Wednesday, 18 April 2018

"Go Slow... in Trinidad" - Day Three - Asa Wright and Leatherback Turtles

The first go slow bit, a quiet day around the AWC exploring some of the trails and trying to catch up with some of the missed species.  I turned up on the veranda later than usual but it seemed that the birds were taking it easy too. At least the sun was out and the temperature rising fast.

After breakfast I took a walk around the centre and then opted for the Chaconia trail, mainly as research said that it was good for butterflies. Well it was, but they were all the same species. However, I did meet up with another mammal, this time a rather shy Red-tailed Squirrel. Of course just like ours but a bit darker and probably larger.

Cane Skipper, Nyctelius nyctelius

Plain Longtail, Urbanus simplicius

The sun put in an appearance and the local reptiles took advantage, at the main entrance several species were basking in the sun, some confiding, others making a bolt for the nearest hole as you approached.

Now you see me......

..... now you don't.

Caribbean Tree Runner, Plica plica

One of the Windward Skinks?

Multi-coloured Tree Lizard or Anole, Polychrus marmoratus

Multi-coloured Tree Lizard or Anole, Polychrus marmoratus

Jungle Runner or Giant Ameiva, 

Giant Ameiva

 Then I took a stroll on the path beneath the veranda and as I turned a corner I almost trod on a Golden Tegu, I don't know who was more surprised, the lizard or me. Anyhow we both calmed down and I managed some shots. He wasn't bothered really, when he had had enough of us he ambled off into the bushes. Oddly enough after seeing this one they seemed to turn up everywhere. No sort of scale in the photographs but I reckon he was over two and a half feet - probably three and would have been longer if at some time in the past he hadn't lost his tail.

Golden Tegu, Tupinambis teguixin.

Back to the veranda for a coffee and a chance to capture one or two specimens that were lurking among the furniture.

Another giant moth.

Long-horned Beetle

I skipped lunch and wandered off down the Discovery trail, I wanted to visit the White-bearded Manakin lek on my own in the hope of getting some closer shots, albeit still under the dark canopy. I wasn't to be disappointed as I had the place to myself and using a bit of judicious "pishing" and mimicry of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl's call learned from our expert Dave the birds responded. Not complaining but they really gave me the once over and I was over-lensed, of course I daren't pause to take the extender off as the opportunity might disappear in an instant.

On the trail I captured some stunning flowers, they aren't easy to overlook but the birds always seem to take centre stage.

A botanist I am not but at least I can recognise Hawaiian Torch Ginger, Etlingera elatior

Hawaiian Torch Ginger

By now it was quite warm so I positioned a chair under the veranda and watched the feeders at eye level. 

Blue-chinned Sapphire

Displaying Bananaquits

Displaying Violaceous Euphonia

Bird with "attitude"

I don't normally do birds on feeders but in this case I made an exception. The Purple Honeycreeper had brought along his mate and as I hadn't seen one I recorded it from just a few feet away.

Around about tea time we departed for Matura Beach situated on the north east coast of Trinidad, we were hoping to witness one of the giant female Leatherback Turtles coming ashore to lay her eggs under cover of darkness. During the journey I had the camera ready and the window open, two nice birds were spotted, the first a Southern Lapwing and the second a Swallow-tailed Kite. One a success, the other just a silhouette in a leaden sky.

Southern Lapwing

Swallow-tailed Kite

We arrived at the beach just as darkness was closing in, not quite what I expected, probably the fault of Sir David Attenborough and Blue Planet II. Not a calm idyllic tropical beach at all, ebbing tide and a stiff onshore breeze created fairly choppy conditions.

We had dinner at the car park and prepared our gear for the wait on the beach, only red lights allowed until the turtle, should we be privileged to see one, had started to lay her eggs. The wind had stiffened and a warning not to stand under any of the coconut palms went out, quite obvious really but I didn't hear the thump of one hitting the ground during our stay.

We waited patiently in the dark as Dave and the volunteers searched the beach, the night sky cleared slightly and stars became visible. Most odd to see the Plough or Big Dipper "upside down" and the Southern Cross present in the sky at the same time. All explained by the fact we were just 10 degrees above the equator.

