Whether we believe in the concept of time or not, it is forced upon us in the form of a great rush and hullabaloo with the eventual restart/rebirth command for the “new year, new me” thoughts to suddenly activate within our minds, triggering some transient shift in thought and behaviour that has been decreasing proportionately with our attention spans. I’d be lying if I said that I’m not afflicted by this same bug, case in point this blog post, the first here in many months, the writer suddenly galvanized into action by the impending turn of the calendar (more on this later!)
There’s lots more to this short story though. Far more than a blog post! This year has been one of extremes, highs and lows have been mostly evenly distributed, save for a few anomalies in the form of “when it rains, it pours” situations. People always say that you should keep your head above the water. Problem is that sometimes the better thing to do is to duck under the wave, hold still for a little and let loose when the time is right. Like a coiled spring, energy is stored and can be built up and used positively.
Although my last post here was four months ago, I have not been completely silent (or holed away), I have penned several articles for WildTobago, all of which were published in some form of the Newsday. All of them are loudly pro environment, sustainability and ecotourism as applied to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful islands on the planet. I’ve been a fan of this blog for many years and it’s a complete privilege to be able to write for them. There’s also an interview with yours truly somewhere in there as well.
Sitting here now, at the end of it all, about to head out on an amazing birding trip with a good friend that will take us into 2019 on a definite high, I’m looking back at some of my most memorable moments from the year and would love to have you join me on this journey. Remember to click/tap on each image for a much more glorious, larger version. Best viewed on a large screen.
Since I was a small child, I always loved flamingos. Seeing them in the wild first in 2012, every single view is special in its own way. This time the setting sun lit a huge cloud a bright pink, enhancing the birds’ roseate hues and gifting me one of my favourites of the year.
Not even as big as the head of an American Flamingo, this Green-throated Mango is a surprising neighbour within the mangrove ecosystem. This image was made on a private birding trip with some dear friends into the Caroni Swamp, drifting slowly downriver we encountered this stunning male perched on an overhanging twig. He gave us the customary full body stretch before zooming off. You can be reminded of this experience all the way in December 2019, should you be grabbing a copy of my annual offering in the form of calendars. I’m printing a few extras so if you’d like to slip your order under the door feel free!
Loafing around generally isn’t considered a constructive idea, but loafing around on the veranda at Asa Wright Nature Centre is an above average idea. This Guianan Trogon flew in and gave us tremendous views as it contemplated picking another berry off the wild tobacco. Strangely, this bird appears on the calendar as January’s muse.
This is a critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle that was desperate to make it to the ocean. If you look carefully, you can even see its egg tooth. This was the first time I had encountered a hatchling of this species and few things would’ve made me happier at that point. I’m pleased to report that this particular turtle safely survived the gauntlet of vultures and made it to the ocean. My excitement had me following the tiny creatures all the way, really all the way. A rogue wave broke over my shoulder and that was the end of that camera body. The full sized files of these images are on a crashed hard drive that is currently at a data recovery centre for the fourth month running. Hoping for the best!
One afternoon in late May I paid a visit to the western mudflats of Trinidad, and I was shocked to find an astoundingly large concentration of migrant shorebirds. I was of the immovable opinion prior to this that the shorebirds had all departed from their winter grounds and we may possibly see a few. But here were hundreds, possibly thousands – and they were restless. Feeding was taking place, but there was a general fluttery atmosphere going on. Periodically, flocks would whirl up from the ground and fly in circles that gradually increased in diameter. Eventually they’d settle back down and resume preening. It was then it occurred to me that these birds were in their mad prep stage for their incredible northward migration. Some of these birds may have stayed on this very mudflat all winter, others may have just arrived, travelling north out of South America. Red Knots were many, most of the birds in an advanced state of breeding plumage. Man, I love shorebirds.
