Entries Tagged 'Trip Reports' ↓

21 Bananaquits and counting 2011.01.02

Every year a curious thing happens around Christmas time. All over the world birdwatchers are going out into the field, notebooks and clipboards in hand, to count birds. And they are not looking to count particularly rare or breeding birds. They are looking for ANY birds.

The Christmas bird count has its origins in North America when, in 1900, the National Audubon Society held its first count. Since then the tradition of holding an annual count has probably spread to anywhere serious birdwatchers are found. Over time these annual bird counts result in a statistical database from which inferences can be made about bird populations – Is the population of Spectacled Thrushes increasing? Are Tufted Coquettes moving to lower elevations?

The bird counts are also just plain fun.

Trinidad and Tobago bird count

The count in Trinidad was held on January 2nd 2011 (The count can be held any day between December 14th and January 5th). Our small group started at the Textel Station on Morne Bleu. It was a cold and rainy morning but we managed to get to the station a few minutes after 6:00am. Through the dense mist Short-tailed Nighthawks (Lurocalis semitorquatus) chased after their unseen prey. How these insect eaters managed to spot their food in this kind of weather I don’t know. Even the station’s towering radio mast, itself many thousands of times larger than any insect, occasionally disappeared from view.

Textel mast_Morne Bleu_Trinidad and Tobago

Radio mast at Morne Bleu shrouded in mist

The station’s lights attract countless insects during the night and by morning many moths can be found lingering in the area.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Crambid Moth Ceratocilia damonalis

Ceratocilia damonalis

Birds have learnt to exploit this daily feast and several species were already on site. An American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), Dusky-capped Flycatchers (Myiarchus tuberculifer), Tropical Peewees (Contopus cinereus) and a Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) provided a good start to the day’s count

A female Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava) flew up to the station’s fence and joined the queue for breakfast.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Hepatic Tanager

Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava)

These tanagers are highland specialists and according to Richard Ffrench are found only above 1000 ft in the Northern Range. In contrast to the dull olive-green of the female, the male Hepatic Tanager has an attractive red coloration.

At the far end of the station’s fence a female Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris) perched patiently while on the lookout for insects.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Collared Trogon

A female Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris)

These trogons are omnivorous, feeding both on small soft fruits and insects alike. When hunting, it will sit motionless on its perch and slowly rotate its head in search of prey. After a while the bird dived gracefully to snatch a small moth a few inches off the ground and then flew off into the dark undergrowth. It was not long after it left that a male Collared Trogon showed up. The female Collared Trogon is attractive in its own way but the male Collared Trogon is the real showstopper.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Collared Trogon male

A male Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris)

This feast for the eyes was perched on a support cable. Like the other trogon, it too was looking for a meal. Collared Trogons are commonly found on both islands, however in Trinidad they seem to prefer the higher altitude forests of the Northern Range. Despite the presence of the other two resident Trogons in south Trinidad (Violaceous and Green-backed), I have never seen a Collared Trogon in any of the southern forests.

Also feeding at the station that morning was this confiding Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus culicivorus).

Trinidad and Tobago birds Golden crowned Warbler

Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus culicivorus)

Unlike the aforementioned American Redstart (a migrant warbler), the Golden-crowned Warbler is one of our three resident Warblers. It is a common inhabitant of forest undergrowth but is usually wary of humans. This individual, perhaps in a fit of avian gluttony, fearlessly hunted small insects a few feet from us.

Eventually we descended from the hilltop and proceeded to Las Lapas. I must admit that having spent most of my time bird-watching in south Trinidad that I am not yet familiar with many of the Northern Range birds. The unfamiliar calls of Stripe-breasted Spinetails (Synallaxis cinnamomea), Black-faced Antthrushes (Formicarius analis) and Slaty-capped Flycatchers (Leptopogon superciliaris) were identified by other members of the group. In the gloom of the undergrowth an Euler’s Flycatcher (Lathrotriccus euleri) hawked for insects.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Eulers Flycatcher

Euler’s Flycatcher (Lathrotriccus euleri)

Buff wing-bars and an orange lower mandible help to identify this small flycatcher. Also at home in the undergrowth was this White-throated Spadebill (Platyrinchus mystaceus).

Trinidad and Tobago birds White throated Spadebill

White-throated Spadebill (Platyrinchus mystaceus)

As we descended along the Las Lapas trail two Rusty-tipped Pages (Siproeta epaphus) fed on a flowering vine.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Rusty tipped Page

Rusty-tipped Page (Siproeta epaphus)

In “Butterflies of Trinidad and Tobago” this butterfly was considered by Malcom Barcant to be one of the twelve rarest butterflies in Trinidad. At that time it was a recent colonizer of Trinidad but the population has probably expanded significantly since then as we found a third individual later that day at Lopinot.

By the end of the day we were all quite tired but had enjoyed ourselves immensely. Other notable birds seen included two Common Black Hawks (Buteogallus anthracinus), one Gray Hawk (Buteo nitidus), one White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis), one Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris), two Tufted Coquettes (Lophornis ornatus) and one Gray-throated Leaftosser (Sclerurus albigularis). Not a bad way to start the new year!

Download a summary of the Las Lapas/Lopinot Bird count (2010)

View the compiled results for Trinidad & Tobago on the National Audubon Society’s website

A different kind of duck hunt 2010.10.30

I have always been partial to marshland. Forests and woodlands, while biologically endowed in their own unique ways, are sometimes a bit too much for me. Unless you are to limit yourself to one specific interest, butterfly photography for instance, too much time is spent hurriedly looking at the ground, up in the tree canopy and at passing shadows while trying to absorb it all. God forbid you miss something interesting.

A marsh, on the other hand, gives an observer the chance to focus. A lone heron fishes patiently from its water-lily platform. A caiman suns itself on an exposed bank. A crake calls, unseen amongst the reeds. I find it rather relaxing. And while herons and crakes are lovely marshland inhabitants, my favourite marsh birds are ducks. A duck is the quintessential marsh bird – perfectly at home in the water. And it was a duck, cutting to the point of my story, which led us to Kernahan on a clear October morning. A White-faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna viduata), the rarest of the three whistling ducks, had been seen here several weeks before and we had hoped to catch up with it.

