News of Asa Wright

06 May 2013

Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News
Photo by Clive Bowley

Photo by Clive Bowley

 

The Bat Falcon, a resident breeder in Trinidad, inhabits the forest and surrounding areas of the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Last year it could frequently be seen perched atop an Immortelle branch where it surveyed the territory for its meals. That branch, conveniently positioned to the eastern side of the verandah allowed, once or twice, fortunate guests and guides to witness feeding time at the perch. The food of choice for this species is, of course, bats. However, the Bat Falcon will also feed on small birds, mammals and insects.
Bat Falcons are small raptors (27 cm in length) belonging to the family Falconidae, which consists of Falcons and Caracaras. Representatives of the latter group can also be seen in Trinidad. This raptor’s range extends from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.
The Bat Falcon makes high-pitched call of ‘kiu,kiu,kiu.’ It is a rather charming raptor with an outstanding black and white striped upper breast and cinnamon lower breast. It has a black head and grey throat but yellow eye-rings and feet. In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in February. A clutch of two eggs is normally laid in a nest that is built high off the ground.
The Bat Falcon is found in pairs and appears to be territorial. Take a walk at dawn or dusk to catch a glimpse of this falcon–as these are the times when it is most active–in direct, quick flight or soaring in circles.

Johanne L. Ryan

References

  • ffrench, Richard. A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Cornell University Press. 2012.
29 Apr 2013

Bird Banding Project Launched at Asa Wright

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News
Green Kingfisher ready for banding.

Green Kingfisher ready for banding.

 

Asa Wright Nature Centre successfully initiated its first Bird Banding project just two weeks ago. It was spearheaded by certified Bird Bander and Trainer, Caleb Walker, in conjunction with certified Bird Bander and Klamath Bird Observatory representative for Trinidad, Carl Fitzjames. Both Caleb and Carl were trained at the Klamath Bird Observatory in Oregon, U.S.A. This project arose out of the need to build a database of the birds in Trinidad and Tobago. By building this database, people can gain more information on breeding, molting times and feeding habits of birds. One can also learn about the lengths of time different species take to develop from juveniles to adults. The project will take place at two ends of the Arima Valley: the William Beebe Tropical Research Station and Brasso Seco. The first session took place in the verdant forest of Brasso Seco. As the mist rose above the mountains, Carl, Caleb and more of Asa Wright’s staff Kimberly and Johanne began their early-morning bird monitoring exercise. Birds such as the Green Kingfisher, White-lined Tanager, Violaceous Euphonia and Golden-headed Manakin were caught and examined. Carl and Caleb used the utmost care when handling the birds, as all certified banders are trained to do. We at Asa Wright earnestly support this initiative and eagerly await future banding sessions.

Article and photos by Johanne L. Ryan

DSC02687

Caleb banding a bird.

Carl showing Kimberly how it’s done

 

25 Apr 2013

A New Driveway for Spring Hill

News of Asa Wright, Visitor News
awnc paving 2

Open for business…here come the visitors!

 

The work began in December with the construction of two retaining walls where the old driveway was slipping. And when these walls were completed, the contractors installed some new and larger drains under the road. But the really important thing, as far as our visitors have been concerned, had been the need for resurfacing the driveway. The surface had deteriorated badly, and walls and drains were needed to ensure that the new surface would last. So the old surface was scraped off, and new curbs and paving were installed. It is now a pleasure to drive or walk along the road, and we ask everyone to monitor their speed until we install the humps to ensure that we drive as carefully as we used to before the resurfacing! Landscaping will be done in the areas where the retaining walls were built, and we hope to have flowering shrubbery in these spots to bring in birds for all our walking bird lovers to enjoy! We know that there were days during the works where some of our visitors were inconvenienced. We apologise for this but we know that on your next visit you will appreciate the new, smooth driveway.

awnc paving 1

From the doorstep to the main road.

 

05 Apr 2013

New species of stick insects

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

A male Apteroxylus chaguaramalensis. Photos courtesy ASPER (Association pour la Systématique des Phasmes et l’Etude de leur Répartition)

 

Have you ever seen a “God Horse” on a bush? You may mistake it for a twig. But it is alive – a stick insect belonging to the order Phasmida derived from the Greek word ‘Phasma’ meaning ghost. Over 3,000 species of stick insects have been described to date.

