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.


#1 Tarran Maharaj on 08.13.10 at 8:55 pm

GREAT JOB, GREAT PHOTOS ! Keep up the good work

#2 Soma Leon on 08.31.10 at 11:04 pm

Hi my name is Soma and my grandfather( Daniel Jury) of Plum Mitan was the care taker of Bush Bush. I would like to know if there is any videos or pictures taken back in the days he was alive which was like around 1970s-80s. Please contact me my email is (address blocked: contact for details)

#3 kimberly on 10.16.11 at 7:53 pm

like omg….i visited on friday and it was the most wonderful place i have been went with my class mates the students of st agustine senior comprehensive from 6 ………..mosquitos bit me

#4 brittany on 11.23.11 at 9:10 pm

today i got to experience the wounders of nature with my classmates of cuc secondary!!!!!

#5 Nigel Campbell on 03.28.12 at 1:46 pm

Too bad the hunters are shooting down the red howler monkeys though

#6 Joy Hinkson on 05.20.13 at 3:53 am

We went into Bush Bush in April 2013. Saw Red Howler and Capuchin. Wonderful place. Magnificent sandbox and cannonball trees and loads of palms.

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