Tropical Nature News

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?

06 Feb 2012

Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo)

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

The Silver-beaked Tanager belongs to the family of birds known for their beautiful colours: the Thraupidae (Tanager) family. As the name suggests, this bird’s beak, which is swollen at the base, appears to be a glistening silver in the field. Without sunlight shining directly on it, this bird appears to be black. However, when in the light, the Silver-beaked Tanager looks as if it were maroon-coloured velvet. One can see its bright crimson chest and throat. The female of this species is far less impressive with a black beak and dull reddish-brown feathers. This Tanager is found in South America and Trinidad where it inhabits forest borders, estates, semi-open areas, secondary growth and even some neighbourhoods. The Silver-beaked Tanager can be heard at dawn singing “che-wa” for its human and avian friends. It eats fruits of Melastomaceae, other small shrubs and several bromeliads. It will occasionally drink nectar and will also feast on insects. Instead of sallying for their prey, they simply flit forward to grab them.

Sometimes referred to simply as the “Silver- beak”, this bird will either be found in pairs or groups of an average size of seven birds. It moults from May to December with a peak in August and September. It calls regularly from January to July.

06 Feb 2012

Flaming Immortelles

Tropical Nature News

 

At this time of the year great swaths of our forests are turning brilliant vermillion! This is because the Immortelle trees (Erythrina poeppigiana) are flowering. These are large trees; they grow to a height of about 80 feet (25 metres), and begin to flower at the end of the rainy season, late December, each year.

The Immortelle flower is brilliant orange, and the whole crown of the tree is covered with these outstanding flowers. The view of our northern range hill slopes at this time of year is one of large bands of

orange spread across the deep green foliage. The Immortelle was also known to early cocoa planters as “madre de cacao”, or Mother of the Cocoa, because Trinidad and Tobago’s very fine cocoa thrives especially in the shade of the Immortelle trees. The Immortelle is also a “nitrogen fixing” tree, and is important to the biodiversity of the forest. The tree is obviously a good host to epiphytes, which grow liberally on its upper branches, and to the Crested Oropendolas, which builds their long hanging nests in

the canopy.

Known mostly to the layman for its beauty when flowering, the Immortelle is also called “the Flame Tree”, for obvious reasons.

But as lovely as is the spectacle of the flaming immortelles in the hills around the Centre, there is a slight downside to their presence: many of our humming birds, especially the White-Necked Jacobin, leave the precincts of our verandah to fly up into the vermillion canopies to enjoy the nectar of those flowers!

05 Dec 2011

An Incredibly Rare Flower

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

While birds of turquoise plumage roam the hills at Asa Wright Nature Centre, flowers of a similar hue welcome our visitors. Named after its spectacular blue-green colour, the Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is a native of the tropical rainforest of the Philippines but a current inhabitant of the Jade Vine Arbor at Spring Hill. This liana produces hanging inflorescences of a colour that is seldom found in flowers. In the wild, the Jade Vine is normally pollinated by bats which will hang upside down to drink the nectar from its claw-shaped flowers.

The Jade Vine has been threatened by continuous deforestation of its natural habitat in the Philippines. One study says that between 1990 and 2005, 32.3% of forest cover was lost in the Philippines. The Jade Vine was recently described by a popular website, Listverse.com, as one of the top ten incredibly rare flowers in the world.

–J.L. Ryan

 

References:

 

 

05 Dec 2011

The Green-Backed Trogon (Trogon viridis)

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

On a trek through the forest, you hear a “coo-coo-coo-coo-coo”. You look up to the sky and perched upright, wide-eyed and mysterious, is the most beautiful yellow- bellied bird. You can see its purplish-blue head and chest and its dark green back which changes to blue on the rump. The large white tips on the tail feathers and pale blue eye ring confirm its identity. It is the Green-backed Trogon, one of three species of Trogon found in Trinidad.

You may know this bird by its former official name, the White-tailed Trogon. The White-tailed Trogon existed from Panama to Brazil but recently this species has been split. Those found west of the Andes remain the White-tailed Trogon while the birds east of the Andes are now called the Green-backed Trogon. These newly identified species were found to have different plumage, vocalisations and DNA.

Like all members of the Trogonidae

family, the Green-backed Trogon has short legs, short beaks and graduated tails. The female is a duller version of its mate. At 11 inches it is larger than a similar- looking species also found in Trinidad, the Violaceous Trogon.

The Green-backed Trogon inhabits humid and dry forest, secondary growth and forest edges. It eats fruit and arthropods and will sally for insects. These birds are

either found alone or in pairs and will nest in cavities in tree trunks or in termite nests where clutches of two to three eggs are laid.

Trogons are ventriloquists of the forest, often deceiving humans into thinking that they are somewhere they are not. When their series of notes, normally done about 6-15 times, is done softly they often convince persons that they are far away. Less often they may cluck or churr. When the Trogon takes leave of you, you will witness its dipping flight, the tail waving as it moves away.

– J.L. Ryan

 

References:

  • ffrench, Richard. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Hilty, Steven L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela.
  • Green-backed Trogon. Cornell Lab or Ornithology. LINK

 

29 Nov 2011

Ocelot on the Prowl?

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

It has been a long time since we have seen an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) or “tiger cat” at Spring Hill. But before you get excited, we have not sighted one, at least, not yet. However, we did spot the footprints of what appeared to be a large ocelot along the Bamboo Valley Trail on Thursday 27th October.