We arrived in Kernahan just after sunrise (and I hope you appreciate how early one has to get up in the morning to be in Nariva at sunrise) and the residents of the area were already hard at work. Kernahan is a small settlement engaged in the cultivation of water-melon, pepper, cucumbers and rice. Additionally the residents depend on the natural resources of the swamp, including the harvesting of Cascadura (Hoplosternum littorale), Black Conch (Pomacea urceus) and crabs. The illegal large-scale cultivation of rice, by non-residents, commenced in the 1980s and led to the destruction of large areas of the swamp. This was protested extensively and the cultivation was eventually halted by the government. In 1993 the swamp was declared a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

Trinidad and Tobago Kernahan Nariva Swamp lagoon

Kernahan, Nariva

It did not take us long to see our first ducks. Small groups of Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) occasionally took to the air and flew over the marshy lagoons. We eventually located a group, 20+ strong, resting in an open lagoon.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Blue-winged Teal

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) in Kernahan

These ducks are visitors, migrating from the United States and Canada during the northern winter. Beginning in September, they arrive in considerable numbers and probably account for the majority of wild ducks taken during the hunting season. At this time the birds are in eclipse (non-breeding) plumage and this accounts for their drab appearance.

In addition to the White faced duck, we were also on the lookout for the Azure Gallinule (Porphyrio flavirostris). The Azure Gallinule has an interesting history in Trinidad. Despite extensive work done in the area by the TVRL in the Nariva area (see post Back to Bush-Bush), the bird was not discovered until 1978. This suggests that either they went unnoticed all that time or that Azure Gallinules are relatively recent colonizers of Trinidad from the South American mainland. Since then, they have been observed twice in the Caroni ricefields but the Nariva Swamp remains the only reliable location to see this species in Trinidad.

Trinidad and Tobago Kernahan Nariva Swamp road

Dirt track in Kernahan

We searched for the bird in the marshes on either side of this dirt track. The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica), its much commoner relative, is found in considerable numbers here as well. Arguably one of the prettiest birds in Trinidad and Tobago, it is often overlooked by naturalists because of its ubiquitous presence in our marshes.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)

It is also widely hunted by locals and is sometimes referred to by its vernacular name of “Waterman”.

Also keeping us company on the track was a small group of Plain-breasted Ground-Doves (Columbina minuta). These doves are smaller than the common Ruddy Ground-Doves and have much paler under-parts. In addition, the males also have a noticeable blue-grey crown.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Plain-breasted Ground-Dove

Plain-breasted Ground-Dove (Columbina minuta)

Eventually we did succeed in finding our Azure Gallinule.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Azure Gallinule

Azure Gallinule (Porphyrio flavirostris).

As you can see it was a rather difficult bird to photograph owing to its habit of hiding in the vegetation. It is also a rather small bird, noticeably smaller than the Purple Gallinule (a better image can be found here).

The Azure Gallinule was exciting enough but moments after, as we proceeded along the track, a large animal appeared ahead of us. It took me a while to realize what it was and by that time it had already slipped back into the water without allowing me a chance to photograph it. It was a Neotropical River Otter (Lontra longicaudis). I would never have guessed that my first encounter with this secretive mammal would have taken place in Nariva and certainly not in the rather inglorious backdrop of a roadside drainage canal – I always imagined them swimming in crystal clear, forest bordered, streams. But I take it to be a good sign that it survives in the area. Indeed, they have been reported from the Ortoire River to the south and the North Oropouche River to the north.

A nearby flooded field was host to several bird species – Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers and Black-bellied Plover. There was also a lone Buff-breasted Sandpiper among the group – it is considered a rare visitor to Trinidad. But still no sign of our White Faced Whistling Duck. The common Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) made an appearance however.

Trinidad and Tobago birds Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

These ducks are often active at night and their whistles can be heard as they fly in darkness overhead. Despite pressure from hunting, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks are widespread on both our islands.

In the end, we never got a chance to see the White Faced Whistling Duck – there was never any guarantee that it was still in the area to begin with. Nonetheless, it was a very productive day thanks to the Neo-tropical River Otter, Azure Gallinule and Buff breasted Sandpiper sightings – remarkable inhabitants of a remarkable swamp.

Trinidad and Tobago Kernahan Nariva Swamp garden shed

Bienvenido a Icacos 2010.08.29

I had been planning to visit Icacos for a while now. The dry scrub, swamps and marshes on the peninsular would be filled with interesting birds. Or at least I imagined that they would be. Austral migrants from the mainland do travel as far north as Trinidad when avoiding the southern winter and Icacos would be a tempting location for them to stop and rest a bit. Additionally, with the heavy rains, I figured there is always a chance that wetland habitat in Venezuela could have been disrupted and that the resident birds might have sought refuge in Trinidad. The chance to finally make the trip came in the form of a family excursion to the beach.

Following a relatively late start, the first noteworthy observation of the trip was that of four Red-bellied Macaws (Orthopsittaca manilata) on the edge of the Santa Flora Forest Reserve.

Red-bellied Macaws Birds Trinidad and Tobago

Red-bellied Macaws in Santa Flora

This was the first time that I had seen Red-bellied Macaws in this area although I suspect that wandering flocks from the Los Blanquizales Lagoon traverse south Trinidad as they have been reported in Penal, San Fernando and Siparia in the past. They were resting peacefully atop Palmiste palms until they were driven away by a group of Orange-winged Parrots (Amazona amazonica).

We arrived in Icacos at 9:00am and, typical of this part of Trinidad (Icacos receives less than 40 inches of rain per year), it was hot and dry. Even the herds of cattle that roam the area seemed to have given up trying to move in the heat.

Icacos cattle pasture

No Rufous-Crab Hawks (Buteogallus aequinoctialis) were seen in their “usual” spot atop an electricity tower near Los Gallos Village. Since they were observed mating in May, I have not had any indication that the pair went on to breed. What we did see was a small flock of Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus rubber) perched in the mangroves.

Scarlet Ibis Icacos Fullerton Los Gallos Swamp National Bird Trinidad

Scarlet Ibis in Los Gallos Swamp

These ibis probably commute regularly between Trinidad and Venezuela to feed and reproduce. Formerly breeding in large numbers in Trinidad swamps, the population of Scarlet Ibis has fluctuated over the years for several reasons (including human disturbance, poaching, pollution and loss of habitat). Other than the ibis, there was little else in the way of birdlife to be seen – it was probably too late in the day for them to be active.

