Saturday, January 13, 2018

Colorado 2017 - Arrival adventures and BIRDS! : Day 1 - Dec. 25th, 2017

     Exciting news! I have finally been able to get out of the state of Texas and experience a new place, and new birds! This holiday season my partner and I decided that rather than exchanging presents, we would take an adventurous trip together and split the cost. Memories last a lot longer than things.
We settled on a trip to Colorado because we found cheap non-stop flights to Denver on the days we could travel, he had never experienced real snow, and I was longing for some snowy, mountainous landscapes.
     Arriving at the airport at 5am on Christmas morning proved to be the best time to fly because we were the only ones at security. For once, TSA had to wait for us to be ready for them! Although, this was the first time I have had the TSA agent ask to feel under my ponytail. What did she think I was hiding under there?!?!?! The flight went off without a hitch, and two hours later, we found ourselves in Denver trying to choose a vehicle in the rental lot. 

Goodbye Texas

Hello Colorado!

     I am an Emerald Club member through National, so I get to go straight to the lot and choose any vehicle in the Emerald aisle. This usually works out pretty well because there are often premium vehicles in the aisle including trucks and SUVs, which I get to rent for a mid-sized rate. However, this Christmas morning all that were left were a handful of sporty cars such as Mustangs and Challengers, two small sedans (I can't drive most sedans because of a knee problem and the angle of the pedals in relation to the seat), and two Kia Souls. It had been decided before booking the trip that I would do all of the driving because of my extensive experience with driving on snow and ice from living in the mountainous part of Pennsylvania for 13 years. Now I was faced with the challenge of choosing the best of the worst for whatever winter road conditions lay ahead of me. The sporty vehicles were out due to rear-wheel drive and pedal angle, as were the small sedans. The Kia Soul it was! This is when I noticed that National had failed to completely clean off the vehicles from the previous day's snow, and the side-view mirrors were frozen, rendering them impossible to move. Oh well, without a blow torch there was little I could do about that. After doing a few quick tests in the rental car lot to see how the vehicle and tires handled in snow, off we went! 
The commercials aren't a joke...I really did feel like a hamster in one of these.

     Our first stop was at Barr Lake State Park just minutes from the airport ($7/car fee). This wonderful oasis was full of birds, including many Bald Eagles which was a top target bird for my partner. It was fun to see multiple subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco foraging together with White-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and American Tree Sparrows. This was also our first sighting of Black-billed Mapgies, Black-capped Chickadees, Canada Goose, and many other avian species we do not get in south-central Texas. In addition, we saw our first Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, which became an immediate favorite mammal of the trip! After spending about 2 hours at the park, and seeing 29 species, we were ready to dig into our snack bags and start heading to Estes Park before it started snowing.

Our first birding stop - Barr Lake SP

Song Sparrow

Western Meadowlarks keeping warm on a composting haybale

Western Meadowlark at max fluff

White-crowned Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow (foreground), White-crowned Sparrow (background)

Adorable Black-tailed Prairie Dog!!!

Some scenery from Barr Lake SP

     Our beautiful drive to Estes Park took a little under 2 hours with only a few snow flurries here and there. About halfway there the ice behind my side-view mirror finally melted so I didn't have to continue stretching in a weird way to use it. Once we got into town, our first stop was at the grocery store to get a few perishables/liquids before it closed for the day. Then we got settled into our lodging and grabbed the binoculars to go explore Estes Lake which is adjacent to the Visitor's Center in the downtown district. The wind was quite strong, and the flurries persisted, so the birds were staying pretty low and hidden, but stretching our legs after the flight and car ride felt great! 

View from our lodge

Estes Lake with snow flurries in the background

Downtown Estes Park

     As the sun went down we realized how hungry we were, but decided to make a slight detour on the way back to the car to find a micro geocache that was hanging in a thick Blue Spruce. Might as well get the Colorado badge on while we are here! Little did we know, the next hour or so would be spent calling many restaurants in the area trying to find a place to have dinner on Christmas day. Of about 20 places called, 1 was serving a Christmas buffet for $36.99 per person (NOPE!) and all other places were closed or had just closed. The only place that seemed to be open in the whole town was the movie theater. We finally ended up driving around town, parked where we saw the most human activity, and walked around until we found the ONE restaurant open that night. It was a Nepalese place, and although the cuisines from this region of the world are my least favorite, at least we had nourishment.

