The Inniss-Trinity Field Reservoir has always been a point of interest for me. Nestled in the Victoria Mayaro Reserve, the forest fringed reservoir lies to the north of Edward Trace, about 4.5 miles from Moruga. We have tried in the past to locate the dam via Edward Trace but never managed to find it on account of poor road conditions and safety concerns. It was only recently that we realized it was also accessible via Cat’s Hill – an area that we frequently visit. We had in fact been driving past the unmarked road without knowing it.
Unfortunately I cannot seem to find much literature about the Inniss-Trinity Field Reservoir. It is maintained by WASA, supposedly as a source of potable water but the agency’s website does not make mention of it. The surrounding Inniss oilfield was identified as a valuable butterfly collecting area by Malcom Barcant, author of “The Butterflies of Trinidad and Tobago”. He made particular reference to the presence of Papillo torquatus in the area (a butterfly he feared no longer existed on the island) stating “In May 1960 suspicions of its occurrence in the Cat’s Hill Reserve came to light and in June 1961 a secluded area within the forest at Inniss Field, Cat’s Hill (north of the dam) was found to be very productive”. But all other references that I found were in reference to its value as an oil producing region. It seemed likely that the area would have a lot of value for birdwatching as well and I often imagined (dreamed?) that one day maybe a Sungrebe or Rufescent Tiger-Heron or some other rare bird might be found skulking about the forest edged reservoir.
Our first attempt to explore the newly ‘discovered’ road was hampered by heavy rains and while we were able to catch a glimpse of the reservoir, the rains made the muddy track that led to the water’s edge impassable.
Still, the visit showed us the great potential of the area for birdwatching. The road is bordered by dense forest interrupted by the occasional oilwell. During the brief breaks in the rainstorm several pairs of Channel-billed Toucans (Ramphastos vitellinus) were seen on exposed branches trying to dry their soaked feathers in the damp morning air.
The forest canopy is not particularly high and the occasional patches of Bactris palms inside the forest might indicate that the area was once logged for timber. However I could not detect any recent signs of logging activity in the area.
Also seen trying to dry itself in the trees bordering an oilwell clearing was this large raptor, believed to be a Great Black-Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga).
This hawk can be distinguished from the very similar Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) by the size of its beak, long legs, overall body size and by the extent of white on its tail. Later that day we were fortunate to find a Common Black Hawk in a similar soggy predicament, trying to dry itself in a pose that allowed for a comparison.
Both of these birds of prey feed on small birds, reptiles and mammals that they encounter in the forest. Additionally, Common Black Hawks are fond of crabs and can also be seen along forest streams, mangrove swamps and along the coast.
Birds of prey are not the only dangers for small animals in this area. We came across two Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops atrox) mere meters apart from each other. Both snakes had been killed only hours before by oilfield workers as they crossed the road.
The Fer-de-Lance is one of four venomous snakes found in Trinidad. Its venom contains a potent hemotoxin which destroys red blood cells and causes general tissue damage. Death is quite possible unless the appropriate antivenin is administered.
The four venomous snakes of Trinidad are not protected by law if they are found on private land because of the potential threat they pose to human life. Venomous snakes are protected if they are found on state lands but it is unlikely any game warden or police officer would enforce this law given the aforementioned danger. Indeed, both snakes were killed a stone’s throw from a makeshift office used by oilfield workers.
Our second visit to the Inniss-Trinity Field, two weeks later, was even better. We wanted to head out to Cat’s Hill early that morning and managed to arrive at 5:00 am that morning. Our intention was to find the Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata) that had been previously seen in the area (see Noteworthy bird sightings: May 2011). Along the way several nightjars, most likely Paraques (Nyctidromus albicollis), were flushed along the road. Many nightjars have the habit of ‘sitting’ along the quieter country roads at night to hunt for flying insects. Unfortunately nightjars are often killed by vehicles because of this (See Road Mortality gallery).
