By Erma Mae Perkins
“He was here while you were having breakfast, “ Barry informed us. We often watched the female tufted coquette—easily identified by the distinct light-colored bar across her rump. The bar separated her green back from the rust feathers distal to the bar. However, the male, with his rusty tuft was elusive. We were bombarded, literally at times, by the copper-rumped hummingbird, white-necked Jacobin, and others, but the male tufted coquette apparently fed out of sight from the veranda of the Asa Wright Nature Centre, in Trinidad.
As we discussed a destination for our 50th anniversary trip, Leon expressed his wish to relax. His desire inspired me to think of the ads in Bird Watcher’s Digest for the Asa Wright Nature Centre, which say you can “spot forty species of birds before breakfast.” The information sounded perfect for our goal – a physically undemanding opportunity to add dozens of birds to our life lists. We visited Trinidad in August when it was hot and humid. We hiked the Discovery Trail twice and visited the Oilbird Cave, but most of our days that week were spent on and around the veranda of the Asa Wright Lodge.
The sightings were amazing. Besides the hummingbirds, green and purple honeycreepers, yellow orioles, and barred antshrikes often visited the fruit offerings. Bananaquits were regulars on the fruit and nectar feeders.
Coffee was ready by 6 a.m. when the orange-winged parrots gathered in a nearby tree. Their raucous calling announced their arrival, so we gathered on the side of the veranda. Looking over the roof of the dining area we could see an immortelle tree with the long, slender nests of the crested oropendola. The males could be observed making their gurgling, two-note call while bowing and rustling feathers. It’s a large, slender black bird with bright yellow tail feathers. They occasionally came to the feeders offering fruit.
We observed the lovely channel-billed toucan in the tree with the parrots as well as in more distant trees through the spotting scope. There was usually a guide on the veranda who assisted with identifying birds by sight and sound. With their seemingly bionic eyes, they found squirrel cuckoo, violaceous trogan, lineated woodpecker, and others and offered views through the spotting scope.
Violaceous euphonia frequented a tree just to the left of the veranda. Blue-gray, silver-beaked, and white-lined tanagers visited often. The less colorful palm tanager made its presence known with its noisome, squeaking call.
After breakfast on our second day, we ventured off the veranda for a hike to the cave of the oilbird. The guided tour is available only to guests staying at the Centre three days or more. Barry led us up and down the hills of the rain forest. This brown bird, 18 inches long, resembles a nightjar, but is unique in every other way. It is the only nocturnal, fruit-eating bird in the world. They build ledges of regurgitated fruit and spend their days in the cave, emerging at night to feed on fruit, which they swallow whole. When disturbed, their vocal response sounds like a person choking and vomiting.
Due to the heat and humidity we spent some time in the afternoons under the ceiling fan in our room, checking our list of birds sighted and reading about the interesting history of the Spring Hill Estate. At 4 p.m., we faithfully returned to the veranda for tea, which included a savory and sweet pastry. At 6 p.m., a rum punch was served. Enjoying this delicious offering while observing long-billed starthroats, black-throated mangos, blue-chinned sapphires, and white-chested emeralds is an experience to be treasured.
On our last day, we were the only guests as the Centre closed for nearly a month for repair and restoration of the buildings and grounds. (The nectar feeders and feeding tables were maintained so the birdlife persisted.)
Although we added tufted coquette to our life lists, we longed to see the male, with his handsome chestnut crest and spotted cheek tufts. We concentrated our viewing on the abundant vervain shrubs, since the bird’s beak is too short to feed from the sanchezia, torch ginger, “powder puff” blossoms or the nectar feeders. We finally had a glimpse and were able to get a picture as he flitted from blossom to blossom.
With so many birds to learn, I concentrated on those listed as “common” on the AWNC species checklist. We did not see the bearded bellbird, the Trinidad motmot, the ruby-topaz and the 400 other species of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. However, we returned home with many warm memories of our week in a tropical paradise. The birds, heliconia flowers, local food, leaf-cutter ants, locally grown coffee, the history and vision of the Centre, and the friendly, knowledgeable guides made this a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
IF YOU GO:
Caligo Ventures is the exclusive representative of Asa Wright Nature Center in North America. They offer independent and group tours. www.caligo.com or 800-426-7781
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