News of Asa Wright

25 Dec 2012

Tribute to David Stradling

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Myrmecologist (ant researcher), Conservationist and Science Educator

Asa Wright lost another ole friend with the recent passing, in England, of Professor David Stradling.

He was as much at home in Trinidad as he was in his native land, England. In fact, Professor Stradling took up residence in Trinidad to lecture Ecology and Entomology at the UWI St. Augustine Campus for almost a decade. On his return to England he took up an appointment at Exeter University where he worked until retirement. He subsequently became the Chairman of the Whitley Wildlife Trust in 2001, after serving as a trustee for 20 years. As Chair, he oversaw the developments that transformed Paignton into one of the most modern zoos in Europe. He also established a science department in the zoo and was passionate about the role and future of zoo-based research.

As an entomologist by training, He published widely on entomology including the effects of magnetic fields on wood ants, the ecology of hawkmoths (Sphingids) and the behavioural ecology of arboreal tarantulas. He is best known however, for work on fascinating leaf-cutter ants (Attini) locally referred to as “Bacchac” which he studied at the William Beebe Tropical Research Station/ Simla (www.wbtrs.org) Trinidad. Linking his love of Paignton Zoo and Trinidad, in 2010 he led a search for the endemic, critically endangered golden tree frog (Phyllodytes auratus), known from only two peaks, with the aim of developing a conservation programme through the work of the zoo.

His interest in our fauna and culture never waned and in a recent paper he documented that the ‘eye-spots’ on the underside of Caligo ‘Owl’ butterflies wings, represent the eyes of the ubiquitous neotropical Turnip-tail Gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda) i.e. a lizard, and not the eyes of an ‘owl’. This was the subject of a paper authored by Dr. Victor Quesnel in the most recent issue of our local scientific journal Living World.

Dave’s approach to science was a fine mix of pragmatism, realism and optimism. His life is a reminder that, as scientists, there is much that we can and should do outside the lab. We salute Professor David Stradling.

 

Contributors:

  • R. I. Hernandez -AWNC
  • A. Isaac – AWNC
  • Adam G. Hart – University of Gloucestershire
18 Dec 2012

Rufous-breaster Hermit (Glaucis Hirsutus)

Conservation & Education News, Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

 

Photo by M.K. Ravishanka

 

The Rufous-breasted Hermit is found from Panama to the north of South America as well as Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada. Trinidad and Tobago can boast of three hermits and in terms of size, the Rufous-breasted runs exactly in the middle of the pack. It is about 11 cm long with a curved bill that is about one third of its body length.

To identify this hermit one must look for the rufous underparts and the rounded, white-tipped tail. Thelong,pointedwhite-tippedtailwhichis characteristic of larger Green Hermit is markedly missinginthisspecies. Thegreenfeathersonthe upperparts of the Rufous-breasted Hermit have a bronze overtone.

The only Hermit found on Tobago, the Rufous- breasted is known to curiously observe onlookers as close as a few feet away. It favours the understorey where it regularly drinks nectar from Heliconia and Etlingera elatior (Torch Ginger). Nests, which are hammock-like and made of rootlets, are normally attached to the underside of Heliconia leaves, small palm fronds or ferns. These nests are commonly placed alongside streams, roadsides, forest borders and overgrown coffee and cocoa plantations. Males aggressively defend the nests. Also called the Hairy Hermit, this small avian also eats small insects and spiders.

This seldom-heard hummingbird can nest up to four times in one season. In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded from December to August but nesting success is low, about 0.17 %, according to Richard Ffrench. Snakes are major predators of these birds.

Currently, the Rufous-breasted Hermit can be seen at Asa Wright Nature Centre either along the trails or at our verandah feeders.

– J.L. Ryan
 

References:

  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
11 Dec 2012

Ready for Your Cup

Tropical Nature News

 

If you’ve been to Asa Wright, you have almost certainly enjoyed our coffee. You will find it, percolating for you on the verandah before 6:00 a.m. each morning, just after the birds’ songs have pulled you out of bed!

And you probably know that the coffee you are drinking is grown right here on the Spring Hill Estate. Indeed, it never leaves here, unless you purchase a bag or two and take them away with you. Our coffee is picked, dried, roasted and ground right here on the premises before you enjoy that early morning treat, sipping it to the sounds of Antshrikes and orange- winged parrots while you watch the mists rising in the valley below, as you hope to sight some Toucans!