We succeeded in attracting the Mottled Owl by using an audio recording of its call and by using a torch we were able to get a few decent views of it. Caution must always be taken when using audio playback to attract birds as excessive usage can become very stressful for them. For this reason we did not make any serious attempt at photography and left soon after (The picture below was taken when the bird was first seen in May).
As dawn broke we ventured deeper into the Inniss-Trinity Field. From the depths of the forest, hopelessly out of our view, a Bearded Bellbird (Procnias averano) was heard calling. Better known as a forest bird of the mountainous Northern Range, bellbirds are resident in the Southern Range although they are hard to observe given the flatter terrain (Do they live in the Central Range as well?). Another forest resident which was up and about that morning was the attractive Black-tailed Tityra (Tityra cayana) which was feeding in a tree along the road. This offered me the best views that I have ever had of this handsome species. Unfortunately, in my excitement it did not occur to me to take a photograph. I didn’t make the same mistake when we came upon this Scaled Pigeon (Patagioenas speciosa) later that morning.
In my experience this fruit eating forest pigeon is always quite skittish and usually doesn’t hang around for photographs. When it flew off a few minutes later it might have been because it saw this bird approaching.
The magnificent Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) is a regular visitor to forests in Trinidad but its regularity in no way detracts from its graceful beauty. The bird flew low overhead before plunging into the canopy of a nearby tree to snatch something. It must have missed as the kite emerged clutching only a few leaves.
Another photogenic raptor was the ubiquitous Plumbeous Kite (Ictinia plumbea).
They are considered breeding visitors to the island but a few individuals stay year round and can be found in considerable numbers in the forests of South Trinidad. Large numbers of both kite species will occasionally flock together and ride the forest thermals in a swirling mass referred to as a ‘kettle’. Unlike Swallow-tailed Kites, the Plumbeous Kites are almost entirely insect eaters.
Eventually we arrived at the Inniss-Trinity Field Reservoir and proceeded on foot down the muddy track to the causeway that crosses the south-western end of the reservoir. Here, on the wet earth, various butterflies gathered to take in dissolved salts including a Many-banded Daggerwing (Marpesia chiron marius) and an unidentified hesperid (The Daggerwing is referred to by Barcant as the “Road Page”).
At the waters edge we searched for birds out on the open water and on nearby trees. Disappointingly, only a few Wattled Jacanas and a Limpkin were seen – so much for skulking Sungrebes and Tiger-Herons.
As I mentioned before, I am not sure of the history of the Inniss-Trinity Field Reservoir but I assume it is man made. Several partially submerged tree trunks may also indicate that the water level has risen in recent times (unless the tree trunks have somehow remained intact since the dam was first formed)
The reservoir must have originally been used as a water source to facilitate oil extracting operations in the area. Currently, oil production in the area has been contracted out to Norway based FRAM Explorations. According to the company’s website “Fram plans to commence an aggressive development drilling program starting Fourth Quarter 2011. The wells are expected to produce 80-100 bopd from previously overlooked and/or under-evaluated horizons”. I only hope that aggressive exploration does not translate into extensive environmental damage in the area (more on FRAM Explorations here)
We decided to call it a day at this point and headed back out. Along the way we heard and then saw this very co-operative Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus)
This drab forest bird is more often heard than seen, but is easily recognized by its melodious vocalizations. Fortunately this one remained on an exposed branch for several minutes.
Quite contrary to the drab Attila was this flamboyant but rather unmusical Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos). The Crimson-crested Woodpecker can be distinguished from the similar Lineated Woodpecker by several facial features but the white ‘spot’ under the eye of this bird was a definite indicator of a male Crimson-crested.
In the end it was a very rewarding trip with lovely views of some lovely birds. We still need to explore the other approaches to the Inniss-Trinity Dam and given that the area is such a great place to look for birds we will definitely be back. We just have to remember to look for those Fer-de-Lance too!