Arriving at Icacos Point we could clearly see Soldado Rock in the distance. About 6 miles off the coast of Trinidad, Soldado Rock has been officially designated as a wildlife reserve and is a breeding site for numerous Brown Noddies (Anous stolidus) and Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscata).

Soldado Rock Icacos Trinidad and Tobago

Soldado Rock

Several other seabirds can be seen there but the difficulty in accessing this rocky outcrop limits the regularity with which wildlife surveys can be conducted. Undoubtedly a complete list would contain many surprises.

Also visible in the distance was the coast of the Venezuelan state of Delta Amacuro. Here, along the extensive mangrove shrouded coast of Pedernales and Tucupita (two of Delta Amacuro’s four states), tributaries of the Orinoco River reach the sea. During the rainy season the volume of freshwater discharged by rivers on the mainland is enough to lower the salinity of the seawater along the south coast and even freshwater fish have been known to make the journey across to Trinidad.

Several large rafts of Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) drifted towards the shore. Washed out of tributaries of the Orinoco River following heavy rainfall and propelled by wind and tide, these rafts are doomed to drift until they wither at sea or die stranded on a beach.

Water Hyacinth Icacos Cedros Venezuela Orinoco

Water Hyacinth raft drifting off the coast of Icacos

It is fairly well-know that these hyacinth islands sometimes function as life-rafts for mainland animals that happen to get flushed out into the sea and several species of reptiles, insects and even mammals have been known to make landfall on Trinidadian beaches via the hyacinths. So, being curious about such things, we waded out to one raft to examine it for anything of interest. Shortly thereafter a scream from my mother alerted us to the fact that she had found a snake.

Its dark bands and red markings along with eyes placed near the top of its head identified it as Helicops angulatus – an aquatic non-venomous snake that lives in fresh and brackish water.

Helicops angulatus (on beach)

It seemed quite unfazed by the seawater (and its long journey) as it slithered about the submerged hyacinth roots. Eventually, as the raft neared the shore, it was broken up by the waves and the snake decided to abandon the hyacinths.

Helicops angulatus (swimming to beach)

The snake soon washed ashore (see first picture) and lay there for a while until I moved it out of fear that someone would tread upon it. Unfortunately I doubt it would have survived for long as there was no suitable freshwater habitat nearby.

Anacondas, Orinoco Crocodiles, freshwater turtles, Capybara and even a tapir have all reportedly been washed ashore with hyacinths and other river debris. Certainly there must have been other species that came ashore unnoticed in the past. Turning again to the waves, a much larger raft of water hyacinth was approaching but unfortunately it was time for us to leave. Who knows what else was about to make landfall in Icacos?

Back to Bush Bush 2010.07.12

The last time I visited Bush-Bush was in August 2009 in order to see the visiting Jabiru Storks (Jabiru mycteria). On that occasion we went only as far as was necessary to see them – a short boat ride to the expansive marshland that surrounds Bush-Bush wildlife sanctuary. But off in the distance I could see Bush Bush island. Of course it’s not an island in the traditional sense but rather a large, sandy, forest covered peninsular that protrudes into the surrounding wetland. There are footpaths that snake along the eastern margin of the island and it was via these footpaths that we decided to explore the island. 

Bush Bush island was brought to the attention of naturalists back in 1959 when a series of studies were made of the lifecycle of the yellow Fever virus. The studies and the experiences of the scientists working at the site were documented in a fascinating book by C. Brooke Worth titled “A Naturalist in Trinidad” and it was partly because of this book I was excited to visit the area. So excited that I awoke at 2:30 a.m. that morning to get there. 

At the start of the trail we were greeted by a signboard typical of sites of ecological value throughout Trinidad and Tobago. 

Bush Bush sign Nariva Trinidad and Tobago

Forestry Department signboard in Bush Bush

Heading into the dense, dark forest our guide (who is authorized by the forestry department to enter the area) pointed out the various trees and plants that surrounded us. In hindsight I should have paid more attention to what he was saying as he rattled off valuable information on the flora that surrounded us because at the end of the day I still didn’t know what a Crappo or Guatecare tree looked like. I was too busy looking for birds. Mere shadows at that time of the morning, we barely made out a party of White-flanked Antwrens (Myrmotherula axillaries) and an occasional White-bearded Manakin (Manacus manacus). Overall I was surprised by the lack of birdlife but no doubt this was due to the noise generated by our group as we shuffled through the leaf litter. Also I was a bit concerned about encountering any snakes – Fer-de-lance (Bothrops atrox) and Anaconda (Eunectes murinus gigas) all occur in Bush-Bush. Needless to say I spent a lot of time looking at the ground rather than the trees. 

And it was on the wet forest floor we spotted this stunning butterfly – the Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia peterus). 

Butterflies Trinidad Tobago Marpesia petreus Ruddy Daggerwing

Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)

It was drinking water from the wet sand in one of the rare shafts of sunlight that penetrated the tree canopy. Malcom Barcant (who gave it the local name of Tailed Flambeau) described Marpesia petreus in “Butterflies of Trinidad and Tobago” as a migrant and there must be many of them about this year as I had seen two the day before in Rousillac. Not so camera friendly was this Cassia’s Owl Butterfly (Opsiphanes cassiae) which hid under leaves in the dark forest.  

Butterflies Trinidad Tobago Opsiphanes cassiae Cassia's Owl Butterfly

Cassia's Owl Butterfly (Opsiphanes cassiae)

This butterfly’s preference for dark resting places makes sense as it is primarily seen at dusk when it comes out to feed on the juices of ripe fruit. 

Bush Bush was chosen for the study of Yellow Fever because of the populations of Red Howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus insularis) that live here. The virus uses the monkeys as hosts and is transmitted by a certain forest dwelling mosquito between monkeys and to humans who happen to be nearby.  We occasionally heard the monkeys as they bellowed in the distance. Twice we even got fleeting glances of individual monkeys who, unnerved by our presence, quietly slipped into the dense forest. Our guide pointed out several odd mounds along the way upon which numerous seedlings sprouted. 

