Thursday, 19 April 2012

Leaving Trini

Well the time has come... I'm sitting at the gate in Trinidad about to get on the flight to Miami, and so begins the long trek home.  This morning was a lazy morning, a chance to sleep in a bit, pack the gear and relax.  Hopefully some worthwhile shots in the can so to speak, and looking forward to working through them to get them submitted to Nature Picture Library.

Thought it might be worth just quickly recapping on the places I've stayed and a few thoughts.

Asa Wright Nature Centre - stayed there my first four nights.  Was a good way of doing it as gave me the opportunity to really get some photography and birding done, do night walks along the driveway to see critters, and work through some of the Trinidad species.  Although not a massive number of species, Trinidad has representatives from a lot of bird families, so it is good to get your eye in and start working through things.  Having access to the guides on the verandah, the forest with multiple trails right at your door-step, and being in a safe and secure area makes this a real must do.  Despite not being the cheapest place in town, value for money is great, with access to the oilbird cave if you stay 3+ nights, a guided walk through the forest, and the night walks mentioned above.  They are also able to arrange side trips to various places around the rest of the island, with the night birding trip being highly recommended, as well as local birding up the road with one of their guides.  The guides at the centre and those they arrange trips with are superb, friendly and really know their stuff.  Can't recommend this place highly enough.

Pax Guest House - stayed there my last four nights.  An excellent location with good birding from the balcony of the house, with feeders attracting a good range of species, and the valley it overlooks holding a good range of other stuff.  There are local trails through this secondary forest, which I managed to walk one of (to the fire tower).  The owners Gerard and Oda are super friendly and knowledgeable and able to arrange almost anything, with trips to various parts of the island with great guides like Kenny.  I think it worked well to stay here last as it meant I had a bit of a target species list, and places I wanted to see, so they were able to arrange this for me.  The food was outstanding, the beer was cold and again I cannot recommend this place highly enough.

Madoo's Bird Tours - Caroni Swamp tours.  I did the evening tour with one operator whilst still on the ship, and then did a second tour with Shawn from Maddo's.  The trip with Shawn was by far the best as his intimate knowledge of the area and its wildlife really showed.  We had more species of birds and saw things much better with Shawn than we did on the previous trip.  Madoo's are a small outfit who do a much better job in my opinion for the birder/photographer, so if you are going to do the Caroni tour, do it with these guys.  Their normal tour is the 4pm departure, but Shawn mentioned they are also available to do early morning tours by arrangement and see far more of the swamp and its wildlife.  If I had had more time then I would have definitely done this as well.

Also a big thanks to the great people I have met during this trip to the beautiful island of Trinidad.  Especially to Pam, Mukesh, Mahase, Molly and Caleb at Asa Wright, my good friend Kenny for showing me so many great birds, and all the other smiling faces I have met along the way.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Birding with Kenny and Shawn

Well up and out of the accommodation just on 0730 and headed off with Kenny.  This time to the closer Arena Forest, a lowland forest area near to Arima.  We parked up just on the outskirts of the forest and within a few minutes had little hermit in the bag, a species I had missed to date.  I've met some pretty sharp guides in my time, but holey moley Kenny is surely one of the sharpest!  He was identifying hummingbirds I hadn't even seen!  And a mere whisper of a sound had his keen eyes on the bird within seconds, something that has to be seen to be believed!  So we had a great time wandering along the main track finding a few of the things I hadn't seen up to this point - cocoa woodcreeper, streaked xenops, Euler's flycatcher, and dusky-capped flycatcher.  Plus good views of a few things I had seen, but always happy tosee again - rufous-browed peppershrike, rufous-breasted hermit (nesting), bat falcon, and yellow-breasted flycatcher.

We then wandered off down a side track, and managed to call in a black-crested antshrike - all the antshrikes are good looking birds, but the male of this species is pretty cool.  Especially when feeding a female.  The a rufous-tailed jacamar called off in the bushes on the side of the trail, and Kenny said 'Come on' as he bravely strode off through the mid-calf length grass...  I had applied my new 'Deep Woods' strength repellent to all lower torso, sprayed my socks and lowers pant legs, and had my pants nerdily tucked into my socks...oh well here goes.  To be honest there probably isn't a lot of real estate left on my lower half that isn't already blistered and red, so good luck to a chigger in finding a spot to gnaw on and digest my cellular contents!  So off I went thinking this would be the ultimate test...of course as soon as the jacamar was in sight all worries about chiggers, snakes, and anything else went out the window and it was pure focus.  Managed a few nice shots and got to see it catching a few insects in the air which was pretty cool, so I gingerly stepped back out onto the track, already feeling a little itchy as reality set in.

We headed back up towards the car, keeping eyes peeled, and checked out a few other places along the road, before it was time to start heading back towards Pax.  We did see another grey hawk, and flushed a white hawk from the side of the road as well.

