REPORT NO. 5 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP
We are up on the veranda at 6:25 am, and get the tiny female TUFTED COQUETTE* hummingbird, pointed to by guide Denise. Sharon had earlier seen a little "insect" buzzing around, but didn't believe it was a bird, it was so small, so she dismissed it. This is the smallest hummer on Trinidad, but the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba is the world's smallest.. Anyway, the maxi-spectacular male coquette is the one everybody really wants. A little earlier, we got a female VIOLACEOUS EUPHONIA*, also pointed out by Denise. These birds are the size of finches you see for sale in pet store, and the males are violet (hence, violaceous) and yellow. The females are perfectly drab in color, so we really want to see a male. You see only a few each day, so it's a treat.
I spot a bird with a very unusual head, flying like a streak across the valley and yell, "Hornbill!" Other birders get on it, and it's actually a Channel-billed Toucan, a most spectacular tropical bird. No Hornbills around here. I don't mind -- I got everybody looking at it.
We see a couple of black birds below, and finally ID them as SMOOTH-BILLED ANI*. This is a bird we tried to get in Florida, and here sit a pair. Great. They later become so common to us, that we stop mentioning them. Denise points us to a flycatcher sitting high in a tree, and especially its small size and streaked throat. It's a PYRATIC FLYCATCHER*. She says it looks similar to the Streaked Flycatcher, but is smaller and also the Streaked has a rusty red tail, which our bird doesn't have.
Another birder close to us spots a great bird, and we all get it, sitting in a tree, with its long, white-spotted under-tail hanging below. It's a SQUIRREL CUCKOO*, and is a great, rusty-colored, large bird. After a few moments, it flies away. Got it just in time.
I pick up movement, and yell, "The Coquette is back!" and Denise says, "It's the male," in her proper, lilting Trinidad accent. We all get fantastic looks at this little fellow, with his tufts sticking back from his head and from his shoulders. Neither of the Coquettes landed -- they just buzzed around the flowers, taking nectar.
At 830 am, Denise asks Sharon and me if we're ready for our Orientation Walk. Everybody gets one who's staying here, and we're the only ones today. We get her all to ourselves. Fantastic.
We get another Cocoa Thrush, and she calls it the island's 525 bird. That's because it wakes everybody up at 5:25 every morning. Another flycatcher is above us, and in accordance with our expressed wishes to Denise, she doesn't call out the bird, but points out its location. We get on it, and based on her earlier statement, identify it as a STREAKED FLYCATCHER*, with its obvious rusty tail and larger size. Correcto, she says, only in proper Trini.
Denise holds up two fingers to her lips, like she's drawing on a cigarette, and sucks air in, but makes a kind of whistling, sucking noise which is supposed to sound like a bird in distress. It's very good, and many birds come to inquire about the problem. We get a TROPICAL PEWEE*, plus a beautiful male violet-and-yellow Violaceous Euphonia to go with our earlier female, and a closer look at a Violaceous Trogon than we had yesterday on the drive up. She points out a high-flying raptor, and based on the flat wings, and very high altitude, I guess at Black Vulture, and she confirms this. They are very common here, it turns out.
Another raptor flies over, and it's a DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE*. We could have never got it alone, but we claim it based on her knowledge. Later that night, in a video, we would see exactly the same profile, high overhead. Soon, Denise points out a sound to us, and it's the Toucan, but it flies away before either of us could locate it. Next we get a flycatcher, similar to the Great Kiskadee, and she challenges us to figure out which it is. She gives us a hint not in our book -- namely, that the BOAT-BILLED FLYCATCHER* has two white streaks on the side of its head which DO NOT meet in the front. The Great Kiskadee has the same streaks, but they DO meet. Also, as you can tell by the name, the Boat-billed has a much larger beak.
