and a place we stopped at on route to Grande Riviere on the north coast.

 

 

 

No wildlife holiday to Trinidad would be complete without a visit to the Caroni Swamp and its stunning Scarlet Ibis roost. So we headed back west and then south of the capital, Port of Spain ….

 

…. and took an afternoon cruise down the creeks and channels of the swamp.

 

By far the best sighting was this diminutive Silky Anteater which was curled up in the mangroves like a furry football. I now have seen all four species of anteater, another one off the bucket list.

 

Eventually we emerged from the mangroves into the main lagoon.

 

We saw a few waders like this Hudsonian Whimbrel. UK birders have only about six weeks left to enjoy having this Nearctic form of Whimbrel on their lists because as of 1/1/18 the BOU will adopt the IOC checklist as a basis for the British List and Hudsonian Whimbrel and Eurasian Whimbrel will be relumped.

 

Along the edge of the mangroves was a large collection of egrets and herons.

 

Those we could get close to were revealed as Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons ….

 

…. with the occasional Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

 

However just as the first Scarlet Ibises were starting to fly over it turned ominously dark. We had heard that bad weather, well a cyclone actually, was on its way but hadn’t expected it to arrive until after dark.

 

What we had hoped for was this …. (photo by ‘One more shot Rog’)  see https://www.flickr.com/photos/onemoreshotrog/9475920061 

 

…. what we got was this!

 

It was now raining very hard and we had no option but to head back, arriving back at the bus completely soaked (in spite of ‘waterproofs).

 

Through the night the wind howled and the rain was torrential, beating down on the metal roofs of our rooms with great intensity. The following morning the lodge was wreathed in cloud and it was still raining hard. Several dead nestlings were seen on the paths washed out of their nests ….

 

…. but the baby Spectacled Thrushes outside reception had survived! (photo taken before the storm).

 

One of the large trees outside the verandah had its top broken off ….

 

…. and Black Mastiff Bats were found taking shelter inside the building.

 

We thought that this presumed (it was hard to know when it was soaking wet) Copper-rumped Hummingbird was dead, as it hung motionless upside down for a long time but a researcher rescued it and fed it sugar-water from a dropper and it soon perked up and flew off.

 

Then the bad news; our bus was at the bottom of the mountain and couldn’t get to us because of fallen trees, mind you there are worst places in the world to be trapped than Asa Wright.

 

After about three and a half hours of hanging about two 4x4s belonging to the lodge appeared. The road had been cleared enough for them to get down the hillside but not for the larger bus to get up. It was a case of creeping under the fallen trees rather than going around them.

 

Reunited with our minibus we headed off through flooded roads ….

 

…. to a place called Yerette, a private garden turned into a hummingbird spectacular.

 

Keith, its above you!

 

We could wander around the garden looking at the various feeders. I counted 37 and I’m sure I missed some.

 

Although not in focus, I quite like this image of an incoming Black-breasted Mango.

 

We saw eleven species of hummer at Yerette, including this Little Hermit ….

 

…. Long-billed Starthroat ….

 

…. Blue-chinned Sapphire ….

 

…  a female Amythyst Woodstar

 

…. and yet another male Black-throated Mango. There was also a single Green-throated Mango around which was lifer for me, it looked much the same but was slightly bulkier with a green throat.

 

But the best hummer of the bunch was this Ruby Topaz.

 

As with all hummers Ruby Topaz’s colour changed in intensity with the direction the bird was facing.

 

See what I mean! In many species all of the iridescent colours, so carefully illustrated in a field guide, can’t ever be seen at once.

 

We were now well behind schedule so we headed off for the north-eastern point of the island, from here we headed back west along the north shore (there is no short cut across the mountains). Although the way was clear the road would have been impassible due to flooding if we had left Asa Wright on time as there was a lot of mud on the road, especially when we crossed the streams. The flooding had been less severe in forested areas as forest uplands hold back the water and let it flow gently to the lowlands and in these areas the streams were already running clear. In deforested areas it runs off the hills like the proverbial water off a duck’s back and is full of mud and debris. Deforesters in northern England and near the Somerset Levels please take note.

 

We arrived at our lodge at Grande Riviere before dark but we found they had no power due to the storm and that meant no air-con and no water supply either as the pumps wouldn’t work. They managed to cook us a meal which we ate by candlelight and we squeezed just enough water out of the pipes to wash our hands and face. The power came back on at lunchtime the following day.

The next post will cover the birds we saw in this scenic area, including Trinidad’s other endemic and a very close encounter with the world’s fourth largest reptile.

 

 

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.