Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Trinidad 2015 - Target Birds and Exfoliating Fish (Oct. 18th, 2015)

     Having not set an alarm the night before, we were counting on the birds to wake us up, and they did not disappoint. The first time I heard the song I thought it was part of a dream, but by the second jumble of loud, forced, clear notes I was wide awake. I sat up in bed, noted that it was 5:45am, and at the same time saw one of my traveling companions sit up at almost exactly the same time as I did. Flip-flops were silently slipped on, binoculars grabbed, and out the door we went to find the first singer of the morning. This bird was blasting his song from a perch deep inside a dense shrub, and didn't seem too concerned that we had our faces about 18 inches away from him. Although we knew it was a wren from the song, we couldn't manage to see the bird in the dim light. As the sun rose over the mountains, the bird finally worked his way up through the middle of the bush and perched on top. It was a House Wren (Troglodytes musculus), which is a resident species here, not a migrant, and has a slightly different song from the House Wren we have here in North America. Immediately after seeing the wren and making an identification, we turned around to see a male Tufted Coquette feeding on the nearby flowers! This was one of our most wanted target birds and a fantastic way to start the day!

Tufted Coquette - young male
Tufted Coquette - young male
Tufted Coquette - young male, sticking out his tongue
Copper-rumped Hummingbird who was hanging out with the Tufted Coquette. 
     Realizing that we should probably change from our sleeping clothes into more acceptable breakfast attire, we returned to our room and reorganized ourselves. Trying to ignore all the new sights and sounds outside our room while getting ready for the adventures of the day was quite the challenge! Our first mission was to visit the veranda and become well caffeinated while watching the Bananaquits, tanagers, and hummingbirds come in to the plethora of feeders for their morning meals. Finally it was time for breakfast, and boy was it good! Custom made eggs any way you wanted them, copious amounts of fruit and bacon, along with freshly made juice.

The dining room at Asa Wright


     After breakfast, we joined a few other guests for a guided orientation tour of the Asa Wright grounds. This tour was included with the cost of our stay and turned out to be the best way to check off almost all of our most wanted target species in a two-hour time frame. We also learned about some of the common flowering and fruiting plants and their importance to various avian species. The highlight of our walk was our encounter with 3 male Bearded Bellbirds who were calling back and forth through the treetops. One even came down to a mid-story perch right next to the path and entertained us for at least 20 minutes. The White-bearded Manakins were also quite captivating, especially when they were actively bouncing around in the low vegetation, clicking and snapping their wings. After the tour was officially over we were allowed to continue exploring the grounds as we pleased and checked off a few more species before lunch.

Watching the leafcutter ants at work was a great way to stretch out tired, sore birder necks. 

Barred Antshrike - male

White-necked Jacobin

Green Honeycreeper - male

Channel-billed Toucan

Chaconia - the national flower of Trinidad and Tobago. 

Bearded Bellbird  - male

Bearded Bellbird - male

Collared Trogon - male
Collared Trogon - male
White-bearded Manakin

Yellow Oriole
Golden-headed Manakin

Little Hermit

Golden Tegu Lizard
Golden Tegu Lizard

Purple Honeycreeper - female

Guianan Trogon (formerly Violaceous Trogon)

Green-backed Trogon

Trinidad Motmot
     Right after gobbling down a delicious, and well-earned lunch, we walked down the road to a natural pool along a stream that is available for wading. Since we had not brought appropriate swimming attire, we elected to just dangle our sweaty, swollen, hot feet into the cool, fresh water. This was definitely the best way to kill an hour during the hottest part of the day! What we were not prepared for were the small minnow-like fish that came to investigate our toes and soles....with their mouths. Although the fish didn't hurt us, and were merely assisting us with exfoliating duties, it was still quite the shock to feel something touching the bottom of your feet with an ever so slight scraping action and a little bit of suction.
One of the two waterfalls into the natural pool
     We also ran into a local family who had come up into "the bush" for the day so their children could play in the cool water and get away from the hot, humid city. Our conversation with them was fascinating, and ranged in topics from vacations, to politics and food. They informed us that we just HAD to try the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Trinidad, because "the KFC in Port of Spain is the highest grossing KFC in the world". After doing a little research, I learned that Trinidad and Tobago is the highest grossing non-US market per capita for the franchise. Unknowingly, I had tried a bit of the KFC upon landing at the airport, and I had noticed that it was quite delicious and super tender! We were also told that we should stock up on a few boxes of the chicken before flying back to the States so we could share this amazing Trinidadian KFC chicken with our friends. This was a statement that we brushed off as a joke - until we saw that a good portion of the people who were getting on the plane with us back to JFK had stocked up on boxes and boxes of KFC goodies. 

    Once our feet were sufficiently chilled, we said goodbye to our new local friends and headed off to explore the Jacana trail. Along this trail we kept hearing the most awful noises that sounded like monkeys fighting viciously. One person even said that it sounded like a very noisy power washer. Later, when we got back to the veranda we found out that the noises were the Oilbirds communicating in their well-hidden cave! We also managed to find a Rufous-breasted Wren in the dark understory, a White-necked Thrush, and a Flambeau Butterfly.

   Just before dinner we had some time to relax on the veranda with the bats flying around while chatting with the local guides, a small tour group, a couple from Scotland, and a couple from Wales. Dinner consisted of some sort of fish, a salad, and a rice/veggie mix.  Although we did do some mothing and a quick walk down one of the trails after dinner, we elected to get a bit more sleep this evening because we knew we had a big day ahead!

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