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A False Desert

This morning at quarter to three, my alarm sounded, jolting me awake and galvanizing my cat into action to prevent me from leaving the bed. After eventually winning that battle with the large, soft, warm and fluffy creature, we made ourselves ready for our first birding mission within T&T since returning from Kenya. It had been some months since we were out birding, and we were suitably excited.

Fast forward a few hours later, and before the clock hit six o clock, we were traversing the rugged eastern coastline of Trinidad, heading into the village of Kernaham, hoping to score a couple special raptors at the very least. What greeted us in the golden light of the rising sun was for the most part, silence. I wondered where had all the birds gone. Perhaps it was just our vehicle, our location, maybe the birds were all further down the road. But the more we saw, the deeper our hearts sank. There was almost nothing.

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Driving alongside scorched farmland, not even insects stirred. There were no attendant flycatchers – key indicators of the presence of dragonflies, bees and other flying insects. A few Great Egrets were around, so were some Smooth-billed Anis. A lone Savanna Hawk glided past, and even a Limpkin took flight with its breakfast of fresh apple snail. But the silence was deafening. Why the lack of birdlife? It couldn’t have been because it’s dry season – after all we just returned from birding through actual deserts which were full of life – there must be some other factor at play.

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There were brief moments where the gloom lifted, such as when this flock of over 40 Red-bellied Macaws decided to make an appearance, albeit from quite a distance.

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Reliable species like this Barred Antshrike also provided some momentary relief from the overwhelming frustration arising from our failure to nab a wide enough variety of species for one of the supposedly most prolific wetland environments on an avian-rich island.

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Whatever the cause of the scarcity of life, it is worrying. Whether it’s because lands were torched, or inundated with pesticides – it’s anyone’s guess. But when the birds disappear, this means that the web of life itself is falling apart before our very eyes – and we urgently need to address this.