As I was visiting my sister in Florida I decided to take an excursion over to Trinidad to spend a couple of days at the famous Asa Wright Nature Lodge. The Lodge is on an old cocoa plantation in the mountains but it is now a nature reserve set in 1500 acres of secondary forest surrounded by some pristine primary rainforest. It is birding in comfort here with full board including afternoon tea and rum punch on the veranda while watching the hummingbirds and others on the feeders below.
I had some target species to go for in my short stay and I was pleased to get most of them. I did not bother with the famous Oilbird colony at Dunston Cave as I have seen them before in Ecuador and I know that the minimum of disturbance is best. Also I was fully occupied with plenty of other species around the house and on the forest trails.
My first target was the famous Tufted Coquette. A stunning hummingbird, widespread but uncommon and this is probably the best place to see it. The male has a rufous crest and black-spotted rufous plumes projecting from the neck sides which make it extremely distinctive and attractive.
This extremely tiny bird flits constantly around the hvervine bushes and does not use feeders as a rule. This makes it hard to pick up and then very difficult to photograph. Getting an unobstructed view and a clear shot in focus is a challenge. I was reasonably happy with these which took some patience and perseverance.
The female (below) is a lot less flamboyant than the male.
After the Tufted Coquette I headed down the Discovery Trail hoping to see some of the other target species, one of which was the White-bearded Manakin. Now I had picked up this species once before in Costa Rica, albeit just brief and obstructed views, whereas here there is a lek, ie a communal breeding location where the males try to display and impress the females, which is what I hoped to see.
So I stood all alone in the forest lek waiting and watching in hope of something special. At first there was nothing, no sign of them, but after a few patient minutes I started to hear popping and crackling noises much like a bowl of rice crispies with cold fresh milk poured on. Then I picked them out in the dim light by following the popping sounds. Like little diamonds shining brightly in the gloom their startling white-on-black plumage made them quite easy to spot as the males hopped from branch to branch, making those weird crackling sounds with their wings trying to impress the females. That was a magical ten or fifteen minutes, alone and surrounded by these fantastic little birds oblivious to my presence and performing their mating rituals. Superb.
Pleased with my progress so far I moved on down the Discovery Trail towards the Bellbird Trail. Then I started to hear noises like a large steel hammer striking an anvil. At first they were quite distant but as I moved further on they got closer until quite frankly it became almost deafening. The males make this sound to establish their territory, it's a warning to other males not to stray into his area, and there were several males competing right around me. Now although I could hear the incredible noises almost on top of me, seeing them was another matter. They were extremely hard to pick out high up in the canopy, well camouflaged amongst the background. Finally I picked one out, poorly lit against backlight streaming through the foilage I managed a few shots of which this is probably the best one. It was an amazing sight watching those wattles, or beard, trembling as the bird emitted the great clanging sounds that give it its name, the Bearded Bellbird.
After this I headed back to the Lodge, picking up along the way a nice Purple Honeycreeper, a very exotic looking but not uncommon bird which I had seen before in Ecuador.
I missed out on the Golden Crowned Manakins even though I did hang around their lek for a while until the mosquitoes drove me away. I would try again in the morning.
After a restful night I was up at first light wandering around the gardens where I did photograph this lovely Plain Brown Woodcreeper amongst all the more common species that I will come to later. However I missed out again on the Golden-headed Manakins, so I joined the guided walk after breakfast and sure enough the young guide eventually picked some out at the lek. This is another species I had seen before but was keen to get a better view. They were not as obliging as their White-bearded cousins however, preferring to remain further away and quite still in the gloom. nevertheless I did manage a few reasonable shots with my ISO set very high.
Another cracking bird, although not literally in this case. The Golden Headed Manakin is a little beauty.
At lunch we met Martyn Kenefick, professional bird guide and author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. He told us about the quite rare Amethyst Woodstar Hummingbird which had been spotted recently, and sure enough we found it where he suggested, on the hvervine bushes along the entrance driveway.
I was pleased later to pick up a new Tanager. Not rare, in fact locally quite common, but the Turquoise Tanager was a lifer for me.
I am not sure if I had recorded the Violaceous Euphonia before, I will look it up later but we did get excellent views of both the male and female of the species around the bushes in the garden.
Below is another bird I have seen before but one which is so distinctive it is great to see at any time. The Barred Antshrike has very striking black-and-white striped plumage with a jaunty crest, quite a looker.
The female Barred Antshrike is quite different, being mostly chestnut brown with black & white stripes only on the face. An attractive bird all the same.
Here's another familiar species, the Green Honeycreeper is a common neotropical species but always worth a photograph as it is quite handsome.
The tiny Ruby Topaz Hummingbird however is not one I had seen before. It is not a common species and being so small is quite hard to spot as it does not frequent the hummingbird feeders where the jacobins and other bigger species are very aggressive. So once again I managed only a couple of very poor, partially obstructed shots of this tiny but very beautiful hummingbird, again on the hvervine bushes in the gardens.
Below is a more mundane species, the Spectacled Thrush, or bare-eyed Thrush as it is sometimes known.
Here's another hummingbird which I had not recorded before. The Black-throated Mango is quite easy to identify as it is the only one with a vertical black stripe down its breast, at least the female, the male is much darker overall.
In the afternoon I went for quite a long walk into the primary forest. The Crested Oropendolas were very noisy as they peered down at me from high up in the tallest trees.
