News of Asa Wright

11 Mar 2013

Road Repairs

Visitor News

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.

22 Feb 2013

White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright

Photo by Pierre-Yves Bilat


The White-headed Marsh Tyrant is a resident of Trinidad which frequents marshy savannahs, the edges of mangrove swamps and at times, the seashore. A fairly conspicuous flycatcher, its white head and neck, and black body rendered it the nicknames “Widow” and “Nun”. In the field, its colour is most relied on to identify it, as its call of a high-pitched ‘tzeek’ is not often whistled.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant belongs to the largest family existing in the Neotropics, the Tyrannidae or Tyrant Flycatcher family. This species is restricted to South America (from Columbia and Southern Venezuela to Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay) and Trinidad, where it breeds from January to April and from July to October.

At 13 cm long, this Tyrannid is smaller than the Pied Water-Tyrant, another

speciesfoundinTrinidad,towhichitbears a resemblance. Unlike the Pied Water Tyrant, however, the White-headed Marsh Tyrant is seldom seen on the ground and may only drop briefly to the ground to capture insects. Single or pairs of Marsh Tyrants are normally seen perching on low branches or fences.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant has, like members of the Flycatcher family, the distinctive habit of sallying for insects from perches. Its diet centres on terrestrial invertebrates such as dragonflies, grasshoppers, froghoppers (Tomaspis) and beetles.

The White-headed Marsh Tyrant builds spherical nests with a ‘porch’ obscuring the entrance. In these nests, they lay a clutch of two to four white eggs. Both parents attend to the young.

So, on your next birding adventure, look out for the small but striking White- headed Marsh Tyrant.

– J.L. Ryan



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

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright

Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures.


Earlier this month at Springhill, a high-pitched call of pee-pee-pee alerted us to the presence of a Rufous- tailed Jacamar nearby. Turning out to be just in front of Springhill’s Main House, employees and guests alike were delighted to spot Trinidad and Tobago’s only representative of the Galbulidae (Jacamar) family. Jacamars are Neotropical birds which are similar to Old World Bee-eaters. They look like oversized hummingbirds and share a few characteristics with ‘hummers’. They have iridescent feathers, long, thin bills and a fullness of energy.

Locally called the ‘King Hummingbird’, the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is common in humid lowlands – on forest edges, in clearings and in secondary forest. It often perches a few metres above ground alongside a road, narrow stream or other type of clearing. There, it waits for prey, mostly flying insects, for which it hawks then thrashes against a branch in order to de-wing. These lively birds are regularly seen dust bathing on gravel roads. They measure 26 cm in length and usually nest in short tunnels on earth banks or even in termite nests.

Rufous-tailed Jacamars breed, in Trinidad, from February to June and in Tobago, from February to August , where I might add, they are quite common. Both sexes share nesting duties and interestingly, during courtship males remove the insects’ wings to feed them to females. Clutches of two to four white eggs with cinnamon spots, are laid.

The Rufous-tailed Jacamar inhabits a range from Central America to South America as far as Brazil and Northern Argentina. The beauty of its shimmering green upperparts and rufous underparts cannot be overlooked. While the male’s throat is white, the female’s is rufous.

These colours fit right in with Christmastime, so we presume that the bird’s unusual appearance at Asa Wright was a fitting start to the holiday season.

–  J.L. Ryan


http://neotropical.birds.cornell. edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_ spp=294936





Photo: Pierre-Yves Bilat

07 Feb 2013

Road Repairs

News of Asa Wright

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–hopefully at the end of February– we will have a newly paved driveway for everyone’s comfort and enjoyment


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.


07 Feb 2013

The AGM, and the ‘Outing’ to Lopinot

News of Asa Wright

Asa Wright Paranderos. Photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures.


The Annual General Meeting of the Asa Wright Nature Centre was held on Saturday 10th of November, at Spring Hill.

On the day following the AGM, the Board went on their annual outing to places of environmental and historical interest, and this year visited our neighbours in the Lopinot Valley.

The first stop was at the top end of the Valley, at Las Lapas, the estate of our colleague in sustainability Cyril Cooper, who showed us the cocoa and coffee he was growing, and explained the differences of the varieties of cocoa and coffee grown. Upon departure, each visitor was presented with a small bag of ground coffee and a piece of concentrated “Sabor Criolo” chocolate.

Villa Mariposa’s lunch spread. Photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures.

We then pulled into one of the most charming little hotels imaginable—Café Mariposa in the village of Lopinot, just opposite the historical original estate house of the Compte de Lopinot. Café Mariposa is operated by the seven Guerrero Sisters and their brother Arthur. They served the Asa Wright Team a magnificent lunch, to the lilting accompaniment of music and song from Arthur and four of the sisters.

After lunch, we toured the historic Lopinot Estate House, which has been beautifully restored, and is set in a lovely, well-maintained park, through which the Lopinot River meanders. Our host in the restored house was the irrepressible Martin Gomez, parandero and raconteur, who presented the history of the estate and the village in the true style of old-time storytelling.

He described each of the musical instruments hanging on the wall–all made by hand in Lopinot–and then shared some among the amazed group. The sesssion ended with a medley of parang and old standards. We didn’t realise how talented we were!

Mr. & Mrs. Cyril Cooper, practitioners the art of forest agriculture.
Photo by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures.

06 Feb 2013

The Return of Richard ffrench

News of Asa Wright

The ffrench family in the Jade Vine Arbor. Photos by Mark Hedden/Caligo Ventures.


Richard ffrench’s A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago is the principal reference guide for all birders visiting our islands. The first edition was published under the auspices of the Asa Wright Nature Centre, in 1972. The second edition was presented in 1991, and the third edition, after Richard’s passing in May 2010.
This recent and updated edition was launched at the Centre’s Jade Vine Arbor on Friday 9th November, in the presence of the author’s widow, the gracious Margaret ffrench, daughter Julie, son Jonny, and their spouses Tim and Juliet who stayed with us for over a week. Some of Richard’s surviving colleagues who had helped to found the Asa Wright Nature Centre in 1967, like Professor Julian Duncan and Ian Lambie, were also present.
The ffrench family and other guests were welcomed by Chairperson Dr. Judi Gobin. Then former Chair Dr. Carol
James gave a brief history of Richard ffrench’s association with the Centre and the efforts to have his work published. His daughter Julie Baker described the life of the children of Richard ffrench, growing up literally in their father’s footsteps in T&T, exploring forests and swamps and savannahs. As Julie concluded her tales, and told us that they had brought Richard’s ashes with them to be scattered in the forest on the hills above Blanchisseuse, a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (G.b.phaloenoides) began calling through the dusk. Was this “Jumbie bird” speaking for Richard?
Richard’s ashes are scattered at Las Lapas, along the main ridge of the Northern Range where he used temporarily to capture birds for study and description before releasing them. We are pleased to note that Richard has returned to the forests he loved, and which we preserve for him.

Asa Wright Chair Dr. Judi Gobin and Richard ffrench son-in-law Tim Baker display the first copy of the new edition.