REPORT NO. 12 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP

Tuesday, April 25, 2000 Last Morning on Trinidad. Trip Day 19 of 38. AS HIGH-SCHOOLER SHARON USED TO TELL HER MOM WHEN HER MOM WOULD TELL HER TO SHUT HER LIGHT OFF AND GO TO SLEEP, "JUST LET ME FINISH THIS CHAPTER."

We pull out of Asa Wright at 6:57 am, headed for Waller Field one more time, before we go to the airport. Sharon asks if my cassette recorder's wheels are going around. I check and they're ok. There is a vulnerable little switch which puts the unit on pause, if toggled, and I have to continually check it because sometimes it gets moved when I simply put the recorder into my pocket. Then I record all day long, but nothing gets put on the tape, Dohp.

We are onto the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, 16.2 km from the Asa Wright exit. By 8:26 am, we are down at Waller Field, trying for Ruby-topaz Hummingbird and Moriche Oriole, both of which our guide David told us were here. We drive around to some spots as directed, but strike out on both. Then, just as we're about to leave, we have to work a little bit on the ID, but we see a gorgeous little PEARL KITE*, sitting on electrical wires. He's very patient, as I inch closer to get good video. From below, looking up at the wires, the impression is WHITE. But he has dark stripes on either side of his head, and above that is very pale yellow. His tail and back are dark.

I also get great video of several Green-rumped Parrotlets and a National Geographic class photo of a Red-breasted Blackbird, facing the sun and showing an absolutely brilliant red front, perched on top of (are you ready) a stack of used auto racing tires. Nature is beauty. This part of Waller Field is now used for flat track auto racing.

At 9:14 am, and just because she can, Sharon spots a Yellow-headed Caracara. I pull into the Thrifty Car Rental place at the airport. Dion comes out to meet us, a Trini with some gold in his teeth, and a great smile. Very friendly, he checks the car in, moves it, then comes back into the air conditioned office.

"Et Tezz?" he asks. Huh? "Excuse me?" I ask. "Et tezz?" he asks, just exactly like the first time. I pardon myself and ask "One more time please?" The third time, I always get it. He says, "Et tezz?" I stand there searching for any little morsel of a syllable I can catch onto, but I can't do it. He must realize my predicament (Sharon can't get it either), because then he says, "You've 'ad the cah for et tezz?"

"Yes, one week and one day," I say, relieved that I didn't have to ask one more time. "Ehth day is free," he says. This is an unexpected bit of news, which we can well live with.

I make up a lie that I hurt my knee, and that I MUST switch the 4WD manual transmission Suzuki Samurai we have reserved on Tobago for a 2WD automatic shift. He calls his counterpart, Neil, on Tobago, and gives the universal Trini response, "No problem," he says.

Fantastic.

We get to the regular in-country terminal (as opposed to the international one), and wait for our plane to pull up to the gate. We were told we'd do an 11 am boarding, then have an 11:30 am takeoff. We see Air Caribbean and BWIA (British West Indies Airlines, but nobody says the "British" word any more) airplanes, but no Liat -- our airline.

11:25 am. Liat personnel come to the desk, and I see them talking quietly to some people. Their boarding passes are collected, and they start walking out onto the tarmac in a line, even though there is no plane. Huh?

Then the announcement. "Would all on Liat Flight 302 please come forward." What the? We go up, and they point to the tarmac-walkers-to-nowhere, and say, "Would you just follow them, please?"

We load up our heavy, heavy gear and take off after them. They are now clearly headed for another arm of the terminal, walking across the airport tarmac. They head into the terminal, though, and out the other side. We do the same, and there are two Liat airplanes, both prop-jets (DeHavilland-8 types, if you know your planes), on the ground. We follow our leaders onto one of the planes. "Where are you headed" the hostess asks. "Tobago, Flight 302," I say, and she says to please have a seat.

The strangest boarding we've ever done. Or heard of.

We spend 25 minutes flying to Grenada, 15 minutes on the ground, 20 minutes flying to perfectly-flat Barbados, changing planes there.

Everybody unloads and we have to lug our carry-on luggage about 200 yards. It's a real struggle, and now I need that luggage carrier I left in the Florida RV. Dang. But we can wait in the air conditioned terminal, then we know we leave from Gate 9. In the terminal, we inquire as to the location of Gate 9. The lady points to exactly where we have come from. Dohp!

At the appropriate time, we lug our carry-ons back down where we came from and get in line. They board us, and we get set for the 25 minute flight to St. Lucia, where we land at Vigie Airport. I am woozy from near-air sickness, but it's about normal for me on these little planes.

Neil meets us at the air terminal, and takes us over to Thrifty, only about 200 yards away. He has a little four-door hatchback for us, dark blue, and the price is excellent. We realize it's probably excellent because the left-hand rear view mirror is missing. In addition, as Dion came to a stop in front of Thrifty, there was an incredibly fingernails-across-the-blackboard sound, which he explained with a big smile and a "new brakepads" explanation. But it's an excellent car otherwise.

