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

2 comments ↓

#1 timmaz24s on 01.10.11 at 7:05 pm

Hey great article. Don’t ever stop what you doing. I introduce this site to people who are interested. Where can i get the official bird count list?

#2 admin on 02.20.11 at 4:42 pm

I have attached the count for Las Lapas/Lopinot to the article. The final list for Trinidad & Tobago is available on the National Audubon Society’s website.

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