A time for everything 2010.01.09

Highlights: Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Muscovy Duck

Change can be a good thing. Out of habit, you can get so used to doing things the same way that you miss out on valuable experiences that could be gained by mixing things up a bit. And this applies to aspiring students of natural history as well. 

It is becoming something of an end of year tradition for my sister and brother-in-law to join my dad and myself on a birding trip to Icacos. My routine for a trip to Icacos involves leaving home by 4:30 a.m. and consequently being surrounded by darkness until we reach Icacos by 6:00 a.m. My dear sister and her significant other are..well…less inclined to pre-dawn travel. This of course suits them as their interest is more in the diurnal raptors (hawks, eagle, falcons etc).   

I should explain why the time matters so much when it comes to birdwatching in the tropics. Bird activity here is closely related to the time of day. Many birds are active before dawn but quickly disappear by 10:00 a.m. only to reappear around 4:00pm. This is of course directly related to the movement of the sun and the associated temperature changes so that by 12:00 p.m. it is too hot for many birds to go about their regular activities. But not so with raptors. They can be rather difficult to detect when perched in the canopy of trees but they delight in soaring on the hot air thermals that spring up around 10:00am at which point they become rather easy to spot. 

So with that, plus the relatively lengthy car ride required, in mind, we agreed to set out from home at 5:30 a.m. That morning it rained. This had me worried but it stopped by the time we left. Rain is however a good thing sometimes, as it can keep the temperature low well into the day and greatly extends the time birds can stay out. 

Our first noteworthy find was a thoroughly soaked adult Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) in the Cedros forest reserve (around 7:00 a.m.). 

Adult Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

This was the first adult any of us had ever seen, our previous experience having been with immature birds. Not surprisingly, it was perched on the overhead electricity line which seems to be a favourite perch for Broad-winged Hawks. In fact I can clearly recall several years ago my father taking me to Icacos one day and we came across a heavily streaked hawk on the electricity line no less than 20 meters from where the adult Broad-winged Hawk was currently drip drying itself. Perhaps that was a Broad-winged Hawk too? It was tempting to make a connection but that could wait until later. Time was passing. So on we went. 

The northern end of the Los Blanquizales Swamp is bordered by the Southern Main Road and there are several watercourses that cross this road from the forest to the north. It was just 7:30 a.m. and we had paused at one of the bridges to stretch our legs when my sister spotted a bittern perched in a nearby tree. This, however, was no bittern and we quickly realized it was in fact an immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum)

Immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum)

This was the first time I had seen this species but a bird was seen here back in 2006 (the first record for south by F.O.), possibly at the same watercourse. It was a lovely orange brown colour and constantly flicked its tail nervously. As our initial excitement began to fade, I scanned the surrounding vegetation for additional birds when a dark shape in the distance attracted my attention. I’m sure there are moments in every birdwatcher’s life that he/she is dumfounded by their luck (several moments I hope). Well this was certainly one of mine because in the distance was a magnificent male Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) perched on a slanted tree trunk overhanging the water. 

Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata)

I had previously read that they are quite fond of perching in trees as this one did. It stood preening for a while until, spooked by something unseen, it promptly took off and circled overhead, clearly showing the large white wing patches, before disappearing. Two Red-bellied Macaws came flying (and screeching!) over as well. Meanwhile the heron, unfazed by the commotion, continued to view us cautiously from its tree. I’m surprised it stayed put as we were not the stealthiest group that morning and we eventually had to leave it there to continue our journey. 

The Icacos Swamp yielded two Cocoi Herons (Ardea cocoi), two Ringed Kingfishers (Megaceryle torquata) and what looked like a Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris) fleeing into the mangrove edge. Down at Icacos Point we have always noted the extent of erosion at Constance Estate and over the years I have taken photographs of the point from a lightpole several meters up the road but now even my lightpole had been washed away by the encroaching sea. It was a grim sight. Still, several wild flowers bloomed happily here, unaware of their watery predicament. Only time will tell what will become of them.

Note: I must thank my sister for digiscoping the birds portrayed above

Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata)

3 comments ↓

#1 timmaz on 01.20.10 at 7:53 am

A male Muscovy Duck in Trinidad alive & well. it makes my heart glad. i hope the south land remains pritine for years to come.

#2 Bill Murphy on 02.04.10 at 11:19 am

I love this site! Especially when freezing here in Indiana’s winter months, with ice and snow. Your images are wonderful! Thanks for sharing. Great insights into Trinidad’s natural history.

#3 Clint Quintal on 09.13.10 at 2:17 pm

Kris is amazing. Iwas fortunate to go birding with him down south in Cat’s hill. He is a store house of knowledge when it comes to birding in southern Trinidad and has a really keen eye.

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