Birding at Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad and Tobago, Part 2

If you have read Part 1 of this series on my trip to Trinidad and Tobago, you have seen honeycreepers and hummingbirds that I saw from the Asa Wright veranda. I hope I didn’t leave the impression that there was nothing else to see from the veranda. There were multiple species of beautiful birds. Many colorful tanagers appeared at the feeding tables below the veranda.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Silver-beaked Tanagers

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Male White-lined and Silver-beaked Tanagers

Violaceous Euphonias were frequent visitors to the feeding tables as well.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Violaceious Euphonia

There were birds in the trees around the feeding area, waiting for their turn at the feeders.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Yellow Oriole

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Tropical Mockingbird

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Blue-gray Tanager

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Male White-lined Tanager

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Female White-lined Tanager

Asa Wright Nature Cantre

Male Silver-beaked Tanager

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Female Silver-beaked Tanager

I enjoyed watching a pair of Palm Tanagers as they played in the trees …

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Palm Tanagers

… and then came down to the bird bath for a splash.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Palm Tanagers bathing

There were often Spectacled Thrushes and antpittas beneath the feeding tables. I was able to get a photo of a Spectacled Thrush.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Spectacled Thrush

Unfortunately, I was never quick enough with my camera to get a satisfactory photo of any of the antpittas.

Common Agoutis, large members of the rat family similar to Capybaras, wandered beneath the feeders looking for anything that had fallen to the ground. It was fun to watch them sit on their hind legs while daintily holding food in their paws.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Common Agouti

Tegu lizards would scavenge under the table feeds for scraps as well. I loved watching these large, beautiful lizards!

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Tegu Lizard

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Tegu Lizard, full view

A highlight of my stay at Asa Wright was the walk to Dunston Cave to see the Oilbirds. Oilbirds have a very interesting history, and you might want to read about it here. On our way to Dunston Cave we were fortunate to see a Green-backed Trogon and Golden-headed Manakin. Because of the rain and the slippery trail, I did not have my good camera with me. My manakin photos look like little yellow blobs, but I did get an almost-recognizable photo of the trogon.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Green-backed Trogon

If you walk to Dunston Cave, you will get wet. As I did not have Wellies with me on the trip, I wore capri-length pants and Keen hiking sandals. It was a good choice. The entrance to the Cave is though a shallow running stream.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Entrance to Dunston Cave

At last we were taken into the cave, two at a time, by our guide. She shined her light carefully on the birds so that we could take a few photos. We were not allowed to use flash photography in the cave, as it would have disturbed the birds too much.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Oilbirds in Dunston Cave

Asa Wright that they gave us a lovely Christmas celebration. They brought in Trini Parang singers for Christmas Eve on the veranda, and they had us all singing and dancing. For some reason, I cannot locate my photos and videos of this evening except for this one:

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Trini Parang singers

The next day the centre prepared a lovely Christmas lunch with many Trini specialties including, ham, turkey, pasteles, sorrel sauce, and black cake. It was a delicious feast!

In my next post I will venture away from Asa Wright and do some birding elsewhere in Trinidad.

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Birding at Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad and Tobago

I do not like to stay home at Christmas. I usually travel to Kaua’i with my son to escape the season, but this year he had a new job and could not take time away. I had heard interesting and intriguing reports about Trinidad and Tobago, and so I decided to travel there on my own. It was a fine decision. I contacted Caligo Ventures, which my friends had recommended as a good way to put together a trip. I would spend six days at Asa Wright Nature Center in Trinidad and three days at Blue Waters Inn in Tobago.

When I arrived in Trinidad after a long day’s flight, I was met at the airport by Roodal Ramlal, who would be my guide and driver for the next six days. I do recommend having a driver when you travel to Trinidad. In addition to driving on the left, which is confusing for me, the roads outside of the cities are often in poor repair. I am a fairly intrepid driver, but I was happy to leave the driving to Roodal, especially the drive up dark and winding Blanchisseuse Road to the nature center at night.

