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Chasing a Few Thousand Birds

Even though I had seen Dickcissels on numerous occasions before, there is nothing quite like experiencing tens of thousands of birds dipping, swirling and chattering incessantly to one another. These migratory birds visit the open marshes of Trinidad now and then, it’s definitely not an annual occasion. Some years we get none, others just a few, and some years – like this migratory season – we have probably around fifty thousand visitors.

During the daytime, the birds generally fan out over a broad area, searching for feeding grounds across the country. It is in the afternoon, as the sun starts to dip closer to the horizon, when the real action begins. One afternoon, we decided to search them out – albeit in a very wide area, so nothing was guaranteed.

En route, we were distracted by a hunting Great Egret. Just can’t seem to get enough of these.

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Eventually, we found an area that seemed to be a relatively decent habitat for roosting Dickcissels. Yellow-chinned Spinetails and Purple Gallinules called nervously from within the reeds. It’s always been my observation that during the hunting season, even common birds are scarce. A Red-breasted Meadowlark did not intend to go unnoticed, however. Their habit of perching on visible stalks about a metre or two above the ground ensures that everyone gets a good view of their striking plumage.

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Finally, we began to see a couple small flocks flying in. First one, then another. From all directions. They were literally materializing out of thin air – there would be nothing, and suddenly a hundred birds would drop out of the sky and fly low over and into the reeds. Photographic opportunities were few and far between, to say the least. A few were spotted from afar, grabbing a last meal. Check out a closer view from a couple years ago here.

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The birds did not plan on roosting in the rice fields, apparently. After a while, the entire flock rose with a thunderous roar of tiny wings, and took flight. Oh, how I wish I had a wide angle lens on!

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Fortunately, we managed to take a video of the massive flock as it flew right over our heads. Thank goodness for quick minds, steady hands and an iPhone! See full, unobstructed video here.

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