Palm Tanagers moved stealthily through the sparse undergrowth. These are very common and unwary birds and in fact there was a nesting pair in the rafters of the veranda at the Lodge.
The Tropical Mockingbird is another quite common species, a familiar sight around the gardens and parks of this Island. This is a different species to the Northern Mockingbird which is common throughout much of North America. I heard a tropical mockingbird singing outside my bungalow during the night, a great serenade.
I was pleased to get a reasonable shot of a Grayish Saltator, a bird I have seen before but not well enough for a good image.
Finally back at the Lodge after a long trek I relaxed on the veranda for a while checking out the feeders. There are a number of hummingbirds that frequent these sugar-water feeders and the White-chested Emerald (below) was a new one for me.
.....as was the Copper-rumped Hummingbird.
The most numerous of all the Hummers is the White-necked Jacobin. This is a very aggressive species, They squabble amongst themselves and I have seen a pair actually fall to the ground while fighting, it's their territorial instinct coming to the fore in the artificial environment set up by humans. They are a major reason why much smaller species such as Tufted Coquette, Amethyst Woodstar and Ruby Topaz stay away from the feeders.
Some species are prepared to hold their own against aggressive behaviour. This superb Long-billed Starthroat for example which I photographed on a feeder proves the point. This was another lifer for me, and a very elegant one it is too.
Perhaps the most numerous bird around the Lodge is the ubiquitous Bananaquit. It's an attractive little bird of uncertain classification, being tentatively placed with the tanagers but many experts refute this and perhaps it should have its own family, it is apparently more closely related to the Wood Warblers except that unlike them it builds a domed nest. Oh well, it's a nice little bird which is fortunately very common in Trinidad.
Here are a couple of birds I photographed as they perched on a garden sign advising guests to watch their step and use the handrails. Clearly the majority of guests at this place are not young and nimble. Birding seems to be a pastime for the elderly and retired, like me ha ha.
The House Wren is the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. It occurs from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America. I always enjoy seeing it. The brown White-lined Tanager female (below right) is strikingly different from her male counterpart who is completely black except for some white inside primaries visible in flight.
My last afternoon in Trinidad involved taking an organised tour down to the coast where we would have a boat trip on the Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis's coming in to roost. We also stopped at a couple of birding hotspots on the way to see what we could pick up.
Our first stop was at a series of ponds which looked as if they might be settling ponds in a water purification system. Anyway it was well frequented by a number of bird species including this Southern Rough-winged Swallow which perched conveniently for me to take a photo, Unfortunately the other Swallow species present, the more attractive White-winged Swallows never sat down and were just too quick for me to catch a shot in flight.
The Pied Water Tyrant above was another bird that sat nicely for me. I had photographed its cousin the Masked Water Tyrant before in Ecuador, but this was another lifer for me so I was well pleased.
While the other members of our group were focussing on the water birds I managed to grab a shot of this little Flycatcher in the surrounding vegetation. I think it is a Least Flycatcher and if so is yet another lifer. We were doing well today.
Back to the ponds though and there were a number of species, most of which I had seen many times before including Striated Heron, Purple Gallinule, Smooth-billed Ani, Snowy and Great Egrets. The Wattled Jacana above however is a different species to all the other jacanas that I had previously photographed and in fact represented yet another lifer, excellent, and there was more to come.
The most conspicuous birds at the ponds were the striking Yellow-hooded Blackbirds. large and imposing looking they were very numerous and provided great photo opportunities, one of which can be seen above. This species is interesting because it is only the male that builds a nest, quite unusual in the avian world.
After the ponds we paused at a couple of spots that the driver knew to pick up two more species. The Saffron Finch, an attractive yellow finch which apparently always frequents the same trees in the grounds of a large official building, and so it was. Also a distant view of a single Red Breasted Meadowlark in some grassy fields along the roadside. Both species were lifers again so I was well pleased even though the photos are not great.
Finally on to the Caroni Swamp. This is a large area of brackish mangrove swamp on the eastern coast just South of the capital Port of Spain. It is a popular outing amongst the locals who bring picnics and enjoy the boat ride, mainly to admire the spectacle of thousands of Scarlet Ibis's coming in to roost at dusk, and it is a magnificent sight.
From our boat ride through the channels in the mangroves we could see groups of Scarlet Ibis's deep in the mangrove forest, their scarlet plumage seemed to glow in the dim light which unfortunately was just too poor for photography. We also picked up a few other birds such as Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Great Blue Heron, Semi-palmated Plover and Willet. Also a couple animals called Silky Anteaters, curled up asleep around narrow tree trunks, somewhat like sloths.
Of great interest to the local tourists were the considerable numbers of American Flamingo. They are quite a new arrival and were previously considered rare and accidental. Well now ther are quite a number and so are of great interest locally. They are very similat to our Greater Flamingo (phoenicopterus roseus) but are in fact a separate species, (phoenicopterus ruber).
I only spent three full days in Trinidad but it was a great birding experience. The Asa Wright Centre is a very welcoming and comfortable Centre for anyone with an interest in Nature, and in particular neo-tropical birds. Considering the excellent food and clean, spacious and well equipped accomodation it is great value for money and all proceeds are used to support their environmental activities. I complete this blog with a couple more photos from the Centre, and a little Bran Coloured Flycatcher that I took a long time to identify and am still not 100% on it, but it's the best fit from all I have looked at so far..
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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