There were two other women who would arrive via Caligo one day after me, and we would spend the rest of our time together. Fortunately they were absolutely delightful people, and it was a pleasure to spend time with them.

I had intentionally planned to arrive one day earlier than everyone else so that I would have a day to enjoy being at Asa Wright before the start of the planned activities. I was awakened my first morning, and every morning thereafter, by the unmistakable call of a Great Kiskadee outside my window.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Great Kiskadee

Nothing that you may hear from other visitors really prepares you for your first morning on the veranda at Asa Wright. The veranda looks out over acres of rainforest.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Asa Wright Veranda View

You hear the calls of Orange-winged Parrots, Crested Oropendola, and countless other birds in a lovely dawn chorus. And oh the birds! There are many hummingbird feeders and table feeders that attract a large number of beautiful birds. The honeycreepers were so incredibly colorful!

Asa Wright Nature Center

Green Honeycreeper, male

Asa Wright Nature Center

Green Honeycreeper, female

Asa Wright Nature Center

Purple Honeycreeper, male

Asa Wright Nature Center

Purple Honeycreeper, female

Bananaquits were everywhere. These bold little birds would even fly into the dining room looking for handouts.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Bananaquit

Honeycreepers and Bananaquits would wait in the trees for someone to put out a freshly-filled hummingbird feeder.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Honeycreepers and Bananaquits wait for freshly-filled hummingbird feeders.

As soon as a fresh feeder was set out, the colorful birds would swarm the feeder.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Honeycreepers and Bananaquits swarm a hummingbird feeder.

Once the honeycreepers and Bananaquits could no longer reach the nectar, the hummingbirds would move in to feed. The beauty and variety of the hummingbirds was amazing! Here are a few of the hummingbirds I saw at Asa Wright:

Asa Wright Nature Canter

White-necked Jacobin

Asa Wright Nature Center

White-necked Jacobin, another view

Asa Wright Nature Center

Green Hermit, female

Asa Wright Nature Center

Brown Violetear

Asa Wright Nature Center

White-chested Emerald

Asa Wright Nature Center

Rufous-breasted Hermit

Asa Wright provides all-inclusive accommodation. They begin by serving coffee and tea on the veranda starting at 6:30 a.m. Lunch is at noon, tea is at 4:00 p.m., rum punch is served at 6:00 p.m., and dinner begins at 7:30. I enjoyed the food, which relies heavily on local cuisine. Meals were in the dining room at family-style tables, which allowed for plenty of conversation among the guests, who were from Trinidad, Canada, Europe, and the US.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Dining room at Asa Wright Nature Centre.

It was lovely to sit on the veranda in the evening, drinking a rum punch and watching the sunset.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Sunset from the veranda.

In the evening, once the hummingbirds, honeycreepers and Bananaquits retire for the evening, Leaf-nosed Bats come to the feeders. I was fascinated by these little creatures.

Asa Wright Nature Center

Leaf-nosed Bat

Asa Wright Nature Center

Leaf-nosed Bats

There will be many more sights and many more birds to come. Stay tuned.

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A Handsome Bird at The Biggest Week

As I went about reviewing and organizing my photos from The Biggest Week in American Birding, I realized that I neglected to mention one of the stars, for me, of The Biggest Week. One evening as I was returning from Magee Marsh, I came upon a very beautiful Trumpeter Swan on the levee road. Unlike my usual experience with swans, mostly involving distant observations, this one was right next to the road, and he proceeded to put on a show for an admiring audience. Here are some of my favorite photos:

The Biggest Week in American Birding

The Biggest Week in American Birding

The Biggest Week in American Birding

The Biggest Week in American Birding

The Biggest Week in American Birding

The Biggest Week in American Birding

The Biggest Week in Amercan Birding

The Biggest Week in American Birding

Here is a short video of the swan. What a show off!

Note: The heads and necks of Trumpeter Swans are often stained a rusty color from contact with ferrous minerals in the soils of wetland bottoms during feeding.