Next up...our first full day exploring Rocky Mountain National Park!


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Site Guide to San Antonio Birding is now LIVE!

In the whirlwind of this past year I haven't had an opportunity to post any new blogs about my birding adventures. This has mostly been due to the fact that I went through a major job change which has its challenges and perks. One of these perks was getting to move to the ecologically rich state of Texas! To my surprise, this state is very under-birded, which makes me wonder how many rarities slip by unnoticed. My first few weeks here were challenging birding-wise because I found it difficult to find places to bird in the south-central region that were not:
 a) overrun by joggers blasting music from their armbands, screaming kids, dogs off-leash, and everything else under the sun that was not conducive to birding, 
b) private property where you very well may get shot for trespassing...then asked questions.

I did look at eBird, which helped a bit, but eBird does not contain descriptions or more information for each hotspot, nor does it have any photos of the site. Local birding groups had site guides, but they were outdated, and many links were broken. They also did not have an interactive map of where each site was located making things even more difficult for someone new to the area. 

This led me to create my own site guide which I decided to make public in the hopes that more places will be birded more often. Each site has a photo, a description, and an interactive map. Please keep in mind that this is a work in progress. More sites will be added as I get around to them. I will take suggestions to make this guide better, but there are some limitations as to what I can do with this format, so not every suggestion will be feasible. 


Birding Site Guide to San Antonio, TX

Monday, February 15, 2016

Trinidad 2015 - Woodpecker Expeditions and Ag Fields (Oct. 21st, 2015)

      Today was a sad day. Just as we had become familiar with all the fantastic species around Asa Wright and had settled into a routine, it was time to leave. Thus, we decided to arrange a couple more side trips to make the most out of our last morning in Trinidad.
     Our first side trip wasn't leaving until 8:00 am so we had plenty of time to enjoy the veranda once more. To our surprise there was an Olive-sided Flycatcher waiting for us when we got there! This is a species that we were all familiar with since it breeds throughout Canada and western North America, but we normally only detect it during fall migration. It winters in northern South America and parts of Central America, so seeing it in Trinidad was perfectly normal, although not a species that we particularly expected to see!
     Although we had been in Trinidad for 4 days, we hadn't seen a single woodpecker, and one of my traveling companions was really hankering for a woodpecker siting. Thus, after talking with a few local guides we ended up requesting a last-minute 4 hour side trip up Blanchisseuse Rd. which would put us at a much higher elevation and in the territory of known woodpecker pairs. This trip turned out to be quite productive and provided us with 10 more species for our list...including two species of woodpeckers! The most striking of the woodpeckers was the pair of Chestnut Woodpeckers that flew back and forth over our heads for a bit before disappearing back into the jungle. Unfortunately I was only able to get one terrible, but identifiable photo of this magnificent species. The other woodpecker that we were able to check off our list was the Lineated Woodpecker; however, we were only lucky enough to get a fleeting glance and hear it call. 

Chestnut Woodpecker
     During the first few miles up the road we heard Little Tinamous calling, and spotted quite a few raptors! Raptors are always exciting, but even more so when you are in another country and there is a chance of seeing a new species. We had a pretty active kettle of mixed species, so we were glad to have a guide who could assist in sorting out the identifying marks.

Common Black Hawk

Ornate Hawk-Eagle
    Some other species that we saw and/or heard included Tropical Parula, Plumbeous Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Gray-lined Hawk, Blue-black Grassquit, and Trinidad Euphonia. Once we got to the highest point on Blanchisseuse Rd. which sits at approximately 1900 ft in elevation, we were greeted by a beautiful view of the northern range with the Caribbean Sea in the background.

1900 ft in elevation. The aqua color in the background is the Caribbean Sea
      We returned to Asa Wright just in time for lunch, and then had about an hour to kill before our bus left for the airport. During this time we visited the veranda one more time and tracked down our guide/driver to arrange for a quick stop at one more place on the way to the airport. I was also able to have a 1 second glimpse of a Golden-Olive Woodpecker that came to visit the veranda!

