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trinidad, june 7-14, 2001

2003-02-23 - 4:46 p.m.

trinidad collage

Score: 152 birds, including one heard only -- check species list here.

Note: Story and Images copyright 2001 by Elaine Radford and Roger Williams, all rights reserved.

June 7, 2001. Our vacation got off to a surprising start in these days when late arrivals are all in the news. Our plane to Miami landed on time, and the BWIA staff was able to put us on an earlier plane with minutes to spare. As a result, we arrived at Port of Spain, Trinidad about six hours early, but not to worry. We were escorted in style to the Asa Wright Center by a cab driver with a spotless Lexus. Try finding a Lexus playing taxi in the United States.

The Asa Wright Center is an old plantation home now serving as a center for bird watchers and other ecotourists. From the comfortable verandah, you have a close-up view of active birds at the feeders, especially hummingbirds, tanagers, and bananaquits.

Our cabin was large and comfortable, with separate shower and lavatory, and, most importantly, a screened porch for enjoying more of the beautiful grounds.

We also liked the fact that our tour group had only four people!

June 8, 2001. We awakened to the song of the Cocoa Thrush. In fact, every morning, either a Cocoa Thrush or a Bare-Eyed Thrush would sing beautifully outside our window. We spent the day exploring the grounds of the one-time coffee and cocoa plantation, where these trees and many tasty fruits continue to thrive. It would be hard to pick one highlight on a day that involved two Trogon species, a flycatcher chasing our first Channel-Billed Toucan in front of us, the male Tufted Coquette, and the sight of the White-Bearded Manakins dancing at their lek.

We made our first trek past Mango John, an aggressive fruit-throwing tree on the way to the Bellbird trail -- a trek we would make many times over the course of the week in search of exciting birds, a spiny porcupine, and even a fer-de-lance.

A note on the food and drink is probably in order.

All coffee is grown on the grounds, as are a great deal of the food and vegetables. Merliton grows down the sides of the mountains like kudzu. The cooking was a mix of African, Creole, Hindi, Chinese, and British cuisines, and some meals could be excellent while others were, well, just meals. Rum punch was always served promptly at 6 P.M. whether you were on the verandah or out in the field -- a British influence even a New Orleanian would not sneer at. I also noticed that the beautiful live floral decorations were from flowers collected on the grounds, also.

What a land of flowers! Even the smallest yard was beautifully gardened, and the flowers on the grounds of the plantation were magnificent. There were many species of Helliconias and Huge Angel's Trumpet were seen. Hummingbirds loved the Powder Puff Tree. And the Torch Ginger should not be forgotten:

June 9. An all-day excursion over the Northern Range to the seaside village of Blanchisseuse. We passed through some great mountain scenery
but, as always, the attention was on the birds. Great looks at Collared Trogons were a highlight. As birders, we know that no trespassing signs are for other people! Despite the warning sign, the radio tower had some good birds and some large, dramatic insects like this giant katydid A highlight of the trip was visiting the beach to observe the hatching of Leatherback Turtles. In the early evening, Black and Turkey Vultures waited in hopes of catching baby turtles that hatched in daylight. The guard brought us a nest: that had hatched too soon, and we were allowed to release our own baby turtle to the sea when it got dark enough for the little ones to evade the vultures

At this time of year, mother turtles are also coming in to lay eggs. Once the mother turtles were in an egg-laying trance, we could actually touch them! I feel a little silly admitting it, but when the mother turtles first crawled up on the beach, I was frightened and I even jumped away in fright when one came too close. Hey, if an alligator that size came sashaying up, petting it would be the last thing on my mind. But when I saw that none of the tourists were getting their hands bitten off, I rubbed a sweet mother turtle's head myself. She totally ignored me. Awesome.

We almost ran over a possum on the way back, which made us folks from Louisiana feel right at home.

June 10. A visit to the Nariva Swamp, a freshwater swamp. We thrilled to the sight of a Savannah Hawk being mobbed by an angry Southern Lapwing. Another highlight was great views of a Golden-crowned Amazon, so that we can finally add this species to our life list! In a small mangrove swamp, we observed a Pygmy Kingfisher and right across the street a Green Kingfisher.

On an abandoned air base: now converted into a de facto landfill cum racing field, we observed the Red-Bellied Macaws flying in to roost for the night. Spectacular.

June 11. A free day was welcomed for exploring the many trails and for relaxing on the verandah while studying the hummingbirds, tanagers, honeycreepers, and other feeder visitors more carefully. Larger feeder visitors included Crested Oropendula (who nested nearby), Greater Antshrike, and Blue-Crowned Motmot. Non-bird visitors included the rodentlike agouti and the beautiful golden tegu.
We also took a swim in the supposedly secluded forest pool although it seemed less secluded when the class of uniformed six graders dropped by complete with teachers!

June 12. A visit to the lowland Aripo Savannah and Arena Forest. There was more agriculture and sprawl, but also plenty of birds. Caciques nested right in town:

The saga would not be complete without the story of how we spent an hour chasing around Ferruginous Pygmy Owls which called constantly, but would not come into view. Finally, some Tropical Mockingbirds chased them out. Ironically, that same evening, we would see another Ferruginous Pygmy Owl being mobbed by more Tropical Mockingbirds.

We added an extra night birding tour and returned to the abandoned air base, with its spooky roost of hundreds, maybe thousands of vultures, gathering for the night.

The tropical sunset was fast, early, and dramatic: We hunted for Tropical Screech Owls but only succeeded in scaring up a good old-fashioned Barn Owl dwelling in the abandoned WWII radar installation. Great looks at Common Potoo, Common Paraque, and White-tailed Nightjar.

June 13. The last full day, and it was full indeed. In the morning, we hiked down through the forest to the Dunstan Cave where the Oilbirds, a nocturnal species, were sleeping.

In the afternoon, we visited Caroni Marsh, which is a mangrove marsh, brackish rather than freshwater, with many kingfishers, herons, and other birds. We took a boat tour right into the swamp. There were great looks at the crab-eating Common Black Hawk, and no wonder with the many small crabs that infested the mud and mangrove roots. Sleeping Cook's tree boas hung ominously over the water, while Silky two-toed Anteaters and Common Potoo snoozed further back in the branches. The highlight was watching approximately 300-400 Scarlet Ibis fly in to their roosting trees from our boat while enjoying our daily ration of Rum Punch. Approximately 4,000 Scarlet Ibis can be seen during the "season," but we came while most of them were busy with their breeding duties. It was a trade-off -- a cheaper trip plus leatherback turtles by going "off season" or more Scarlet Ibis by going another time. We think we made a good choice, as the turtles were definitely a must.

June 14. Up just before dawn, with one last chance to catch the proud song of the Bare-Eyed Thrush before we flew back to New Orleans. A short trip but a productive one, with over 100 new birds for the life list. We regret not getting more bird pictures, but when it's a choice between enjoying the birds in a tiny camera lens or through our binoculars, the binoculars are going to win every time. Note: The photos originally included in this essay were hosted by BellSouth and-needless to say, as there is no more BellSouth, there is no more image hosting. Sorry for the inconvenience!

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