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American Woodcocks at The Biggest Week

One of the highlights for me of The Biggest Week in American Birding was coming across a nest of newly hatched American Woodcocks near the parking lot at Magee Marsh. Fellow New Mexican Donna Madrid-Simonetti and I stayed well back from the birds and photographed them with our 400 mm lenses.

When we first saw them, they were snuggled up under a log. This photo is heavily cropped, as we did not want to disturb them.

Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

American Woodhen and chicks.

There was caution tape around the area where the birds were sheltering, and birders and photographers kept a respectful distance as we admired the Woodhen and her fuzzy chicks.

Not far away I found the empty eggshells. The tiny chicks had hatched only that morning. The nest where the Woodhen had incubated her eggs was little more than a slight depression in the leaves, and the eggs had blended in perfectly with the detritus on the forest floor.

Magee Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

American Woodcock eggshells

I left the area to do some birding elsewhere. When I came back later that day, the little family was out for a stroll.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

Out for a stroll

I was backing up as I took this photo.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

They started to walk straight toward me.

I had stayed far back from the birds. These images were taken with a 400 mm lens, and they are heavily cropped. But at this point, quite a few people started crowding around the poor Woodhen and her chicks. People were thrusting point and shoot cameras and cell phone cameras right in their faces. The chicks became confused, and the mother Woodhen became distressed. Concerned birders started trying to move people away from the birds, but the babies became scattered. Finally, the babies were coaxed back to the mother and people backed away from the birds. The whole episode was distressing to watch.

Kim Claire Smith wrote about a similar situation with a Kirtland’s Warbler on her blog here. These situations highlight how important it is to be respectful of wildlife, particularly when they are taking care of their young. No photo is worth causing the stress to birds that I observed in this instance.

I am happy to say that the next morning it was reported that the American Woodcock family had crossed the parking lot and was safely in the woods. Here is a video that I took of them before the crowds of people descended. Please note that this small group of birders was far back from the birds. You can see how close the birds were to the parking lot.

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A Canoeing Adventure at The Biggest Week

When I signed up to go to The Biggest Week in American Birding, the field excursion “Birding by Canoe” caught my eye. There aren’t many places to go canoeing in New Mexico, and in fact my one experience in a canoe had been at Disneyland when I was ten years old. My excitement about a canoe trip was slightly tempered by apprehension when Kimberly Kaufman told me that CBS Sunday Morning would be filming during the trip. I had visions of my New Mexico derriere being filmed disappearing into the water. To be on the safe side, I left my DSLR at the cottage and took a point and shoot with me.

We met at the designated place at 6:00 a.m. We stood around chatting and waiting for the film crew to arrive. It looked as if it would be a gorgeous morning.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

Biggest Week Birders await the canoe trip.

When we reached the canoe launch site, we were instructed to choose life jackets.

The Biggest Week in American Birding

Prospective canoeists choose life jackets

We watched as the Sunday Morning crew made their preparations.

The Sunday Morning film crew makes their preparations.

The Sunday Morning film crew makes their preparations.

The Sunday Morning crew set off down Green Creek, and Kimberly Kaufman spied something on the stream bank: an Eastern Phoebe.

CBS News Sunday Morning

The CBS crew sets off in a canoe

We paddled toward the bay in the calm waters.

Tom Kashmer, a naturalist with Sandusky County Parks, and Serena enjoy the scenery

Tom Kashmer, a naturalist with Sandusky County Parks, and Serena Altschul with CBS News enjoy the scenery

Kimberly Kaufman and Katie Anderson show fine form

Kimberly Kaufman and Katie Andersen show fine form

The film crew had a boat with a small motor. The rest of us provided our own power.

News crew, with motor

News crew, with motor

We saw Bald Eagles throughout the morning, and I discovered that it is very difficult to take photos from a moving canoe.

Bald Eagle nest

Bald Eagle nest

Bald Eagle photo from a moving canoe

Bald Eagle photo from a moving canoe

We paddled out into the bay and listened as Tom Kashmer told us about the history of the area.