Trinidad and Tobago nature red howler monkey dung pile

Red Howler dung pile

The Red Howler-Monkeys, he revealed, came to the forest floor to defecate in specific spots in an attempt to mask their presence in the area from predators or as a means of reducing the spread of harmful pathogens in the group. I remember seeing a television documentary once which showed a South American tree sloth engaged in the same behavior. It was suggested that the sloth did this as the sound of falling feces, as it hit leaves and branches, could attract predators. It also keeps the scent from spreading all over the area. Perhaps the monkeys followed the same logic. 

Eventually the forest thinned and we arrived at the old boathouse.

Bush Bush Nariva Swamp boathouse Trinidad Tobago

House at the end of the boatline in Bush Bush

This, I believe, was the location of the station used for the research into yellow fever which was mentioned earlier. It seems that the same channel we traversed last year when going to look at the Jabiru Storks would have eventually taken us here (with some difficulty given that there was no functional boat landing to speak of). This is also the site of the Blue and Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) reintroduction project which began in 1999. 

Bush Bush Nariva Macaw cage Trinidad Tobago

Blue and Yellow Macaw flight cage

The large flight cage was used to acclimatize birds (which were imported from South America) before being released. The project seems to have been a success and the introduced birds are breeding but only time will tell if the populations will be able to sustain themselves in the long run. No macaws were seen on this day and we were advised that the birds were probably feeding in another section of the swamp as the flocks roam the vast sanctuary (and outside of it) looking for fruiting trees. 

As we walked the island looking for macaws we came across this dead Prehensile-tailed Porcupine (Coendou prehensilis). 

Mammals Trinidad Tobago Prehensile tailed porcupine

Prehensile-tailed porcupine (Coendou prehensilis)

My guess is that it fell from the tree above and died from the impact as we could see no wounds or other cause of death. It had probably died relatively recently as it was largely intact but I wonder if vultures would dare brave the quills to feed on the carcass. 

A bit further on we were attracted by movement in the branches above the trail. Here, in a mango tree, was as group of Capuchins (Cebus albifrons trinitatis). 

Mammals Trinidad Tobago Capuchin Monkey

Capuchin Monkey (Cebus albifrons trinitatis)

There were at least two adult monkeys and three babies feeding and playing here. One adult went on to feed on the palm nuts from some Cocorite palms. But the Capuchins were not the only ones feeding here. Several Red howler Monkeys came into view – some with babies which clung tenaciously to their mothers as they clambered through the branches. 

Mammals Trinidad Tobago Red Howler Monkey

Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus insularis)

It was partially due to the existence of these monkeys (and the subsequent research into Yellow Fever that their presence facilitated) that the Bush Bush area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in July 1968 with the hope that the biodiversity within would be preserved. Walking out of Bush Bush while savoring the final offerings of the forest, it seems to me that Trinidad and Tobago might have saved this wilderness just in time.

Jewels on the wing 2010.05.29

The rains have finally come and after such a particularly severe dry season the country as a whole can breathe a sigh of relief. Our reservoirs are slowly refilling, our hills are clad in greenery again and smoke no longer obscures the horizon. On the other hand extensive flooding has already taken place in several districts in Central and North Trinidad, the rains in this case bringing financial and emotional hardship. South Trinidad seems to have been spared the worst of it so far (On a recent trip to Icacos I was surprised to find  the south-west peninsular was still very dry). The South Oropouche Lagoon is coming along very nicely; the combination of vegetation loss (from fire) and floodwater (from the rains) have resulted in large areas of open water. This is very good for water-birds and if conditions hold I expect this area to be very productive this year. But for now my focus has turned to another yearly bounty; butterflies.

With the onset of the first rains after the dry season, butterflies emerge in their thousands all over the island. This then begs an obvious question. “Where were they all this time?” Many people may not be aware of the details of a butterfly’s life-cycle. The truth is that the majority of a butterfly’s life is spent in the larval stage where they remain (as a caterpillar), gorging on vegetation, molting and eventually forming a chrysalis. A real miracle happens in the chrysalis as the entire caterpillar breaks-down and then reassembles itself as a winged butterfly. No easy feat for a simple organism and one that takes time. And this is the answer to our question. Many will stay for months in this mode and may deliberately extend their stay until a rise in humidity and lowering of light levels signal that the time is right to emerge. This timing of course coincides with the regrowth of vegetation, providing fresh leaves for caterpillars and the nectar of which adult butterflies feed on. Having avoided the worst of the dry season the newly minted butterfly will live for only a few weeks, many dying when they are simply unable to sustain flight on tattered wings, shredded by predators and abrasion. They now feed only to fuel their flight and live only to reproduce.

Unidentified caterpillar

And you can find them almost anywhere -wasteland, forest, gardens, swamps and even at the seaside. Of course once you grow accustomed to the common species in an area, a visit to a new area is often necessary to reveal new species. At my home there is a surprising lack of species in my parent’s ever-blooming garden so it is fortunate that I have recently gained access to a rarely visited wilderness – the Rousillac Swamp. With the landowner’s permission I am free to explore the “bush” surrounding the swamp and the mangrove forest itself but with the swamp currently flooded, I have an excuse to sideline bird-watching for a moment and indulge in butterflies.

Rousillac Swamp, Trinidad and Tobago

In the open areas of the swamp, on the edge of the reed beds, sun loving species fed on Black Sage (Cordia curassavica). These sun-lovers usually begin to feed around 9:00 am as the temperature rises. Some, like this Banded Banner (Pyrrhogyra neaerea), are quick to fly off and are difficult to approach.

Banded Banner (Pyrrhogyra neaerea)

It often settles on vegetation just out of reach several feet off the ground, adding to the difficulty. Others, like this Claudina Crescent (Tegosa claudina), are easy to approach and will rest with open wings inviting a photograph.

Claudina Crescent (Tegosa claudina)

A more familiar butterfly is the Soldier (Danaus eresimus), relative to the famous Monarch. A robust flier, it frequently zigzagged over the open reeds.

Soldier (Danaus eresimus)

Perhaps the commonest butterfly of all, the Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea), flitted between the shrubs.

Scarlet Peacock (Anartia amathea)

Easily overlooked on account of its sheer abundance, it is nonetheless beautiful.

