Thursday 19 April 2018

Go Slow.... in Trinidad Birding - Day Four - Asa Wright and Wallerfield

Today was  a go slow sort of morning and early afternoon where the order of the day was to chase a few birds to improve the photographs. Post tea we set off for some night birding at Wallerfield, a disused US airfield that has become  home to some great birds. All of which resulted in a great tick list but far fewer photographs than on previous days.

I didn't make the crack of dawn start on the veranda but had a pre-breakfast stroll in the immediate vicinity of the centre. The  Cocoa Thrush  was in its usual position beneath the veranda and we exchanged pleasantries.

Cocoa Thrush

Cocoa Thrush

Post breakfast most of the group joined up for a scout round the Motmot trail as several Trinidad Motmots had been reported. Unfortunately we didn't catch up with one but I did manage to see some roosting Proboscis Bats, a friendly Great Kiskadee and a rather distant Tropical Peewee.

The regular Great Kiskadee - this one ringed

Tropical Peewee

During the morning I met up with one of the group and we set off for the Golden-Headed Manakin lek,. When we arrived there was no obvious presence but a couple of other birders had seen one earlier. We both put into practice our best "pishing" calls and mimicry of a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Miraculously two Manakins put in an appearance, of sufficient duration to get one decent shot before they bolted back down the hill. They had been fooled once but they definitely weren't coming close again, happy to dance up and down on a twig, almost out of sight.

Definitely a lek - but at some distance.

They came close just for a few brief moments.

No matter where I go birding, I always find an activity where I can spend endless amounts of time and an infinite number of pixels trying to capture a ridiculously hard subject. I set up shop just down from my cottage door and waited for the Tufted Coquettes to come. Oddly enough the majority I managed to capture were females - just that bit more obliging.

During a coffee break a Common Black Hawk paid a visit - albeit at a distance.

Common Black Hawk

Tegu with a complete tail

White-necked Jacobin (f)

Butterfly numbers were going up, I managed to capture Iphiclus Sister, Cloudless Sulphur and Cassius, the rest just flew by at high speed. The Postman was most disappointing as I couldn't manage to recreate the true red of a very bright butterfly. Just like the Red Admirals at home the red in the camera is not the same as the red seen by the eye.

Iphiclus Sister



Cloudless Sulphur


The Postman

On the way to Wallerfield I manage  a couple of shots of a Turkey Vulture sat in a tree close to the road.

When we arrived at Wallerfield the light was fading fast but Dave managed to find two rarities in the stand of Moriche Palms. First up was a Sulphury Flycatcher which I managed to record as a yellowy blob high up in the canopy. The Moriche Oriole was a bit more of a success, at least you can see what it is. As we had dinner amid the gathering gloom we were entertained by a Mottled Owl which flew back and forth across the road. As the light vanished we had a calling Pauraque and it was picked up in the lights. Although I had bought a pretty hefty flash gun it was obvious that having the camera out was pointless. So I just enjoyed the night birding experience. Unfortunately another group had spooked the Common Potoo so we dipped a bird that was fairly high on the wanted list.

Finally as we made it back to base, outside the cottage door was a large moth just asking to be photographed and I duly obliged.

ID - ongoing!

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.