Author Archive

01 Oct 2010

When snakes came to visit

Conservation & Education News, Tropical Nature News

The forests of Trinidad’s Northern Range provide habitat for many species of snakes, although most of these are not venomous and will not harm humans. And of course we have seen many of these beautiful reptiles here at Asa Wright, and sometimes we need to “relocate” those that come too close to our cottages.
You will recall in September’s issue of the Bellbird that we featured Winston Rojas, our resident snakehandler who does the relocation of our snakes when necessary. So it was only fitting that when the Emperor Valley Zoo began conducting Snakehandling Workshops in Trinidad and Tobago, that they would visit Spring Hill to share experiences with Winston, and to tell our staff and visitors about the animals and reassure everyone that the fears we harbour are really unfounded. And to conduct this workshop in the Jonnie Fisk Conference Centre, they brought some snakes to visit us, and which were used in the snakehandling demonstrations. The Emperor Valley Zoo staff members were Delbert Charleau, Kishore Ramlogan, Safiyah Khan and Sharleen Khan. The snakes which they brought were three “local” residents and one “expat” – a huge Albino Python from Burma.
The “locals” were a boa constrictor, or Macajuel, a Rainbow boa and the Tigre. Delbert Charleau demonstrated the techniques for handling these snakes, and also advised on the methods to deal with venomous snakes. Participants in the Workshop included a crosssection of the Centre’s staff, plus visitors to the Centre, who especially appreciated the opportunity to handle the snakes and realise that their fears of them are largely unfounded.
One of the key points expressed was that snakes do not want to harm people, and will only bite if aggravated or trod upon. We wish the Emperor Valley Zoo and the Zoological Society every success in their ongoing workshops, and trust that people will begin to appreciate these animals more and fear them less.
October 2010

21 Sep 2010

Centre & Lodge fresh after September renovations

News of Asa Wright

As October looms ahead, we look forward to our reopening after being closed for the month of September.
Normally we close for two weeks every September, for maintenance and light repairs. But this year, our dear “old lady”, the Main House, needed more comprehensive treatment.
While Francis Lewis and his maintenance crew undertook the heavier repairs, the rest of the staff, Housekeeping and Nature Guides included, picked up paint brushes and repainted all the internal walls and floors.
All of this “fix-up” has resulted in the place looking brighter and neater, and ready for the influx of year-end visitors we expect.
September 2010

01 Sep 2010

AWNC hosts two weddings

News of Asa Wright

Asa Wright hosted two beautiful wedding ceremonies, joining families who understand and appreciate the beauty of Nature’s own setting.
On August 27, Deborah and Omari exchanged their vows at Spring Hill. Having organised her bridal shower at Spring Hill on the night before the wedding, Deborah certainly would have received Showers of Blessings! Their ceremony was held in the lovely Jade Vine Arbour, and the reception followed in the Jonnie Fisk Centre, where their 80 guests celebrated with the happy couple.
Then, on September 24, Kerrie and Devin also celebrated their wedding at Spring Hill. They too chose the Jade Vine Arbour for the ceremony, and the Jonnie Fisk Centre for their reception with 86 family members and friends joining them. Kerrie is a member of the Pawi Research Group, currently doing work on this endemic but rare bird. Asa Wright was a natural choice for her!
Catering for both celebrations was done by Food and Beverage Manager Joanne Ramlal and her staff, and we hung a full moon in the sky for each occasion!
September 2010

01 Aug 2010

Rainy Mountain Days

Tropical Nature News

Following the devastating dry season earlier this year, we saw the forests begin to sing again with the April showers. And now, in August we are seeing rainfall to make up for all the deficits of the dry season! At the Asa Wright Nature Centre the rainy season brings a different ambience to the forests. Mostly, the early mornings are fine, with stars shining bright in the pre-dawn sky. Our birds sing loudly with the daybreak, the antshrikes and mocking birds being the first to serenade. Clouds of mist rise out of the valley, different hidden streams sending up their mist at different times, like alternating puffs of steam. But as beautiful as this rising mist is, it is going up to become the afternoon clouds, and to bring the afternoon rains. And these come in over the ridge to the east, roaring as loudly as waterfalls, until they arrive at the Centre, pounding on our roofs for a while until they move on, far more silently than they arrived. In the wake of each passing shower, the birds begin to sing again, and the elusive Mot Mots come out to the feeding tables below the verandah, joined by noisy Oropendolas with their young, now learning to feed themselves. Above them flit half a dozen Jacobin Hummingbirds, flashing their green, blue and white iridescence in the sudden sunlight. An after-rain walk along the driveway will see you regularly challenged by the red mountain “manicou” crabs, which come out to forage. These are aggressive creatures who will snap their claws at you. However, they are also the favourite food of the Great Black Hawk, so you should be on the lookout for these raptors, perched close by, or even feeding along the road!
Along the trails the raindrops continue to fall from the treetops long after the shower has passed. The sunbeams which filter through holes in the canopy focus on the sights you should see — spotlighting brilliant red Chaconia flowers set amidst the shades of green; a tight geometric spider web, with rainbows shining in its glistening raindrops; or a brilliant blue marbleu butterfly, sparkling like a sapphire in the sunbeam!
And sometimes the afternoon showers spring forth brilliant rainbows across the valley! Persons lucky enough to be on the verandah at these times may see a flock of Orange-winged parrots flying home across a rainbow! And Rainy Mountain nights… when the full moon wears a faint rainbow halo, or if the night is cloudless, the stars shine brightly through the rainwashed sky.
Nights when you see the lightning dancing in the distance beyond the valley, or when you lie, half awake in your cottage, listening to the night, the streams below chattering to you, and the passing rains quietly pattering upon the roof! Most people visit us in the northern hemisphere winter, our dry season.
But Asa Wright has many moods, and the Rainy Mountain time is a mood you should experience.
August 2010

