Treasures in the bush

For the last few weeks I have been spending most of my free time in Rousillac. To be more specific, I have been exploring a stretch of “bush” bordering the Rousillac Swamp – a mixture of secondary forest, swamp edge, and semi-abandoned agricultural plots. It may not be a virgin tropical forest or some other untouched natural environment but here I have the advantage of time and safety and I can freely explore to my heart’s content. It is also surprisingly rich in wildlife.

Secondary forest edge near the Rousillac Swamp

My initial intention, I must admit, was to start exploring the mangrove swamp located here. However it is still a bit too waterlogged and so poking around in there will have to wait for a few more weeks. Specifically, I have been itching to start using a new trail camera (see here for more information on trail cameras) with the hope of photographing a Crab-eating Raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus). According to “The Mammals of Trinidad” by M.E.Alkins, they can also be found in forested areas near water so I figured the surrounding “bush” would suffice.

Now you would expect that with a name like “Crab-eating Raccoon” I should use crabs for bait. I opted not to do this because the movement of a living, struggling crab would probably trigger the camera and after a few days I would end up with dead batteries and perhaps 500 pictures of an agitated crab. So I decided to use fish (which also forms part of the raccoon’s diet) with some fruit or chicken eggs thrown in for variety.

 

Trail Camera (with home-made rain shield and stand)

Week 1

Trail camera plans aside, my first weekend visit made me realize that there was a lot of butterfly activity in the area. Many butterflies inhabit forest edge and soon I was finding all sorts of interesting species. Indeed this quickly became the main motivation for spending time out there – the camera could be setup in a matter of minutes but searching for butterflies could easily become an all day affair. The heat, mosquitoes and thorns seem trivial when you can find hidden treasures like these:

Large Slate Hairstreak (Brangas caranus)

Red Cracker (Hamadryas amphinome)

Naxia Sister (Adelpha naxia)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

I had decided that I would setup the camera in different spots close to the water’s edge in order to capture a range of habitats. The first site was certainly close to the water however in hindsight it was perhaps not a good choice – it was essentially in the middle of a large patch of Gru-Gru palm (Bactris major). For those of you who don’t know what this palm looks like, it is pretty much just a mass of long, needle like thorns. I didn’t notice it at the time because of my boots but the ground was littered with these thorns as well. Would anything actually live in here? It was too late to move the camera and bait so I had no choice but to leave it and hope for the best.

Week 2

It rained for much of the week and over the next weekend I returned to retrieve the camera and move it to a new site. The images it had captured over the week surprised me.

Black-eared Opossum or Manicou (Didelphis marsupialis insularis)

Robinson’s mouse opossum (Marmosa robinsonii)

So it seems that wildlife could in fact live in the thorny palm patch. The small mouse opossum was surprising as it is mostly aboreal and would have to spend much of its time off the ground and actually climbing in those thorny palms.

The new site for the camera was a 15 minute walk further into the “bush”. Once again, I was able to find several interesting butterflies.

Variegated Hairstreak (Michaelus jebus)

Emerald-patched Cattleheart (Parides sesostris)

Gray Ministreak (Ministrymon azia)

The new camera location was a promising site near the water’s edge which was shaded by tall trees and close to a thick tangle of vegetation with even a few crab burrows here and there. Fingers crossed, I setup and left for the week.

Week 3

The variety of birdlife seen here has not been particularly impressive thus far. But I’m sure something really interesting will eventually turn up some day. In any case it forced me to pay attention to some of our commoner birds.

Orange-winged Parrot (Amazona amazonica)

Numerous Orange-winged Parrots (Amazona amazonica) feed in the periphery of the swamp and screeching pairs frequently flew overhead before almost stealthily disappearing into the tree canopy. At one point I spent several minutes underneath a tall mango tree being bombarded from above by half chewed green mangoes – I knew there were parrots up there somewhere but they possess a remarkable ability to just vanish among the leaves when they want to. Eventually an explosion of screeches and flapping wings proved that there was a small flock in there after all.

On another occasion a piercing “crack” alerted me to the presence of a Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) on a nearby tree. They are well named on account of their similarity to a squirrel as they gracefully race about the tree branches. It was hidden behind some leaves at the top of a tree however these cuckoos follow a predictable pattern. Starting near the middle of a tree, they will ascend, leaping from branch to branch, until they reach the top. They then glide to a nearby tree, usually near the center, and then begin the process again. The pattern held true and sure enough the bird glided overhead to a nearby tree.

Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana)

Also overhead, a pair of Gray-headed Kites (Leptodon cayanensis) uttered their mewing, cat-like calls. These large, lovely birds have a characteristic aerial display, referred to as a butterfly display, which involves the birds intermittently performing a series of quick, shallow wing-beats. From a distance the bird appears to be trembling in flight.

Gray-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis)

Butterflies once again piqued my interest and the “bush” continued to provide new species for my photographic collection.

Theope terambus

Eryphanis polyxena

As I approached the trail camera site to retrieve it I noticed that the ground was disturbed. Evidently something large had been there during the week and was very active.

Another Robinson’s mouse opossum (Marmosa robinsonii)

Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajanea)

Agouti (Dasyprocta leporina)

Indian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus)

Ah. There’s the culprit. While common in Trinidad, the mongoose was unexpected in such a densely vegetated area as I have always associated them with more open areas or scrub land. Evidently the mongoose had been digging while searching for scraps. I had an even better location in mind for the next site. This site was again close to water but the flat ground, clear of leaf litter, indicated that it was also flood prone. The undergrowth was sparse but the overhead tree cover was thick. This time I buried some of the bait to keep anything that came to feed on it in the area for a longer time. It was then that I made another mistake. Because of the clear undergrowth, I was concerned that some passing woodsman might notice the camera’s white rain shield. To prevent this, I covered the shield with a large leaf. After I returned home it occurred to me that as the leaf dried it would shift slightly, perhaps enough to obscure the view from the camera lens. I would have to wait and see next weekend.

Week 4

The week was mercifully rain free and the long Carnival weekend meant that I could afford to really spend some time exploring. You might think that after all the time I have spent here that I would have explored it all. But there is actually a significant section that I haven’t yet managed to get around to. I blame the butterflies for that. Butterflies are curiously time sensitive. The same patch of flowering shrubs might have different species depending on the time of day and this means that by the time I have walked a certain distance inside the bush it becomes necessary to walk back to the beginning and start over again (needless to say butterfly-watching is time consuming).

Not that I mind. The results are very encouraging.

Neophilus or Spear winged Cattleheart (Parides neophilus)

Berecynthia Giant Owl (Catoblepia berecynthia)

Cassia’s Owl-Butterfly (Opsiphanes cassiae)

Meton Hairstreak (Rekoa meton)

An abnormally patterned Ricini Longwing (Heliconius ricini)

The camera was still firmly in place when I retrieved it. However my fears were confirmed and the camera lens was indeed partially blocked by the leaf. On the bright side something had definitely been digging for the bait. Another mongoose perhaps? Thankfully, the camera had taken numerous images before the leaf got in the way.

Unidentified Bat

Yet another Robinson’s mouse opossum (Marmosa robinsonii)

Forest Rat

Another Indian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus)

But it wasn’t the mongoose that was digging for the bait.

Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

I didn’t expect to see a Caiman but I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the proximity of the swamp. There was one final image that I am unable to figure out. Just before the leaf blocked the lens entirely the camera recorded this image.

?

It looks like a pale gray leg but I can’t be sure. It seems that Crab-eating Raccoon will have to wait until I reach the mangrove swamps to have its picture taken.

There is something nice about being out there by myself in the heat of the day. Perhaps it is because I work all week in an office that these weekends in the “bush” become necessary. Or maybe it is that being alone in the “bush” for several hours just enables me to clear my mind and focus on my surroundings. Whatever the reason, evidently there are treasures that you can find in the “bush” other than birds, crab-eating raccoons and butterflies. Treasures like solitude and peace.

17 comments ↓

#1 imran khan on 03.03.12 at 9:37 am

Excellent observations! I’d hazard 2 guesses for the last pic: 1) Papa Bois, or 2) Red Brocket Deer.

I myself want to see Crab-eating Raccoon in the wild. I was working in the stretch of mangrove along “Mosquito Creek” in 2009 AND SAW LOADS OF RACCOON FOOTPRINTS (young ones and all) less than 50 m into the mangrove. This of course peaked my curiosity. Wanted to try spending nights to observe em, but could not find company. Wanna try? Imran.

