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Diversity of the Western Mudflats

For those of you who are interested in getting good views of many different species in a short space of time, the tidal mudflat along the western coast of Trinidad is the perfect place to get things going on. Eagle-eyed readers may have realized that the last few posts have very similar images – and suspicions are warranted, as this post, the one before it, and the one before that one too – have all been based on images created at this hallowed ground. Especially during the peak of migratory season, when thousands of wintering birds pass through, some en route to as far south as Patagonia, after coming from their breeding grounds in the high Arctic. Some birds do stay for the entire northern winter, such as this Greater Yellowlegs.

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Another shorebird that spends the winter here is the Whimbrel. With a distinctive call, some of these birds do stay all year round, but most of them head back to their breeding grounds in the north.

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Whimbrels plunge their long bills in the soft mud to grab anything that moves, or anything that feels a little different. Their bills are very sensitive, and what’s more, the tip is flexible, allowing it to grab its prey deep in the mud.

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Apart from the visitors, the residents are equally as interesting. The all-black Neotropic Cormorant may seem a bit awkward and ungainly in flight, but from the time it lands on the water, it slips beneath the surface with the agility of an otter.

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As graceful on land as the cormorant is in water, Great Egrets are a definite staple in this environment. I saw these two hunting and knew instantly the image I needed to make. Frustratingly though, every time I got into position to frame both of them, one would walk forward a little, causing me to have to get up and shift my position again. After a few iterations of this process, I was happy with the end product.

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Black Skimmers are strange looking birds, for sure. That underbite is by design – as their name implies, they fly low over the water, skimming the surface for any lax creature that didn’t see/hear/feel it coming. I can’t get enough of them, though. I think they’re gorgeous and have tons of personality.

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My favourite image of the morning was of this party of five. Stilts have the longest legs (in relation to body size) among all birds – clearly giving rise to their name. Our Black-necked Stilts are skittish, noisy and are usually the ones to sound the alarm when a threat approaches. Which is one of the reasons I was shocked to see this flock flying toward me. Five is a lovely number, being odd (like myself) and what’s not to love about that reflection?

black necked stilts

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