Paddling out into the bay

Paddling out into the bay

Tom Kashmer relates the history of the area

Tom Kashmer relates the history of the area

Kimberly Kaufman and CBS Sunday Morning Contributing Correspondent Serena Altschul were kind enough to allow me to take their photo.

Kimberly Kaufman, Serena Altschul

Kimberly Kaufman and Serena Altschul

It was a delightful and interesting trip with wonderful people, as are all of the adventures at The Biggest Week. What a wonderful festival!

CBS Sunday Morning will air a story on birding on May 26, 2013. The Biggest Week in American Birding will be featured in that segment. Be sure to watch!

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A UFO Birding Festival in Roswell

Those of you who know me know that I am from Roswell, New Mexico. I grew up there, and it was a wonderful place in which to grow up. One of the best things about growing up in Roswell was that it is very close to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I have previously written about the refuge here and here.

When I learned that the United Field Ornithologists (UFO’s) of Roswell were to hold their very first birding festival, of course I made immediate plans to attend. I was excited about the opportunity to visit birding friends in Roswell and to visit a Lesser Prairie Chicken lek.

If you have ever visited a lek, you know that it involves getting up very early so that birders can be on the lek and well hidden before the birds come out onto the lek. True to form, we arose at 3:00 a.m. and left for the lek at 4:00 a.m. We were too excited to be tired, although that would be subject to change later on in the day.

We sat quietly, listening to the birds arriving on the lek. We could hear them, booming and dancing, long before we could see them clearly.

We strained to see the birds in the pre-dawn light, and I struggled to adjust my camera so that I could photograph them.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell birding festival

Lesser Prairie Chickens in the pre-dawn light

When the sun rose, we were able to get excellent looks at the prairie chickens.

United Field Ornitholgists of Roswell birding festival

Lesser Prairie Chicken at sunrise

We watched until the prairie chickens were finished with their display, and then we traveled to the Waldrop Park Rest Area, a birding oasis out in the very middle of nowhere. We had been there only a short time when we saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. This beautiful bird posed for us and allowed us all good looks at it.

Waldrop Park Rest Area

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

We saw a number of other flycatchers, among them an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell birding festival

Ash-throated Flycatcher

We saw many Swainson’s Hawks in the area.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell

Swainson’s Hawk

It seemed that wherever we went, we saw pretty Wilson’s Warbler’s flitting through the trees. This one was in the small town of Caprock.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell bird festival

Wilson’s Warbler

On our way back to Roswell, our sharp-eyed trip leader, Steve Smith, spotted a Barn Owl napping in a tree near the Pecos River. Of course we stopped to admire the beautiful bird.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Barn Owl

After a short break, we left for an afternoon trip to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We spent a pleasant afternoon viewing shorebirds at the refuge.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell birding festival

Black-necked Stilt

United Field Ornithologists of New Mexico birding festival

American Avocet

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Flock of Western Sandpipers

That evening we were treated to a barbecue feast at Retreat at Enchanted Farms, the festival headquarters. Michael Richardson and Susan Alston-Richardson, Retreat owners, provided wonderful food in a beautiful atmosphere.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Delicious food in a beautiful setting.

Laney Wilkins from the Spring River Zoo in Roswell brought Frodo the Great Horned Owl for us to admire.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Laney Wilkins and Frodo

Finally it was time for the evening’s entertainment. Michael Richardson introduced Professor Avian Guano, Bir.D, one of the many aliases of wildlife educator Denny Olson, also known as Doc Wild.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Michael Richardson introduces the evening’s entertainment

Denny Olson entertained us with Professor Guano’s antics, and we learned a great deal about bird behavior during the evening.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Denny Olson as Professor Avian Guano, Bir.D.

Susan Alston-Richardson appears to be a bit dismayed at being labeled a Brown-headed Cowbird.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Susan Alston-Richardson is not really a Brown-headed Cowbird.

After the evening’s entertainment came to a close, we headed off to get a few hours of sleep before the next day’s activities, which would be a trip to Rattlesnake Springs and Washington Ranch.

