Jun 212015
 

Our final day in Trinidad was spent visiting three locations: the Trincity ponds, Yerrete, and Caroni Swamp. The Trincity pond facility is a water treatment plant that is off-limits to the public, but one pond can be viewed from the roadside. This was fortunate, because a few desirable species were seen within a short time here. Circling above the pond as we arrived was a Yellow-billed Tern, shortly joined by a Large-billed Tern for a nice comparison. Also seen at this location were Purple Gallinule, Long-winged Harrier, Striated Heron, and Osprey (its nice occasionally seeing a species familiar to us!). A short drive away and we arrived at Yerrete, the home of Theo and Gloria Ferguson that they have developed as a haven for hummingbirds. The Fegusons have several dozen feeders in their small yard, which draws 13 hummingbird species on a typical day, including two (Ruby-topaz Hummingbird and Green-throated Mango) that we did not see at the Asa Wright feeders. Theo is an avid photographer of hummingbirds and provides an impressive and informative slide show of his photos for visitors. After bidding adieu to Theo, we drove to Caroni Swamp, just south of the capital of Port-of-Spain.

Large-billed Tern

Large-billed Tern, viewed during our brief stay at TrinCity Ponds.

Green-throated Mango

A Green-throated Mango, photographed in Theo’s garden in Yerrete.

Caroni Swamp is a highlight for many nature-minded travelers to Trinidad, including both birders and non-birders alike. Visitors are taken into the mangrove swamp in motorized boats that carry ~30 passengers, during that time enjoying views of unique animals such as Four-eyed Fish, Tree Boa, Silky Anteater, and Common Potoo that are pointed out by the eagle-eyed guides. Before sunset arrived, we joined five other boats moored along the edge of a large impoundment and awaited the arrival of the star of the show: Scarlet Ibises. And they do arrive, in small groups of 5, 10, or 20 birds at a time, some joining other waders in the shallows, but with most heading straight for trees on the opposite shore. A single Scarlet Ibis circling over the boat alone is a spectacular sight, with a color that is beyond what I have seen in any other bird; I don’t know what adjective is appropriate to describe a nearly constant flight of groups of 5-20 of these impressive birds. During our stay I estimated ~500 Scarlet Ibis flying in and roosting in the trees, but during the prime season, more than 1,000 are expected. It was a fitting ending to our trip, and something to look forward to when you visit.

Waders

Those Scarlet Ibises sure do brighten up a wader flock.

Masked Cardinal

A Masked (Red-crowned) Cardinal, viewed in Caroni Swamp before boarding the boat.

Ibis roost

This is just a small portion of the Scarlet Ibis roost site.

In addition to being a gorgeous bird, the Scarlet Ibis turned out to be a minor landmark, for me, being the 1,100th bird species that I have photographed. Only 900 more to get to 2,000.  Ha ha.  To view the complete photo collection from this trip, visit my Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/14037210@N06/sets/72157655480484206

 Posted by at 12:49 PM
Jun 192015
 

Package birding tours to Trinidad often are based at Asa Wright, but include day trips to different habitats. One day trip that we took visited the combination of the Aripo Agricultural Research Station and Nariva Swamp. Aripo is an agricultural area about an hours drive southeast of Asa Wright that contains a set of grassland species that we hadn’t yet seen, including Savannah Hawk, Grassland Yellow Finch, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Pied Water-tyrant, White-headed Marsh-tyrant, Red-breasted Blackbird, Pearl Kite, and the the more widely distributed Smooth-billed Anis, Wattled Jacanas and Southern Lapwings. A short drive through their property found most of those species.

Savannah Hawk

An excellent view of a Savannah Hawk, showing its characteristic long legs.

Tropical Screech-owls

A pair of Tropical Screech-Owls in a known roost site was a nice treat.

Wattled Jacana

Wattled Jacana. Look at the length of the ‘toes’ on this bird. Wow!

