Trinidad & Tobago Travel Diary
Images were prepared using screen settings of 1024x768, and are
best viewed with those settings. As usual, the name of the bird can be seen by placing the cursor over the photo.
was well past midnight when David, our driver, finally delivered us to Asa
Wright Nature Centre after an evening flight from Miami to Port of Spain,
Trinidad. We drove through a nice stretch of rainforest in the Northern
Range to the upper reaches of the Arima Valley. The rainforest, dense and a bit foreboding, never loses its mystique.
What is out there?
Trinidad & Tobago is a two-island nation whose westernmost point
lies only seven miles from Venezuela. It's as close as one can get to
South America without actually going there. The bird life reflects this. Trinidad
was part of South America during the last Ice Age; its last land connection to
the continent may have existed as recently as 1500 years ago.
So in a sense we have a biological experiment here.
What happens to the bird life on a relatively small island when rising sea
levels cuts it off
from a nearby continent? Who wins and who loses out?
Nature Centre was once part of a 1500-acre cacao plantation, Spring Hill Estate,
that was owned by Newcombe Wright and his wife Asa. It has hosted famed
naturalists like William Beebe and David Snow; a visit here is of course de
rigueur for any traveling birder and bird
photographer. Flowers and feeders that attract hummingbirds are
scattered about, as are fruit feeders for most everyone else (but oddly enough
with few bananas, which are mother's milk for tropical fruigivores at a
So the tradition is to haul out of bed at six in the morning
and watch the action from a wide veranda that overlooks the valley and its bird
life. Coffee and tea are provided. Duncan complains about having to
drink Lipton tea; I'm no less vocal in my distaste for the British-style coffee
offered up here. We are two grumpy old men.
The most common birds around are two "trash bird" species of
the tropics, Bananaquit and Palm Tanager. But avian beauties are displayed
as well, including Green Honeycreeper, Blue-Gray and Bay-headed Tanagers, Purple
Honeycreeper, and nesting Crested Oropendulas. Less common are Yellow
Orioles, Turquoise as well as Silver-beaked Tanagers, and Blue-crowned Mot-mots
who skulk around below the veranda.
morning we tear ourselves away from the bird trays long enough for a nature hike
down the well-named Discovery Trail with one of the Centre's excellent guides.
We discover Collared Trogon and Bearded Bellbird, not to mention leaf-cutter
ants that are mainly nocturnal here. The most conspicuous birds are
White-bearded Manakins, who have thoughtfully established a lek close to the
trail. From 15 feet away one can watch the males, two of whom have display
courts: a small area cleared of ground debris, containing 3 or 4 small
saplings. When a female appears, the male bounces from one sapling to the
other, a foot or so off the ground, at the same time making a mechanical
snapping noise with his wings.
Just up the trail, higher in the trees, is another lek, that of the Golden-headed Manakin.
For the talent portion of their show, they select a small horizontal branch and do
a sort of moon-walk, which may or may not have inspired Michael Jackson to give
it a try.
In both manakin species, the females are dumpy little birds
of a dull olive green color. Speaking as a guy, it seems to me
that, considering how handsome and talented the dapper little males are, they
could do a lot better.
But of course that's not how it works in nature. So day
after day the male manakin sits there in the deep gloom of the rainforest.
He waits patiently for a
chance to display his good looks and elan to a
female who, however plain she may be, is his only hope for offspring.