#2 Administrator on 03.04.12 at 9:20 am

Hmmm. I would be amazed if deer have survived in that area without being noticed by the local woodsmen. Still, whatever it was seems to have long legs as the body doesn’t appear through the slit in the leaf, so you might be right.

I’m gonna have to keep trying the area. Both species of anteater are also present in the area.

I would love to try Mosquito Creek but how? Walking about would be too noisy I imagine. Build a platform and sentry?.

#3 imran khan on 03.04.12 at 7:21 pm

My wife just said that it could be the “elusive La’ jablesse”, hence only the “cow foot leg”. It would be great if you capture the larger anteater… you need to look for largish termite nests that are “clawed” or show signs of damage. They often break into the nests as part of their territorial routes, so its likely that they will eventually return to a used nest. We may not need to build a scaffold, some of those mangrove roots can work as a bed! i’m working in tobago this and the third week week of march. Lets plan a night (after some recon and bait setting)?

#4 imran khan on 03.04.12 at 7:25 pm

Oh, it would be great if your camera was set up where im working – Petit Trou Wetland. I’ve seen lots of signs of mammals such as Crab eating Racoon and Manicou. Visual confirmation would be nice.

#5 sanjiv on 03.09.12 at 10:05 am

treasures indeed!!!great pics!!!That trail camera is brilliant!

#6 Cyril on 03.13.12 at 3:58 pm

Great work with the trail camera & excellent butterfly pics…i can identify with your last comment after a long week..solitude and peace!!

#7 Kevin Mahabir on 03.20.12 at 9:02 am

If you’re still in Rousillac you’d find the Yellow-headed Parrot and the Scaled Pigeon. You’d find them elsewhere, but down there and in the Point Fortin areas they are more abundant and less shy than in the forest. The scaled pigeon situation down there is amazing. They seem to like open habitat just as much

#8 JonRich on 03.23.12 at 3:23 pm

I’m a Trinidadian , now living in NYC. Its always good to see images of wildlife from Trinidad. I am an Environmental Studies major and would love to come back home to work in the field.

#9 avianraptor on 03.30.12 at 8:54 pm

Hey Kris,
Many thanks for the wonderful reminders of the area once so familiar. In my youth the Robinson’s Opposum was called “Go-zay Rat” or “Gozay Manicou”. Our land in Fyzabad was frequented by many common birds but also Limpkin, Barn Owl, Little Owls, several species of plovers/sandpipers, robins, picoplatts, parrots, parakeets, several types of hawks et al. Your writings and pictures bring back these memories so vividly. Thanks for the treasures. Keep up the splendid work.

#10 Faraaz on 04.24.12 at 4:02 pm

Trail cam hits the spot, Kris!!! Something I’ve always wanted to try. Excellent work as usual!

#11 shello on 05.21.12 at 8:10 am

i’m very impressed with your work,keep it up,but i,m looking for a picture list of snakes in trinidad.I,m seeing a lot of new types of snakes in my area an would like to know who’s bad an who’s good

#12 Administrator on 05.21.12 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for the remark. You can check out this website for more info on snakes
http://www.trinidad-tobagoherps.org./

#13 Charissa on 07.05.12 at 4:13 pm

Gorgeous pictures and fantastic write up Kris! I can’t wait to see what your trail camera picks up next.

#14 Joe Madory on 07.12.12 at 2:58 pm

Talk about finding unexpected treasures – I came upon your website by accident today and can’t believe my luck. Although a Staten Island, NYC, resident, we first went to TnT in Jan 1969. We have been back well over 100 times and spend about 6 weeks a year in our second home – sometimes more. In those 43 years, we have explored almost every part, savana, swamp, hills, etc. Always looking for something new to explore each visit – except when we’re there for cricket. Thought I knew the Island well – now I have to see Knolly’s Tunnel next visit. Thanks for sharing.

#15 Faraaz on 07.20.12 at 7:38 am

Just don’t touch the walls of Knolly’s Tunnel! And walk with something to cover your head.

#16 Pawel on 02.22.13 at 7:10 am

Hi guys,
I was lucky to spot one crab-eating racoon trying to cross a channel in Raroni Swamp last January (2013). That’s great they are still there!

#17 nnrm on 10.20.14 at 9:20 pm

love the pics so intrigued by the wildlife treasures in Trinidad, now living in Toronto makes me wanting to go back home?????

Leave a Comment

Please answer the question below in order to post your comment (Anti-spam measure) *