Our next stop, about another hour or so drive further south, was the Nariva Swamp, which is the largest freshwater wetland in Trinidad and a RAMSAR-designated Wetland of International Importance. Again, this area was surveyed by driving through and stopping occasionally, so not much walking was required today. Although June is the beginning of the wet season here in T&T, this has been a particularly dry winter, so much of the wetlands were not really…well, wet. It would be interesting to see how different the birdlife is in this location in different seasons. The target birds here include Green and American Pygmy-Kingfishers, Pinnated Bittern, Black-crested Antshrike, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Red-bellied Macaws, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Limpkin, and Yellow-headed and Crested Caracara, all of which we saw.

Antshrike

A female Black-crested Antshrike at the entrance to Nariva Swamp.

Bittern

Part of a Pinnated Bittern that we were lucky to see in the tall grasses only because it ran across the road.

It was a day with more driving than I normally like to do, but exposure to new habitats did result in several new and interesting species.

 Posted by at 4:32 PM
Jun 162015
 

THE ASA WRIGHT VERANDAH:
Most birders to Trinidad visit the Asa Wright Nature Center, situated ~1,000 ft above sea level. The Center is run by a non-profit organization with the goals of habitat preservation, education, and hosting visitors that view its birds, butterflies, plants, and animals. There are miles of trails to explore on the property, but one of the highlights of visiting Asa Wright is spending time on its verandah.

verandah outside

The famed Asa Wright verandah, viewed from within the garden. Flowers and feeders that attract hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and other birds surround the verandah, and its position on a hillside provides excellent views of the canopy of downhill trees.

Verandah birders

Birders on the verandah. This is birding in comfort, with excellent views, comfortable seats, an adjacent library and bar, naturalists to answer questions, a Leica scope for viewing distant birds, and shelter from the sun and occasional rain showers.

The verandah is situated on the back side of the main building, on a hillside that presents excellent views over the garden and canopy. In addition, more than a dozen hummingbird feeders are located at eye level or on the grounds below the verandah, and flowering plants such as vervain are located within the garden to attract hummingbirds. The result is that the verandah is a wonderful location for observing tanagers, honeycreepers, toucans, oropendolas, and ~13 species of hummingbirds in splendidly relaxing conditions. In addition, if a shower occurs, you can continue to view birds while remaining dry and comfortable (perhaps with a rum punch in your hand).

Green Honeycreeper

A male Green Honeycreeper drawn to flowering trees near the verandah.

Purple Honeycreeper

A stunning male Purple Honeycreeper, a common sight by the verandah fruit feeder stations.

Yellow Oriole

A Yellow Oriole that occasionally visited the verandah gardens.

Emerald fanned out

Blue-chinned Sapphire, a bird whose irridescence has to be witnessed in person.

Tegu lizard

Two-foot long Golden Tegu Lizards were occasionally seen on the grounds.

THE TRAILS: An excellent way to sample the birds of the forest is to walk the Asa Wright Discovery Trail, which is less than a mile long, and thus can be walked out and back at a leisurely pace in ~ 1 1/2 hours. Leks for both Golden-hooded and White-bearded Manakins are located along this trail, each of which had numerous individuals that were very active through most of the day.

Manakin

White-bearded Manakin in full display mode. Dozens of these birds could be seen at any time of day along the Discovery Trail.

When walking towards the manakin leks, you will be hearing loud ‘bonk’-ing coming from downhill; these are the calls of Bearded Bellbirds. Thankfully, the Bellbirds do not exclusively dwell on the top of canopy, but instead seem to prefer mid-height in the forest, allowing reasonable views. that is, IF you can find them. You would think that it should be easy; they are incredibly loud, call incessantly, are around the size of a crow, and are mostly white. Yet somehow they remain difficult to see. But when you see them, it is wonderful. Standing in the forest, listening to this strange noise echoing from all directions, and finally finding this remarkably attired bird (complete with ‘beard’) is something that we all should experience. This is now my favorite bird of all time. Watch the video by clicking here and decide for yourself.

