Trinidad & Tobago Travel Diary NOTE:   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.


29 April 2009male Green Honeycreeper
It 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?


female Green HoneycreeperThe 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 bird tray).
    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.


30 April 2009
This 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.






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