REPORT NO. 9 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP

Saturday, April 22, 2000. Trinidad Day 6 of 8. Trip Day 16 of 38. THE TRAIL FROM HELL ABOVE MT. ST. BENEDICT and the ARIPO SAVANNAH GRASSLANDS, plus no touchdowns at former World War II airbase WALLER FIELD

We are driving over to Mt. St. Benedict where the PAX Guest House is located. This is another place to stay in the area, but not nearly as birdy as Asa Wright.

Suddenly my two left wheels drop into the shallow but square ditch off the pavement to the left (NOT the cliff side). I am going about 30 miles per hour, and I am thinking we will have to wait for someone to come along and help lift us out, when I see some mud and dirt built up to road level about 20 feet ahead. So as soon as the front left tire hits it, I steer sharply to the right, out of the ditch and back onto the road. Whew. That would have been plenty trouble. Sharon sits on the left and is lways thinking we're driving too close to the edge of the road. Oops, this time she was right.

At about 9:30 am, we begin walking on a trail we know by reading about it, and at first it's easy. I'm expecting a little hillside loop walk. We soon get our first WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER*, a black bird with more white than the White-lined Tanager we got a few days ago. We come to a fork, and take the uphill section, as outlined in our book. We get a Tropical House Wren and our own Golden-fronted Greenlet.

At 9:56 we come to a massive tree blocking the path. Someone has constructed a very steep trail up, over, and back down -- around it. But these two sections are unbelievably steep, and I don't know if we can make it. I help Sharon up one side, and down the other, and after a lot of both kinds of sweat (you gotchure physical and also yer mental), we continue on.

We come upon a familiar red flower, pointed out to us by someone earlier, though I don't recall the name (something like Waxlips or Hotlips).

I am exhausted, and don't know if I can finish this loop trail, which in reality is turning into a mountain climb. Later, I figure out the problem. I have been taking blood pressure medication, and my doctor said that weight loss, heat and exercise will also lower it. We are getting a tremendous amount of strenuous exercise by our climbing around on all the trails, and the tropics around here are warm and humid. Before I think of this real answer to the question, "What's wrong with me," I am thinking that I'm sick with a new disease, like Mononucleosis or something. You know how that uncertainty thing can work on you.

We keep trudging, Sharon in the lead and we're climbing very high now. We see two Golden-headed Manakins, and I get one on video. At 10:20 am, we get a pair of GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLERS*. The warbler's crown looks black and white, but closer inspection shows the white on either side of his head are grayish, and the very top is slightly buffy, not white.

There are 14 checkpoints on our book describing this trail, and we're only between 6 and 7. Sharon begins to argue that we're not even halfway yet, and we should go back. I can't stand the thought of going over that terrible trail again, and I argue for going ahead. Sharon finally reluctantly agrees, but now I'm doing that mental struggle you get when your wife argues one way, you argue another, and you do it your way. You know if your way is wrong, she is entitled to an hour or so's worth of I-told-you-so-you-dummy. Not that SHARON would ever do anything like that.

She later tells me that she was worried about the same thing I was. Namely, "What's going to happen if I don't have enough energy and strength to get down off of the mountain?"

Over the next part of the trail, I fall once, and Sharon falls twice, but we get up and perservere. None of them are bad falls. Finally we arrive at what I think is Checkpoint 9, and I'm relaxing a little bit. But I am SO tired. We come upon a bird perched in a tree, which has been circling high over our heads till now, and it's a Black Vulture. Other vultures and raptors wheel and circle BELOW us now.

At 11:49, we are finally up on the main ridge, and we can see the monastery down below. Way below. WAY WAY WAY below.

We could turn right at this 'T', but that would take us even higher, and we never WERE interested in climbing the dang mountain, just in getting new birds.

Now we're finally headed downhill and I relax, but it doesn't help the physical exhaustion at all. The path is strewn with pine needles, and they're sort of like pick-up-sticks -- your feet can just roll right out from under you. So you must stay a little tense. We can hear parrots somewhere, way down and to the left. At the steep parts, I always go first, and give Sharon a hand, and every time I do, there is a sharp stab of pain in whichever shoulder I use.

