Conservation & Education News

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 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

01 Jan 2010

Our Harold Diaz leads Photography Contest

Conservation & Education News

Resident Guide Harold Diaz celebrated his success in the recently completed EOG Amateur Bird Photography Competition on December 15, 2009. Harold, a long- time lover/conservator of nature, has within recent years pursued his interest in the photography of native wildlife, especially birds regularly featured in many of the Centre’s publications including this monthly newsletter. His combined interest in nature and photography has been recognised through his accomplishment of winning six out of the twelve positions in the competition.
For his entire life Harold lived within the beautiful rainforest of Aripo Village (much like that which exists at the Centre), and recently developed an interest in and talent for capturing the brilliance of many resident species of wildlife, particularly the bird life in the northern range. Most of his photos display each animal’s true character, often illustrating its behaviour and the multifaceted colours. This is the second annual competition put on by EOG Resources, a multinational oil and natural gas company with offshore natural gas investments in Trinidad and Tobago.
The EOG Amateur Bird Photography Competition emphasises the company’s commitment to the promotion and preservation of Trinidad and Tobago’s flora and fauna, while acknowledging and rewarding the photographic talents of local enthusiasts. All 12 award-winning photographs are images of native birds. Of these six were taken by Harold.
Each of the 12 photos is now featured in the EOG Resources 2010 Calendar. It is a beautiful collection of some of Trinidad and Tobago’s birds with corresponding profiles on each winning photographer. The Board, Management and Staff of the Asa Wright Nature Centre congratulate Harold Diaz on his success and encourage him in his future pursuits in wildlife photography. He has done us proud!
January 2010

01 Jan 2010

Simla gets a breath of fresh air

Conservation & Education News

In early December, the William Beebe Tropical Research Station, also called Simla*, opened its doors to over a dozen young adults from various local academic institutions. Participants included students of Arima North Secondary, UWI, SBCS and Valsayn Teachers’ College.
The exercise titled A BREATH OF FRESH AIR was aimed at increasing local awareness and interest in research at Simla. As a globally recognised field station, Simla has made significant contribution to the field of natural science over the past 60 years, while surmounting considerable challenges. A participative approach, facilitated by manageable group size, was used for both the field research and the volunteer exercise.
With limited water, volunteers met the challenge of the first exercise which involved general cleaning of the main building. Members of the FIBR (Foundations in Integrative Biological Research) Guppy Research Project of the University of California, Riverside then held the undivided attention of the volunteers as they walked them through their evolutionary studies of freshwater fish, Poecilia reticulata (the Trinidad guppy). Many students admitted to having been totally unaware of Simla’s existence or contribution to conservation through research.
What was even more encouraging was the commitment made by participants to continue to volunteer their time and effort for the advancement of research and the wise management of the natural environment by locals. To see where it all began, participants made their way four miles northward along the Arima-Blanchisseuse road. Their destination: Asa Wright Nature Centre’s parent holding, Springhill Estate, the ideal location to strategise on the way forward. At Asa Wright we look forward to strengthened collaboration between all supporting institutions and their anticipated success.
*Simla in the Arima Valley was named by Dr. William Beebe after the Simla Mountains in the Himalayas, once home to this famed naturalist.
January 2010

01 Jan 2010

Another successful Christmas Bird Count

Conservation & Education News

December 28, 2009 was very productive day, with no rain, and clear skies encountered for most areas. A total of 57 participants in seven initial groups were engaged in the field from 5.45 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. A total of 178 species representing 5,589 individuals were recorded on the count. The Asa Wright Nature Centre wishes to thank all participants for making the Christmas Bird Count another successful one and we look forward to your continued participation and generous assistance in future counts. The table below gives the species count by area. Areas No. of Species
A – Wallerfield/ Arena 110
B – Las Lapas 79
C – Caroni Swamp/Plains 50
D – Caura 72
E – Lopinot 52
F – Asa Wright 66
G – Maracas Valley 55
H – La Laja (AM only) 52
I – Aripo Livestock (Night Birding) 07
Some highlights of the count were: • The return of the Blue Capped Tanagers (last recorded in 1984) to the CBC • Low numbers of Cattle Egrets (104) • A Cocoi Heron in Livestock Farm • No Gallinules in this count • Grassland Yellow Finches seem to be doing well in Livestock Farm area • No Piratic Flycatchers in this count • Manakin and Honeycreeper numbers are up again for this count Access to eTeck park remains prohibited, hence the low numbers of Red-Bellied Macaws. Somewhat low species numbers for the Asa Wright Centre grounds. No p.m. session was done for La Laja.
January 2010