Back at Pax I anxiously showered, searching for new bites...what's this no new bites!!!  The ultimate test had passed, perhaps the citronella and low rate deet repellent I had been using previously had been a mere taste of chilli to the meal, but it seems the 'Deep Woods' ahd survived the ultimate test.  Yipeee!  A quick lunch and then a nap, and then back to Caroni Swamp to watch the scarlet ibis coming in.  I had done this on the last night with the ship, and it was fantastic, so I headed back there with a couple of others from Pax.  This time we went out with Shawn from Madoo's Bird Tours and boy was that a good move.  Shawn is another guide with unbelievable eyes and we had an awesome trip.  We had four Cook's tree boas, a silky anteater (that the boat in front of us missed), and three common potoo!  As well as this we had more species of birds than I got on the last trip, including a stonking male green-throated mango, great views of bicoloured conebill, and several more straight-billed woodcreeper.  I did miss the northern scrub flycatcher though as was intent on the silky anteater...oh well.  This time the little guy was curled up with has face towards us, so got a cute shot of him.  We then headed for the main course, with the scarlet ibis heading in to roost, and again had a stunning display.  I tried for some more artsy blurred shots, and not sure of the outcome.  I kinda like them, but I guess the proof will be in the selling...

Anyway, as we headed back to the dock, the finale was a brief view of a lesser nighthawk as it flew out and over the channel we were heading down, nice!  So if you are planning a trip to Caroni, the only group to go with is Madoo's.  They really have the best guides and know the place like no one else.

Cocoa woodcreeper...finally nailed him!

Green-backed trogon finally close enough to photograph

Rufous-tailed jacamar, worth the risk of more chiggers!

What a bill!

White hawk flushed from the side of the road

Little blue heron at the start of the Caroni trip

Mangrove crab

Straight-billed woodcreeper, a mangrove specialist

Mangrove crabs on the aerial roots of red mangrove

Cute as! Silky anteater curled in the mangroves

Cook's tree boa also curled

Common potoo, a very well camouflaged bird and Sean found us three of them

The stars of the show, literally

Coming in to roost

Getting artsy, does it work?

And again

Shawn with the sun hitting the clouds as it goes down

Sunset as a flock of ibis approach

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

'P' is for Piping guan!

Well a damn early start this morning (or was it last night?) at 0230 with pickup by my guide Kenny at 0300.  We headed up to Gran Riviere up on the NE coast of Trinidad, and despite the fact that the island is not all that big, it took just over two hours to get up there.  First stop just before sunrise was the beach, where there was still at least three female leatherback turtles covering up their nests.  The beach was a mass of freshly dug nests and was pretty impressive to see.  I've only ever seen the odd turtle tracks on the beach leading to and from the water, but this was like a construction site!

We got pretty close to one female and I photographed her briefly as she covered her nest.  The laying had been done and her job was nearly complete as the sun came up.  A few loose eggs were found along the beach at other nests, and wouldn't last long as the town's dogs and black vultures started to appear as the light gradually increased.  We were on a tight schedule, so it was a brief stop before heading off up into the jungle to look for our next (and main) target.- the endemic Trinidad piping guan.  At one stage this was the islands only endemic, but with recent splits I'm not sure if this is still true. It is currently classified as critically endangered, with a suggested population size of 70-200 individuals, making it a good bird to see.

So we headed up into the forest, bordering the Matura National Park and stopped at a regular spot for them.  There perched in the top of a tree some way off was a guan!  Perfect!  Another bird joined it shortly after and managed a few record shots before a rain storm hit and everything dived for cover.  We waited it out and it gradually stopped, so we headed on a bit further and came to an area with small plantations of bananas, etc.  We heard some calling a wee way off and walked down a track spotting a few other things - red-crested woodpecker, plumbeous kite, white-flanked antwren, etc.  We heard the guans calling back towards the vehicle, and as we approached there was a pair of them in the cecropia tree above the vehicle!  Managed some better shots and they were kind of displaying to each other with their crests up.  Pretty cool.

They moved off and we continued looking around, finding a few other things - smooth-billed ani, Guianan trogon, blue black grassquit, and even a ferruginous pygmy owl.  Heard LOTS of these over the last days here, but they are damn hard to find!  We then found another three guans perched, and could hear several of them calling around the place, a rather weak and weird piping call for such a large bird, but the best is the noise they make with their wings!  Sounds like a really old tractor starting up!  Very cool.  We spent some more time watching them and looking for other things and as it started to heat up we decided to head back towards home.

On the way we drove along the beautiful NE coast, stunning beaches, with a lot of turtle tracks on them too.  We managed to pick up a few birds on the way home, a few more plumbeous kites, a ringed kingfisher, and just as we got to Mt Benedict a grey hawk.  What a great morning.  Back in time for a shower and lunch, only to discover MORE chigger bites.  Despite the deet soaked skin, socks and pants, and pants tucked into socks they still get me!  Whats up with that??!!

A leatherback turtle egg lies on the sand, having missed being buried with its 'siblings'

Female leatherback turtle covering up her precious eggs

Female leatherback turtle with sand caught in the 'tears' from her eye

Leatherback turtle leathery back

Covering the nest

The distant view of a Trinidad piping guan

Pair of guans with crests raised

Smooth-billed ani sunning itself

Spot the ferruginous pygmy owl!

