Author Archive

14 May 2010

Memories of Richard ffrench our ‘Birdman’

Conservation & Education News

Richard and Margaret ffrench

It is with the deepest regret that we learnt of the passing of our beloved friend and colleague, whose name has become synonymous with two iconic elements of nature in a country he loved, the birds of Trinidad and Tobago and the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
A flood of great memories come to mind, which I hope you will allow me the opportunity to share with you even though you may already be aware of such sentiments and events as his life intertwined with ours at Asa Wright so meaningfully over several decades.
Richard was fondly referred to as the “birdman” as his knowledge and enthusiasm for birds was readily transmitted to all who were lucky enough to accompany him on hikes and field trips throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
He was also a founding member of the worldrenowned Asa Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad, which he served faithfully as Chairman of its Board and contributed to shaping into the premier not for profit nature conservation facility that it has become almost 43 years after its creation.
For more than four decades, everyone interested in the biodiversity of Trinidad and Tobago, in particular its birds, knew of Richard ffrench and benefited from his legacy of writings and lectures on many aspects of the birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
He was the highly respected authority on this group of fauna of the country and his seminal work, A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago which he authored over 40 years ago, is still the definitive publication that every “birder” “must have” to genuinely appreciate the birds of these twin islands of the Caribbean.

Click to see special tribute
By Dr. Carol James
May 2010

11 May 2010

Signs of hope from meeting with National Quarries LTD

Conservation & Education News

Early in May, the Asa Wright Nature Centre hosted a meeting with quarrying interests in the valley, concerned residents and members of government agencies involved in, or impacted by, quarrying.
The meeting was an extension of meetings between the four quarry
operators in Verdant Vale, the residents of the valley communities, Asa Wright and the Ministry of Energy, Mining Division. These meetings had been ongoing for almost two years and were normally hosted by National Quarries Ltd, the government-owned, largest quarry in the valley. Asa Wright and the community have been pressing for the quarry operations to be brought under “best practice” in order to reduce dust, water and noise pollution, destruction of the environment and biodiversity and
meaningful restoration to played out areas. Asa Wright Chairman Dr. Carol
James had declared the Centre’s frustration about the lack of any progress
being made at these meetings, and had invited the Government Ministers
of Energy and Housing, Planning & the Environment to attend a meeting, to be held at the Centre. While the Ministers did not attend, several technical level government officers were present. These included officers from the Ministry of Energy, Land Use Division of the Ministry of Planning, Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, and representatives from the Environmental Management Authority.
Dr. James gave a presentation showing the degradation of the valley resulting from the dynamiting and bulldozing of the forests. All of
the participants who subsequently addressed the meeting declared their
alarm at the extent of the environmental damage they had seen being done in the valley.
While no real commitments were given by the participants, there was
a sense of hope emanating from the meeting, in that for the first time, many government officers had seen the destruction through the eyes of those who care about the environment. This could be the first actual step forward in having government and the quarrying industry realise that they must operate in a far more responsible manner.
The meeting will re-convene, at Spring Hill, on June 30th.
May 2010

01 May 2010

Trinidad’s Arima Valley Forest sings again

Tropical Nature News

When we suffered that long dry spell, and the forests in the valley below were burning every day, and through the nights, all of the songs of the forests dried up as well.
If you wanted to hear the birds sing, or the frogs chirping or croaking, you needed to walk down to the lower end of the Bamboo Valley Trail, where it crosses the stream, to hear the forest sing, or whisper to you. Back then, a walk along the driveway was a walk in silence, as the dry heat chased every little animal down to the places where water still
trickled down the valley. Even the many little musical streams which cross under the road had dried up and become silent.
But then the Cicadas began their “song” – that intense shrieking monotone which we claim is a call for the rains. And the rains soon followed – gently at first, just to cool the leaves in the canopies, the drops hardly reaching the crackling dry leaves underfoot.
And with this cooling, our little frogs began to move closer to the buildings and the road, and brought their songs with them. The birds too came out, to shake their feathers in the raindrops, and sing lustily from every perch. As the Hog Plum trees began to flower, you could hear the background humming of the bees high in the canopies.
And then the little streams themselves began to flow again, and a walk along the driveway provided lovely little melodies in stereo as the notes upstream complemented the downstream beat.
And having kissed the hilltops with their cooling breath, the clouds come larger now, literally pouring over the Guanapo Ridge, and pouring sheets of rain into the valley, with a roar as loud as an overhead jet plane, hide the hills from view. This too soon passes, and the birds sing again, the forest slowly shakes itself dry, and the little streams rise in a crescendo of crashing water and chirping frogs.
The Rain Forest has returned to us.
May 2010

22 Apr 2010

Poui blooms a sure sign of spring

Conservation & Education News, Tropical Nature News

Blooming tree TrinidadThere is a local saying: “When the Poui
blossoms appear, exams are near.” This seems accurate as many secondary school students are preparing for GCE/CXC exams. The spontaneous
and sporadic appearance of brilliant golden yellow throughout the hills of
the Northern Range indicates that it’s the eve of exams and students should
be ready.
For the rest of us not preparing for exams, this bright and beautiful revelation is a sign that the dry season is nearing its end and we prepare for rain – much needed after this year’s harsh dry season and the reckless burning and desecration of so much of our forests.
Fortunately for us at the Centre, we have been spared the ravages of the flames which consumed so much of the lower reaches of the valley, and we are especially fortunate to still have the opportunity to enjoy the blossoming of our Yellow Poui Trees. Come quickly to see these Spots of Gold as they brighten the hills of the Arima Valley.