We move a little further down the trail, and Denise repeats the whistle of the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (a tiny, but ferocious bird-catching-and-eating owl) over and over, and after a bit, lots of birds begin coming to check it out. You'd think they'd fly away in the opposite direction, but they don't. In addition to ones we've just seen, we get a pair of GOLDEN-FRONTED GREENLETS*, a fairly drab little greenish-yellow bird. Another is a female WHITE-BEARDED MANAKIN*, but the male is the one we want. The female is an attractive green-and-yellow color. Denise also points out a FOREST ELAENIA*, a type of flycatcher. They are very difficult, and we need her for these. We arrive at one of our destinations, the White-bearded Manakin lek. This is where the males of the species hop around, making snapping noises, whirring noises, and generally trying to entice the females observing them that each of them is the one to choose for a mating partner. I knew others in some bars in San Francisco and Palo Alto when I was 23.
It is perfectly quiet right now. She says the hot times are about 6:30 am and again about 1:30 pm. We continue on down the path, to Bellbird territory. These birds make an incredible BOK sound for their call. You just have to hear it to believe it. The boks sound really loud, when all of a sudden one calls which sounds like he's sitting on my shoulder, next to my ear.
In short order, Denise finds the BEARDED BELLBIRD* (they are VERY difficult to find because they are ventriloquil -- their call doesn't sound like it's coming from where they are) and points him out. I get good video, then another, even louder one sounds to our right. I get great video of him for twenty seconds or so. Unbelievable.
This is the end of Denise's trip with us. She gives us several options on making good our return, and takes off back up the forest trail. We decide to go a little further down, then return to the Manakin lek, check it again, then take another trail going across the valley to then make a left, and return to the main house.
The Manakin lek is still unoccupied, so we peel off. We try to imitate Denise's calls. Sharon is good at the distress call, and I am trying to do a couple of her whistles. Suddenly Sharon spots a hummer which has landed not ten feet away, at the same time I am looking at it. It's Trinidad's largest hummingbird, the GREEN HERMIT*. They get their name because they are a shy bird, and can you guess their color? A dark sort of forest green, but an elongated two-quill, white tail, and a very pronounced, down-turned bill. He has a black mask, separated by streaks above and below. A most impressive hummer. And we got it on our own!
Sharon repeats her distress call, and we get a little white and black bird -- the male White-bearded Manakin. Gorgeous. We continue on, as does Sharon with her distress call. A male and female White-lined Tanager respond. Next, my whistle seems to bring four or five Violaceous Trogons, high up, and we get several Motmots.
Now the trail is starting to bend back upwards, and we get our best look yet at a Channel-billed Toucan overhead. We can see the yellow of its bill and the powder blue around its eye. Then we get our own Streaked Flycatcher, with its red rusty tail. We can clearly see the black mask through the eye now.
After lunch, we go out to the veranda, and I immediately see a new bird and behavior, but can't ID it yet. "Sharon, come quick!" I yell, politely. There is a pair of swifts which normally fly high above us, but right now are at eye level, and flying straight away from the veranda, then back again in a sort of roller coaster race track pattern. They are coming within twenty feet of us. We can see that they have bands behind their wings, on their upper bodies, and as they wheel and turn, we see that their under-bodies are light, not dark. This sets them apart as GRAY-RUMPED SWIFTS*.
Next, we head down to the White-bearded Manakin lek. On the way we see an American Swallow-tailed Kite, which we just got last week in Florida. Sharon then quickly picks up movement to our left, in a tree, and I get video of a CHESTNUT WOODPECKER*, which has the same shape and size of the Pileated Woodpecker of the US, but is all chestnut brown. A great bird, but not too uncommon.
We move on and as we come within twenty feet of the lek, we can hear whirring and popping, just as we were told to expect by Denise. As we go into a little adjacent corral, meant to keep on-lookers from a) getting on the lek, and b) rolling down the valley, we see what we eventually estimate to be perhaps 15 males, all black and white and struttin' their stuff. They quiet down a little, but then two females come through, who do their own little puffing. The males go nuts, and it's like popcorn. We're still not completely sure what causes the popping, but Denise said something about the way their move their wings or something. I get fantastic video of this event, which reminds us of the Prairie-chicken drumming we saw last spring on the prairie leks near Cole Camp, Missouri.
Completely different, but somehow the same.
We also see a couple of bats, which we earlier took to be butterflies because we weren't paying much attention. There are 47 different species on the island. On our way back up, Sharon picks up a Bare-eyed Thrush.
