Wednesday, 18 April 2018

"Go Slow... in Trinidad" - Day Three - Asa Wright and Leatherback Turtles

The first go slow bit, a quiet day around the AWC exploring some of the trails and trying to catch up with some of the missed species.  I turned up on the veranda later than usual but it seemed that the birds were taking it easy too. At least the sun was out and the temperature rising fast.

After breakfast I took a walk around the centre and then opted for the Chaconia trail, mainly as research said that it was good for butterflies. Well it was, but they were all the same species. However, I did meet up with another mammal, this time a rather shy Red-tailed Squirrel. Of course just like ours but a bit darker and probably larger.

Cane Skipper, Nyctelius nyctelius

Plain Longtail, Urbanus simplicius

The sun put in an appearance and the local reptiles took advantage, at the main entrance several species were basking in the sun, some confiding, others making a bolt for the nearest hole as you approached.

Now you see me......

..... now you don't.

Caribbean Tree Runner, Plica plica

One of the Windward Skinks?

Multi-coloured Tree Lizard or Anole, Polychrus marmoratus

Multi-coloured Tree Lizard or Anole, Polychrus marmoratus

Jungle Runner or Giant Ameiva, 

Giant Ameiva

 Then I took a stroll on the path beneath the veranda and as I turned a corner I almost trod on a Golden Tegu, I don't know who was more surprised, the lizard or me. Anyhow we both calmed down and I managed some shots. He wasn't bothered really, when he had had enough of us he ambled off into the bushes. Oddly enough after seeing this one they seemed to turn up everywhere. No sort of scale in the photographs but I reckon he was over two and a half feet - probably three and would have been longer if at some time in the past he hadn't lost his tail.

Golden Tegu, Tupinambis teguixin.

Back to the veranda for a coffee and a chance to capture one or two specimens that were lurking among the furniture.

Another giant moth.

Long-horned Beetle

I skipped lunch and wandered off down the Discovery trail, I wanted to visit the White-bearded Manakin lek on my own in the hope of getting some closer shots, albeit still under the dark canopy. I wasn't to be disappointed as I had the place to myself and using a bit of judicious "pishing" and mimicry of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl's call learned from our expert Dave the birds responded. Not complaining but they really gave me the once over and I was over-lensed, of course I daren't pause to take the extender off as the opportunity might disappear in an instant.

On the trail I captured some stunning flowers, they aren't easy to overlook but the birds always seem to take centre stage.

A botanist I am not but at least I can recognise Hawaiian Torch Ginger, Etlingera elatior

Hawaiian Torch Ginger

By now it was quite warm so I positioned a chair under the veranda and watched the feeders at eye level. 

Blue-chinned Sapphire

Displaying Bananaquits

Displaying Violaceous Euphonia

Bird with "attitude"

I don't normally do birds on feeders but in this case I made an exception. The Purple Honeycreeper had brought along his mate and as I hadn't seen one I recorded it from just a few feet away.

Around about tea time we departed for Matura Beach situated on the north east coast of Trinidad, we were hoping to witness one of the giant female Leatherback Turtles coming ashore to lay her eggs under cover of darkness. During the journey I had the camera ready and the window open, two nice birds were spotted, the first a Southern Lapwing and the second a Swallow-tailed Kite. One a success, the other just a silhouette in a leaden sky.

Southern Lapwing

Swallow-tailed Kite

We arrived at the beach just as darkness was closing in, not quite what I expected, probably the fault of Sir David Attenborough and Blue Planet II. Not a calm idyllic tropical beach at all, ebbing tide and a stiff onshore breeze created fairly choppy conditions.

We had dinner at the car park and prepared our gear for the wait on the beach, only red lights allowed until the turtle, should we be privileged to see one, had started to lay her eggs. The wind had stiffened and a warning not to stand under any of the coconut palms went out, quite obvious really but I didn't hear the thump of one hitting the ground during our stay.

We waited patiently in the dark as Dave and the volunteers searched the beach, the night sky cleared slightly and stars became visible. Most odd to see the Plough or Big Dipper "upside down" and the Southern Cross present in the sky at the same time. All explained by the fact we were just 10 degrees above the equator.

The cry went up "We have one!" and excitedly we made our way along the beach, red lights guiding the way. When we arrived the turtle had begun to excavate a nest, using just its back flippers to create a safe location for her precious cargo. Once she had started laying then we could use flash photography and white light, as the turtle goes into a trance-like state for the duration of laying. I was truly amazed by the size of the beast and this was a medium sized one. All too soon she was finished, back to red light whilst she filled the hole, camouflaged the nest area and dug a dummy nest to distract predators from the real location. Then she slowly made her way back to the receding tide, probably to repeat the process elsewhere in approximately ten days time.

The turtles when they hatch weigh around 50g and they can achieve a maximum weight around 900kg. The Turtle Village Trust are doing a great job, read about it here

Touching is permitted - Dave provides some idea of the size

As we walked back to the car park I mused on the incredible spectacle we had witnessed, I know I had seen it before and Blue Planet II was spectacular in its photography but the real thing was much better. I know that the Turtles are a tourist attraction and the money made finds its way back into turtle conservation but I had a feeling deep down that I had been intruding on something personal.

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