White-bearded Manakin

Bay-headed Tanager

Female Purple Honeycreeper
      It was finally time to say goodbye to Asa Wright and head to the airport. However, we had one more chance to pick up a few species along the way. We had convinced our driver to make a stop at the Aripo Livestock Agriculture Research Station. Although we ended up birding through a passing thunderstorm we managed to see 12 additional species: Carib Grackle, Red-breasted Meadowlark, Grassland Yellow-Finch, White-winged Swallow, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Rock Pigeon, Least Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Savannah Hawk. What a great use of 30 minutes! We also spotted a Ringed Kingfisher, Peregrine Falcon, and Greater Yellowlegs just before we got dropped off at the airport.

Savannah Hawk in a downpour

Savannah Hawk with his/her sassy pants on. 

Red-breasted Meadowlark in a downpour

Southern Lapwing being sassy

Southern Lapwing

A young Wattled Jacana

Red-breasted Meadowlark 

Red-breasted Meadowlark

Grassland Yellow-Finch

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

Green-rumped Parrotlet preening after the rain. 

Green-rumped Parrotlets

 Wow! What a trip! Definitely a place to revisit in the near future.
Below is our entire trip list in taxonomic order:

# Species Location Date
1 Little Tinamou - Crypturellus soui Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
2 Anhinga - Anhinga anhinga Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
3 Great Egret - Ardea alba Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
4 Snowy Egret - Egretta thula Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
5 Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
6 Tricolored Heron - Egretta tricolor Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
7 Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
8 Striated Heron - Butorides striata Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
9 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Nyctanassa violacea Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
10 Scarlet Ibis - Eudocimus ruber Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
11 Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
12 Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
13 Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
14 Black Hawk-Eagle - Spizaetus tyrannus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
15 Ornate Hawk-Eagle - Spizaetus ornatus Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
16 Plumbeous Kite - Ictinia plumbea Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
17 Long-winged Harrier - Circus buffoni Caroni Rice Fields 10/19/2015
18 Common Black Hawk - Buteogallus anthracinus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
19 Savanna Hawk - Buteogallus meridionalis Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
20 White Hawk - Pseudastur albicollis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
21 Gray-lined Hawk - Buteo nitidus Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
22 Short-tailed Hawk - Buteo brachyurus Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
23 Purple Gallinule - Porphyrio martinicus Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
24 Southern Lapwing - Vanellus chilensis Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
25 Wattled Jacana - Jacana jacana Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
26 Spotted Sandpiper - Actitis macularius Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
27 Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
28 Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca Piarco Airport and adjacent lakes 10/21/2015
29 Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
30 Yellow-billed Tern - Sternula superciliaris Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
31 Large-billed Tern - Phaetusa simplex Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
32 Rock Pigeon - Columba livia Trinidad and Tobago 10/19/2015
33 Scaled Pigeon - Patagioenas speciosa Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
34 Ruddy Ground-Dove - Columbina talpacoti Trinidad and Tobago 10/19/2015
35 White-tipped Dove - Leptotila verreauxi Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
36 Gray-fronted Dove - Leptotila rufaxilla Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
37 Smooth-billed Ani - Crotophaga ani Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
38 Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl - Glaucidium brasilianum Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
39 Oilbird - Steatornis caripensis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
40 Band-rumped Swift - Chaetura spinicaudus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
41 Gray-rumped Swift - Chaetura cinereiventris Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
42 White-necked Jacobin - Florisuga mellivora Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
43 Rufous-breasted Hermit - Glaucis hirsutus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
44 Green Hermit - Phaethornis guy Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
45 Little Hermit - Phaethornis longuemareus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
46 Green-throated Mango - Anthracothorax viridigula Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
47 Tufted Coquette - Lophornis ornatus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
48 Long-billed Starthroat - Heliomaster longirostris Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
49 Blue-chinned Sapphire - Chlorestes notata Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
50 White-chested Emerald - Amazilia brevirostris Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
51 Copper-rumped Hummingbird - Amazilia tobaci Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
52 Green-backed Trogon - Trogon viridis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
53 Guianan Trogon - Trogon violaceus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
54 Collared Trogon - Trogon collaris Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
55 Trinidad Motmot - Momotus bahamensis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