01 Apr 2010

Outreach programme returns to schools, Asa Wright back in the classroom

Conservation & Education News

For the past three years, students and children have been the only stable and increasing segment of excursionists and day-trippers to the Asa Wright Nature Centre. So it is timely that the Education Outreach Programme is now being reintroduced,
conducted by Denise Etienne, who at Asa Wright is a contributor to the overall growth in student and young visitors under age 12. Denise, employed with the Asa Wright Nature Centre for over 10 years, has worked in the Tour Guide department and once held the position of Senior Guide. During her career at the Centre her knowledge and passion for nature has flourished with a particular interest in naturalist teaching.
She formalised this interest in 2008 during a nine-month teacher naturalist workshop at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed in New Jersey. Upon her return, discussions between her and members of the Board lead to the creation of the “Valley Schools Outreach Programme” (VSOP) and she was appointed to the Education department.
According to Denise, this programme is broadly developed to connect the “great outdoors” to various classroom subjects at the Primary level. Some objectives include exciting and educating students with nature which exists in their own schoolyards, enhancing basic English skills (grammar, spelling and creative/poetry writing), as well as creative
art skills and imagination, by various activities using examples from nature. An estimated 700 students from 14 schools
have been visited in the past two years, all located within and surrounding the Arima Valley. Classes selected to participate are standards two and three, with children aged seven to 10 years old. Students and teachers are briefed on the programme’s objectives and what is expected of them. Most of the exercises are conducted at the school through
weekly visits by Denise, but also include a field trip to the Asa Wright Centre.
A new term began in April and it is Denise’s hope that the programme will some day be expanded to schools outside of the
Arima area incorporating national spread, acceptance and participation. Persons willing to contribute and/or participate in this programme are asked to contact the Centre at or 667-4655.
April 2010

01 Mar 2010

From NewZealand to Asa Wright in Trinidad

Conservation & Education News

Leaving his job and homeland inDecember 2009, Courtney Van Beek set out as an explorer in search of his El Dorado – the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad. Still in his early 20s, Courtney recently completed undergraduate training in graphic design at Massey University, New Zealand, and is an enthusiastic amateur wildlife photographer.
He arrived in Trinidad two months after leaving New Zealand (with brief stops in Panama, Argentina, Peru and Chile) to actualise his commitment to volunteer at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Almost immediately on arrival Courtney went to work, though he was clearly distracted by the dozens of birds performing off the Asa Wright verandah, and also visible from the large windows
of the Ian Lambie Education Unit. He couldn’t contain his glee when he was asked to photograph some of the wildlife he would later use to prepare a Butterfly Identification poster and other educational material.Courtney assisted in redesigning Asa’s bar menus, produced bookmarks and posters, and expressed keen interest in Asa Wright’s Butterfly Garden initiative.
His next stop is a jungle mission in the Corcovado Reserve of Costa Rica, then to Nicaragua, his final stop before returning to New Zealand where he plans to hone his skills in graphic design. His lifelong aspiration is to work as a graphic artist for National Geographic magazine. Asa Wright extends heartfelt
gratitude to Courtney Van Beek for his priceless contribution and wishes him the best in his endeavours. The nature centre welcomes persons with similar commitment to the environment to partner with us by becoming a volunteer, intern or financial contributor.
March 2010

01 Mar 2010

AWNC shares in Addy Awards

News of Asa Wright

Cover of the children’s book produced by Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi for Guardian Life Wildlife Trust and Pawi Foundation, through Lonsdale’s partnership with Asa Wright.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Ltd has won six Gold and 22 Silver Addy awards, including the Best of Show award, at the Caribbean Advertising Federation’s annual Awards for Excellence. We are extremely proud of our partners at Lonsdale for their achievement, especially since five of the awards were given for work done through the Lonsdale partnership with the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Two of the Silver Addys were awarded for illustrations in the “Step Away… (and visit Nature at Asa Wright)” concept, and another Silver was won for the “Asa Wright Birds” poster. The Promise of the Pawi children’s book, which highlights the plight of Trinidad’s only endemic bird, won two Silver Addys – for Illustration and Publication Design.
Production of The Promise of the Pawi by Guardian Wildlife Trust and the Pawi Foundation (with a UNDP grant) began with Lonsdale’s partnership with Asa Wright, one of the few habitats left for the endangered
Pawi. Dr Carol James chairs both the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Guardian Wildlife Trust boards. The book will be launched on April 14 at the Normandie. Asa Wright enjoys a special working partnership with Lonsdale, who through their worldwide Saatchi & Saatchi network’s BLUE project have helped us with public relations initiatives over the past year, including the production of this monthly Bellbird newsletter.
March 2010

