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!

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