Bellbird

Bearded Bellbird. Its surprising how hard it can be to find this amazing bird. But what a treat it is to see…and hear…it.

Bellbird video1

 Posted by at 4:24 PM
Jun 152015
 

Most birding tours to Trinidad and Tobago visit Tobago for only 2-3 days, and indeed, three days is sufficient for most birders to find the key target species of the island. Today was our day to transfer to Trinidad for 6 nights based at the Asa Wright Nature Center. On the way to the airport we drove through two areas that were hoped to contain new species for our trip; the Magdalena Grand Resort grounds and the Bon Accord drainage ditches. The resort charges birders for complete access to their grounds, but drive-through of a portion of the grounds is possible. Here we found species such as Least Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Black-crowned Night-herons, Tricolored herons, and Black Skimmers, but no new lifers. We next drove through the Bon Accord area, which contains drainage ditches and wet areas within a housing development that can contain species such as White-cheeked Pintail and Masked Duck, but it was here that we found a different rarity, a Western Reef-heron. This bird had been seen in the area earlier this year, but with no recent reports. Western Reef-heron looks a bit like a Great Blue Heron but with a white throat and greenish feet. It is fairly easily recognized even from a distance by its intermediate size between Little Blue and Great Blue Herons. What a great find to end our stay in Tobago!

Western Reef-Heron. Note the white throat and yellowish legs.

Western Reef-Heron. Note the white throat and greenish feet.

After our flight back to Trinidad and a ~1 hr drive up into the highlands, we arrive at the renowned Asa Wright Nature Center just in time for their traditional nightly 6pm rum punch. Yum yum. Asa Wright is situated ~1,000 ft above sea level in the upper Arima Valley, in preserved mid-level rain forest. After a good night’s sleep we’ll be ready to explore the Center’s trails tomorrow morning.

 Posted by at 8:14 PM
Jun 142015
 
Boobies2

A pair of Brown Boobies on the shoreline of Little Tobago Island.

One of the highlights of birding Tobago is a short boat trip to view nesting seabirds on Little Tobago Island, located just 2 miles across Batteau Bay from our lodging at Blue Waters Inn. In fact, hints of what was in store could be observed with binocs or scope from the inn, where Laughing Gulls, assorted Terns, Brown Noddies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and occasional Brown Pelicans were feeding constantly over the water. The day was windy, so entrance into our boat was quite scary, timing our entry as the boat rose to the level of the dock in the swells. As we approached Little Tobago, we spotted a major target species for this trip, as a few Red-billed Tropicbirds were soaring with their central tail feathers protruding far beyond the body. Near shoreline, the boat was positioned parallel to a rocky portion where Brown Noddies, Sooty Terns, Bridled Terns, and Brown Boobies all were roosting.

Tern

Terns

Exit onto the island at their ‘dock’ (I’m using that term lightly…it was really just a wet stone wall protruding into the shallows) was even more scary; picture timing a step out of the rocking boat onto a wet rock wall as a swell lifts the boat upward, and then walking on this relatively narrow and slippery rock face as waves are splashing alongside. The crew was experienced at this sort of thing though, and everyone managed just fine. After a ~15 minute walk up a trail with occasional stops to rest and hear about the history of the island, we reached an overlook that was the highlight of the day, with multiple Red-billed Tropicbirds soaring above, at, and below eye level.  Wow.
Red-billed Tropicbird As I was snapping photos, I noticed one bird with a yellow bill that I assumed would be an immature Red-billed Tropicbird, but upon later viewing, turned out to be a White-tailed Tropicbird. Upon submitting the sighting to eBird, I was informed that although they are seen here annually, this was the first one sighted on Little Tobago this year!

A White-tailed Tropicbird. Note the yellow bill and black patches on the secondaries. Although they are seen here annually, I was later told that this was the first one sighted on Little Tobago this year.

A White-tailed Tropicbird. Note the yellow bill and black patches on the secondaries.

