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.


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


#1 Bernice Copeland on 09.21.11 at 9:43 pm

I also have some beautiful pictures from the savannas

#2 indira sahadeo on 06.27.12 at 1:00 pm

THE Aripo savannah is truly a panoramic area lush green vegetation, the bunkers, the pools, it is just fabulous.
you can always get a tour from the friendly tour guide group in operation there. Sundew Tour Guiding Services. they are well equipped and makes you feel quite comfortable. their knowledge that is imparted to you teaches you a bit of history.
i think every one should make it ‘a must do ‘ event . to visit the savannah. see d insect eating plant see the bunkers where ammunition was stored in d days of war.
see the vast pools of clear water> just go and be mesmerized by the true splendor of the place

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