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Roaming in the Rice Project, More Goodbyes

The Rice Project in Caroni, central Trinidad can be a double-edged sword. At the right time of year, it’s going to be rife with migratory birds, some intent on spending their winter here, others just stopping by for a quick refuel as they continue on their journey southward. This large area is largely left alone during other months of the year, however. One morning during the “off-season” as it were, we decided to check out the fields and see what we could see.

Predictably, during the golden first light of the day, the only willing subject ended up being this dragonfly.

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The unmistakable descending whistle of a male Masked Yellowthroat betrayed his position, and we enjoyed great views of this gorgeous resident member of the (largely migratory) warbler family. I remember seeing a photograph of one of these birds many years ago by one of the pioneers of local avian photography, Theo Ferguson – and I developed a mild obsession. I actually phoned Theo up and arranged a meeting back when I was now getting involved in the field. A thoroughly calm and kind soul, Theo advised me on all matters of location, gear and stories of trekking through waist-high muck to photograph a flock of flamingos at sunrise.

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As if to counteract the yellow of the previous bird, this striking male Red-breasted Meadowlark (formerly Red-breasted Blackbird) gave his best to surrounding females in song and display.

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Anyone who has ever been to any rice field anywhere in the world will understand how unbearably hot it gets within minutes of uninterrupted sunshine. With the scant activity going on, we ended up rolling up the windows and running a little air conditioning to cool down. Eventually we came upon a mixed flock of birds feeding on the ground. Looking closely, we realized that the birds were all feasting on some sort of spilled grains. What a happy accident for the birds, I figured. Or probably some generous farmer! There were lots of feral pigeons and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds feeding and interacting with each other. But there was something different. A few of the birds looked bigger, and unlike anything I had ever seen before. You be the judge.

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Further picking apart the group, I saw another similarly proportioned bird in a different plumage. Turns out that somehow, a small breeding population of the exceedingly attractive Village Weaver had been established right here in the Caroni Rice Project. And they were feeding shoulder to shoulder with the existing flocks of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds. Males look like the opposite of the blackbirds, they have black heads and yellow bodies.

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It also turned out that the free meal of grain was poisoned. By the farmers, angry that flocks of hundreds of feral pigeons were decimating their rice crops. So all the birds in the two previous photos here are no more.

On the way out, a cheerful Black-necked Stilt made a fly-by, to say goodbye.

black-necked-stilt

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