The designations of birds’ populations confused me initially. Birds were listed as common, some as abundant, some as abundant and widespread, others as scarce, very rare – and even vagrant. But a quick perusal of the field guide‘s introduction cleared that fog instantly.
What really bugged me was that there were so many birds listed as “common”, and many of these had escaped me. Of course, with time, all things come to pass. Some birds are just a little more difficult to see than others. Golden-headed Manakins can be heard in almost every forested area in Trinidad – yet still the tiny black and gold males seem to evade all prying eyes. Females are even harder to spot. Not even a quarter as brilliantly plumaged as the males, it was nevertheless exciting to catch a glimpse of this lovely lady. Can you tell the difference between this particular bird and the female White-bearded Manakin?
Perhaps a little less common than the Manakins (but even harder to get a good look at) – I’ve only gotten three decent views of this bird in my entire life – is the much sought-after Black-faced Antthrush. One can hear their distinctive calls almost everywhere on the leaf-littered slopes of the Northern Range, but good luck finding one. Should you finally lay your eyes on one of these, I wish you even more luck photographing them. Their habits of hunting the forest floor often ensures that these brown and black birds are in the darkest of settings. Not good for a camera’s autofocus system!
But now and then, lady luck blows a kiss in your direction. On a recent hunt for a “scarce migrant” (more on this in the near future) not one, but two of these enigmatic and elusive birds casually strolled onto the path. They very closely followed each other, looking under leaves and fallen logs for any tasty morsel. They paid scant attention to us, scrambling to get into position every couple seconds, desperately following the pair. Which was good in that they were clearly not disturbed by our presence, but bad for photographs as 90% of the time they were so focussed on what they were doing all we were seeing was a pair of bird bums. Only once did I strike gold.
Also on that mission, we had a chance encounter with the holy grail of local woodpeckers. An almost mechanical drumming that shattered the forest’s silence could only mean one thing: Chestnut Woodpecker. I remember flipping through the Field Guide and seeing the illustration of this unreal woodpecker and my mind instantly filled with wonder. I must see this bird. Well, it took me a couple years, and it’s listed as “locally uncommon” – which means that it can be found only in specific locations within the country, and within these said locations, sightings are few and far between. But any sighting more than makes up for lost time, don’t you think?