I mentioned in my previous posting that it’s difficult to wrestle your attention from all the activity going on in the branches of the trees overhead. In the forest, being single-minded can get you into serious trouble though. I’ve heard many stories of men stumbling upon an extremely well hidden fer-de-lance after they had let their guard down. Now of course we do have these venomous snakes resident in Trinidad, but as with everything, all tall tales need to be brought down to size. A mapepire chasing you up hills and down valleys – likely to be false. Snakebite to the face as you pass through the forest – also likely to be false – our pit vipers aren’t the best of climbers and are most comfortable on the forest floor. A dull thud on the back of your boot as you stop by a river – this one was a true story – and likely to occur as both species of pit vipers (as far as I know) seem to gravitate towards water. Nevertheless, it always pays to be extra careful as one doesn’t even want to chance an unexpected encounter.
Snakes aren’t the only thing you need to look out for though. A brief lull in the wind while I was attending to the wild tobacco frenzy brought a strange sound to my ears. Looking down, the reason soon became apparent. A trail of army ants on the march. It also made sense that I had been hearing calls of various species of antbirds – a family that gets its name from their habits of following these swarms of army ants through the forest, picking off whatever is disturbed by the marauding stream of fire.
Although I was hearing the calls of both White-bellied Antbird and Great Antshrike, both species kept well hidden in the thick undergrowth and I was unable to secure any good views of either. Let alone a single photograph. Another day, another battle. Within the darkness there was the familiar whirring of the wings of the White-bearded Manakin, this one I couldn’t let get away. Natural filter courtesy Big Leaf Inc.
The second species of resident manakin – with even more of a rockstar appeal than its black and white counterpart – is the Golden-headed Manakin. Females of both species look remarkably alike, however, males are the source of that unmistakable flash of gold in the forest. Nothing else is quite that colour. There are yellow birds, there are red birds, but there is only one source of pure gold. And if you look carefully, you can see his red shorts 🙂
Notorious ventriloquists of the forest are related to the famous quetzals of Central America. Three species of trogons are found here in T&T – the Collared Trogon is the only species found on both islands. The other two are “shrapnel” from a recent taxonomic split involving this family. Violaceous Trogon was what it was once called – this has now been split into three separate species: Gartered Trogon, Amazonian Trogon and Guianan Trogon. The bird pictured here is the Guianan Trogon. Both other species are exclusively mainland species, but equally as beautiful.
Superficially similar, but distinctly larger, is the Green-backed Trogon. It too, had a former identity – White-tailed Trogon (obvious from this picture). However, differences in the calls led to investigations on the microscopic level, which ultimately led scientists to the conclusion that this bird is not a subspecies of the White-tailed Trogon, but an entirely different species.
So how does one tell them apart? Both trogons posted here are males of their respective species, so we’ll deal with this sex first. Both are blue with a yellow belly. The Green-backed is larger than the Guianan. How about we play a little spot-the-difference game? There are two major differences that should be immediately obvious to the casual observer. What are they?