Nice portrait of the guan

Looking furtive

Another profile

The area we found these birds

Which is to the left in this photo showing the plantation

Part of the Mutura National Park, one of the strongholds of these birds

Monday, 16 April 2012

A day of rest

Well it is Sunday, and my first 'day off' in about three weeks, so I don't feel too guilty.  Up for breakfast and then pottered around the deck overlooking the feeders for a few hours and managing a couple of ok photos.  Please to see yellow oriole so well and snag a couple of good shots.  Also managed to track down Trinidad euphonia - a male sitting right beside a male violaceous for a nice comparison.

It was also a morning of realisation...that the mosquito bites I thought I was having a bad reaction to were in fact CHIGGERS!  We have of course been warned about these little mites, and of course anything that bites loves me, so I should have been more careful.  I had been using a citronella based insect repellent at Asa Wright, but hadn't been tucking the pants in socks, etc.  And clearly they were having a field-day on me.  Part of the reason I was sso slow in recognising them as chiggers was the fact that people always talked about a rash, but this wasn't a rash, but nasty red bites with blisters.  And remembering back to a trip to Australia (to Kingfisher Park in Far North Queensland) I now realise those bites were chiggers as well.  Not sure how many bites I have but probably in excess of 25+  So I took a quick trip down to a super market and got some deet based repellent as well as some cortizone oh joy!  Perhaps work in the cold regions isn't so bad after all!

Had lunch and then a little nap, and then went for a walk up Mt Benedict behind the guest house.  Partly up the road, then on a small track through the secondary forest (with repellent thickly applied and pants tucked in!).  Saw a few birds, including forest elaenia, yellow-breasted flycatcher, yellow-breasted flycatcher, golden-crowned warbler, and rufous-browed peppershrike.  So a couple of new birds and some nice views down over the city below and the Mt Benedict church and Pax Guest House.

So up mega early in the morning, up at 0230 for a 0300 departure!  The aim is to see leatherback turtles laying eggs and then nail a Trinidad piping guan (which looks like a big turkey)...that's the aim anyway!

Some of the bites...ouch!  Damn they are itchey!

Palm tanager, they are pretty nice looking birds close up even if they are very common

Same goes for bananaquits!

Yellow oriole, what a beauty

And again

Male purple honeycreeper with its tongue out, perfect for sipping nectar

The view from the fire tower down over the valley with Pax Guest House being just to the left of the red roofed church

View to the west with chips anchored off the coast

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Leaving Asa

Well it was another great morning at Asa Wright Nature Centre, but unfortunately the time came to leave after lunch and head down to Pax Guest House.  I was up early for coffee on the verandah as usual, and managed to track down the male tufted coquette again.  This time got some slightly better photos, but really could do with some more practice and time.  They are tricky little suckers, and at one stage we had three females zooming around the place, as well as the more common copper-rumped hummingbirds.  It was pretty cool, especially when the male and female were doing some sort of courtship display.

After breakfast I spent quite a bit of time searching the trails for fer-de-lance...but still no joy.  There were perfect sunlight spots on the forest floor and I covered a fair bit of ground, but to no avail!  I then met up with one of the guides who was showing a couple around, and watched the male bearded bellbirds calling.  This time one of the males came down quite low and i managed to get a little better shot, plus so video which I will post at some stage.  Very cool.  They are so damn loud it is unbelievable.

I ended up heading up the track a wee way, which was a big mistake as the guide and couple headed off in another direction and ended up seeing red-crowned ant-tanager (which I had been searching for) and a white-throated spadebill.....ahhhhhh!!!  Just goes to show these local guides really know their stuff, and knowing the calls really makes a massive difference to your chance of finding stuff in these forests.  A slight consolation was an awesome full solar halo which made for some nice photos.

It was then lunch time, after which I spent another hour or so searching for the ant-tanager (unsuccessfully), before then being picked up at 1330 hrs by the driver that had dropped me off at Asa Wright.  We headed down the mountain, through Arima, and on to Pax Guest House.  I was greeted by Gerard, shown around and then I spent the remainder of the afternoon watching the valley from the deck and the feeders along the back of the house.  Got my first yellow oriole,and a few other regulars, with nice views of a zone-tailed hawk as well.  A nice comfortable place and looking forward to the next few days here.

Crested oropendola nests against the morning sky

The hallway leading from the verandah to the reception

Female tufted coquette, to bad the male wasn't as obliging as this!

And there he is - little stunner with his crazy hair

Beautiful little male tufted coquette, what a bird!

Female tufted coquette, again being more confiding than the male!

Male bearded bellbird giving it his all

Agouti, apparently the species - Brazilian agouti

Green honeycreeper feeding at one of the feeders

Full solar halo, stunning

The main house with the verandah on the middle left, looking out on the feeders and valley below

Some of the feeders below the verandah

White-necked thrush

Male barred antshrike obviously feeling sleepy