It was the icing on a wonderful day. On the way back we took a break from birding and stopped at a sheltered location for a few minutes of snorkeling.

 Posted by at 9:42 PM
Jun 132015
 
Manakin

Blue-backed Manakin

On our first full day in Tobago, we join our guide Gladwyn James to explore the Main Ridge Forest Preserve, an expanse of rain forest that covers much of the central portion of northeast Tobago. Interestingly, it has been legally protected since 1776, making it the world’s oldest established preserve. A single road that is not heavily used traverses the preserve from north-to-south, providing ample opportunity for frequent roadside stops, and occasional trails allow access to deeper forest. This area is home to Blue-backed Manakin and the endemic White-tailed Sabrewing, two of the specialties of Tobago. We were able to find both of these species, along with other delightful birds.

A pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars

A pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars

Southern Lapwings can be found in many locations within Trinidad and Tobago, but this individual was particularly cooperative.

Southern Lapwings can be found in many locations within Trinidad and Tobago, but this individual was particularly cooperative.

A pair of Black-throated Mango chicks.

A pair of Black-throated Mango chicks.

Orange-winged Parrot, the most common parrot on the islands.

Orange-winged Parrot, the most common parrot on the islands. We saw or heard flocks of them every day on this trip.

Trogon

 Posted by at 5:38 PM
Jun 122015
 

Today my brother and I began our first birding trip to Trinidad and Tobago. For those of you who might be considering taking such a trip yourself, let’s start with a brief introduction. Trinidad and Tobago is a single country that consists of two major islands that are separated from each other by only ~23 miles, with Trinidad being only ~7 miles from Venezuela at its closest point. The standard and apt description is that T&T is culturally part of the West Indies, but geographically is an extension of South America. T&T is often suggested to be an excellent choice for northern birders who are interested in taking their first birding foray into the tropics, because although T&T has families of tropical birds such as manakins, parrots, trogons, antbirds, woodcreepers, tityras, and jacamars, there are fewer members of each family than would be seen in locations such as Columbia or Brazil, countries whose birdlife diversity can be overwhelming. This was not our first trip to the tropics, but I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment.

Although I have grown to enjoy trips to off-the-radar birding locations and using local expertise instead of the higher-priced birding lodges and guide services, for this trip we decided to simply use one of the many birding packages offered by Caligo Ventures, the booking agent for the Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad and a few Tobago partners. We flew direct from JFK to Port-of-Spain Trindad and then took a short 15-minute connecting flight to Tobago. We stayed at the Blue Waters Inn on the far eastern coast of the island, a 1 1/2 hr. drive from the Tobago airport. A great thing about visiting a new country is that the first couple new life birds are easy, picked up in the airport or driving to the lodgings, or while walking to your room. We were tired but energized at the same time, but were able to see species like Saffron Finch in the Piarco Airport and Magnificent Frigatebirds en route to the Inn, confirming that we were no longer in New Jersey.

Saffron Finch

Saffron Finch gathering nesting material at Piarco Airport. Our first bird in Trinidad.

Amazingly, the first bird seen at the Inn was an Audubon’s Shearwater that was nearly on the shore. We suspect that this was a young or exhausted bird, because the next morning we found it on the lawn of the inn, hidden in the shelter of the Inn’s leeward side, out of the buffeting winds.

Audubon's Shearwater

An Audubon’s Shearwater nearly on the shoreline at Blue Waters Inn. A major surprise for us.

The grounds of the inn, although not extensive or varied, allowed views of Trinidad Motmot, Barred Antshrike, Rufous-vented Chachalacas, Spectacled Thrushes, White-fringed Antwrens, and more. It was a day of traveling and transferring, and not much birding, but what we saw was already encouraging.

Chachalaca

Rufous-vented Chachalaca, the national symbol of Tobago. We saw up to six of them on the grounds at the inn.

To view the entire photo collection from this trip, visit my Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/14037210@N06/sets/72157655480484206

 Posted by at 4:29 PM