It's about this time, that I figure out the blood pressure thing. I won't take one tomorrow, and I bet a lot of my energy will come back. Doesn't help right now though.

At 12:33 pm, we are at the lookout tower we were told to watch for, and there is a young Trini couple eating KFC on the lower staircase. They tell us this fabulous joke, in the form of a question: "Do you want to climb the tower?" Meaning, they'll move out of the way if we do want to.

"That's a good one," I pant to myself. "No, thanks."

Further down now, and Sharon can put her hat back on. The winds tried to take it from her higher up on the trail. I could chuckle when I think that I almost brought the scope onto this trail from hell.

Still further down, and we can finally hear birds again. They didn't seem to like the higher trail. We catch a little hummingbird next to the Scout house. We saw blue on the tail, a green head, and it's a BLUE-TAILED EMERALD*, a gem of a bird.

Now that I re-read Murphy's words, there was a hint of the satanic nature of this trail. He says not to start off climbing the left part of the loop because it's really steep. Rather, start on the right side because it's more gentle. Well guess what, the steepness doesn't change just because you're going DOWN, and by then our knees were like rubber.

I have the second half of this day planned for the Aripo Savannah, but all I want to do is go to sleep. Sharon convinces me that because we're in the approximate area, we should go there, even if just to slowly drive through and bird from the car. "OK," I say.

1:00 pm. We're sitting in the car, Sharon is alive, but I'm not sure about me. I feel the need for sleep so badly. But I should get a giant improvement tomorrow, when I DON'T take my blood pressure medication. I'll check my BP back at our cottage, because I brought it for just this event.

Don't get too worried. I wasn't going to be monitoring to see that it doesn't get too HIGH, rather monitoring that it doesn't get too LOW. But birding has been so exciting, I have forgotten to do it.

We drive to Waller Field, a World War II airbase used by the British and the Americans. We bird a little, then I decide I MUST take a nap. But Waller Field is very isolated -- the forest has grown up a lot since the field was abandoned, and all sources warn you not to go to isolated places like this by yourself. I'm exhausted but can't sleep because of my concern about being parked alone in this area. So I just rest while Sharon naps, and I do "lookout." Several cars and a few bicycles, plus some individuals walk by, but none get very close. After perhaps 20 minutes, I start the car, and slowly head out from the air strip. Then we move on to the Aripo Savannah.

In the Aripo Savannah, we see more water buffalo in a field, and perhaps 50 Black Vultures. Dogs bark in the heavily fenced yard of a Trini, and he comes out to see what the ruckus is. We tell him we're looking at birds, and he warns us not to stay long, since it's so isolated out here.

"Thanks," we say. But Sharon has spotted another, smaller black bird. This could be one of our target birds at this location. The key is the eye color. I put the scope on them, and wait for them to move around until I get the color. Then Sharon gets on the scope, and she also sees the red eye. Almost like an evil eye. It's a GIANT COWBIRD*, and it likes to hop rather than walk to move about.

We continue a little way, and Sharon spots a parrot sitting on a fence next to a house, with no apparent tether. Sharon swears that it says, "Pretty bird," so we spend a little time trying to talk to it. Finally we turn around, and get out of Dodge.

On the way back home, we find another research station owned by Asa Wright, and we stop and play our owl tape. We get several familiar birds, but also get a YELLOW-BREASTED FLYCATCHER*. The entire chin, neck, chest and belly are all bright yellow.

We finally make it back to our cottage, and I hit the bed and am out immediately. Just waking up for dinner.

I measure my BP and it's 97 over 60, way lower than my normal. Sharon says that explains my exhaustion. I am exhaustively tickled.

Lifers Today: White-shouldered Tanager, White-flanked Antwren, Golden-crowned Warbler, Blue-tailed Emerald, Giant Cowbird, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher

Handsomest Bird: Blue-tailed Emerald (Hummer).

Bird Worked Hardest For: Golden-crowned Warbler.

Totals: Today 6, Trinidad 86+6= 92, Trip 105+6= 111

"Get wells" to everybody who wants one,
Sharon and Bob

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