You are drinking our Organically-grown Robusta Coffee which is sold – only in our gift shop – under the brand name “Mountain Ebony”. Our coffee trees are growing on the slope above the driveway, accessed by a partly-hidden trail beyond the Clearwater Pool. The trail switches back and forth across the steep portion of the slope and then opens up to a relatively clear area filled with coffee and miscellaneous fruit trees. The trees put out beautifully scented, white flowers before the beans appear along the branches. The green beans turn to red and then to a deep claret colour when they are ready for picking.

When picked, the beans are dried in one of our cocoa houses for about four weeks, before they are “hulled” and then roasted and ground, ready for your cup!

 

04 Dec 2012

Minister of Tourism visits Asa Wright

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

The Minister of Tourism, Honourable Stephen Cadiz, visited the Asa Wright Nature Centre on Monday 22nd October, and spent five hours re-familiarising himself with our verandah, birds and nature trails. And it was only natural that he would come to Spring Hill, given that government’s recently announced tourism thrust would be directed at Nature, or Eco Tourism, and Sports Tourism. And as we all proudly know, the Asa Wright Nature Centre was the first, and remains the flagship example of sustainable eco-tourism in Trinidad and Tobago.

Addressing board members and staff in the Mango Room, Minister Cadiz reinforced government’s commitment to developing and enhancing the country’s undeniable eco-tourism potential. He acknowledged the pioneering work of the Centre in this regard, and indicated that government would assist with Asa Wright’s international marketing, and with some of our requests for facility upgrades.

The Minister planted a “Powder-puff” tree (Caliandra surinamensis) in the vicinity of our new Photographers’ Blind. He then met some of our visitors on the verandah before being taken on a guided walk down the Discovery Trail to see, particularly, our manakins and Bell Birds. Standing in the forest, hearing only the birds and the rushing streams, Mr. Cadiz would have appreciated the value of our mission to preserve these areas.

The visit concluded, suitably, with a hearty lunch of Asa Wright’s renowned local cuisine.

 

Minister Cadiz and AWNC Chair Dr. Judith Gobin planting tree

02 Nov 2012

New Resident At Spring Hill

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Cascabel ready to strike at bats disturbed by our entry into the cocoa house.

We recently acknowledged what appears to be the permanent status of a new arrival at Spring Hill. A beautiful large Cooks Tree Boa, (“Cascabel” in local parlance) seems to have taken up residence in one of our cocoa drying houses.

We have not yet determined its gender, because we do not want to “capture” and possibly distress it, but this approximately 7 feet (2 meters) long, yellowish, non- venomous boa constrictor lives up under the apex of the rolling roof. It comes out on top of the roof ridge most mornings for a brief spell in the sun, before

returning inside. It has been seen striking at the bats which share the cocoa house, so we believe that it has no reason whatever to move on.

This cocoa house practically abuts the new photographers’ Blind which we have just opened, so both the Cascabel, and its chosen diet of bats are on hand to “pose’ for the photographers who wish to capture them on film!

And for those of you who really do not like snakes—or bats!–, please do not be concerned. You will not see these creatures on your visits to Spring Hill unless you ask to be taken to the cocoa house!

 

The same snake enjoying the sun on top of the roof, note the head turned back into the picture.

 

29 Oct 2012

Red-crowned Ant Tanager (Habia rubica)

Conservation & Education News, Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Red-Crowned Ant Tanager by Pierre Yves-Bilat.

The Red-crowned Ant Tanager, identified by the scarlet stripe on its crown, is found throughout central and northern South America. The male with red crown and brownish-red coat of feathers, can claim responsibility for inspiring the species name. Conversely, the female is yellow-brown with a sand-coloured coronal stripe.

Although timid, Red-crowned Ant Tanagers are inquisitive dwellers of the forest understory where they forage for insects. They occasionally follow bands of army ants, hence their name. Whenever excited, they display the red crown in the form of a raised crest. In Trinidad, the males can be confused with female Silver-beaked Tanagers, but their red crown and discordant, grating call give them away, although they are good at staying out of view. Those vocalisations are sometimes followed by a sweet “pee-pee-pee.”

These birds commonly mix with other species and are known to build shallow cup nests, usually near streams. At a length of eighteen centimetres, the oft-hidden Red-crowned Ant Tanager is a true beauty.

