News of Asa Wright

20 Jul 2012

White-flanked Antwren

Creature Feature, Tropical Nature News

White-flanked Antwren (Myrmotherula axillaris)


The White-flanked Antwren is one of the most widespread species of its kind and is one of the most common in the lowland forests of the Orinoco. Its range extends from southern Honduras to Bolivia and eastern Brazil and, of course, Trinidad.

The males and females of this tiny 4-inched bird are dissimilar. Males are dark grey to black with white polka dots at the top of the wings. The edge of their tails appear to have been dipped in white. On the other hand, females are brown with yellowish underparts and rufous wings. The faint dots on their wings are barely noticeable. However, they have white flanks as do their male counterparts. For those who are unsure, flanks are the sides of a bird’s belly which are just below its wings.
An inhabitant of our primary and secondary forests, the antwren’s flanks are seen as flickers of white. It twitches its wings while foraging for its choice of insects and other small arthropods.
This antwren can also be heard chuckling rapidly, Chew- chew-cheew or whistling a high-pitched queep. It often follows flocks of other species, including antbirds and other antwrens.
Our tiny avian friend breeds from April to August and makes cup nests from leaves. Listen carefully for its song the next time you are at Asa Wright.

16 Jul 2012

CANARI Outreach at Asa Wright

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

Participants of the workshop (photos by Kenneth Fournillier)

The Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) three-day workshop on communication, networking and building partnerships was recently held at our rainforest retreat, Asa Wright Nature Centre. On the first day, workshop leader Ms. Celeste Chariandy, introduced the session by telling us the best ways to “sell” our groups. The community groups present hailed from Aripo, Blanchisseuse and Brasso Seco, three villages in which CANARI is carrying out ongoing work.

We discussed the elements and types of communication and networking. Several entertaining and educational activities were used to help us understand the material being taught. Attempting to get someone standing in a specific corner using only signs, speaking or writing is harder than you think.

On day two we were privileged to listen to Mr. Dennis Sammy, president of Nature Seekers, as he chronicled the group’s development. He provided refreshing insight on leadership and networking. The advice that truly stood out was that to improve one’s group, one must start by improving oneself. This talk was followed by more interactive activities while Asa Wright’s culinary delights provided the energy for us to remain alert.

The final day was one of re-examination of communication methods that have been successful and continue to be challenging for the community groups. Participants used a video presentation, Power Point presentation and a skit to get these messages across. Among the group presenters was Asa Wright’s Mr. Kenneth Fournillier, president of the Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT). Representatives from organisations such as IICA, UNDP, CDF and the CCIB, who witnessed these presentations, were able to address questions from the community groups.

Many persons left the workshop with a renewed sense of communication and its benefits thanks to CANARI facilitators Ms. Chariandy and Ms. Sandy.


13 Jul 2012

Creature Feature: Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Tropical Mockingbird photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures


The Tropical Mocking bird is a member of the Mimidae family, Mockingbirds and Thrashers, which are restricted to the New World. Although it is indeed a mockingbird it is not known to do what you would expect: mimic the calls of other species, but it shares other features of the same family.

The talented singer has quite a musical repertoire, which is unique to its species. The enthusiastic and oft repeated melodic phrases are sometimes likened to certain human phrases. The interpretations of these songs are as varied as the places in which the bird is found: southern Mexico to northern South America to the Lesser Antilles. Apart from whistling a tune, the Mockingbird can cluck and wheeze.

This graceful bird, just about ten inches, yellow eyes, black bill, white eyestripes and ashen plumage (grey upperparts and whitish underparts), will aggressively defend its territory, having the impudence to chase off larger birds and lizards. It forages near or on the ground, runs swiftly, and stops suddenly with its tail pointed up.

The Tropical Mockingbird eats insects, small vertebrates and likes fruits as much as you and I do. It makes a bowl-shaped nest out of twigs and normally lays two to three pale blue green eggs with brown spots. In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in all months except August and December.

If you live in the suburbs, its delightful song will make you look up to a telephone line or fruit tree where you’ll see the Mockingbird perched.

– J.L. Ryan


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

New Sightings: Peccaries In The Stream

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Photo of a peccary by Stephen Broadbridge


Recent visitors would have noticed, as you come down the driveway, a newly cleared area, through which the Arima River flows. This is being cleared to open the area for planting some big trees to create a high canopy over the stream. But it also brought some interesting “visitors”. One mid-morning in late March, gardener Ranbarran Bharath went to check the trees he had planted, and met two collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) in the stream! Known locally as Quenk, these two did not appear concerned at human presence, and walked slowly off through the bamboo.

Naturally we are all delighted at the increasing number of animal species being sighted at Spring Hill over the past few months.


05 Jul 2012

BEAT Develops Sustainable Sea Moss Supply

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

This mural entitled ‘The Washerwoman’ which was illustrated by Kenneth Fournillier, was done to commemorate the Blanchisseuse Sea Moss Project. It represents the culture of the Blanchisseuse community.