As the rising sun becomes unbearable I retreat to the tree line. In the mangroves I have previously seen the beautiful Lysippus Metalmark (Riodina lysippus),

Lysippus Metalmark (Riodina Lysippus)

a species I have also seen on the edge of the Icacos Swamps and I wonder what new species are in the mangroves now, just out of reach until later in the year. For now I am content to explore a strip of secondary forest.

Here shade lovers, like this Gold-bordered Hairstreak (Rekoa Palegon), rest on leaves or play in the shafts of sunlight streaming through the trees.

Gold-bordered Hairstreak (Rekoa palegon)

Many hairstreaks  have a surprisingly stunning metallic blue inner-wing in contrast to their sometimes dull under-wing. You can barely detect it as one flies off. More obvious is the dazzling blue of the well known Emperor or Common Morpho (Morpho helenor).

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor)

Frequently seen flying in the gloom of forests with their characteristic dipping flight, they also have stunning undersides with large owl-eyes to frighten predators. Morphos feed on the juices of fruits instead of flowers. So too does this Orange Banner (Temenis laothoe) which when at rest I have always seen with one wing slightly out of line with the other.

Orange Banner (Temenis laothoe)

But for my favorite butterfly, also a fruit juice-sucker, I would have to wait until later in the day. In the evening the Satyrs emerge. They love dark and damp areas, staying close to the ground and are mostly brown and unattractive. However amongst this group is the Hyalinus Pierella (Pierella Hyalinus).

Hyalinus Pierella (Pierella Hyalinus)

Its uniquely extended lower wing and slow flight gives it a ghostly appearance in the gloom of evening. But the delicate marking on its under-wing masks its true beauty – a stunning iridescent inner wing, visible for a second as it alights on the ground (though not as blue as it appears in this photo).

Hyalinus Pierella (Pierella Hyalinus)

I doubt the residents of Rousillac would have ever thought that such jewels exist in the small strip of bush circling the swamp. Frequently burnt, polluted and hunted, it is a phenomena repeated throughout Trinidad and Tobago. But the expressions of surprise I hear from people; “You find THAT in the swamp?” tells of the potential in us all to really learn to appreciate what we have here on our islands if given the opportunity.

Expect the unexpected – Cat’s Hill 2010.04.11

While writing my last post (Run to the hills 20100316) I had assumed that the severe fires currently experienced throughout south Trinidad would negatively affect the outcome of a trip in these parts. I was not entirely correct in that assumption. My father got it right when he suggested that extreme events like bush fires, while disruptive to the lives of wildlife, might result in surprise encounters as animals, typical of another environment, are forced to relocate.

The Cat’s Hill area is dominated by two radically different forest types . One portion is covered by extensive teak fields; actively harvested by loggers, heavily eroded and ritually burned. The other section is covered by lowland forest, part of a massive expanse that reaches all the way to the Trinity Hills. I was interested in seeing the damage done by the fires in the Cat’s Hill teak fields, so on April 11th my dad and myself visited the area.

The fire damage to the teak field was severe as expected.

Trinidad and Tobago Cat's Hill Teak plantation

Teak (Tectonis grandis) produces a considerable volume of leaf litter which, in the dry season, is easily ignited. The fires not only clear the leaf litter, but will also burn off the undergrowth. The result is the complete removal of ground cover and the now exposed earth is susceptible to erosion (and the eventual loss of soil nutrients). You might think this would be disastrous to the teak fields but teak is in fact quite fire resistant thanks to the high levels of silica in its wood. Foresters use this to their advantage and deliberately set fires to the fields; the clear ground making it easier for them to operate. Additionally, by reducing the number of other plant species present, competition by the trees for light and scarce soil nutrients is reduced. Not surprisingly, the only other common plant in these areas is the spiny Lata Palm (Bactris Major) which can tolerate the frequent burning.

White Hawk Leucopternis albicollis

White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis)

What I did not expect was that there was life here. A White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis) perched on a blackened tree stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Eventually, unnerved by our presence, it flew deeper into the field (Don’t be fooled by the greenery in the background; it was one of the few green trees to be seen).  While it might be easier now for these raptors to see their prey (those lizards and rodents that managed to escape the fires) on the forest floor, I wonder if there is much prey to be had at all in the ash.

Trinidad and Tobago Tropical Pewee Contopus cinereus

Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus)

Other regular inhabitants, like this Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus) and Striped Cuckoo (Tapera naevia), seemed to be equally at home in the altered landscape.

 
 
 
 
 

 

Trinidad and Tobago birds Striped Cuckoo Tapera naevia

Striped Cuckoo (Tapera naevia)

It is likely that these insect eaters would have to rely on the remaining patches of vegetation to supply them with food. At one point we even encountered a Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana), a bird typically found high up in the middle and upper storey of large trees, feeding a few feet off the ground in a small clump of roadside shrubs. This sort of adaptability is no doubt vital to life in such a harsh environment.

Perhaps even stranger was the unmistakable sound of Bearded Bellbirds (Procnias averano). Given their impressive vocal range it is hard to say whether they were actually positioned in the teak fields or in the forest beyond (the now leafless teak trees providing little resistance to the transmission of sound). Save for one fleeting view of a green bird that could possibly have been a female I have never actually seen a Bearded Bellbird here (or anywhere else for that matter). Either way, their calls made an interesting addition to the Cat’s Hill soundscape.

Leaving the teak fields we found the lowland forests in surprisingly good condition. The forest was dry and by midday the heat was unbearable but there was little evidence of fire. In the shade of the forest floor we chanced upon an ant swarm followed by a multitude of attending birds. Many bird species have learnt to follow these marauding swarms, picking off the insects that try to escape the ants. A total of seven species including Rufous breasted Wren (Thryothorus rutilus), Red-crowned Ant-Tanager (Habia rubica), White-lined tanager (Tachyphonus rufus), Plain-brown and Cocoa Woodcreepers (Dendrocincla fuliginosa/Xiphorhynchus susurrans), White-bellied Antbird (Myrmeciza longipes) and a Plain Antvireo (Dysithamnus mentalis) were seen that morning, however the gloom of the undergrowth prevented me from taking any decent photographs.

