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Bioblitz 2017

Bioblitz this year for us was indeed a blitz. We got there (Icacos – south-western tip of Trinidad) somewhere between three and four in the morning. Missing the previous afternoon’s session due to another engagement, we were determined to make some sort of meaningful contribution nevertheless.

Even though it was still within what would be termed the dead of night, we recorded our first species. Common Pauraques sat intermittently on the roadway, under streetlights to maximise their productivity. No other nocturnal birds, though.

The crack of dawn found us along one of the trails, identifying birds by sound as most of them were high in the canopy. A couple White-winged Becards excited the small party of us bird-folk. A good, but most uncooperative bird. A movement caught my attention some distance away, it was a hummingbird, but not the usual Copper-rumped, nor was it any species of Hermit. I grabbed a couple of photos to get a closer view, and it was a lovely male Blue-chinned Sapphire.

blue-chinned sapphire

 

 

 

 

 

When the sun did manage to pop into view, it blasted us with unforgiving, searing light. I kept my jacket on just because I knew it’d burn my skin. Apocalyptic tales aside, on the way out of that trail we had a distant view of a Bat Falcon. Frustratingly, the trail led away from the bird. Oh well.

The next area we checked out had most surprisingly, another Bat Falcon. Was it the same one? I doubt. This bird looked like it had been sitting there for a while. And falcons tend to stay airborne for quite some time before settling on another perch – unlike some hawks that go tree to tree. A tiny predator, I decided to leave as much of its perch in the frame as possible just for scale.

bat falcon-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the most part, birds stayed hidden. It was almost as if they knew how hot the sun was, and wanted us to boil a bit for fun, perhaps. A faraway Black Vulture tickled me a little.

black vulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

The group found a large woodpecker on a tree that was directly in line with the sun – but digital photography has a trick to deal with that. One look at that white ‘V’ on the bird’s back sealed the ID as a Crimson-crested Woodpecker.

crimson-crested woodpecker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That south-western peninsula feels like a different world from what I’m accustomed to. It’s a favourite destination among local landscape and drone photographers and for good reason. It’s completely gorgeous. Most of the forest feels ancient. Miles and miles of coconut trees tell stories of a rich history. And as with every beautiful setting I’m ecstatic when it all comes together with a bird in the frame. Savannah Hawks love being on the ground, running around on their long legs.

savannah hawk scene

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had good luck with raptor species within that corner of the island, perhaps better luck than anywhere else. After glimpsing a Broad-winged Hawk on the way out of the forest, we came upon this Yellow-headed Caracara feeding (well, trying to at least) on a crab.

yellow-headed caracara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After leaving the Caracara to its own devices, we slowly rolled through the coconut plantations, scanning the horizon, sky and the tops of all trees for any more birds of prey. Before long, we spied movement – a large bird flying low – a Great Blue Heron. Determined to get a better look, we decided to try to get closer on foot. It didn’t take us long to realize that we wouldn’t really be able to get much closer than we were. Although it looked somewhat dry, most of the coconut trees grow within the limits of the Icacos Lagoon (aka Fullerton Swamp) so there were many deceptive areas that threatened to make our day pretty interesting. After all, it wasn’t a photographic mission – so the Great Blue went on the books and we moved on.

While we were still there, another large bird was spotted flying low, but this one was much browner than the Great Blue Heron we had just seen. Perhaps a juvenile? It was a little smaller, and from the moment we got a good enough view, there was no mistake – it was a Pinnated Bittern. Unbelievably, it landed within view – and trust me, it’s really easy to miss.

pinnated bittern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If that wasn’t enough, a short while after a pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew in, and landed in some water just out of view. Another good bird for the list (that turned out to be the highest count thus far for a T&T Bioblitz!).

Just as we were contemplating walking back out to the vehicles, the pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flew off, with a second pair in tow, then a couple other stragglers. Really refreshing to see these beautiful ducks flying free – as you’re probably aware, T&T has a culture of seeing any duck as food. More Trinidad than Tobago from where I see it. Consequently they (multiple species of duck) are largely absent from the local eco-system and I’m certain that we will find out the repercussions of this at some point when it’s too late.

bbwds-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some members of the birding group were doing banding along another trail, and we decided to check them out a little. Before we got to the actual banding site, we got distracted by many a bird. That little stretch of road was pretty active, yielding great views of Brown-crested Flycatcher as well as an accompanying Red-eyed Vireo. The vireo in typical fashion kept everyone on their toes.

red eyed vireo-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still being close to water, we saw a bunch of mangrove specialists – Greater Anis making their way slowly through the branches. Predominantly carnivorous birds, they will take insects, small lizards and even baby birds.

greater ani-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The typical tapping of a branch gave away the location of this Lineated Woodpecker, which appeased every photographer present at that time. Gotta love how the bird pops against the light vegetation.

lineated woodpecker-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too soon, noon rolled around and the count was over. We never even got to the bird banding station, by the time we got to within sight they were already 90% packed. Stumbling into basecamp, we offloaded our list and began the journey back home. I think we did pretty well for a bunch of lazy guys operating on no sleep. Being in nature is completely invigorating, it’s almost as if you get more life, the longer you spend outside. Even in our tired state, it was difficult to leave! Ended up spending upwards of an hour with a few Osprey trying their luck in the lagoon on the way out – under the midday sun. Either we really love what we do or we’re a little crazy. Or both.

osprey shaking