I checked with our Allstate Auto agent in San Jose before we left, and he said we are not covered in any of these countries we're going to. So I am paying that stupid extra $15 or $20 US per day thing, because if there's an accident, and you DON'T have that extra coverage, they keep you in the country till you pay the $5000 or whatever the estimate turns out to be to fix the car. Don't want to take a chance on that, especially with these wacko Caribbean drivers.

We take off, and by 1:00 pm, I'm about 80% recovered from the sea-sickness. We're parked on a six-foot bluff by the beach, and we can see lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, a couple of Laughing Gulls sitting next to the pelican, hoping to steal some food. It's pretty cool because the Pelicans catch the fish, the Laughing Gulls steal it from the Pelicans, then finally the Frigatebirds steal it from the Laughing Gulls.

We continue to the end of the road, as recommended by Murphy's book. On the way Sharon spots some birds that have flown up from the grass into a bush, and they are BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS*. They are similar to the Blue-black Grassquits except they are nondescript gray-brown starting at the rear, and progress to black at the head.

At 1:11 we get a couple of Green-rumped Parrotlets and a Smooth-billed Ani, then a little later, we get a RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER*, spotted by Sharon in a thicket near where we parked.

Then she spots a hole in a coconut palm, where the adult parents exchange places.

Sharon has seen a sign that points to Robinson Crusoe's cave, and wants to visit it. So we take off, and another sign points to a right turn. We take it, and eventually wind up in the front yard of a house, with no other roads or signs. We turn around and return to the main road. We pick up another Barred Antshrike while looking for the cave.

The GPS was almost useless on Trinidad because there is so much canopy in the rainforest and over Blanchisseuse Road, that the satellites wouldn't stay locked-in. But Tobago is much more open, with lots of grasslands, and the roads are not under canopy, for the most part.

We have landed in the far southern end of the island, and will drive approximately 85% of the way to the far north end, to the tiny village of Speyside (SPAY-side). On the way, we stop at Francis' Supermarket, a tiny little store, and buy four AA batteries, a coke, a box of cheese crackers, and a couple of candy bars for $42 TT, or about $7 US.

But first, we drive up the southwest coast a little ways to Pigeon Point, hoping for a good tern. We pay $24 TT to get into the Pigeon Point Park, and they give us wristbands to lock around our wrists, to show that we paid to get in. We drive on up to the main beach, and find a small almost all-white tern, with a black bill, uniform light gray on top of the wings, with no blackening towards the wingtips (eliminating Common Terns, which may also be here). We have the ROSEATE TERNS* we hoped for. They are sparkling, in the sun.

We then reverse directions, and head for our hotel. We travel about halfway there, but can't pass up the opportunity to make a left turn and a short jog up into the Tobago rainforest, just to see what it's like. We find some great lookouts, a couple of Orange-winged Parrots, and Oropendula nests all over some of the trees. Sharon sees one climb out of the nest and fly off.

At 4:51 pm, we get our own Northern Waterthrush, pumping his tail to confirm his ID. By 5:30 pm, we are parked in front of the Blue Waters Inn, our home for the next four nights.

[Sharon adds this description: The room here is the most beautiful we have been in so far. As we enter, the maid opens sliding glass doors that face the water where waves are washing in only 20-30 feet away. On the opposite side of the room are louvered windows and when we open them, the ocean breeze just pours through. There is a verandah facing the beach where we can sit and watch the sun go down. A tropical paradise!]

We shower and are ready for dinner.

Tonight, we eat at the Fish Pot, the restaurant associated with the inn, and it's good, but a little more food than I wanted. Sharon has access to a telephone for the first time in over a week, so she checks home and work messages. Nothing much going on there, which is good news.

Lifers Today: Pearl Kite, Black-faced Grassquit, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Roseate Tern.

Handsomest Bird: Pearl Kite

Rarest Birds: Pearl Kite

Totals: Today 4 (Trinidad 1, Tobago 3), Trinidad 112+1, = 113 (final), Tobago 3, Trinidad & Tobago 112+4= 116, Trip 131+4, = 135

Wednesday, April 26, 2000. Day 2 of 4 on Tobago. Trip Day 20 of 38. A DAY OF R&R. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, SAYS SHARON.

We have just finished breakfast, again at the Fish Pot, and I have been watching a man and woman and about four boys coming to and running from their table. One of the sons looks exactly like the boy in the movie Sling Blade. When all the boys are away, I go over to the table, and ask them if the son who had been sitting there is an actor. They laugh and say no, then I tell them about Sling Blade. The wife laughs and says he'll be tickled when they tell him that.

