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Bioblitz 2014: Nariva Swamp

I had long been licking my lips by the time the 2014 edition of the T&T Bioblitz rolled around. Nariva Swamp is one of the most biodiverse places within Trinidad, and usually permits are necessary to enter this protected area. With the all access pass that came with being a contributor to the Bioblitz, I could’ve hardly waited for the date. I remembered what I had seen on previous visits, howler and capuchin monkeys, porcupines, macaws, the list went on. Basecamp was the forestry field station at the entrance to Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary, with ample space for parking and the pitching of tents.

Upon arrival, groups were scattered everywhere. I took a casual drive around the surrounding village area, checking off some of the common species, such as this Limpkin.








With nightfall, I decided to tag along with a group of herpetologists as they walked into Bush Bush. Frogs were calling everywhere, they were occupying every puddle, hopping out of our way at the very last second.








Also among the frogs was this Paradox Frog. So named because tadpoles of this species are actually bigger than the adults!








Herpetologists have a keen eye for their subjects, sharper than my eye for birds I’m sure. Not only that, but they are absolutely fearless. While walking, one of them suddenly lunged into the bushes and re-emerged with a writhing mass of black and yellow. Locally known as “Tigre” (Spilotes pullatus), this feisty snake is known to chase people. The bigger they get, the bolder they become. And this one was rather large, I’d say about 8 feet long.







Also on that night walk was a 4′ Fer-de-lance, not too far from where the Tigre was found earlier. To think that these two large serpents were likely within touching distance of a group monitoring insects at a moth trap gave some folks the chills. But it also illustrates the point that these serpents pose no danger to us humans, they’re merely on their own beat, looking for their own food, and avoiding any sign of danger. Just like every other creature on this green earth.

Comfortably poised on a leaf in the middle of the trail was a large Wolf Spider.








A Woodlouse provided a fitting end to an eventful nighttime foray into the forest. I’ve always been intrigued by these little critters since I was a child. Of course, I stopped seeing them as the years ticked past, and it was heartening to see one again after so long.











After the night walk we decided to chill out a bit and enjoy the darkness of the night. Of course, without any light pollution, it was quite the sight to behold. I tried (unsuccessfully) to photograph the stars, but eventually put away the camera – realizing that the true beauty of the night was not only in the stars, but also in the cool breeze coming off the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the distant roar of the waves and the gentle movement of the trees.

In the pre-dawn light of the following morning, a large bird zoomed past. Fortunately, it’s silhouette was enough to properly identify it – strong, sickle shaped wings and a long, fanned tail immediately screamed “Aplomado Falcon”. It was too dark and too far away for any photos – so we crossed our fingers that it’d hang around for a little bit. It didn’t. Hahaha.

We decided to head to the forest first thing, another group went searching for the hardly ever seen Azure Gallinule. Upon reaching the edge of the forest, I got a call – the other group was looking straight at an adult Azure Gallinule! All haste was put into getting back into the jeep, drifting over the muddy sections of the trail and speeding across to the marsh. I had barely killed the engine when we were already running toward the throngs of cameras and binoculars trained on this secretive subject. Fortunately, by the time we got there, it was still out in the open, looking at everyone and posing for photographs. I raised my camera, trained my focus, and pulled the trigger. Then I started to hear a series of beeps. The unthinkable happened – my ten second timer was still on from the night before when I was attempting to photograph stars. I cursed the sky and looked at the Azure Gallinule look at me through my lens, look away, and start to descend into the reeds, never to be seen again. And that’s how I don’t have a single image of the Azure Gallinule.

Fortunately, my personality is such that I just laugh these things off. You win some, you lose some, right? And now I have a funny story to share 🙂

The order of the day was definitely raptors, on the way back from the marsh, we saw the unmistakable rufous of a Savannah Hawk, sailing to a new perch.








A pair of Crested Caracaras, cousins to the ubiquitous Yellow-headed Caracara was seen walking in an open field, looking for breakfast. These large raptors have been seen with increasing frequency over the past few years, suggesting that they are exhibiting the same hardy characteristics shown by their smaller cousins that enabled them to conquer a changing environment.








The distinctive calls of Red-bellied Macaws in the distance was exciting as usual; a brief search of all moriche palms yielded various small groups chattering away.











Just at the forest’s edge, amidst all the chatter and activity, these two butterflies found some time for themselves.







After a long walk inside Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary with little to nothing to show for our efforts, one pair of sharp eyes in the group spotted a strange looking bird perched about 15 feet up. I had never seen anything like it before, with good reason – it was an immature Double-toothed Kite – I had only once seen an adult of this species, and it was miles away. Well, we may not have seen monkeys or any other of the usual inhabitants, but this was an excellent sighting.











All in all, another productive Bioblitz, this year’s total was 736 species. Video review here.

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