Visitors to Spring Hill will notice that major road repairs are being done along our driveway. These works were urgently required, and we know they are causing a little inconvenience at times. However, when completed — we hope by the end of March — we will have a newly paved driveway for everyone’s comfort and enjoyment.
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!
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
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.
Edwin Pierre-Louis and his girlfriend Grychel had heard about the wonders of Asa Wright from their home in Brooklyn, NY. So they decided to visit this place which
had enchanted them in their imaginations. Grychel thought the visit was a belated birthday gift for her recent birthday. But on arrival, Edwin realized that was no other place but here to propose to his long time love. And so it was that visitors on the verandah heard a piercing scream from just beyond the feeders! What bird was that? Staff, rushing to check the source, found an ecstatic Grychel hugging her Edwin, and flashing a beautiful ruby engagement ring!
There is always something special in the air at Spring Hill! We wish Edwin and Grychel a beautiful life together, and hope that they will return to celebrate their wedding in the wilderness where she first said, “Yes!”
(photo cap)Edwin Pierre-Louis proposed to his long-time love Grychel at Asa Wright recently
Photo by Atkin Isaac
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
Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
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
- Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
- ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
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.
The Environmental Management Authority held its Biennial Green Leaf Awards Banquet at the Hilton Trinidad Conference Centre on June 5th, to coincide with World Environment Day. Among those attending from Asa Wright were Chairman Dr. Judith Gobin, former Chair Dr. Carol James, CEO Veronica Simon-Wallace, Kenneth Fournillier, Atkin Isaac and Peter O’Connor. The feature address was given by Minister of Housing & the Environment Dr. Roodal Moonilal and Environmental NGO’s present were pleased with government’s continuing improvement of its Environmental credentials, although much still needs to be done.
Asa Wright Nature Centre won the category for Sustainable Eco Tourism, and our Conservation Officer Atkin Isaac, received the award from Minister Moonilal. This was Asa’s second Green Leaf Award, having won the “Environmental Conservation and Protection” category in 2000. Both awards now hang with other awards and honours in the main corridor of the main house at Spring Hill.
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‚Äôs belly which are just below its wings.
An inhabitant of our primary and secondary forests, the antwren‚Äôs 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.