01 Dec 2009

Directors reaffirm mandate for Northern Range Preservation

Conservation & Education News

The Board of Directors held their Annual General Meeting at the Centre on November 6 and 7, and passed a resolution reaffirming the Centre’s mandate to protect the world-renowned wildlife resources of Trinidad’s Northern Range. This resolution was considered necessary given the ongoing destruction of forests in the Arima valley by quarrying interests, and housing and development in other valleys.
Quarrying in the Arima valley has encroached into Simla’s lands, and the world famous William Beebe Tropical Research Station is now surrounded by noisy, dirty quarries. The spring which supplied water to the station for 60 years has dried up as a result of landslips caused by the quarrying.
Another, government-owned quarry has cut a huge scar into the hillside in the valley across from the Asa Wright verandah, clearly visible to all of our guests. Dynamite blasts are seen and heard from the verandah, and the destruction continues, as forests, water sources and wildlife habitats are destroyed.
The Board has noted that the country has not placed adequate value on its natural resources, and is moving forward with a campaign to sensitise the government and citizens generally about the tremendous value that should be assigned to our forests, water sources and wildlife. Indeed, the survival of the Asa Wright Nature Centre depends upon the successful pursuit of this campaign.
The Centre is also enlisting assistance from our many international affiliates and friends
December 2009

01 Nov 2009

West Indian Tobacco Co. plants thousands of trees at Aripo & Asa Wright Nature Centre

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

On Friday October 23 more than 100 staff members of the West Indian Tobacco Company and several invited guests gathered at Spring Hill to plant the final lot of 9,000 tree seedlings. Earlier in the year, the company had approached the Centre with a proposal to offset their industrial carbon emissions by planting 9,000 trees.
In need of a partner to provide the land space and to ensure the
trees were protected, the company chose Asa Wright.
Over 8,000 trees were planted at our L’Orange Estate in the Aripo valley by persons hired from Aripo Village by West Indian Tobacco. Asa Wright, through Education and Outreach Officer Kenneth Fournillier and
Conservation Officer Atkin Isaac, advised the company on the selection of suitable trees and on the planting methods and sequences. The final 500 trees were selected fruit trees planted at Spring Hill by the volunteers
who arrived early enough to enjoy breakfast among the birds on the verandah. They were then taken to the Jonnie Fisk Conference Centre where the volunteers were addressed by AWNC Chairman Dr. Carol James, West Indian Tobacco’s Operations Director Mr. Sheldon Taitt, and Member of Parliament for Arima, the Honourable Pennelope Beckles. Dr. James, in welcoming the initiative, explained why the Centre had accepted the offer to partner with West Indian Tobacco on this conservation exercise. She called for more local companies to live up to this level of stewardship over the natural environment and adopt similar initiatives. Mr. Taitt spoke of his company’s commitment to “neutralising their carbon footprint” with this exercise, and thanked Asa Wright for accepting and assisting the project.
Describing herself as “Member of Parliament for the Northern Range,” Honourable Pennelope Beckles declared her pleasure at having this project come to her constituency, and for the choice of hiring young people from Aripo to plant and nurture the trees until they can sustain themselves. Following the addresses, the gathering was shown a video presentation of the tree-planting exercise, from concept to completion, before all walking out through the rain to plant the final 500 trees. All outfitted in bright yellow T-shirts supplied by West
Indian Tobacco, 120 people, including Ms. Beckles and Dr. James, walked the length of the driveway to plant the fruit trees along the Arima Blanchiesseuse Road.
November 2009

01 Sep 2009

UTC volunteers clear trails at ASa Wright

Conservation & Education News

Staff of the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC), in a continuing effort to exercise their Corporate Social Responsibility, performed volunteer trail-clearing work on the Asa Wright Spring Hill Estate during the weekends from May 31 to July 25, 2009. An estimated 250 UTC staff members (just under half of the company’s entire staff) participated in this year’s programme. All branch offices (except from Tobago) were represented, with most participants having visited before on private trips, some having made their first visit during the company’s first volunteer programme in 2008. During the clean-up sessions, groups averaging 30 persons were lead into the forest and overseen by Mr. Winston Rojas, who they all claimed was very informative, professional and helpful. His assistance was essential to the programme’s overall success. Clearance of the Centre’s ten-mile network of trails was UTC clears trails at Asa Wright done with some volunteers commenting that it was their first time in the rainforest. UTC’s Marketing Assistant Ms. Denise Artherton, who coordinated the programme, was in high praise of the work conducted at the Centre and communicated that it was a rewarding experience for everyone involved. This exercise, she said, is just one of a series of UTC’s Corporate Social programmes pursued around the country, Management and Staff of the Asa Wright Nature Centre are exceedingly grateful to the Unit Trust Corporation and thank them for the tremendous volunteer work done over the programme’s last two cycles, and look forward to hosting them again in the future.UTC volunteers clear trails at AWNC.
September 2009