By 9:30 am we were nearing the Rio-Claro/Guayaguayare road when my dad pointed out a hawk in a tree up ahead. It was a large bird with a curious looking feather sticking up on its head and looking through the hazy windscreen it took me a couple of seconds to realize what we were looking at

Trinidad and Tobago birds Ornate Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus ornatus

Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus)

Incredibly, we had in front of us an adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus). I am not sure when one of these beautiful birds, normally associated with the mountain forests of the Northern  Range, was last documented in southern Trinidad but it was probably some time ago. Perhaps it was a resident of the Trinity Hills that was driven out by forest fires, or maybe a stray from as far a field as Venezuela or perhaps again a bird belonging to the Northern Range undergoing seasonal migration to the Venezuelan mainland. It is difficult to say for sure but it is fantastic to see one down here.

Ornate Hawk-Eagles and Bellbirds are not the only strangers in Cat’s Hill these days.

The state oil company, Petrotrin, has several production (oil)wells located throughout the area and they have recently leased them to private contractors for refurbishment and restarting/continuing extraction operations. It was surprising to see areas that I have driven by several times, suddenly clear of vegetation and with a pumping jack actively extracting that valuable commodity.Trinidad and Tobago Cat's Hill environment

But before anyone reading this starts getting worked up about it, honestly I expect the damage to the environment to be minimal and, save for a well blowout or oil leak, the forests should be safe. Oil companies have been opereating in Cat’s Hill since the 1950’s and the “new” well sites we saw are in fact previously operating wells that, for one reason or another, were capped and abandoned, the forest slowly reclaiming the exposed land (note the green heliconia shoots already springing up in the foreground of the photo above). Indeed, it is because of the oil companies that we have tracts of forested land in Cat’s Hill, Guayaguayare, Point Fortin and elsewhere that might otherwise have been felled for housing or agriculture. And given the damage that fire can do to an oil producing facility I would hope that extra attention will now be given to the prevention of forest fires. This is not to say that the biodiversity of these areas has not been negatively affected for indeed they have, but given that industrialization must inevitably occur at some level, the current situation represents an acceptable compromise.

Trinidad and Tobago Cat's Hill environment

Finally, I was rather concerned to see two birds that were host to rather obvious white ticks on their faces (a bit disappointed too as my heart skipped a few beats both times thinking I was looking at a strange new bird). One a White-bearded Manakin and the other a Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, I have no particularly intelligent explanation for this observation and I find it strange that in both cases the birds have been unable to remove the bloodsuckers (both lodged on their cheek within range of their feet). I can only assume that the dry season had these birds stressed and therefore susceptible to such parasites but certainly this matter will require some further research. And given our experiences that day I think I’ve learnt my lesson about making assumptions.

Run to the hills 2010.03.13

The “dry” season has been particularly severe this year in Trinidad and Tobago and everywhere I look I see dry waterways, burnt vegetation and cracks in the earth. This has a negative effect on the local plant and animal life and reduces the productivity of a “nature trip” to the affected area, so I figured my best bet would be to go to the Northern range, and last weekend I took the opportunity to head up to the rain forests of Blanchissuese. 
 

The high/hilly nature of the area (I would hesitate to refer to it as mountainous) and its northerly position means it tends to receive relatively more rainfall than the southern lowlands and whilst the lowland forests (e.g Rio Claro – Guayaguayare) have dried out, the Northern range remains relatively moist. Relatively. For even here the undergrowth was dry, and looking out over the hills there were isolated patches of brown vegetation.   

I had been really hoping to see a Pawi (Pipile pipile) at Morne Bleu and after leaving home at 4:00am, we arrived at the Textel Station (where it can sometimes be seen) around 6:30am. For a tropical rainforest on a Caribbean island it was surprisingly cold up there. We saw the usual mix of forest birds but other than a Great Antshrike (Taraba major) we saw little of interest.  
We proceeded to the Las Lapas trail and along this trail we had several views of male and female Collared Trogons (Trogon collaris).  
 

  

Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris)

 

This beautiful bird is never found in south Trinidad or in the Central range for that matter. They are found in Tobago however and their choice of habitat on both islands (the Main Ridge/Northern Range) implies a distinct preference for higher altitude forests.   

At one point a female trogon flew up to grab a large caterpillar from a nearby leaf. She wiped it back and forth several times   

on the branch before swallowing it, perhaps to rid the caterpillar of harmful spines or to soften it up. The month of March falls within the breeding season of these birds and during this time they seek out natural tree holes, dig shallow nesting tunnels in termite colonies or may use old or abandoned woodpecker nestholes.   

It probably isn’t coincidence then that Golden-olive Woodpeckers (Piculus rubiginosus) also nest at this time of the year.  

Golden-olive Woodpecker (Piculus rubiginosus)

 

We found this individual busily excavating a hole in the trunk of a Bois Canot (Cecropia sp) a few feet off the trail. It is possible that the trogons would take over such a nesthole for their own use by driving off the resident woodpecker.   

We also picked up two Slaty-capped Flycatchers (Leptopogon superciliaris), a Euler’s Flycatcher (Lathrotriccus euleri), several White-necked Thrushes (Turdus albicollis),  3 American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) and had good views of the usually shy Stripe-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis cinnamomea). Through gaps in the canopy, we saw White Hawks (Leucopternis albicollis) and Common Black-Hawks (Buteogallus urubitinga) circling in the cloudless sky above.   

By mid-morning, thanks to my lack of exercise and the weight of my gear, I decided to stop and rest a bit while the rest of our small group went ahead slowly. I had picked up several interesting orchids from fallen braches along the way (including a young Butterfly orchid (Oncidium papilio) and I took the opportunity to examine them closer. It also gave me a chance to photograph these two interesting Hesperid butterflies.   

Onophas columbaria columbaria

 

    

Vettius phyllus phyllus

 

    

The Hesperiidae (or skippers) are a large family of small robust day flying butterflies that, despite accounting for about 280 of our 700 (approximate figures) species of butterflies, are not well known in Trinidad and Tobago.   

Part of this problem comes from the fact that most are rather plain in colour and as such they tend to not generate much interest. Another problem is that many species are so similar in appearance that separating them sometimes requires close examination of their genitalia with a magnifying lens. Needless to say, this is not something that the average weekend naturalist is willing to do and their popularity among butterfly watchers unfortunately suffers as a result.   

I am not sure of the identity of these two hesperid butterflies as yet (Note: They have since been identified), however I instantly knew the identity of this one.   

