Conservation & Education News

01 Apr 2013

A Don Eckelberry Scholarship Winner at Asa Wright

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright, Visitor News

Matthew Palmer speaks to a group of artists.


Birds of Asa Wright inspired these models.

Matthew Palmer will enthrall you when he describes his art. For him, the role of art is to conceive a tangible work which captures the intangible; the unidentifiable mystery present in all things. His sculpture of an owl, for example, is not simply the appearance of the owl, but also its spirit and movement.
Mr. Palmer, who hails from Washington, spent a week at the Asa Wright Nature Centre as the winner of the Don Eckelberry Scholarship Award which is given by the Society of Animal Artists. He is a self-taught artist who has an inherent artistic talent which he perfects by doing. On Friday 15th February, he met with a group of artists who gathered in the Mango Room to learn about his work and to share their work with him.


Interested in seeing more of Matthew Palmer’s art?


In addition to showing us photos and videos of his artwork, he explained the story behind them. And, what a variety. He has made large pieces for Universities and Nature Centres – a model of a skeleton called ‘Dooley’, an elephant made of silhouettes of butterflies, a bald eagle, gallinule, a manatee, fish and several more. To make these models he experiments with different mediums like bronze, epoxy clay, cement, marble, limestone steel and styrofoam. For one of his birds, he even made wispy feathers with a milk carton. We watched a time lapse video of Mr. Palmer building a family of life-size elephants, taking a total of 250 hours.

A close look at some of Matthew Palmer’s sketches.


For this artist, there is no task too big. Not limiting himself to a particular style, Mr. Palmer also draws and paints. That day we were able see a fascinating assortment of the sketches he had been working on during his stay at Asa Wright. There was something that appealed to everyone in this collection. He also showed us the models of a Green Hermit, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White- necked Jacobin and Purple Honeycreeper that were crafted at Asa Wright. The artists in attendance had an opportunity to display their work. Looking at Mr. Palmer’s art and hearing his description of art, the artist or dilettante would be impressed by his creativity, his industry but most importantly his desire to translate what cannot be seen into a concrete work of art.

Story and photos by J.L. Ryan

22 Mar 2013

Volunteers on the Move

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright


On Saturday 19th January, 2013, we welcomed a group of 22 student volunteers from Bishop Anstey and Trinity College East (BATCE) Environmental Club who came to work at Asa Wright Nature Centre. The task assigned was an upgrade to our Adventure Trail, which is the most challenging of our several Nature Trails.

Our Winston Rojas, who is an Honorary Game Warden, led the group along the trail through the forest. The mission ahead of us was to mark off certain areas on the trail, to ensure that it was easy to follow, and to construct supports where the trail was very steep. This was done with rope tied between trees along the trail, and by placing posts where the trees were at some distance from the trail.

The young men in the group were responsible for carrying and putting down the posts at certain intervals along the way. The ladies were in charge of untangling and running the ropes and tying them to the posts or trees. As we made our way through the trail, we ourselves utilised the rope-railings we had just installed.

While going along the path we took the opportunity to share information and point out interesting sightings. We saw the rear end of a Bellbird in flight, and markings on the trail left from a wild hog.

A Blue Morpho butterfly kept showing glimpses of itself from time to time; the students were very happy to see her. We were having so much fun along the way that we didn’t even notice when we ran out of rope! To wrap things up on the trails, we decided to take the group to see the pool on Bamboo Valley trail. They absolutely enjoyed the ambience and then it was time for lunch.

Afterwards we had a sharing activity and each student was presented with a certificate of appreciation for their hard work and for enhancing the environment. We look forward to future collaborations with this group.

If you are interested in volunteering with us please do let us know!

 By Denise Etienne

Photos courtesy: Ms. Hutton & BATCE Environmental Club

16 Mar 2013

Following-up on Community meeting…

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright


On the 17th January, 2013 The Asa Wright Nature Centre hosted a follow-up Community meeting in the Mango room. This meeting was convened to further the discussion hosted in December when Ms. Sasha Jattansingh of GEF/UNDP outlined the potentials for funding certain community initiatives. The meeting was chaired by Steve Maximay, Agricultural Consultant and current Chair of the Board’s Sustainable Management Committee. Mr. Maximay emphasised the desire of Asa Wright Nature Centre to partner with communities on various projects that would help stabilise their area and help keep the valleys pristine. From the meeting, we had a wide array of project ideas including:

  • Utilising the ever popular bamboo to make furniture and other crafts
  • Enhancing the trail to Advocat 
  • Developing an agro-tourism project
  • Constructing huge recyclable bins
  • Possible boat tours from Blanchisseuse fishing village to Paria Bay

Participants were encouraged to begin the goals and the methodologies so that these could be fine-tuned for eventual their project proposals by describing presentation to GEF UNDP.


19 Feb 2013

Young Environmentalist of the Month

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

If you think your child has done something helpful to preserve the environment, please feel free to share it with us, either write a short story, or send us a few pictures to

He/she may be selected as our Young Environmentalist for the month! Once your child is featured in our monthly newsletter, he/she and two adults will be given a complimentary day visit to Asa Wright Nature Centre, which includes viewing birds/animals on the verandah, a nature tour and use of the clear water pool. Ages 5 to 16.

16 Feb 2013

Bringing in the Projects

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

Asa Wright Nature Centre hosted a community meeting on 13th December, 2012 with representation from seven communities including Aripo, Lopinot, Blanchiessuse, Morne LaCroix and Brasso Seco, Sunshine Valley and Verdant Vale. This initial meeting was to re-energise, and continue dialogue between AWNC and our neighbouring communities, consistent with Asa Wright’s mission to engage the valley communities in the development of sustainable projects.