The Blanchisseuse Environmental Art Trust (BEAT) is an organisation closely aligned with the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Our Education and Outreach Officer, Kenneth Fournillier, is also the President of BEAT, and is involved with Community Outreach and Project Development among the Blanchisseuse community. The village sits on the coast at the end of the Arima Blanchisseuse Road, and is one of the better known birding areas for our visitors. The community also supplies us with our fresh fish, and soon might be providing us with Sea Moss.

“Sea Moss” is a popular health and restorative drink in the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Tobago it is made from special seaweed which grows along the underwater and tidal rock faces in the Blanchisseuse area of the North Coast. Sea Moss cultivation and marketing at the community and small entrepreneurial level provides a living for many persons who harvest and dry the seaweed before selling it to small shopkeepers who blend it with milk to sell as “Sea Moss Punch”. The particular moss for this drink is Gelidicius serrulatum which only grows on a stretch of coast between Las Cuevas and Toco. As demand created over-harvesting of the moss along this stretch of coast, BEAT, along with others, approached CANARI (Caribbean Natural Resources Institute) for help in developing a more sustainable “crop” of the moss. Working along with the Institute of Marine Affairs and others, BEAT began recording and assessing data on harvesting times and techniques in order to develop a more sustainable and constantly available “crop” of Sea Moss.

The BEAT group with members of the UNDP smile at the launching ceremony of the mural.

One of the important findings was that Sea Moss cut at its base grew back faster than sea moss pulled by its roots from the rock surfaces. Other practices were developed to enhance the regrowth of the moss, and the word was spread to other coastal communities, so that they could benefit from the knowledge gained. Sea Moss production is expected to increase through the North Coast, and parlours and restaurants expect a continuing supply to make and market the popular Sea Moss Punch islandwide.


Making Sea Moss Punch


  • 1 lb dried Sea Moss
  • 2 limes
  • 250 ml packet evaporated milk
  • 1 tin condensed milk
  • 2 tsp. Angostura Bitters
  • 1 stick cinnamon bark
  • Water and sugar to consistency and taste


Clean the dried moss, then soak in lime juice for 12 hours (to remove the “fresh” taste), wash and boil with the cinnamon until the mixture becomes gelatinous. Remove the cinnamon and blend and strain. When cool, add the evaporated and the condensed milk, blend again with bitters, and add sugar to taste. Leave to cool and serve with ice.

25 Jun 2012

Sun comes out for Spring Nuptials

News of Asa Wright, Visitor News

Germaine Hospedales exchanged marriage vows with Joseph Hopkins.

Although it has been a rainy dry season up at Spring Hill, the sun shone through on Wednesday 4th as Germaine Hospedales exchanged marriage vows with Joseph Hopkins. This happy couple had their morning Wedding Ceremony conducted on the beautiful Asa Wright Verandah, with about thirty-five family members and close friends present. Blessed with sunshine and the beautiful panoramic view down the Arima Valley, the formal ceremony then moved out to the beautiful Jade Vine Arbor for the reception.
In a setting decorated with the naturally beautiful hanging Jade Vine flowers, and exquisite cut wild flowers from the Spring Hill gardens, the happy couple entertained their guests at a luncheon prepared and served by the Asa Wright Staff.
We believe that weddings celebrated at Spring Hill will result in long and happy marriages! We wish Joseph and Germaine every blessing, and hope that they will return to enjoy our setting and hospitality on their future Anniversaries!


17 May 2012

White-necked Thrush (Turdus albicollis)

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News



The White-necked Thrush is seldom seen in its mountain forest habitat. It ensconces itself in the nooks and crannies of the forest while still being clearly heard. It can also be likened to a blues singer for it whistles, a sad but melodious tune. Its song is one of the first to be heard on an early morning in our rainforest. The Thrush often calls from the undergrowth which it frequents.

Olive-brown feathers on the upperparts of the White-necked Thrush contrast with light grey feathers underneath it. This bird has a brown and white streaked upper throat and a clear white lower throat. The light grey colour of the belly fades to white at the bird’s posterior. The White-necked Thrush measures eight inches and is found in Central and South America, in areas east of the Andes.

On a quiet walk through Springhill Estate the White-necked Thrush may be seen hopping along our trails and even perched on our hand rails. However, it hardly allows you get close to it. This Thrush eats fruit as well as invertebrates from the ground. Its breeding season peaks between March and June.

Amid the rainforest, tracking down the White-necked Thrush can be both challenging and rewarding especially when one gets a peek of the bird, camouflaged among the foliage.

– J.L. Ryan



  • Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. Princeton University Press. 2003.

  • ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Cornell University Press. 1991
17 May 2012

Dr. Gobin in Major Environmental Policy Change

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright


Shortly after the Government announced a freeze on NQL’s expansion and the proposed re-planting of trees, AWNC was invited by the Minister of Housing and the Environment, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, to attend a private “round table” discussion on quarrying and the environment. This was followed by a public signing of a document restoring quarry controls to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).