56 Ringed Kingfisher - Megaceryle torquata Trinidad and Tobago 10/21/2015
57 Channel-billed Toucan - Ramphastos vitellinus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
58 Chestnut Woodpecker - Celeus elegans Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
59 Lineated Woodpecker - Dryocopus lineatus Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
60 Yellow-headed Caracara - Milvago chimachima Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
61 Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus Trinidad and Tobago 10/21/2015
62 Orange-winged Parrot - Amazona amazonica Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
63 Green-rumped Parrotlet - Forpus passerinus Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
64 Great Antshrike - Taraba major Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
65 Black-crested Antshrike - Sakesphorus canadensis Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
66 Barred Antshrike - Thamnophilus doliatus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
67 Plain Antvireo - Dysithamnus mentalis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
68 White-flanked Antwren - Myrmotherula axillaris Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
69 Cocoa Woodcreeper - Xiphorhynchus susurrans Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
70 Straight-billed Woodcreeper - Dendroplex picus Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
71 Yellow-chinned Spinetail - Certhiaxis cinnamomeus Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
72 Yellow-bellied Elaenia - Elaenia flavogaster Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
73 Ochre-bellied Flycatcher - Mionectes oleagineus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
74 Olive-sided Flycatcher - Contopus cooperi Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/21/2015
75 Tropical Pewee - Contopus cinereus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
76 Pied Water-Tyrant - Fluvicola pica Trincity Sewage Treatment Ponds 10/19/2015
77 Great Kiskadee - Pitangus sulphuratus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
78 Boat-billed Flycatcher - Megarynchus pitangua Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
79 Tropical Kingbird - Tyrannus melancholicus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
80 Bearded Bellbird - Procnias averano Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
81 White-bearded Manakin - Manacus manacus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
82 Golden-headed Manakin - Ceratopipra erythrocephala Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
83 Black-tailed Tityra - Tityra cayana Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
84 Golden-fronted Greenlet - Pachysylvia aurantiifrons Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
85 Rufous-browed Peppershrike - Cyclarhis gujanensis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
86 Southern Rough-winged Swallow - Stelgidopteryx ruficollis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
87 White-winged Swallow - Tachycineta albiventer Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
88 House Wren - Troglodytes aedon Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
89 Rufous-breasted Wren - Pheugopedius rutilus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
90 Cocoa Thrush - Turdus fumigatus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
91 Spectacled Thrush - Turdus nudigenis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
92 White-necked Thrush - Turdus albicollis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
93 Tropical Mockingbird - Mimus gilvus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
94 Northern Waterthrush - Parkesia noveboracensis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
95 American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
96 Tropical Parula - Setophaga pitiayumi Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
97 Yellow Warbler - Setophaga petechia Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
98 Masked Cardinal - Paroaria nigrogenis Caroni Swamp 10/19/2015
99 White-shouldered Tanager - Tachyphonus luctuosus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
100 White-lined Tanager - Tachyphonus rufus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
101 Silver-beaked Tanager - Ramphocelus carbo Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
102 Blue-gray Tanager - Thraupis episcopus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
103 Palm Tanager - Thraupis palmarum Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
104 Turquoise Tanager - Tangara mexicana Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
105 Bay-headed Tanager - Tangara gyrola Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
106 Blue Dacnis - Dacnis cayana Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/20/2015
107 Purple Honeycreeper - Cyanerpes caeruleus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
108 Green Honeycreeper - Chlorophanes spiza Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/18/2015
109 Grassland Yellow-Finch - Sicalis luteola Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
110 Blue-black Grassquit - Volatinia jacarina Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
111 Bananaquit - Coereba flaveola Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
112 Red-crowned Ant-Tanager - Habia rubica Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/19/2015
113 Red-breasted Meadowlark - Sturnella militaris Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
114 Carib Grackle - Quiscalus lugubris Aripo Livestock (Agriculture Research) Station 10/21/2015
115 Yellow Oriole - Icterus nigrogularis Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
116 Crested Oropendola - Psarocolius decumanus Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015
117 Trinidad Euphonia - Euphonia trinitatis Blanchisseuse Road 10/21/2015
118 Violaceous Euphonia - Euphonia violacea Asa Wright Nature Centre 10/17/2015

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Trinidad 2015 - Oilbirds and Downpours (Oct. 20th, 2015)