Sometime during August I was heading to Asa Wright Nature Centre on a mutually beneficial mission to photograph the enigmatic Oilbird, but I never arrived at my destination. Just around 6:15am a bolt ruptured in my pick-up’s engine while rounding a corner on Blanchicheusse Road, immediately resulting in loss of steering and brakes. Let’s just say that changed the course of the days, weeks and months to follow. For those of you familiar with the beast of vehicular issues, you’d be well aware that one problem always precipitates another, and true to form that’s exactly what’s (still) going on. I eventually made it to the centre and got lucky with this bird that perched low, and coincidentally in the singular shaft of light coming in from above.
I’ve done a few seabird trips before, but this year we had hands down the best one yet. My friend Zolani never disappoints, and we spent the day cruising along Tobago’s rugged northern coastline, snorkeling, soaking in the seawater and pure good vibes – eventually making our way back north to the rocky offshore islets of Saint Giles to be completely surrounded by frigatebirds, boobies and noddies. Seabirds have an exotic look to them, and Red-footed Boobies are no exception. They actually appear in three distinct colour morphs: brown, white-tailed and white. The white morph is not the most common, but we enjoyed this one in particular that kept making the same circle, giving me ample opportunity to compose my image while riding swell after swell.
Trees are great, flowering trees are greater, and flowering trees with birds on them are the absolute greatest. I spent half a day scouring a small grove of immortelle on the grounds of Cuffie River Nature Retreat because I knew that the bright orange blooms are a magnet for honeycreepers. And on Tobago, we’re only expecting a single species, the iconic Red-legged Honeycreeper. This particular frame is another of my favourites of the year.
After multiple tiers of graciousness, I was finally able to photograph a Spectacled Owl. And what was better, not just one, but two! Both immature birds actually, now getting comfortable in their adult plumage. Prior to this, I had only seen these birds during their active hours at night.
Appreciation of your subject will help in creating a strong image, but appreciation of light adds a whole other dimension. It isn’t a rare bird, not even a colourful one. Not a regal looking raptor or anything. This is a common and often overlooked member of the flycatcher family called a Tropical Pewee – so named after its vocalization. And it’s a simple portrait shot as well, bird on a branch, nothing too extreme or imaginative. But I love this image for the rich golden light pouring in from the top left of the frame, in fact the background is the sun just rising, the light is diffused to an unnatural level as this was shot at relatively high elevation. Yes, we were in a cloud. And it was great.
Remember earlier when I was talking about shorebirds? I was nowhere near done, haha. I’ll bleed your ears off about these incredible birds if I ever get the chance, that’s a promise. Out of all the migratory species of shorebirds that visit T&T, I enjoy photographing Stilt Sandpipers the most. This is purely due to their morphology. They’re called Stilt Sandpipers because they are basically regular sandpipers, but on stilts, i.e. really long legs. These extra long legs allow them to wade into deeper water, accessing food that wouldn’t be available to shorter-legged species. This penchant for water benefits me, as it creates a magical ambiance for a photo. Although this particular image nearly cost me dearly. To access this pond (which had the most Stilt Sandpipers I had ever seen) I had to make a dodgy crossing over a small canal via a plank of wood. Wearing rubber boots and toting my gear, I knew it wasn’t the greatest idea. Fortunately, I made it across safely. It was when I was coming back across I experienced a glitch in the balance department and rolled my ankle, the plank of wood rotated but I was close enough to the edge to “deftly” hop off. Anyway, this is one of my favourite images of all time; I was working the foreground bird when a second bird just strolled past, I happened to press the shutter at precisely the right moment.
Any time spent with an imperiled species is treasured, the golden light and faraway gaze of this Trinidad Piping Guan made this a mildly poignant image for me. What’s next for these endemic birds?
Thanks for making it to the end of my delicious dozen, many more exciting things to look out for in the new year; including but not limited to press releases, publications and trips to faraway lands. I’m leading my usual group at the Aripo Livestock Station for Christmas Bird Count this coming weekend, if you haven’t given me your name yet it’s probably too late due to security issues at the station/useless bureaucracy.