I walk back to our table, and we head back to our bungalow (another duplex-style arrangement). On the way, Sharon spots a hummer in a tree between our open veranda and the beach (a space of perhaps 25 or 30 feet, so you see, we're right smack on the beach). We look and look, and finally see all the parts in the sun. It's just your average spectacular RUBY-TOPAZ HUMMINGBIRD*. He has a large, rusty tail, a sparkling red cap, buffy neck and chest, and a tiny bill.

This place is like a reward for all the hard work we did in the Trinidad rainforest. It's incredibly laid back and relaxing, and later, Sharon decides to take a nap.

One of the features of the Blue Waters Inn is the proximity to the boats that take you over to Little Tobago Island, where a very special and beautiful bird nests. And my Murphy book describes other birds that are there, or were there six or seven years ago, anyway.

I talk to the person who signs you up for the trip over, and learn that for $100 TT ($17 US) each, you are taken over a reef in a glass bottom boat to see it, then are taken to Little Tobago, where you are led up and over, to see the nesting seabird. Then back to the boat, and over to a snorkeling area.

But the time you are given on the island is not nearly long enough for us, so I ask about a special trip. Rhonda says that for an EXTRA $100 TT ($300 TT total), a boat will take us straight over, let us off, and come back and pick us up three hours (my request) later. That sounds like what we want.

Then I bump into five people we met at Asa Wright, including the one with the "bat" translater. They referred me to a man named Bob, who described where he went earlier today to get Striated Heron, and an over-the-hill walk for a White-tailed Nightjar. I'm excited about that. I head back to the room.

I'm having fun writing on the computer, and hear this incredible racket outside, which I recognize. I don't want to wake Sharon though, because she's doing such a great job representing our team in the sleep category right now.

I run out back to see them and I do (Sharon might be upset at first, but this bird is pretty common here), and on my way back, I spot a pigeon perched high in a tree over our bungalow. I get the scope on it, and now it's different. I gotta wake Sharon for these two lifers, so I do. She's really groggy, but she's excited when she realizes what's up.

First she gets on the scope and sees the PALE-VENTED PIGEON*, still perched for anyone to see, above our place. Then we race back behind our bungalow, and wait for the racket to move to our area. I get one first, then Sharon gets a RUFOUS-VENTED CHACHALACA*, dark-brown with red tail-tips and other highlights. These birds are INCREDIBLY noisy, and when one gets going, all the others join in. Scream the last name of this bird in the squawkiest voice you can muster, at the top of your lungs, and you get some idea. If you have six people doing it, out of rhythm with each other.

Sharon has heard other noises out behind our place, and it turns out to be a Tropical Mockingbird nest with three youngsters in it. One appears ready to fledge, but that is misleading, because later that day, or the next morning, all are gone.

Later that afternoon, we drive up the hill and down the other side, to the Blue Waters Inn turnoff at the main highway, and after a little searching, Sharon follows a birdcrap track in a tree up, up, up and finds two immature Striated Herons. An adult flies in, and the two little ones immediately flap over to her and mob her. She smacks them around with her wings, and moves away, and they don't follow. They must be 18, and it's time to be booted out of the house.

We have been looking all over for the Green Kingfisher, also supposed to be here, but we can't spot it.

We walk up the trail recommended by our acquaintance Bob, past the water wheel, past the lizards, when a bird flies over Sharon's ankle. Too fast for us. We hear a rattle, and spot a Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Next we get a Red-crowned Woodpecker working on the end of a broken-off branch. Sharon picks up movement and we get a pair of Barred Antshrikes. They respond dependably to duplicating their calls.

Now we are coming to the top, hoping for the nightjar, and we get a beautiful black and gray and white WHITE-FRINGED ANTWREN*. What a stunner. But no nightjar. We turn around and head back down, picking up a pair of Ruby-topaz Hummers. At the bottom, we check once again, and this time the Green Kingfisher is sitting on a wire, but flies immediately before I can get him on video.

Lifers Today: Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Pale-vented Pigeon, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Striated Heron, White-flanged Antwren

Handsomest Birds: 1. Ruby-topaz Hummingbird (very short bill, buffy throat and chest, brilliant red head, rufous tail), 2. White-fringed Antwren (Generally black underparts and gray uppers. Black wings with two white wing bars, white flanks, black and white tail, thin white dividing line between lower and upper parts. A gray, black and white work of art).

Rarest Birds: Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, White-fringed Antwren, but neither one especially rare.

Most Remarkable Bird: Rufous-vented Chachalaca (general appearance of a female turkey, they make an incredible racket and call, from which their name derives. They work their way through an area from tree to tree, staying approximately at mid-levels. Like dogs, when one starts, all the others chime in)

Totals: Today 5, Tobago 3+5= 8, Trinidad & Tobago 116+5= 121, Trip 135+5, = 140

Finally, we have had two consecutive days where "little" enough was going on that I can combine two days into one report. You gotta be happy about that.

Relaxed to the Max,
Sharon and Bob

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