I was very excited to go to Rattlesnake Springs the next morning, as there had been reports of Vermilion Flycatchers in the area. Rattlesnake Springs, part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, is an Important Bird Area and outstanding stopover site for land birds. The historic 80-acre New Mexico wetland features up-welling groundwater that draws Mexican vagrants as well as eastern and western birds, such as Painted Buntings, Vermilion Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.

We were led by Steve West, resident naturalist at Rattlesnake Springs, and surely enough, we saw a number of the little beauties. Although this image is backlit, I like the look of the sun shining through the bird’s wings.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Backlit Vermilion Flycatcher

We continued to see flashes of red throughout the morning.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Vermilion Flycatcher

We saw flycatchers, warblers and tanagers at Rattlesnake Springs, but most of them were too deep in the branches of thick trees for me to get decent photos.

After a beautiful morning at Rattlesnake Springs, we had a lovely picnic lunch at the pond there. Everyone was much happier about the delicious lunch than this photo might suggest.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Delicious picnic lunch at Rattlesnake Springs

Our last stop of the day was at Washington Ranch, another site near Rattlesnake Springs, to look for a Lewis’s Woodpecker. We found the bird almost immediately, although unfortunately it was almost beyond the range of my lens. I did get a photo that was good enough to identify the bird.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Lewis’s Woodpecker

The Roswell birders were friendly and welcoming, and the birding festival was outstanding. It was difficult to believe that it was an inaugural event. Everything was beautifully organized, and we saw great birds. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!

UFOHEADER

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A Photo Excursion to the Martin Refuge at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Part I

Those of you who have followed this blog know that one of my favorite bird festivals is the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen, Texas. The birds are spectacular, the people are wonderful, and the festival is truly a marvel of organization and excellence.

This year, I decided to treat myself to a photography excursion to the Martin Refuge in Edinburgh, Texas. I had seen wonderful photos from this private refuge, and I was anxious to take some of my own. Our group was taken out to the ranch by the wonderful Ruth Hoyt, who is a fantastic photographer and a lovely human being. She spent the day helping us to improve our photography skills, and I was truly impressed by her considerable knowledge, kindness and patience.

We arrived at the ranch very early on a cool, windy morning. We went to a photo blind and began to set up to take photos. We did not have to wait very long until the Crested Caracaras began to arrive.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

The birds sat in the trees, waiting.

Watching from the branches.

Watching from the branches.

It was fascinating to watch the birds as they flew close to the blind …

Crested Caracara fly by.

Crested Caracara fly by.

Another fly by.

Another fly by.

… and as they came in for a landing.

Incoming.

Incoming.

Another bird flies in.

Another bird flies in.

Another arrival.

Another arrival.

There were spectacular mid-air encounters.

A mid-air encounter.

A mid-air encounter.

There were some disagreements when more than one bird wanted to occupy the same perch.

It's getting crowed around here.

It’s getting crowded around here.

The Crested Caracaras were not the only raptors on the refuge. There were beautiful Harris Hawks as well, and the caracaras were intimidated by them.

Crested Caracara and Harris Hawk.

Crested Caracara and Harris Hawk.

The Harris Hawks were clearly in charge.

The Harris Hawks were in charge.

The Harris Hawks were in charge.

And what brought all these birds so conveniently close to the blind? A lovely ball of leftovers from a local taxidermy shop. It seemed pretty unappealing to me, but it was a caracara and hawk magnet!

Yum!

Yum!

Birds would grab pieces from the lure and take them up into the trees to eat.

A tasty bit.

A tasty bit.

A close look at a feeding bird.

A close look at a feeding bird.

Although the Harris Hawks kept a close watch over the caracaras’ activities, I did not actually observe them eating any of the food.

The Watcher

The Watcher

As we were finishing up our morning photo session, I saw a bird that immediately made me think of my home in Corrales, New Mexico.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

The birds finished their feast, and we retired for our picnic lunch under the palapa. We could not wait to see what the afternoon’s photo session would bring. In Part II of this post you will see what we did in the afternoon.

Green Jay

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