Tropical Nature News

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!

05 Oct 2012

Bay-Headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola)

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

In the Trinidad forest, the Bay-headed Tanager is a distinct species, sporting its red ‘bay’ head and grass- green body. The subspecies, which exhibit variations in plumage, range from Costa Rica to Brazil. Some Tanagers may have blue under-parts while others have grass green under-parts. Some species in Trinidad have green bellies with a bluish tinge. All birds on average are 5.5 inches long.

Also named the Tete Cacao, these birds can be found singly or in pairs and even in flocks of mixed species. They forage among the mid to upper canopy for fruit. One favourite of the Bay-headed Tanagers at Springhill is the fruit of the ‘Trema’. Less often, the Bay-headed Tanager will forage for insects.

The Tete Cacao moves along branches in quick movements, stopping ever so often with its head down seeming to observe the berries for which it is searching. Richard Ffrench described the call of the Bay-headed Tanager as a’ rather slow 5-note sequence, seee, see, see, tsou tsouy, the last two notes lower in pitch’ (Birds, 368). At Asa Wright, you may be fortunate to hear this melody.

This painting of the Bay-Headed Tanager was done by Don Richard Eckelberry (1921-2001), a renowned wildlife artist who played a significant role in establishing the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan

 

LITERATURE CITED

  • Hilty, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Ffrench, R. 1991 Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Oxford:Macmillan Publishers Limited.

 

 

 

Bay-Headed Tanager

From a painting by Don Eckelberry

 

 

24 Sep 2012

Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana)

Creature Feature, Tropical Nature News

The Squirrel Cuckoo mimics the sound of a human whistle- the ‘woop, woooo’ that is sometimes made by males in the presence of an attractive female. It has a large repertoire of calls but the one mentioned above is the most common.

This member of the Cuculidae family is an inhabitant of forests and semi-open cultivated areas in Trinidad. Cuckoos stay mostly in the middle to the tops of trees, where they forage for preferred meals in insects and lizards. Our ‘Coucou Manioc’ as it is also called, likes large insects including caterpillars, cicadas, grasshoppers and beetles.

Characteristically, the cuckoo darts like a squirrel in trees, its long tail trailing behind it. When flying, it will glide for a short time. Stealthily, it stalks its prey and launches at them at the appropriate time or occasionally sallies for flying insects.

The Squirrel Cuckoo has a rufous head, back and long tail with white-tipped tail feathers, red eyes and a greenish-yellow eye-ring and bill. It resembles another one of our species in Trinidad, the Little Cuckoo, except for some distinguishing features. The ‘Coucou Manioc’ is larger (17 inches), has a longer tail and has a pale pinkish upper throat and pale grey lower breast. The Squirrel Cuckoo inhabits Southern Mexico to middle and south America and of course, Trinidad.

In Trinidad, breeding has been recorded in January, May, July and October. This cuckoo makes a nest out of twigs and lined with dead leaves, 15-40 feet above ground normally. It lays two pale yellow eggs which the male and female help incubate. Both parents also feed the young.

Come to Asa Wright Nature Centre in the right season and you may get a live viewing of the endearing Squirrel Cuckoo.

This painting of the Squirrel Cuckoo was done by Don Richard Eckelberry (1921-2001), a renowned wildlife artist who played a significant role in establishing the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan

 

References:

Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.

ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991

19 Sep 2012

Rainy Season Charms

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

Rainbow against a rain-washed sky.