ASPER is a French organisation dedicated to the systematic study of stick insects and their distribution. It was founded in 1997 to produce an inventory of the Phasmids of Guadeloupe with the National Park of Guadeloupe. The ASPER team has since expanded its repertoire and studied the stick insects of islands of the Lesser Antilles like St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago

In 2010, the ASPER team comprising Phillipe Lelong, Yannick Bellanger and Toni Jourdan travelled to Trinidad to study our country’s stick insects. They believed there was a possibility of finding new species on the island. While in Trinidad, the ASPER team had a chance to stay at Simla and was able to visit Mount Chaguaramal at Aripo with naturalist guide, Harold Diaz. This trip proved fruitful as they discovered two new species of stick insects: Clonistria caputaurata and Apteroxylus chaguaramalensis. Both of these are rare species and can be found at Mount Chaguaramal. The new species of Clonistra can also be found at Morne Bleu. Be on the lookout for stick insects in your neighbourhood. You may be more successful in finding them at night as they are mostly nocturnal. If you do stumble upon one that you cannot identify send a photo to asper-association@wanadoo.fr.

J.L. Ryan

01 Apr 2013

A Don Eckelberry Scholarship Winner at Asa Wright

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright, Visitor News

Matthew Palmer speaks to a group of artists.

 

Birds of Asa Wright inspired these models.

Matthew Palmer will enthrall you when he describes his art. For him, the role of art is to conceive a tangible work which captures the intangible; the unidentifiable mystery present in all things. His sculpture of an owl, for example, is not simply the appearance of the owl, but also its spirit and movement.
Mr. Palmer, who hails from Washington, spent a week at the Asa Wright Nature Centre as the winner of the Don Eckelberry Scholarship Award which is given by the Society of Animal Artists. He is a self-taught artist who has an inherent artistic talent which he perfects by doing. On Friday 15th February, he met with a group of artists who gathered in the Mango Room to learn about his work and to share their work with him.

 

Interested in seeing more of Matthew Palmer’s art?

Visit www.matthewgraypalmer.com

In addition to showing us photos and videos of his artwork, he explained the story behind them. And, what a variety. He has made large pieces for Universities and Nature Centres – a model of a skeleton called ‘Dooley’, an elephant made of silhouettes of butterflies, a bald eagle, gallinule, a manatee, fish and several more. To make these models he experiments with different mediums like bronze, epoxy clay, cement, marble, limestone steel and styrofoam. For one of his birds, he even made wispy feathers with a milk carton. We watched a time lapse video of Mr. Palmer building a family of life-size elephants, taking a total of 250 hours.

A close look at some of Matthew Palmer’s sketches.

 

For this artist, there is no task too big. Not limiting himself to a particular style, Mr. Palmer also draws and paints. That day we were able see a fascinating assortment of the sketches he had been working on during his stay at Asa Wright. There was something that appealed to everyone in this collection. He also showed us the models of a Green Hermit, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White- necked Jacobin and Purple Honeycreeper that were crafted at Asa Wright. The artists in attendance had an opportunity to display their work. Looking at Mr. Palmer’s art and hearing his description of art, the artist or dilettante would be impressed by his creativity, his industry but most importantly his desire to translate what cannot be seen into a concrete work of art.

Story and photos by J.L. Ryan

28 Mar 2013

The Asa Wright Verandah: Surprise Reacquaintances

News of Asa Wright, Visitor News

Barbara Bach and Mary Beecher (now Mary Price) were school friends in Boston long ago. They were in a biology class together. Then they moved on and did not keep in touch. However, the biology they learned was enough to interest them in birds, and both became Bird Watchers, travelling to various destinations to see the birds of the world.

Without their knowing it, both are living in Michgan, and both were looking for a break from the winter storms sweeping the State. Mary and her husband Rick decided to come to the Asa Wright Nature Centre for that escape. Barbara was wondering what to do in the impending Spring Break—although “spring” was nowhere in sight—when her friend, and fellow birder, Gwen Nystuen contacted her and asked if she would like to join a group going to the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad. Barbara jumped at the chance.

And so, one morning on the verandah overlooking the Arima valley, with the birds they love all around them, they recognised each other and renewed a friendship which distance and time had interrupted!

And that is typical of the serendipity of Asa Wright and her Verandah! While, to our knowledge, these are the first school friends to connect years later at Spring Hill, we have had the pleasure of seeing others who reconnected with birders they had met two, five or more years ago in Africa, Central America or the Far East! Such is the family of birders worldwide—their paths can cross anywhere in the world, just as Barbara’s and Mary’s had at Asa Wright.

We were delighted to entertain Barbara, Mary and their family and friends, and learn of the happy coincidence that brought two school friends together after many years apart.

 

22 Mar 2013

Volunteers on the Move

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

 

On Saturday 19th January, 2013, we welcomed a group of 22 student volunteers from Bishop Anstey and Trinity College East (BATCE) Environmental Club who came to work at Asa Wright Nature Centre. The task assigned was an upgrade to our Adventure Trail, which is the most challenging of our several Nature Trails.

Our Winston Rojas, who is an Honorary Game Warden, led the group along the trail through the forest. The mission ahead of us was to mark off certain areas on the trail, to ensure that it was easy to follow, and to construct supports where the trail was very steep. This was done with rope tied between trees along the trail, and by placing posts where the trees were at some distance from the trail.