Field workers had cutlassed and raked the trail, in the vicinity of the old hydro generator, at around 1pm. But a walker on the trail at about 4.30pm spotted clean paw-prints on the trail, which means the cat passed there in the early afternoon. It had come down the eastern slope of the Bamboo Valley Trail, passed the old generator, crossed the bridge at the lower pool and started up the western slope of the trail before the tracks were lost. The ocelot walked at least one hundred metres along the trail, within a couple of hours of it being cleared.

Hopefully, it will soon be recorded as a live sighting!

29 Nov 2011

The Green Honeycreeper

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

The Green Honeycreeper is common but far from ordinary. Numerous at the feeders at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and found from southern Mexico to Brazil, the Green Honeycreeper echoes the beauty of a turquoise sea. Its beauty is no surprise since it belongs to the Tanager (Thraupidae) family which boasts some of the most gorgeous small birds in the world. The male Green Honeycreeper has turquoise plumage and appears to wear a black mask while the female has grass green coloured plumage. A main characteristic of this species is the sharp, slightly decurved bill. Both have yellow on the lower part of the beak, the male’s beak being brighter yellow than that of the female. This bird measures 5.5 inches and makes high- pitched “chips”. The song however is not distinctive. It is as though this bird doesn’t need much sound as it can rely on its dazzling feathers to garner attention from other animals. This certainly serves to attract humans.

As the name Honeycreeper suggests, this bird has a sweet tooth, er, beak. It eats fruit, sips nectar and less often, forages for insects. It particularly likes the berries of Miconia spp. and Trema micrantha. Green Honeycreepers are forest-dwellers and are most common in humid forests at low to middle elevations. They often frequent the canopy of the forest.

This Tanager breeds from May to July and lays a clutch of two eggs. Eggs are white with a circle of brown spots at the wider end. This bird can be found in small groups mostly made of other Tanagers and Honeycreepers.

Come to the Asa Wright Nature Centre and let the Green Honeycreeper awaken your sense of wonder.

–J.L. Ryan

 

References:

  • ffrench, Richard. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Hilty, Steven L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela.
  • Zamudio, Robert M., and Kevin J. Burns. The Green Honeycreeper. Cornell Lab or Ornithology. LINK

 

29 Nov 2011

Dancing Jewels in the Sun

News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News, Visitor News

You feel a sense of disorientation it live” and by the judicious selection as you enter the patio garden of Yerette, at the home of Theo and Gloria Ferguson, in Maracas St. Joseph.

The hundreds, maybe thousands, of hummingbirds which swarm around you, like jewels dancing in the sunshine, make you feel that you have walked into a swarm of bees!

The Fergusons, and Theo’s magnificent bird photography, are well known to us at Spring Hill. He launched his collection – “The Experience” – at the Main House in 2009 and his work hung on the walls of “De Bird Nest” dining room for several months. They have also shared the illustrated lecture series “Hummingbirds – Fragments of the Rainbow” with our guests on many beautiful evenings.

But the wonderful experience of sharing photographs was obviously not enough for the husband and wife team. The couple have since decided to “bring it live” and by the judicious selection of flowering shrubbery and bird feeders, hundreds of “Fragments of the Rainbow” now visit their garden.

There are seventeen species of hummingbirds in Trinidad and Tobago. Theo has seen and photographed thirteen of these species in his garden. This is astonishing given the fact that some of these species, such as the Green-throated Mango, “do not belong” there.

After enjoying the thrill of walking among swarms of feeding hummingbirds, you are invited to view a video show of Theo’s photographs of these beautiful little creatures.

The only words one can use to describe the experience is “you have “visit and discover for yourself”. The trip to Yerette is now included among Asa Wright’s external tours. Just ask at the Front Desk.

04 Aug 2011

Red Brocket Deer, floral mushrooms and Pawi (Piping Guans) all seen in the past month

Tropical Nature News

We had not seen a deer at Spring Hill for years. But in late June, while Head Guide Mukesh Ramdass was with Vic and Andrea Thomas on the Chaconia Trail, trying to photograph a Common Potoo at about 1.30 pm, they suddenly saw a full grown Red Brocket Deer quietly standing in the middle of the trail!
The deer, we presume it was the same one, was also spotted one night at about 7.30 pm crossing the driveway. We hope this deer is the first of many.
And Ann Sealy noticed these strange “floral mushrooms” growing near to the security booth. They had the distinct scent of mushrooms, but
were not harvested for the kitchen!
And finally, and this too is wonderful news, Pawi Birds (Piping Guans) were seen by a group out on tour at the top of our mountain. The Piping Guan has not been seen this close to us for years, but we have no photos of this sighting.

12 Nov 2010

Seeking the Pawi

Conservation & Education News, Tropical Nature News

The Piping Guan, or Pawi, is only found in Trinidad’s Northern Range, and this endemic bird is under threat. So, when the Board of Trustees closed their AGM, they were taken from Spring Hill to Grande Riviere, in the hope of seeing a Pawi.
A late Saturday afternoon trip by maxi had the group arriving in Grande Riviere just in time for dinner at Asa Wright’s partner resort, Le Grand Almandier. Wake-up call was 4.00 am on Sunday, for the hike to the Pawi was starting at five.
The road up the Valley from Grande Riviere village has been paved recently, and this made the walk into the forest an easy one. No Pawi were seen on the walk to the end of the road, but all were rewarded on the way back, when, getting close to the village, they saw a beautiful Pawi sitting in a nutmeg tree quite close to the road.
Mission accomplished, it was back to breakfast and the long drive to Spring Hill. From there, our Board members headed back to their countries, with the memory of Divali and the Pawi.
November 2010

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