 
As weather patterns change everywhere, our little islands have also been affected.
While we hear of the extreme – from droughts to floods, and heat waves to
bitter cold – we are thankful that our changes have been benign…so far!
This year our dry season was sprinkled with almost daily showers. And so our hills
stayed green, and the little streams that run through Spring Hill sparkled and sang
happily all through the dry months. This meant there were no forest fires, so no
birds’ nests, or bee hives were destroyed, or ground dwelling animals were forced to
flee for their lives.
All this has resulted in natural blessings for Asa Wright! The trees and
plants are still in flower, and bird counts are up, and as regular BellBird readers
will know, unusual animal sightings have occurred around the estate.
Those of us, who worried that we may have had torrents when the rainy season
officially began, have been pleasantly surprised. The rains continue, but there
is the beautiful mix of sunny days and intermittent showers when the sunshine
and the rain create beautiful rainbows in the valley’s mist. When we wander the
forest trails, we walk in the embrace of these mists, eerie but poignant! Sunbeams
pierce the canopy above to highlight that bird, butterfly or flower just as we walk by.
Most visitors come to Asa Wright in the northern winter months between
December and March – mainly to escape the cold. But if you can, you should try
Asa in the summer. Everything you can wish for in a rainforest bird sanctuary is
there — with rainbows added!

 

02 Aug 2012

Blue-Chined Sapphire (Chlorestes notata)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

Photo by Atkin Isaac.

 

The iridescence of the Blue-chinned Sapphire can captivate anyone – from the avid bird watcher to the curious young child. As a member of the Trochilidae (Hummingbird) family, it is small, quick, and beautiful of course. The green feathers on its upper body glisten in the sunlight, contrasting with its dark blue tail. In the right lighting, it transforms into a brilliant subject to photograph, and the careful eye may even spot its namesake blue ‘chin’.

This species, which is common in Trinidad forests, is also found in northern South America, including the Brazilian Amazon. The feather-covered gem feeds on nectar and only occasionally eats insects. At our own Springhill Estate, it is regularly seen feasting on the nectar of the Vervine (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) plants in front of the verandah but it feeds on all types of plants – large and small trees (e.g. Ryania speciosa or Bois L’agli), shrubs or herbaceous plants.

This hummingbird breeds from February to June and normally nests about two to five metres above ground. It makes large, deep cup nests out of plant down and decorates them with lichen. Although not easily heard, the song of the Blue-chinned Sapphire is a set of fast metallic notes of ‘ssssoo, sssoo’. Despite its 0.0889 metres in length, the Blue-chinned Sapphire remains a shining example of the avian fauna that can be seen at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

– J.L. Ryan

References:

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

Migratory Bird Monitoring

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

Setting up mist nets. Photos by Caleb Walker

 

Our Nature Guide Caleb Walker is one of only three persons in Trinidad & Tobago who is certified to conduct Bird Banding exercises and training. Bird Banding involves the gentle, temporary capture of birds, recording the species, location and date of capture, then applying a tiny coded band on the bird’s leg. If an already “banded” bird is captured, the relevant data is recorded. The exercise allows scientists to monitor the migratory patterns of several species of birds for research and conservation purposes. In June, Caleb, along with certified Bird Bander Carl Fitz James of Brasso Seco, held a day-long banding exercise in Brasso Seco. The exercise was conducted with a group of students from Bishop Anstey High School and United States Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago, Mrs. Beatrice Wilkinson Welters, and was done as part of International Bird Migratory Day, with the United States Embassy hosting the students in this learning and outreach exercise. The students watched the

experts retrieve birds from the mist nets, saw how gently they were handled, and carefully banded and recorded before being released. Caleb reported that the students showed a genuine interest in this “new” exercise, seeking answers to many questions. Ambassador Welters was also very interested in the programme and asked if students graduating from universities in the US could come to Trinidad to work with our Bird Banders for their extra credits. We certainly look forward to further collaboration with the Ambassador and her Embassy.

Caleb and Carl each attended a Bird Banding training course at the Klamath Bird Observatory in Oregon, USA, and have worked locally with Klamath Executive Director Dr. John Alexander, who visited Asa Wright, Simla and Brasso Seco earlier this year. We look forward to Caleb developing a leading role for Asa Wright in the future banding and monitoring of migratory birds travelling through Trinidad.

A Silver-beaked Tanager ready for banding.

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.

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

References:

  • 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.

 

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

 

References:

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

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