01 Aug 2010

AWNC hosts monthly Introspective Retreats

News of Asa Wright

August 2010
The Asa Wright Nature Centre is collaborating with Dr. Theo Ferguson, developer of the leadership development programme, Leading From Above The Line, in the hosting of a series of monthly one-day Introspective Retreats. Four very successful retreats, which are open to the public, have been held to date.
The next retreat is scheduled for 3rd October 2010. These Introspective Retreats are helping individuals to retreat from the “busyness” of living in order to better reflect on their true life intentions and to determine corrective actions they may need to make to improve the quality of their lives. Specifically, participants have been benefiting by:
Having a better understanding of themselves and their true intentions in life.
• Learning to harness their personal power through a better understanding of the five sources of inner power.
• Developing greater leadership awareness through a better understanding of their leadership potential.
Dr. Ferguson sees the Asa Wright Nature Centre, world-renowned as a place of peace, tranquillity and nature, as an ideal venue for the retreats. He has now decided to use the Asa Wright Nature Centre as the venue for his 8-day Leadership Self-Discovery Retreat commencing October 2010. And his other major interest is being an outstanding bird photographer, who has a permanent exhibit of some of his work in the Dining Room of the Asa Wright Great House. A special edition album of his work was presented by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to the visiting heads of State at last year’s Summit of the Americas and Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings in Port of Spain.

13 Jul 2010

Celebrating a year of ‘e’

Conservation & Education News

With this issue of the Bellbird Newsletter we are celebrating 12 months of the Bellbird on the Internet. The decision to share our information on the World Wide Web rather than mailing out lots of printed paper was a natural step for a conservation-oriented organisation. And our first e-edition was sent out in August 2009. The decision was also contingent upon the upgrade done by our Internet provider, TSTT! Thanks to their support, our sometimes problematic service was sorted out early last year and we have enjoyed reliable service since then, so this e-edition depends upon TSTT as well! We also appreciate the inputs we receive from the good people at Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi who pull all the graphics together for us before we send it off to you. And did you ever wonder: Why the Bellbird? Well, as you can read in the September 2009 issue posted on the Asa Wright website (www.asawright.org), the Bellbird has the loudest call in the forest, so we chose that name to send out our message! This e-newsletter is distributed via direct email, and posted on our website as well as our personal Facebook account and fan page. We may be physically remote, but we are just a click away from you! So log in!
July 2010

01 Jul 2010

An Asa Wright Farewell to Jason

News of Asa Wright

Jason Radix heading of to be operations manage Blue Waters Inn
In this issue we bid farewell to one of our Asa Wright staff stalwarts – Jason Radix. Jason left us in July to take up the position of Operations Manager at the Blue Waters Inn, Speyside, Tobago, and we congratulate him on this move, but look forward to cooperating with him on an ongoing basis. Many of the overseas visitors to Spring Hill also include a visit to Blue Waters as part of their visit to Trinidad and Tobago, so we will continue to be in touch with Jason.
Jason first came to Asa Wright during the August school vacation of 1992. He says that his aunt, who was working as a kitchen supervisor, brought him here, and he immediately fell in love with the place. Spending time on the verandah he learned the names of the birds and the flowers and plants upon which they fed, and then began to help identifying these to guests. This “help” got him recruited by the manager, and soon Jason was helping two other tour guides with tours of Spring Hill.
He finished school and returned to work at Asa Wright as a tour guide and also enrolled at the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute where he acquired an associate degree in Tourism Management. He then entered the University of the West Indies to get his full degree in Tourism Hospitality and Management, and then continued postgraduate studies in this field.
While at university he continued to work at Asa Wright, progressing through the ranks of Tour Guide, Front Desk Supervisor, Marketing Assistant to eventually become Marketing Manager. One of his responsibilities was the preparation and production of the BellBird Newsletter, and it is here that he will be especially missed! We all wish Jason the very best in his new position, and look forward to sharing guests with him in the future. And, for those who may not know, the aunt who first brought him to Spring Hill is Ann Sealey, now Lodge Manager of the Centre!
July 2010