The Queen or Starry Cracker (Hamadryas laodamia)

 

 The Queen Cracker (Hymadryas laodamia) is a beautiful forest dwelling butterfly. I had only seen pictures of it before so I was delighted to see this one resting quietly on a tree trunk. This butterfly and the other three Hymadryas species in Trnidad, get their local name from the curious cracking noise made by their wings when they fly. The head down resting position seen in the picture is also typical of the others in its family.  

At this point we decided to turn back and return to the car for we were all quite tired, but after walking for a while I realised that I had left my little collection of orchids on the ground some way aback. This necessitated a brisk jog to retrieve them and it was fortunate that I did, for I came across a Gray-throated Leaftosser working the exposed bank along the trail.   

It was mid day by the time we got back to the car and the overhead sun roasted us with all its might, a reminder of what the rest of the country was experiencing. At the time of writing, the country has gone 31 days without rain. We could have seen it coming following the rather dry “wet” season we had at the end of 2009 and with no relief in sight I only hope we will get through the next three months, in this the driest of “dry” seasons, with minimal damage to the natural environment.   

Vegetation razed by fire, a scene repeated throughout Trinidad and Tobago

 

 

A time for everything 2010.01.09

Highlights: Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Muscovy Duck

Change can be a good thing. Out of habit, you can get so used to doing things the same way that you miss out on valuable experiences that could be gained by mixing things up a bit. And this applies to aspiring students of natural history as well. 

It is becoming something of an end of year tradition for my sister and brother-in-law to join my dad and myself on a birding trip to Icacos. My routine for a trip to Icacos involves leaving home by 4:30 a.m. and consequently being surrounded by darkness until we reach Icacos by 6:00 a.m. My dear sister and her significant other are..well…less inclined to pre-dawn travel. This of course suits them as their interest is more in the diurnal raptors (hawks, eagle, falcons etc).   

I should explain why the time matters so much when it comes to birdwatching in the tropics. Bird activity here is closely related to the time of day. Many birds are active before dawn but quickly disappear by 10:00 a.m. only to reappear around 4:00pm. This is of course directly related to the movement of the sun and the associated temperature changes so that by 12:00 p.m. it is too hot for many birds to go about their regular activities. But not so with raptors. They can be rather difficult to detect when perched in the canopy of trees but they delight in soaring on the hot air thermals that spring up around 10:00am at which point they become rather easy to spot. 

So with that, plus the relatively lengthy car ride required, in mind, we agreed to set out from home at 5:30 a.m. That morning it rained. This had me worried but it stopped by the time we left. Rain is however a good thing sometimes, as it can keep the temperature low well into the day and greatly extends the time birds can stay out. 

Our first noteworthy find was a thoroughly soaked adult Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) in the Cedros forest reserve (around 7:00 a.m.). 

Adult Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

This was the first adult any of us had ever seen, our previous experience having been with immature birds. Not surprisingly, it was perched on the overhead electricity line which seems to be a favourite perch for Broad-winged Hawks. In fact I can clearly recall several years ago my father taking me to Icacos one day and we came across a heavily streaked hawk on the electricity line no less than 20 meters from where the adult Broad-winged Hawk was currently drip drying itself. Perhaps that was a Broad-winged Hawk too? It was tempting to make a connection but that could wait until later. Time was passing. So on we went. 

The northern end of the Los Blanquizales Swamp is bordered by the Southern Main Road and there are several watercourses that cross this road from the forest to the north. It was just 7:30 a.m. and we had paused at one of the bridges to stretch our legs when my sister spotted a bittern perched in a nearby tree. This, however, was no bittern and we quickly realized it was in fact an immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum)

Immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum)

This was the first time I had seen this species but a bird was seen here back in 2006 (the first record for south by F.O.), possibly at the same watercourse. It was a lovely orange brown colour and constantly flicked its tail nervously. As our initial excitement began to fade, I scanned the surrounding vegetation for additional birds when a dark shape in the distance attracted my attention. I’m sure there are moments in every birdwatcher’s life that he/she is dumfounded by their luck (several moments I hope). Well this was certainly one of mine because in the distance was a magnificent male Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) perched on a slanted tree trunk overhanging the water. 

Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)

I had previously read that they are quite fond of perching in trees as this one did. It stood preening for a while until, spooked by something unseen, it promptly took off and circled overhead, clearly showing the large white wing patches, before disappearing. Two Red-bellied Macaws came flying (and screeching!) over as well. Meanwhile the heron, unfazed by the commotion, continued to view us cautiously from its tree. I’m surprised it stayed put as we were not the stealthiest group that morning and we eventually had to leave it there to continue our journey. 

The Icacos Swamp yielded two Cocoi Herons (Ardea cocoi), two Ringed Kingfishers (Megaceryle torquata) and what looked like a Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris) fleeing into the mangrove edge. Down at Icacos Point we have always noted the extent of erosion at Constance Estate and over the years I have taken photographs of the point from a lightpole several meters up the road but now even my lightpole had been washed away by the encroaching sea. It was a grim sight. Still, several wild flowers bloomed happily here, unaware of their watery predicament. Only time will tell what will become of them.

Note: I must thank my sister for digiscoping the birds portrayed above

Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata)

A glimpse of Aripo 2009.12.12

I had the opportunity to go to Cumuto over the weekend and visit an area on the edge of the Aripo Savanna. Comprised of 10 smaller savannas, the Aripo Savanna Scientific Reserve is dominated by marsh forest and open savanna and offers for study a very interesting environment for any naturalist (a sleepy naturalist in my case as the visit involved me getting up at 3:00am). We arrived in Cumuto at 6:30 and already we were treated to a screeching flock of Red-bellied Macaws (Orthopsittaca manilata) wheeling overhead the main road. It had rained the night before and the track was in a mess, but at least the clouds would keep the sun from roasting us in such an exposed environment.

We didn’t want to go trampling through the savanna (it is a scientific reserve after all) so we proceeded along the gravel/grass track. What catches your attention out here is the Moriche Palm (Mauritia flexuosa). Tall and elegant with large fan shaped leaves, these palms are found in a few areas in Trinidad (Aripo, Nariva, Los Blanquizales and Erin) and provide ample food for the ever present Red-bellied Macaws. Much of the remaining vegetation remains relatively short (a result of poor soil conditions?) and was abuzz with birdlife. Large numbers of Blue Dacnis, Purple and Green Honeycreepers caught our attention and prompted us to question what exactly could they be feeding on out here? One possibility could be the beautiful Savanna Flower (Mandevilla hirsuta).