     Once again, thanks to our House Wren alarm, we were out the door by 6am. Our morning was uneventful, and we took some time to enjoy the morning feeding frenzy from the veranda. After a hearty breakfast it was finally time to take the long-awaited Oilbird tour! The Oilbird is a unique species that is only found in South America. They are nocturnal, navigate using echolocation, eat only fruits, and live in caves where they roost and breed. Everything about these birds is amazingly unique, including the fact that the chicks can get to be 50% heavier than the adults due to their incredible fat storing abilities. In fact, their name comes from the fact that native peoples used to harvest the chicks for their huge fat reserves which they rendered down for oil. Since Oilbirds live in caves in remote forest locations, they are usually very difficult to access. However, the Asa Wright Nature Centre is host to the most easily accessible colony in the world!
     A few decades ago, the Oilbirds had completely disappeared from the cave at Asa Wright due to an excess of human disturbance. However, rules about how many people may visit the cave per week and how they may conduct themselves while at the cave were put in place, and the birds came back. This is why visitors are only allowed to visit the cave as part of an official tour led by an Asa Wright naturalist (complementary with a 3 night min. stay). Currently the population is somewhere around 150 individuals and holding steady. We were lucky to be visiting Asa Wright during their low season, so myself and my two traveling companions were the only people on our tour! The walk to the cave was a  little treacherous in places, and I nearly ended up sitting very suddenly on my camera right after the guide warned us about slippery rocks. Luckily both my bottom and my camera survived the ordeal. Since we had such a small group we were allowed to actually climb down into the cave and experience being in the middle of the colony. There is no flash photography allowed so I did the best I could with just a weak flashlight illuminating a few birds. However, the video I took of the birds flying around the cave and calling probably best depicts the experience.

Oilbird in nest
Entrance to the Oilbird cave
Panorama of the area around the cave entrance.

     After our experience with the Oilbirds we were so in awe that we didn't know what to do with ourselves until lunch. We ended up not being able to agree on a plan, so we split up, agreeing to meet for lunch. During our explorations the sky opened up and we all found ourselves in the middle of a very intense downpour. With only my baseball cap, arm, and body to cover my DSLR, I ended up running from palm patch to palm patch, catching my breath and wiping off any water on the camera with my shirt under the psuedo umbrellas. Somehow both my camera and lens made it through the storm thanks to my cap and nature-provided umbrellas, but we all ended up soaked.

Agnosia Clearwing (Ithomia agnosia) - found along the road to Asa Wright Nature Center

     After lunch the downpours continued, so we elected to stay on the veranda and watch the birds bathe happily in the rain. We all agreed that there is nothing cuter in this world than a hummingbird taking a shower!

White-chested Emerald taking a shower

Young male White-necked Jacobin taking a shower

 White-chested Emerald showering

Young male White-necked Jacobin showering

Young male White-necked Jacobin drying off in the sun after the downpour

Young male White-necked Jacobin sunning to dry off (photobombed by a Copper-rumped Hummingbird)

Yellow Oriole after the downpour

White-chested Emerald preening in the sun after the rain
Land crab prowling around after the rain. 

Bananaquits going bananas after the rain. 

     By the time we had finished dinner, the downpours had ceased, so we decided to join a guided night walk. We hoped that the rains had brought out a few more creatures, and we were correct! During this walk we saw both Chevron and Pink-toed Tarantulas, many crabs and whip scorpions, frogs the size of my fingernail, walking sticks, and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. My favorite quote from the guide during this walk was: ""Land crabs are the true Trinidadians. They come out onto their front porch to get some air before going to bed".

Pink-toed Tarantula

     Before going to bed we went to sit on the veranda to take advantage of the internet access for a bit and ended up having a great conversation with the security guard about many aspects of life. We hit topics such as the taste of Agouti and other wildlife, getting kids outside, Trinidadian customs, and Indian festivals. Finally around 11:30pm we said goodbye to our new friend and went to bed exhausted, but happy and all the more knowledgeable.

Stay tuned for our last morning at Asa Wright and how we checked off quite a few species in the hours before our plane left.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trinidad 2015 - Chiggars, Mangroves, and Scarlet Ibis (Oct. 19th, 2015)