Steve Maximay, Agricultural Consultant and current Chair of the Sustainable Management Committee of the AWNC Board of Directors, gave an engaging talk on the theme of conservation, ecotourism and community development.

UNDP representative Sasha Jattansingh presented an overview of the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) programme. She highlighted the GEF programme’s funding of NGO’s and community groups for environmental projects and invited groups present to also access the funding directly for their community projects.

Some of the members expressed concern on issues they are facing in their communities at present. A follow-up meeting is carded for later in January to discuss potential projects that can be undertaken within the communities.

11 Feb 2013

T&T’s First BioBlitz

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright


If you visited Macqueripe Beach on Sunday 18th November, 2012, you may have included members of the TTFNC Bird Group, AWNC staff, and independent wildlife tour guides, spotted parrots, toucans, owls, hawks, hummingbirds, tanagers, trogons and while travelling on the road, fortuitously stumbled upon a Bushmaster. The mammal group was pleased to find a Robinson’s Mouse Opossum and the combined mammal, reptile and amphibian group saw Capuchin monkeys, a racer snake and some small frogs and lizards.

At the site, you would have seen booths by the Environmental Management Authority’s Youth Ambassadors, the Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC), the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist’s Club (TTFNC), the Ministry of Food Production and the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago. While this sounds like an ordinary wildlife display, it was more than that, it was a BioBlitz.

A BioBltiz is a biological survey that is carried out in a short period of time, usually in 24 hours. During a BioBlitz, scientists and other members of the public attempt to record as many different species as possible in a given area. In this case, the Tucker Valley Bioblitz, the first of its kind to be held in Trinidad and Tobago, started at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday 17th November and ended at 3:15pm the next day.

Scientists, students and nature aficionados embarked on various walks on Saturday night and on Sunday. Some, who camped out at Tucker Valley took night walks on Saturday and early morning walks on Sunday. On both days, specific groups searched for different target species – birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, terrestrial invertebrates, plants, marine and freshwater organisms.

Each group had interesting wildlife encounters. The bird groups, which included members of the TTFNC Bird Group, AWNC staff, and independent wildlife tour guides, spotted parrots, toucans, owls, hawks, hummingbirds, tanagers, trogons and while travelling on the road, fortuitously stumbled upon a Bushmaster. The mammal group was pleased to find a Robinson’s Mouse Opossum and the combined mammal, reptile and amphibian group saw Capuchin monkeys, a racer snake and some small frogs and lizards.

Subdivisions of the Terrestrial Invertebrate group searched for wasps, bees, ants and termites, spiders, scorpions, butterflies and land snails. A possible new species of orb-weaving spider was discovered by Jo-Anne Sewlal.

The freshwater group used different nets to collect samples of freshwater fish, crustaceans, insects and worms mainly from the Cuesa River. On Sunday, the group took a walk along the river to see such creatures as guppies, damselflies, crayfish and freshwater snails.

The marine group, did night and day

snorkels at Macqueripe Bay and among many sea creatures, were excited to see a Green Turtle on Sunday. Their smaller finds (a juvenile French Angelfish, scorpionfish, sea urchins and brittle stars) were collected to be temporarily displayed at the base camp.

The plant group collected many samples on Saturday night and embarked on a plant search on Sunday. They collected and identified a wide variety of trees, shrubs, ferns and orchids.

At the base camp, children also had the opportunity to get up close to a Blue- and-yellow macaw, a tree porcupine, a wild hog, a manicou, rabbits and tortoises, thanks to the Zoological Society’s Zoo To You programme.

The event provided a fitting occasion to launch The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club’s 2013 calendar and two new hand-held wildlife guides: The Trinidad and Tobago Wildflower Guide was done by the TTFNC and Trinidad and Tobago Wildlife Guide was put out by Mike Rutherford.

The BioBlitz tallied a total of 654 living organisms. With the success of this year’s event, we are sure that many await another for 2013.

The Tucker Valley BioBlitz was sponsored by First Citizens Bank and organised by Mike Rutherford, the curator of the University of the West Indies Zoology Museum (UWIZM), with assistance from members of the Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club (TTFNC) and the UWI Department of Life Sciences.

– J.L. Ryan

Thanks to Mr. Mike Rutherford for providing the information for this article.

The BioBlitz at a glance

  • Number of species:
Birds 97
  • Mammals: 12
  • Reptiles and Amphibians: 28
  • Freshwater organisms: 43
  • Marine organisms: 138
  • Terrestrial Invertebrates: 125
  • Total number of plants: 211
  • Total number of animals recorded: 443


07 Feb 2013

Opening of the Richard ffrench Natural History Museum

Conservation & Education News, News of Asa Wright

Over the past year, the Asa Wright Nature Centre has been quietly establishing its Natural History Museum. This is located under the western side of the main house, and much of the work has been coordinated by Conservation Officer Atkin Isaac.

This museum has been named The Richard ffrench Natural history Museum, in honour of one of our founding members and noted birding author, Richard ffrench. With members of the ffrench family present at Spring Hill for the launch of the third edition of Richard’s Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, the opportunity was taken formally to open and name the museum after Richard ffrench. Most of our exhibits to date are botanical or zoological. But with the Opening we received our first Historical inputs.

The ffrench family had brought from England all of Richard’s original hand-written notes of the birds he had examined over the years and this trove was presented by Mrs. Margaret ffrench to Asa Wright Chairperson Dr. Judi Gobin for safekeeping in the new museum. We are deeply touched that the ffrench family has decided to place these papers in the custody of the Asa Wright Nature Centre.


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 ( 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.



  • 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


  • 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

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