01 Jul 2010

Binoculars for the bats

Tropical Nature News

Birding along any of Asa Wight’s forest trails is sure to produce countless flights of avian fancy as some of the Centre’s feathered citizenry show off their brilliant colours to mates, rivals and bird watchers alike, while others display intricate foraging behaviour and delightful courtship performances.
But not every animal that flies over the head of an overwhelmed birder on an Asa Wright trail is necessarily a bird. Indeed, many birders have been beguiled away from focusing their binoculars on a target bird by the distracting swoop of another master flier patrolling the forest path just a few feet overhead. Sac-winged or White-lined Bats, Saccopteryx sp., are found in most forest habitats, and although these bats are commonly seen flying and hunting mosquitoes and other small insects during the day in Trinidad, this behaviour is actually very unusual elsewhere in their range. There are two species of White-lined Bats recorded on the island, among Trinidad’s almost 70 recorded bat species. The Founders Circle of the Texas-based organisation, Bat Conservation International (BCI), visited Trinidad and the Asa Wright Nature Centre twice this year during the months of January and May. The BCI tours were led by BCI President and Founder Dr Merlin Tuttle, mammal field guide author Fiona Reid, and Trinidad-born wildlife naturalist Geoffrey Gomes. Both islandwide tours were highly successful with a total of 27 bat species caught and/or observed during the January trip, and 32 species during the May trip to Trinidad. At Asa Wright itself, nets were positioned in various locations but the most productive were those placed along the Discovery Trail, where, in just two hours, 14 species of bats were caught in mist nets. To provide a bit of perspective, when the BCI Founders Circle visited Uganda in 2009, they caught a grand total of 15 species of bats in their entire two-week visit! Bat species caught on the property were carefully bagged and taken back to the Asa Wright verandah where the three guides conducted an after-dinner “show and tell” for the 11 tour participants. After the display, each bat was safely released to continue its nocturnal foraging activities.
July 2010

14 Jun 2010

AWNC launches ‘Friends of Asa Wright’ campaign

News of Asa Wright

Due to be launched this month is the long anticipated “Friends of Asa Wright” campaign, developed and designed to attract patrons of the Centre to contribute to its mission while becoming a friend. This campaign aspires to formalise relationships between patrons and the Centre through mutual benefit while growing a public support membership. Persons interested in this campaign are offered three options, namely individual, family and corporation memberships, which are distinguished by the corresponding costs and benefits of each option, all renewable after 12 months. The cost for each option includes the individual option of $200, the family option of $400 and the corporation option of $2,000 per year. The options provide benefits for one, four or five persons respectively. Benefits of becoming a Friend of Asa Wright Nature Centre are the waiver of the entrance fee, special low-season accommodation rates, monthly subscription of the Bellbird Newsletter and partnership in conservation of the Arima Valley through the work of the Centre. Look out for the launch of this campaign at a mall near you. To become a “Friend of Asa Wright” email the Centre at asaright@tstt.net.tt, see our website www.asawright.org or call 667-4655 for details.
June 2010

01 Jun 2010

Spring rains bring calamity at Dunston’s Cave

Tropical Nature News

When the rains finally arrived in April, they were more than welcome, in many respects. But they did bring with them some problems for Spring Hill, with many dried trees and branches absorbing the rain and falling across the estate’s trails.
Some of these damaged the metal railings on steeper sections of the trails, and repair work is now in progress. However, down at Dunston’s Cave – the home of our famous Oil Bird Colony – a large tree above the entrance to the gorge uprooted itself and fell down into the stream below! It hung down over the front of the cave like a huge pendulum, blocking anyone from entering, and damaging the railings and walkway into the cave. And when it fell, it brought down all the neighbouring vines and some smaller trees, all of this leaving a large opening in the forest canopy above the gorge.
Those familiar with Dunston’s Cave will appreciate that it is really a river gorge through which the stream flows. Parts of the gorge meet at the top forming a tunnel, but this with some openings to the sky. The loss of the forest canopy above the cave caused a lot more sunlight than usual to shine down into the gorge, and this gave rise to concerns for the birds with the interior of the cave becoming brighter in the daytime.
We had no choice but to cut the dangling tree trunk and then remove all of the branches and vines from the cave entrance. This was not only to restore the entrance, but to ensure that future heavy rains did not wash it all into the cave, possibly creating a dam inside. The work had to be done with chain saws, but the birds seemed to accept this, and subsequent bird counts indicate that, although the birds are deeper into the gorge, they are all still there.
Steps are being taken to revegetate the slopes above the cave, so that the original canopy will eventually return. However, the good news is that despite the trauma of the crashing trees and the subsequent clearing work, our Oil Birds seem to have settled back comfortably into Dunston’s Cave.
June 2010