Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Trinidad 2015 - Getting There, and Creatures of the Night (Oct. 17th, 2015)

    In October of 2014 I attended a conference for work. At this event there were a few vendors present who were selling educational and research materials. Near the end of the conference these vendors ended up offering some great discounts so they didn't have to lug all their heavy reference books back to the warehouse. After perusing their selections for quite some time, my hands fell on the book titled "Birds of Trinidad and Tobago". Flipping through the book, I recognized a bird - the Scarlet Ibis - which I had seen at a zoo as a teenager and immediately promised myself I would one day see in the wild. Strangely enough, I found myself purchasing this book, thinking I would put it on my shelf in case I ever got the chance to pursue the Scarlet Ibis.
    Fast forwarding to October 17th, 2015, 353 days after I purchased the book, I find myself on a plane with two birding friends headed for Trinidad....and the Scarlet Ibis. As usual, I had fought for the window seat so I had the best view, and the best chance at seeing the first bird of the trip. As we were approaching Port of Spain, Trinidad, I saw quite a few white wading birds in the coastal marshes, but we were still too far away to get any positive identifications. Then, as we cruised over the mangroves, minutes away from landing, I saw it. A single Scarlet Ibis soared over the mangroves, a bright red bird with a long, decurved bill and black wingtips. I couldn't believe it! Not only had I seen the first identifiable bird of the trip, but it was THE bird I had come all this way to see!

First views of Trinidad
     Getting off the plane, the 95 F heat hit us in the face full force, but we had already shed our 40 F clothing on the plane so it wasn't unbearable. Once we got our luggage and got through customs and immigration, finding our guide/driver from the Asa Wright Nature Center was very easy. Although we had been served a hot complimentary breakfast on our Caribbean Airlines flight from JFK, we were very hungry by the time we landed and asked the driver to wait while we grabbed some food at the airport.
     Ordering food and finding non-soda beverages took much longer than expected, but finally we were all piled in the van and headed for the Asa Wright Nature Center. By the time we had left the airport area, we all agreed that hiring a driver was one of the best decisions of the whole trip. Due to a strong British influence, driving is on the left side of the road, and the streets are narrow with many inconsiderate and bad drivers. If a driver sees a friend and wants to have a chat, stopping in the middle of the lane as if it is a parking spot seems to be a common practice. Often there were only a few inches between our van and oncoming vehicles In addition, pedestrians were often found walking in the streets regardless if sidewalks were available. Once we got out of the hustle and bustle of Port of Spain and Arima, the mountain roads proved to be an entirely different type of roller coaster. No guardrails and steep drop-offs is something that we had gotten used to in Costa Rica, but here the roads were much narrower, with limited to no visibility around hairpin turns. Seatbelts are only required for the front seats in Trinidad, so wearing one for extra security wasn't even an option for any of us sitting in the back.   More than once our driver had to back up or squeeze as far as possible to the outside of a sharp turn (and the cliff edge!) to allow another vehicle to pass with only inches to spare. The wandering dogs and stretches of road construction projects added yet another challenge to getting from one place to another.

Port of Spain housing option

Mountain road to Asa Wright Nature Center
     Finally arriving at the lodge, we were taken directly up to our rooms with only a wave to the receptionist as "check-in" procedure. Suitcases were dropped in the room, binoculars, notebooks, and cameras grabbed, and the birding began! We first did a few loops around the lodge grounds to get oriented, and then we headed for the world famous Asa Wright veranda. From this vantage point it is possible to see all the way down the Arima Valley, and the multiple hummingbird and fruit feeders placed around the base of the veranda attracts a wide variety of species, including Red-rumped Agoutis. The Agoutis are hunted in Trinidad, and are considered a delicacy. I was told that they taste delicious. However, at Asa Wright there is no hunting allowed so the Agouti aren't too shy about coming out in the open.

View from our room at Asa Wright Nature Center
The world famous Asa Wright Nature Center veranda

View from the veranda down the Arima Valley

     After only being at Asa Wright for a few hours, we had racked up so many "lifers" that our heads were spinning with all the new information, sights, smells, and sounds.  Below is our list from the first afternoon of birding in Trinidad:

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis)

Gray-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla)

Gray-rumped Swift (Chaetura cinereiventris)

White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora)

Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy)

Little Hermit (Phaethornis longuemareus)

Tufted Coquette (Lophornis ornatus)

Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris)

Blue-chinned Sapphire (Chlorestes notata)

White-chested Emerald (Amazilia brevirostris)

Copper-rumped Hummingbird (Amazilia tobaci)

Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus)

Cocoa Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus susurrans)

Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus)

Spectacled Thrush (Turdus nudigenis)

White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus)

Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo)

Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus)

Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum)

Purple Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes caeruleus)

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

Yellow Oriole (Icterus nigrogularis)

Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus)

Violaceous Euphonia (Euphonia violacea)

White-chested Emerald

White-necked Jacobin in the middle of defending his perch

White-necked Jacobin in a defensive pose
Yellow Oriole 

Copper-rumped Hummingbird - this is the most common and aggressive hummingbird in Trinidad

Violaceous Euphonia

Palm Tanager

Crested Oropendola

     As the sun set, the hummingbirds disappeared one by one to their secret roosting spots in the jungle. Just as the last of the light was fading away, and a few extra hungry hummingbirds were getting one last sip of nectar, we suddenly saw some much larger animals join them at the feeders - BATS!!!!  I believe these were Common Long-tongued Bats (Glossophaga soricina), but there are other species of long-tongued bats on the island, so I am not 100% confident on this identification. Some of the bats came so close to our heads that we could feel the air from their wings, and they even flew in and out of the main house!

Common Long-tongued Bats taking over the hummingbird feeders for the after-hours party!
Nearly eyeball deep in the feeder

Look at how long that tongue is!

Come on, there is more than one port on that feeder.

Finally, it was 7pm and the dinner bell rung. I was delighted to see that for our first night at the lodge they decided to serve one of my favorites - lamb! Of course, every meal (except breakfast) was served with some sort of rice dish.

Lamb, rice, and potatoes for our first meal at Asa Wright

    Right after dinner we scrambled to set up our mothing equipment to see what we could attract in this exotic locale. While we were waiting for the moths to appear, we decided to take part in a night walk led by one of the Asa Wright guides. Whip Scorpions were out in force, and the Trinidad Mountain Crabs (Pseudotelphusa garmani) were sitting out on their front porches. One of the guides during our visit stated that "the crabs are the true Trinidadians - they come out on their front porches every night for some air before going to bed". Also present, but very difficult to find were tiny frogs, no bigger than a thumbnail, and even more difficult to photograph. One of the best finds of the evening was the Trinidad Chevron Tarantula which is one of two tarantula species found in Trinidad. We also somehow found a Northern Waterthrush which was sleeping soundly in a shrub, and was still fast asleep when we slipped away.

A particularly large Whip Scorpion

Trinidad Mountain Crab (Pseudotelphusa garmani) in his burrow

Trinidad Chevron Tarantula
One of the tiny little frogs

Returning back to the lodge, we scrambled back to the moth sheet to see what we had attracted. We were certainly not disappointed! Also productive were the many lights that are left on all night around the lodge grounds.


It was finally bedtime, so we told our personal house gecko goodnight, reviewed the bird list for the day, and fell asleep just after midnight (we had been awake since 4am!). What a great first day!

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