The cry went up "We have one!" and excitedly we made our way along the beach, red lights guiding the way. When we arrived the turtle had begun to excavate a nest, using just its back flippers to create a safe location for her precious cargo. Once she had started laying then we could use flash photography and white light, as the turtle goes into a trance-like state for the duration of laying. I was truly amazed by the size of the beast and this was a medium sized one. All too soon she was finished, back to red light whilst she filled the hole, camouflaged the nest area and dug a dummy nest to distract predators from the real location. Then she slowly made her way back to the receding tide, probably to repeat the process elsewhere in approximately ten days time.

The turtles when they hatch weigh around 50g and they can achieve a maximum weight around 900kg. The Turtle Village Trust are doing a great job, read about it here

Touching is permitted - Dave provides some idea of the size

As we walked back to the car park I mused on the incredible spectacle we had witnessed, I know I had seen it before and Blue Planet II was spectacular in its photography but the real thing was much better. I know that the Turtles are a tourist attraction and the money made finds its way back into turtle conservation but I had a feeling deep down that I had been intruding on something personal.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

"Go Slow... in Trinidad" - Day Two - Blanchisseuse Road and Brasso Secco

Day two started the same as every day, on the verandah at 0600. Unfortunately the weather had not improved, persistent heavy rain, but it didn't seem to bother the birds. The Crested Oropendolas were numerous, vociferous and very bold, their bright blue eyes transfixing you, almost challenging.

Crested Oropendola

Crested Oropendola - Ol' Blue Eyes

House Wren - just as noisy as our version.

The ubiquitous Bananaquit

Cocoa Thrush

Silver-beaked Tanager

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird

Another Violaceous Euphonia - can't resist 'em

Copper-rumped Hummingbird

A steady stream of birds until the breakfast bell rang - meals are frequent and regular at the AWC. Post breakfast we gathered for a trip up the Blanchisseuse Road, the Rain Gods had decided that it should continue for the time being. At least it was pleasantly hot and humid and the birds were not perturbed.

First birding stop was for a Collared Trogon, at first it proved difficult to see but it was calling and Dave finally found it. Lots of birds present but mainly up in the canopy, resulting in lots of photographs that turned out to be just silhouettes. In attempting to photograph a pair of Shiny Cowbirds I flushed a Red-legged Honeycreeper, unfortunately it did a bunk rather than pose.

Collared Trogon

I failed miserably with a Black-throated Mango, it sat perfectly still but was always obscured by a twig. We had good but distant views of a Striated Woodpecker but I did manage a record shot of a Black-tailed Tityra.

Black-tailed Tityra.

Striated Woodpecker
Several nice orchids to be captured brightening up what was  becoming a very wet day.

We continued on the Blanchisseuse Road, Dave spotting birds as we cruised along, stopping on an opportunity basis. We also made longer planned stops enabling Dave to use his bird luring skills, at one stage he managed to conjure up a whole tree full of birds.

Common Blackhawk (j)

Distant Plumbeous Kite

Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Great Kiskadee - my first.

Ruddy Ground Dove

Guianan Trogon

Female Great Antshrike - doing its best to avoid being photographed.

During our lunch stop we had another Striated Woodpecker, this one a little closer. A Smooth-billed Ani came close but refused to come out in the open for a clean shot. A fly by a Blue Morpho that had no intention of stopping.

Striated Woodpecker

Striated Woodpecker

Smooth-billed Ani
Another Collared Trogon

Eagle-eyed Ed spotted this snake doing its best to get run over in the road. Identified as a Grass Machete

Grass Machete

Grass Machete

Displaying Crested Oropendola

Displaying Crested Oropendola

Yellow-rumped Cacique

Yellow-rumped Cacique

Final stop of the day gave us great views of another Green-backed Trogon, some flighty Blue-headed Parrots and a stunningly beautiful Rufous-tailed Jacamar, a resident bird of the area, proven as it popped into it's nesting hole in the earth bank.

Green-backed Trogon

Blue-headed Parrot

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Time to head back to base, a long but rewarding day on the road, the rain eased in the afternoon and we finally saw some sunshine. Oddly enough another group did this excursion on a really sunny day and it seemed that they had far fewer birds. Very satisfying to get all three species of Trogon in one day.