Savanna Flower (Mandevilla hirsuta)

Savanna Flower (Mandevilla hirsuta)

There was a lot of activity up ahead as several groups of Red-bellied Macaws flew about. As we drew closer we came upon a dead tree on which about 30 Macaws perched to relax and, as Dave put it, play “kissy face” with one another. A noisy bunch, it is fortunate that these macaws have never been sought after for the cage-bird trade. Several small butterflies flitted alongside the track. One in particular had a trick of alighting on the underside of leaves, safely hidden from our curious eyes. When I finally found one in the open feeding it really impressed me.

Blue Nymphidium

Blue Nymphidium (Nymphidium mantus)

The Blue Nymphidium (Nymphidium mantus) is rather small and you would never imagine it was that beautiful as it flies past. Other butterflies seen included the Postman and Red Doris. Another insect which caught our attention was this lovely beetle we chanced upon while sheltering from a light rain shower.

Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

Unfortunately I have no idea of its identity.

High atop the Moriche Palms were the occasional Sulphury Flycatcher (Tyrannopsis sulphurea). They look rather like Tropical Kingbirds but, when in the field, their unusual call gives away their true identity. They are tied to these Moriche Palms for some reason which I find odd considering that they are insect eaters and need not depend on the palm for food. Much harder to find was the other Moriche specialist, the Moriche Oriole (Icterus chrysocephalus).

Moriche oriole blog

Moriche Oriole (Icterus chrysocephalus)

With a bit of luck we found two birds feeding on a fruiting tree. Although sometimes caged as pets thanks to their singing abilities all I heard were a couple of “clucks”. But again it begs the question of why would a species be bound to these palms. It wasn’t feeding on Moriche when we saw it and, according to Ffrench, it normally feeds on berries and insects. Perhaps the palms are needed as nest sites for both the Moriche Oriole and Sulphury Flycatcher? Needless to say, it is a strategy which might work against them in Trinidad as Moriche Palms are quite limited in their distribution.

 Several man-made drainage canals crisscross the savanna and it is across one of these that I saw an Epidendrum ibaguense in bloom. With a lovely red flower, this orchid rivals many of the hybrid Epidendrums cultivated by orchid enthusiasts. Intent on getting a decent picture, I resorted to jumping over the canal only to find myself in much taller grass than I expected. The land was in fact a bit lower on this side and I now found myself several feet short of the orchid. I did manage a blurry record shot (not fit for display here) and I was happy just to know that such orchids still survive in the wild.  Note: I have since obtained this photograph from my friend

After about 2 hours of walking we decided to turn back. The return trip produced a Bran-coloured Flycatcher (Myiophobus fasciatus), many more Red-bellied Macaws (it is amazing how Parrots and Macaws can just disappear into the vegetation when they want to) and two more Moriche Orioles. All in all, it was a really enjoyable trip and after visiting such a remarkable place, an ordinary forest seems so, well, ordinary. I guess I can’t blame the Sulphury Flycatchers and Moriche Orioles for wanting to stay here. I would too.

Aripo Savanna

Sudama Steps 2009.11.07

I headed out to the South Oropouche Lagoon on Saturday 7th November. My brother decided to come along with me and we planned to walk down the riverbank at Sudama Steps (while not a dangerous area it is always preferable to have company). Driving through Rahamut Trace we came across the usual marsh birds but there is still not much water in the lagoons. With water levels so low grasses continue to grow in areas where  there would have usually been too much water for them to survive. The result is that there is not as much open water and this limits the variety of birdlife and/or makes it harder to see those birds which are in there, such as this Yellow-breasted Crake (Porzana flaviventer). Spiders on the other hand, like the one below, are making the best of the tall grasses.

Spider in Rahamut Tr.

Spider in Rahamut Tr.

Chances are the area will remain this way for the rest of the year.

Along the way I came across a dead Wilson’s Snipe. It had probably been hit by a car earlier that morning but remained in great condition.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

This gave me a chance to take a look at the tail feathers which are important in differentiating it from the similar South American Snipe. Further along the road I heard the musical notes of a seedeater coming from some pigeon pea bushes along the roadside and after a short wait a male Lined Seedeater (Sporophila lineola) flew out. We are not seeing as many of these handsome migrant seedeaters now as we did last year but there is not nearly enough data on their year to year numbers to determine any population trend(s) as yet.

We wanted to walk the riverbank before the sun really came out as it becomes unbearably hot later in the day. The walk was cool enough as it was only 7:30 am by the time we made it. Bicoloured Conebills (Conirostrum bicolor) and Red-capped Cardinals (Paroaria gularis) frequent these mangroves along with a large number of migrant Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia). The area is perhaps most famous for the Spotted Tody-Tyrants (Todirostrum maculatum) that live here.

Spotted Tody-Flycatcher at Sudama Steps, Trinidad

Spotted Tody-Flycatcher at Sudama Steps, Trinidad

This is the furthest north these birds are found in Trinidad and they are more accessible here than at the alternative locations (they can also be found at Icacos, Erin and Pt. Fortin). They are very easy to locate as they call loudly in the mangroves. We also came across 4 Yellow crowned Night-Herons and both light and dark phase Long-winged Harriers.  The highlight of the day however came near the abandoned picnic site where we found 3 Ruddy–breasted Seedeaters. I hadn’t seen any here for quite some time so it was good to see them (however I did not get any decent photos before they flew off). These birds were abundant as recently as the 1980’s but, like all our singing seedeaters, they have been wiped out by the cagebird trade. For the sake of balance I should mention that it has been suggested that sugarcane crop-dusting have affected them as well. I have doubts abouth this for two reasons. Firstly the other major grassland specie, the Blue-black Grassquit, has not seen a similar decline despite favouring a similar habitat. Secondly many of our seedbirds lived in secondary forest and woodlands, not in sugarcane fields (the major exception being Gray Seedeaters) Perhaps, as caging birds is not as popular now as it was then (and as sugarcane is no longer cultivated), these birds may continue to live and multiply out here in the lagoons.