We are getting near the Main House when at 2 pm, it starts sprinkling. I see rain coming, and break out my umbrella. I offered Sharon the other one before we came down, but she elected to GAMBLE and not lug it around. She gets mildly soaked as she hurries to shelter. It's a medium-heavy rain, but it doesn't last very long before it lightens up, then changes to sprinkles. We ARE in the rain forest, and it cools things off very nicely.
We make it back to the room, and I go for a half-nap while Sharon takes a full. She says she finally feels like we're on vacation because I let her take an afternoon nap. Like I could have stopped her. I wake up first, and continue with some more birding preparation. Sharon later wakes up and we decide to bird off the veranda till it gets dark. We pick up the little Trinidad subspecies of the HOUSE WREN, just like ours in America, but this little bird is very quiet, right now anyway. Later, we hear it lots, and it's very sharp and musical, just like ours. The rain has slowed down the bird activity at the feeders.
We meet up with some birding couples we previously met from Connecticut, and another two from England. We bird a bit, then learn that one of the English couples got a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl near their cabin this morning about 9:30 am. The wife, Audrey, takes us there to show us, and we get another lifer. Not the lifer we hoped for, but rather a PLAIN-BROWN WOODCREEPER*, working its way up the side of a large, bare tree trunk. Spotted by Sharon, of course, and its name exactly matches its description.
We go back to the veranda, and I have an afternoon feature for those staying here at the center -- a rum punch. Sharon has hers without the rum of course. We hear a strange noise, and another fellow we met named Charles has a new electronic toy that senses extremely high frequency noises, and plays them back in the human ear range. He can see bats flying in front of us, and he points the gadget at them as they are flying. We can now "hear" the bats. It's pretty cool.
We had earlier seen bats down in the forest, and a couple more on the way with Audrey to their cabin. Later we realize that they are quietly all over, even in the daytime.
Dinner is served, and how quickly it happens with the right people. One American couple and one of the British couples are in adjacent rooms in one of the buildings, and they have become great friends over their stay here. The men and the American wife tease each other mercilessly, and we get in a little on the fun. The dinner ends with jokes, then we move to see another 30 minute video taken by a famous Canadian TV birder we know well, called The Nature Nut, otherwise known as John Acorn (his real name). It's about the road we plan to drive tomorrow, to the northern Trinidad coast.
Afterwards we finish off a few jokes, me telling the penguin joke, and Dad's "when it was born, that baby had wheels" one. And then we turn in. We'll be up at five tomorrow, aiming to leave at six -- just as it is getting light.
Lifers Today: Tufted Coquette (Hummer), Violaceous Euphonia, Channel-billed Toucan, Smooth-billed Ani, Pyratic Flycatcher, Squirrel Cuckoo, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Double-toothed Kite, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Greenlet, White-bearded Manakin, Forest Elaenia, Bearded Bellbird (BOK!), Green Hermit (Hummer), Gray-rumped Swift, Chestnut Woodpecker, Plain-brown Woodcreeper.
Most Beautiful Birds: 1. Tufted Coquette (only slightly larger than a bumble bee, with the male having tiny orange tufts on the head and shoulders), 2. White-bearded Manakin (a little white puffball with black from the cheeks up, red-orange legs)
Rarest Bird: Tufted Coquette.
Most Remarkable Birds: 1. White-bearded Manakin (on the lek, the 15 or so males -- in the case at Asa Wright -- each clears off a one-foot square area of all debris down to the dirt forest floor, then they jump and buzz and snap their wings to compete for the females); 2. Bearded Bellbird (Sounds like a bell with a slight damper on it)
Totals: Today 18, Trinidad, 23+18=41, Trip, 42+18=60
Tomorrow, we venture off the property for the first time, and I go to sleep, wondering how it can get any better than what we've seen yesterday and today.
Sharon and Bob.
Continue to Next Report (6) - 3rd of 8 Trinidad reports
Back to Previous Report (4) - 1st of 8 Trinidad
Back to Tropics 2000 Page
Back to Birding Trips