The young men in the group were responsible for carrying and putting down the posts at certain intervals along the way. The ladies were in charge of untangling and running the ropes and tying them to the posts or trees. As we made our way through the trail, we ourselves utilised the rope-railings we had just installed.

While going along the path we took the opportunity to share information and point out interesting sightings. We saw the rear end of a Bellbird in flight, and markings on the trail left from a wild hog.

A Blue Morpho butterfly kept showing glimpses of itself from time to time; the students were very happy to see her. We were having so much fun along the way that we didn’t even notice when we ran out of rope! To wrap things up on the trails, we decided to take the group to see the pool on Bamboo Valley trail. They absolutely enjoyed the ambience and then it was time for lunch.

Afterwards we had a sharing activity and each student was presented with a certificate of appreciation for their hard work and for enhancing the environment. We look forward to future collaborations with this group.

If you are interested in volunteering with us please do let us know!

 By Denise Etienne

Photos courtesy: Ms. Hutton & BATCE Environmental Club

19 Mar 2013

Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

 

The Red-breasted Blackbird could not have had a more self-explanatory name. The males are exactly what you would picture: black with a brilliant red breast and throat. The females, on the other hand, may be a bit more difficult to identify. They are brown, streaked and have but a stain of light red on their underparts. The female’s association with a nearby mate is probably the easiest way to confidently identify it by sight. Males like to be seen, often occupying a prominent perch, while the retiring females may perch on a post or tuft of grass, or linger in the grass.

Recognising the call of the Red- breasted Blackbird can be an easier task. In a savannah, marsh or open grassland, listen for its song–a staccato chirp followed by a longer, somewhat metallic squeak. When on display, it gives a rattling call as it parachutes to the ground.

The Red-breasted Blackbird has only been occasionally seen in Tobago but is a permanent dweller of the aforementioned low-lying areas in Trinidad. Here, where it is also known as the Trinidad Robin, it breeds from March to December. This blackbird is also found in central and northern South America as far as Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

The 18 cm long Trinidad Robin eats a variety of insects along with rice and grass seeds. It makes a cup-shaped nest of fine grass and at times, plant down. The average clutch has between two to four eggs.

This member of the Icteridae family (American orioles and blackbirds) species is often parasitised by the Shiny Cowbird. Look out for this blackbird and you can decide which common name suits it best –the Soldier Bird, Trinidad Robin or Red- breasted Blackbird.

– J.L. Ryan

 

References:

 

16 Mar 2013

Following-up on Community meeting…

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

 

On the 17th January, 2013 The Asa Wright Nature Centre hosted a follow-up Community meeting in the Mango room. This meeting was convened to further the discussion hosted in December when Ms. Sasha Jattansingh of GEF/UNDP outlined the potentials for funding certain community initiatives. The meeting was chaired by Steve Maximay, Agricultural Consultant and current Chair of the Board’s Sustainable Management Committee. Mr. Maximay emphasised the desire of Asa Wright Nature Centre to partner with communities on various projects that would help stabilise their area and help keep the valleys pristine. From the meeting, we had a wide array of project ideas including:

  • Utilising the ever popular bamboo to make furniture and other crafts
  • Enhancing the trail to Advocat 
waterfalls
  • Developing an agro-tourism project
  • Constructing huge recyclable bins
  • Possible boat tours from Blanchisseuse fishing village to Paria Bay

Participants were encouraged to begin the goals and the methodologies so that these could be fine-tuned for eventual their project proposals by describing presentation to GEF UNDP.

 

11 Mar 2013

Historic Day

News of Asa Wright

Celebrating the signing–Ruben McSween, Dr. Judi Gobin, Fred Gilkes, Dr. Carol James,
Akilah Jaramogi, Fyard Hosein.

Saturday 19th January. 2013 was an historic day for the Asa Wright Nature Centre, in that individual Trustees were appointed to manage the legal and corporate affairs of the Centre. In the past, we had always been served by a Corporate Trustee, but this was recently changed.

Three eminent citizens accepted the invitation of the Board to serve as the Trustees of the Centre. These are Ms. Akilah Jaramogi, Environmentalist, Forestry Project Manager; Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, Attorney at Law; and Mr. Ruben McSween, Finance and Business Executive.

These people bring to our Trust the three most important skills needed to carry out the Mission of the Asa Wright nature Centre, and we welcome them as our new Trustees.

The preparation of the necessary Following the signing, the Trustees met

documentation was done by Mr. Frederick Gilkes of Caribbean Commercial Law Chambers.

with Dr. Judi Gobin and Dr.Carol James, along with Frederick Gilkes, for lunch at the Buzo Restaurant in Port of Spain.

 

Celebrating the signing–Ruben McSween, Dr. Judi Gobin, Fred Gilkes, Dr. Carol James, Akilah Jaramogi, Fyard Hosein.