Tropical Nature News

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

 

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

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:

 

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
04 Dec 2012

Minister of Tourism visits Asa Wright

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

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

 

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!