     Once again the House Wren woke us up at 5:45am sharp and we were headed to the veranda by 6am. On my way to the main house I ran into a photographer and chatted with him briefly about the Tufted Coquette that was making an appearance at his favorite flowers once again. During my conversation, I had a brief thought that the photographer did look somewhat familiar, but being so far from home, I brushed it off and continued on my quest for a caffeinated beverage. Later in the morning one of my traveling companions brought up the fact that my photographer friend looked a lot like someone we both knew from New Jersey. After a few awkward moments and re-introductions it turned out that the guy was indeed the person we thought he was! What a crazy coincidence to have both chosen the same week to visit the same country and the same lodge without any prior discussion!
     Since we didn't have any specific activities planned for the morning, we spent some time birding various trails on the property, including the entrance road. On our hikes we were able to pick up a few new birds for the trip - Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Tropical Pewee, and Cocoa Thrush.
     After lunch we boarded a mini-bus bound for the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Today was the day we would see more Scarlet Ibis than we could comprehend.  With some quick thinking I was able to grab the front seat, and boy was I glad I did! On the way to Caroni the driver took a few stops at various habitats so we could look for a few extra target species. The Caroni rice fields yielded a beautiful Long-winged Harrier, and the Trincity Sewage Treatment plant produced Large-billed Tern, Wattled Jacana, Pied Water-Tyrant, Striated Heron, Purple Gallinule, Yellow-billed Tern, and Southern Lapwing. The sewage plant was also where we picked up a healthy batch of chiggers, which later made my ankles blow up like balloons. Luckily I had brought Claritin with me which worked to reduce the swelling and itchiness significantly. Whew! Disaster adverted!

Long-winged Harrier

Long-winged Harrier

Large-billed Tern with a Southern Lapwing sitting behind it. 

Unfortunate sharing of a sign post. 

     Once we arrived at Caroni we had to wait a while for our boat to be ready, so our driver took us to a place where Masked Cardinal was almost a guaranteed bird. At first our valiant efforts to see this particular species failed miserably and we ended up wandering down the road to see what else we could find. Finally, it was time to get back in the mini-bus and head to the dock. As we were waiting for everyone to gather, one of my traveling companions says "hey, what's that?" We all instantly turn around to look at what she is pointing at, and it is the Masked Cardinal!!! Whew! Almost missed that one!
Little Blue Heron

Masked Cardinal

     Our boat ride through the mangrove swamp was quite productive with the guide finding some super exciting non-bird species such as a Cook's Tree Boa and a Silky Anteater! We were also able to add quite a few species to our trip list such as Green-throated Mango, Yellow-headed Caracara, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Black-crested Antshrike, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, and a few immature Masked Cardinals. It was also great to see many Yellow Warblers - a species that breeds in my own home range - on their wintering grounds!

Looking out over the Caroni Bird Sanctuary before heading deep into the mangroves. This is where we saw the Green-throated Mango, Yellow Warblers, and Yellow-headed Caracara.

Two immature Masked Cardinals (you can see the red coming in on the left one's face/throat!)

Yellow-headed Caracara. 
Silky Anteater sleeping soundly

Cook's Tree Boa

     Of course, the highlight of the Caroni trip was the grand finale. Just as the sun started to get low in the sky, our guide took us out to a large open area of water adjacent to one of 4 large heron/egret/ibis roosts in the swamp.  Since the Scarlet Ibis is the national bird, it is afforded great protection; thus, we were not allowed to get too close to the roost itself. However, the spectacle was still more amazing then I ever imagined it would be. Scarlet Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and Tricolored Herons were streaming in from all parts of the swamp, headed for a single patch of mangroves where they would sleep for the night. The herons and egrets flew close to the water and went deep into the mangroves, whereas the Scarlet Ibis would soar over our heads and land on the outermost branches where they looked like bright red Christmas ornaments against a dark green background.  The craziest thing is that although we were warned there would be mosquitoes in the swamp, we didn't see or feel a single one during the tour! We were told by the guides that we were very lucky in this respect. 

This was just the beginning of the roost for the night

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis right overhead

Scarlet Ibis

Lines of Scarlet Ibis still coming into roost as the sun was disappearing

     Just before total darkness fell we arrived back at the dock and boarded the mini-bus back to Asa Wright Nature Center. After all that excitement and adventure, the beef kabobs that were served for dinner were a welcome, and quite delicious surprise! Before bed we took a quick walk down the Discovery Trail where I discovered that there are lightning bugs in Trinidad! We also had a plethora of bats in all shapes and sizes swooping around our heads. Some of them were so close that you could feel the wind from their wings on your face!

Stay tuned for Oilbirds and the cutest hummingbird showers you have ever seen!