01 Mar 2010

This is the DRY dry season

Conservation & Education News, Tropical Nature News

Along the trails the leaves underfoot are crackling dry. None of the small animals can move with stealth, as the leaves crackle at their every move. Indeed, the former minor hazards of the trails, moss-covered rocks or slippery mud, no longer exist – replaced instead by the possibility of slipping on dried leaves on the steeper portions of our trails. The melodies of the sparkling little streams along our driveway have been silenced. A bare trickle of water is discernible between the stones, and some are no more than damp oozing patches in the painfully dry soil. Silenced too are the myriad little chirping frogs and crickets which serenaded us on the night walks. They have all migrated to the main stream,
to find the dampness they need to survive – but if you walk down to the Clearwater Pool, or up the driveway to the bridge, you can hear them there. Mists no longer rise in the early mornings down in the valley. Instead our iconic view is one of smoke from the ever-increasing bush fires, and
clouds of dust rising out of the quarries.
This extra-dry Dry Season is taking its toll throughout the country. Bush fires in the valleys have now moved up into the forests, although most people do not know there is a difference between the
“bush” and the forests. But it is rare indeed to see Spring Hill so deeply
affected by drought. And still, the day visitors who come up here are amazed at how
much cooler it is (or “less hot”?) than in the rest of the country. Will they take back with them the notion that the forests work for us, to keep us cool, to give us oxygen, and to fill our streams with water? If they do, will we have fewer “bush” fires in the future? We can only cherish this hope. And as young fruit and flowers wither on their plants, we do get a slight benefit at the Verandah: with the reduction of fruit and nectar in the forest, more birds are coming to the feeding tables and the bird baths under the Verandah. But we would all prefer the cool dampness of the rain forestall around us than the few extra birds
coming as much for refuge as for food. They say the rains won’t come before the end of April. So, until they do we wait and watch, longing to see that cloud behind the La Laja hills, and to
hear the distant roar as rain drums down upon the canopy, washing clean the dust of man from the leaves, and pulling a deep grey veil of cleansing across the hillside, and concealing for a while the scars of quarrying in the valley below. And when it passes – as suddenly as it arrived – the valley below finally exhales and pours clouds of mist upwards into the sky. And the streams along our driveway will sing to us again, as will the frogs and crickets and the birds.
Until then, we wait, and dream, of the sound and the scent of rain. Will you be here when it comes?
by Peter O”Connor
March 2010

01 Mar 2010

Manakins have a standing lunch date at the Ian Lambie Education Unit Courtyard

Tropical Nature News

Since the tending of vegetation around the
verandah from the beginning of 2010 (by Head
Guide Mukesh, Senior Guide Harold and former
Guide Barry), the White Bearded Manakins
(Manacus manacus), both males and females,
are observed daily around lunchtime, feeding
just outside the western end of the main house.
It is a most welcome sight, through the
glass pane of the Ian Lambie Education Unit,
observing the manakins feed, as they enjoy
plucking those luscious berries from the lantana
(Lantana camara) trees
We continue to monitor the habits of our
adopted visitors outside in the Education Unit
courtyard. It is felt that these berries may have
been substituted for their popular diet of
Melastomeceae when not in season.
March 2010

01 Feb 2010

West Indian Tobacco Company Tree planters return

Conservation & Education News

Last October, the Centre was the venue for the completion of a major Tree Planting initiative conducted by the West Indian Tobacco Company. Over 8,000 forest trees were planted at L’Orange Estate in Aripo and 500 fruit trees planted at Spring Hill. In early and mid-February, two teams from West Indian Tobacco returned to Spring Hill to clear and nurture the young seedlings.
They visited the areas where their colleagues had done the planting, and carefully removed all weeds and vines around the young plants. In these follow-up exercises, West Indian Tobacco ensured that all of their staff had “put a hand” into the planting and growing process, so that all could feel genuinely involved. Each group enjoyed breakfast on the Verandah before retreating to the Jonnie Fisk Conference Centre – that is the old Mango Room – for a Greening pep talk by West Indian Tobacco Operations Manager Sheldon Taitt.
There was also the viewing of a video on the tobacco company’s commitment to “Going Green”, and a brief welcome to the Centre by Peter O’Connor. The teams then walked out along the driveway to where the fruit trees had been planted, and spent the rest of the morning clearing and ensuring the seedlings would survive. They then walked back, with their appetites, to the Main House to enjoy a typical Asa Wright lunch.
The Asa Wright Nature Centre is happy to welcome West Indian Tobacco teams to the Centre, and looks forward to partnering with other companies who seek to reduce their carbon footprints in partnership with us in the fresh mountain air of the Arima rainforest.
February 2010