Both events were held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Monday 19th March. The round table discussion was hosted by Dr. Moonilal and Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine. Other participants included the EMA, Council of Presidents’ of the Environment (COPE), Trini Eco Warriors, Forestry Division, and quarrying interests, as well as Dr. Judith Gobin for AWNC.

Each group was given a hearing by the Ministers, and most spoke of the need to have better controls on quarrying, and he need to minimise quarrying of the Northern Range. While the quarrying interests supported their activities, Dr. Gobin was firm in her statements about the potential damage done to our environment by quarrying activities and urged stronger controls.

The “round table” then moved into another room at the Hyatt to meet the media and to witness the formal signing of the document to restore quarrying controls to the EMA. Dr. Gobin spoke at this event, and expressed the deepest gratitude of the AWNC and environmentalists for the recent decisions of the Government, and the overwhelming support received on this issue.

The AWNC anticipates urgent implementation of these landmark decisions by government to stem the unacceptable rate of degradation witnessed around the country from quarrying.

17 May 2012

The Challenge To Save The Hills

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright


Guardians of Mother Earth – AWNC CEO Veronica Simon-Wallace, Chairman Dr. Judith Gobin, Former Chairman Dr. Carol James (in front of mural painted by AWNC’s Community Outreach Officer Kenneth Fournillier). Photo by Kenneth Fournillier.


All the friends of the Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) are aware of the quarrying activities down the valley at Verdant Vale. The four limestone quarries there create massive scars in the forested hillsides. We continue to lobby for better operating procedures and controls on the quarries, in order to minimise their impact on the environment. In one small way we were spared having to gaze into the sores from our verandah. There is a ridge and a line of trees which kept most of the operations hidden from our view.
But that changed early in March. All of a sudden, National Quarries Company Limited (NQL), the Government-owned quarry, sent equipment over the ridge, and began bulldozing a large swathe of hillside, in full view of our verandah. We could even hear the sound of the tractors!
Chairman Dr. Judith Gobin immediately sent a letter to the Minister of Planning and Development, Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, asking who, if anyone, had given NQL permission to expand their operations over the ridge. Others immediately wrote the media, and sent copies to relevant government ministers. All of these letters were posted on Facebook, and a massive outcry was raised against the expanded quarrying.
The reaction from the Government was immediate, and surprising, but warmly welcomed. The Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs, Senator Kevin Ramnarine called immediately to ask if he could visit on Friday 9th March to see the problem. Chairman Gobin and former Chair Dr. Carol James both came up to Spring Hill to meet the Minister and his entourage, which included officials of NQL. The Senator observed the situation from the verandah, and listened to the concerns of Asa Wright. He also heard the arguments from NQL for the expansion. Other government ministers, including Housing and the Environment
Minister Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Works and Infrastructure Minister Jack Warner, and Dr Bhoe Tewarie also expressed their support for Asa Wright’s position.
AWNC held a media conference in the verandah on Monday 12th March. Members of the media saw the destruction of the forest on the mountainside, and learned of the threats to biodiversity, future water supplies and the possibility of guests not wanting to visit in the future.
The media carried the story and our concerns through the week which followed.
On Tuesday 13th March, Dr. Gobin was a guest on CNC3 TV’s Morning programme, where she outlined AWNC’s concerns to the nation. Later that day the Government announced that NQL had been instructed to cease the expansion, return to their original area, and to begin a re-planting exercise to replace the trees felled. But more than this. They announced that the “control” of quarrying nationwide would revert to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), from where it had been moved some four years earlier.
This meant that the overview of all quarrying operations would be conducted by the EMA, in the Ministry of the Environment, and not the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs. This move has received the support of all environmental groups.


Dr. Carol James, Veronica Simon-Wallace, Minister of Energy Senator Kevin Ramnarine, Ag. PS Mr. Richard Oliver, Dr. Judith Gobin, Ag. Director of Minerals Mr. Monty Beharry. Photo by Atkin Isaac.

14 Feb 2012

Whither the Weather

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Just two years ago we wrote, in worry, about “The dry Dry Season”, the extended drought that we were experiencing. Our concern then was about the bush fires becoming forest fires and destroying our forests.

And today, when we should be over a month into the dry season, we are experiencing regular and sometimes heavy rainfall.

Is the weather confused? Or is it just confusing us who probably notice it more than we adapt to it. We are seeing subtle changes in the flowering and fruiting of some of our forest trees. While we are accustomed to seeing the flaming Immortelle flowering at this time, there are some Chaconia blooming as well, and this should not happen until around July.

But we can feel the Dry Season pushing through! The strong northeasterly breezes, the spanking blue sky between the sudden showers, and the fact that the trails underfoot are becoming drier makes this transition period an especially beautiful time to be at Asa Wright.

The forests are cooler, the birds are brighter, and seem to sing more stridently, and the rivers and streams are full, and go crashing down through the valley. It’s a beautiful time to be here with us, so, are you on your way?