Run to the hills 2010.03.13

The “dry” season has been particularly severe this year in Trinidad and Tobago and everywhere I look I see dry waterways, burnt vegetation and cracks in the earth. This has a negative effect on the local plant and animal life and reduces the productivity of a “nature trip” to the affected area, so I figured my best bet would be to go to the Northern range, and last weekend I took the opportunity to head up to the rain forests of Blanchissuese. 
 

The high/hilly nature of the area (I would hesitate to refer to it as mountainous) and its northerly position means it tends to receive relatively more rainfall than the southern lowlands and whilst the lowland forests (e.g Rio Claro – Guayaguayare) have dried out, the Northern range remains relatively moist. Relatively. For even here the undergrowth was dry, and looking out over the hills there were isolated patches of brown vegetation.   

I had been really hoping to see a Pawi (Pipile pipile) at Morne Bleu and after leaving home at 4:00am, we arrived at the Textel Station (where it can sometimes be seen) around 6:30am. For a tropical rainforest on a Caribbean island it was surprisingly cold up there. We saw the usual mix of forest birds but other than a Great Antshrike (Taraba major) we saw little of interest.  
We proceeded to the Las Lapas trail and along this trail we had several views of male and female Collared Trogons (Trogon collaris).  
 

  

Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris)

 

This beautiful bird is never found in south Trinidad or in the Central range for that matter. They are found in Tobago however and their choice of habitat on both islands (the Main Ridge/Northern Range) implies a distinct preference for higher altitude forests.   

At one point a female trogon flew up to grab a large caterpillar from a nearby leaf. She wiped it back and forth several times   

on the branch before swallowing it, perhaps to rid the caterpillar of harmful spines or to soften it up. The month of March falls within the breeding season of these birds and during this time they seek out natural tree holes, dig shallow nesting tunnels in termite colonies or may use old or abandoned woodpecker nestholes.   

It probably isn’t coincidence then that Golden-olive Woodpeckers (Piculus rubiginosus) also nest at this time of the year.  

Golden-olive Woodpecker (Piculus rubiginosus)

 

We found this individual busily excavating a hole in the trunk of a Bois Canot (Cecropia sp) a few feet off the trail. It is possible that the trogons would take over such a nesthole for their own use by driving off the resident woodpecker.   

We also picked up two Slaty-capped Flycatchers (Leptopogon superciliaris), a Euler’s Flycatcher (Lathrotriccus euleri), several White-necked Thrushes (Turdus albicollis),  3 American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) and had good views of the usually shy Stripe-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis cinnamomea). Through gaps in the canopy, we saw White Hawks (Leucopternis albicollis) and Common Black-Hawks (Buteogallus urubitinga) circling in the cloudless sky above.   

By mid-morning, thanks to my lack of exercise and the weight of my gear, I decided to stop and rest a bit while the rest of our small group went ahead slowly. I had picked up several interesting orchids from fallen braches along the way (including a young Butterfly orchid (Oncidium papilio) and I took the opportunity to examine them closer. It also gave me a chance to photograph these two interesting Hesperid butterflies.   

Onophas columbaria columbaria

 

    

Vettius phyllus phyllus

 

    

The Hesperiidae (or skippers) are a large family of small robust day flying butterflies that, despite accounting for about 280 of our 700 (approximate figures) species of butterflies, are not well known in Trinidad and Tobago.   

Part of this problem comes from the fact that most are rather plain in colour and as such they tend to not generate much interest. Another problem is that many species are so similar in appearance that separating them sometimes requires close examination of their genitalia with a magnifying lens. Needless to say, this is not something that the average weekend naturalist is willing to do and their popularity among butterfly watchers unfortunately suffers as a result.   

I am not sure of the identity of these two hesperid butterflies as yet (Note: They have since been identified), however I instantly knew the identity of this one.   

The Queen or Starry Cracker (Hamadryas laodamia)

 

 The Queen Cracker (Hymadryas laodamia) is a beautiful forest dwelling butterfly. I had only seen pictures of it before so I was delighted to see this one resting quietly on a tree trunk. This butterfly and the other three Hymadryas species in Trnidad, get their local name from the curious cracking noise made by their wings when they fly. The head down resting position seen in the picture is also typical of the others in its family.  

At this point we decided to turn back and return to the car for we were all quite tired, but after walking for a while I realised that I had left my little collection of orchids on the ground some way aback. This necessitated a brisk jog to retrieve them and it was fortunate that I did, for I came across a Gray-throated Leaftosser working the exposed bank along the trail.   

It was mid day by the time we got back to the car and the overhead sun roasted us with all its might, a reminder of what the rest of the country was experiencing. At the time of writing, the country has gone 31 days without rain. We could have seen it coming following the rather dry “wet” season we had at the end of 2009 and with no relief in sight I only hope we will get through the next three months, in this the driest of “dry” seasons, with minimal damage to the natural environment.   

Vegetation razed by fire, a scene repeated throughout Trinidad and Tobago

 

 

1 comment so far ↓

#1 timmaz24s on 04.20.10 at 10:32 pm

yes this was a dry & hot dry season with plenty of bush fire (cause by man mostly) in the hills but glad that didn’t deter you.

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