– J.L. Ryan

References:

  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991

 

24 Oct 2012

A Special Photographer’s Corner

Visitor News

 

Honeycreeper discovers new food source. Photos by Kenneth Fournillie.

 

In June this year, in their ongoing efforts to introduce new visitors to the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Caligo Ventures Tours brought some special people to Spring Hill.
This was a group of professional nature photographers who came to Trinidad and Tobago to assess the potential for serious nature photography in our islands, and especially at Spring Hill. They were very impressed with what we had to offer on the islands and particularly at Spring Hill.
One suggestion was made for a sheltered location where serious photography could be pursued. While on the Asa Wright verandah the observer can view the birds intimately, photographers had to share the space with others, including, sometimes, casual visitors.
So, responding to this concern, and to create a very special place for the professional nature photographers to work protected from the sun or rain, we searched the surroundings for an ideal site to build acovered Photographers’ Blind. Along with Larry and Mark of Caligo, and with help from Board Member Raymond Mendes, a location was selected at the back of our two cocoa- drying houses. This site, while within the main estate compound, is secluded enough not to attract the average or casual visitor, and thus gives considerable privacy to photographers using the shelter. It was also a place with a great diversity of bird and small animal life – even before we enhanced the surrounding foliage with plants and trees to bring in more birds and animals. The plywood shelter, built by our maintenance staff, and kindly funded by Board Member Courtney Buechert, measures 16 feet by 20 feet, and is set about 2 feet off the ground on the railings of one of the cocoa houses. It offers three views: to an adjacent flower-covered earth bank where two Mot Mots are nesting; across an open grassed area and into a mix of foliage which has been enhanced to attract more birds. Head Guide Mukesh Ramdass and Gardener Bharath Rambaran selected and transplanted the foliage, and built new feeding stations. These are already attracting a wide selection of birds and small animals. We look forward to seeing the photographs which will be shot from our new and dedicated Photographers’ Blind.

 

"Simple but effective." The new photographic shelter.

 

19 Oct 2012

A Gift From The Asa Wright Nature Centre’s Past

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

The Common Potoo in 1937, Picture by Kenneth Fournillier of Ray Johnson’s original photograph.

Joselynne Carr Sealey is a friend of the Asa Wright Nature, and with excellent credentials! She is the daughter of the late Andrew Carr, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s best known naturalists, and sister to Dr. Thomas Carr, who served as President of the Asa Wright Nature Centre from 1996 to 1998.

Andrew Carr is credited with saving the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Society in 1926, when it was losing membership and interest locally. He went on to serve as the Society’s Secretary until 1976.

Andrew apparently loved the wilderness, and explored the forests of the Northern Range with like-minded persons. Recently, Joselynne discovered, among Andrew’s belongings, a photograph of a Common Potoo, locally called “poor-me-one” because of its soft wailing call, taken in the forests in 1937!

Joselynne called the Centre and offered us this historic photograph, which is pictured at left.

Taken by a Ray Johnson, who Joselynne believes was an expatriate surveyor working in Trinidad, this is indeed a special view of this unusual bird. The photograph now hangs in the main House at Spring Hill, and we ask visitors to check one of our earliest bird-life photographs.

Thank you Joselynne for kindly donating this to the Centre!

16 Oct 2012

How the Visitors Rate Us

News of Asa Wright, Visitor News

Trip Advisor is a social medium for travelers worldwide to rate their experiences. Contributors speak from their hearts, and never pull their punches on either good or bad experiences. Asa Wright has good reason to be proud of this Vote of Confidence coming from the people who visit us.

 

12 Oct 2012

Internships — The Next Generation

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

Gerana Alfonso.

While we work to develop an interest in the environment among the very young, we are keenly aware of the need for continuity. Asa Wright has developed partnerships with the University of the West Indies, University of Trinidad & Tobago and with the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry. Students and recent graduates can thus assist as interns at Asa Wright. This year, we were pleased to welcome back Gerana Alfonso, who had spent time with us in 2011, and Christiphire Kelly, who both came to participate in our Camp Safari and other projects this year.

Christiphire is a BSc (UWI) graduate in Agribusiness Management (2012), and part of UWI’s AGBU 2008 Internship programme. She spent eight weeks at Spring Hill, working mostly on the Camp Safari and the Tour & Explore projects.

Gerana, our returning intern, is now an undergraduate at the UWI.

We wish Christiphire and Gerana all the best in their careers in nature, and look forward to working with them in the future.

 

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