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?

5 comments ↓

#1 LYNDA BOURNE on 07.18.11 at 5:55 pm

The beautiful pictures were well placed and indeed stimulated my desire to visit Icacos.

#2 Malinda Deonarine on 03.27.12 at 3:03 pm

isn’t this amazing…it jus goes to show how lucky we are to have suchbeautiful creatures!!!love it!!!

#3 oscar on 08.20.13 at 8:40 pm

I was on Trinidad, but only reach until Cedros. But Icacos looks a nice place.
Big hug for all wonderfull people of Trinidad.
Oscar

#4 jayceen on 09.16.14 at 10:46 am

I enjoyed the pics. Icacos is a wonderful place to visit. I have been there..

#5 Richie on 12.06.15 at 11:03 am

Amazing. The hidden treasures of Trinidad.

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