Sunday, April 23, 2000. Easter. Trinidad Day 7 of 8. Trip Day 17 of 38. THE ARENA FOREST (North-central lowlands, unlike the further north mountain rainforest at Asa Wright)

We see Mike and Lynn, a couple from Connecticut, on the veranda, and they tell us that there is a nesting Black-tailed Tityra just on the right, as you're beginning the Discover Trail.

At 7:21 am, we check out the tree, and at first we get the wrong tree. Then I notice a bird sitting in another tree, way up. I get my binoculars on it, and yell to Sharon, "BLACK-TAILED TITYRA*!" "Where?" she asks frantically. I direct her to the bird, and she gets it immediately. It's cooperative and let's us watch for perhaps 30 seconds, then pops into its nest.

We have arranged for a recommended guide to get us as many new birds tomorrow as possible, and I need to summarize the birds we need. I go back up to the cottage while Sharon waits on the veranda.

I finish making our list, walk back down to the main house, and bump into David, our guide. I pick him out because I've never seen him before, he's of East Indian origin by his facial features, and he's talking very competently to a birder. I introduce myself and we go onto the veranda with Sharon. I outline what we're after. After looking at my list, he suggests a half day on the Blanchisseuse Road followed by a much higher trail called the Lalaja (la-LA-ha) Trace, where he will try for birds much more difficult to get down at the usual forest trails.

We find out that Lilac-tailed Parrotlets roost in one of two big trees at night at Asa Wright. One is the large tree down the valley and to the right, and the other one is to the left of the veranda. That one is a large Pui tree with pink blossoms. We finalize our plans, then David takes off to pick up a couple at the PAX guest house, and bring them back over here. I quietly hope they didn't do the hellwalk.

We order lunch, then go back to the room to prepare for the day. At 10:00 am, we are off. I am feeling tired, but not exhausted, like yesterday at this time.

At a certain point in the drive to Asa Wright, we have seen swifts of some kind zooming low, right over the road, then over the valley on the downhill side of the cliff we're driving on. We stop in Trini fashion, and begin to tick off his features: chopped-off tail; on top, front half of short tail is white or light cream, back half is dark; underneath bird is all dark. Only one bird fits this description, the BAND-RUMPED SWIFT*.

Further on down, we stop at a bridge recommended by our Murphy book. We play the owl tape, but get no new birds. So we continue on down to enjoy the experience of filling the gas tank. We pass a fellow with dark red Rastafarian hair. He is tall, shirtless, with blue jeans coming to mid-shin, carries a container of some kind and his shoes. He is barefoot, walking on the pavement, for no reason we can figure out. Maybe he's taking his shoes to be repaired. Or just enjoying the warm pavement.

By 11:30 am, we are in line to buy unleaded at 2.45 $TT per liter. This works out to about $1.50 per gallon. I expected that it would be twice that. An unusual system here is that all cars enter the station from one direction, and exit from the other. In this case, standing in front of the station and looking at it, there are two rows of cars (one for either side of the pumps), and they are all pointed left-to-right.

I confirm that they take Visa (I'm so excited when they do), and fill 'er up.

Finally, at 12:16 pm, we are birding the first of several traces in the Arena Forest in the Arima Valley, in north-central Trinidad, south of the town of Arima. The word "arena" here means sand or sandy, and refers to the type of soil. I play our owl tape, and we get a bunch of Bananaquits (if you'll pardon me), a Buff-throated Woodcreeper, and a great Golden-headed Manakin.

Half an hour later, Sharon has a bird in the greenery over some water. We're both looking at the bird as it spits up a bright red berry it has just eaten. Ploop. It has a dark orange belly, an olive back, and it's an OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER*. Nice one.

Still later, we get another Golden-headed Manakin and Sharon spots a Yellow-rumped Cacique.

Although we're not on Asa Wright's "Discovery" Trail, Sharon discovers where the cupholders are in the car. We have figured all along that our Nissan must have them somewhere, and she has dug out the owner's manual. She pushes in on a bar on the dash, and out pops the double-cup holder. Oh sure, I could have found it too, if I'd read the instructions.

Now we've moved to the second trace of the day, in the Arena Forest, and can hear a two-note call, followed by about 3 seconds of silence. Take the first "to you" notes in the Happy Birthday song. The first note is higher than the second. This bird is singing "you to," if you get my drift, where the same notes are ascending. Over and over.

But the instant we hit the first meadow, a large hawk or kite flies from his perch, from right to left, and out of sight. I don't get a very good look at it, but Sharon does. Her best guess is Gray-headed Kite, or Hook-billed Kite, but we can't count it.

We slowly move through the grassy trail, and Sharon picks up the calling bird. He is facing to our left, and we have great tree cover. We're seeing him, but he's not seeing us. I get video, and you can see his head and neck thrust out and up, and his bill open and close on each note pair. Wonderful, it's a cuckoo. Cuckoos are shy, and the moment he sees us he'll fly. We carefully study the bird with binoculars, checking our book, and it looks like a Dark-billed Cuckoo.

We are so excited because we can see a dark bill, a yellow throat, white below the eye, black band through the eye, and that's a Dark-billed Cuckoo. We read that they have seen only one in all the time they've been keeping bird records on Trinidad. And I have video proof! We'll be famous. We carefully mark where this bird is, then decide to walk closer, in the process showing ourselves. We take two steps, and off he flies.

Ten seconds later, and he's calling from another perch, out of sight.

We finish up here, and go back to the main house at Asa Wright. We ask Denise where we might see the Ornate Hawk-eagle nest we've heard about, and she describes the location of the nest. We bump into a pair of our British birder friends, Stuart and Yvonne, and they have independently heard the nest location, and have already tried to find it unsuccessfully.

But they didn't have Sharon, world-class spotter.

Ah, this is a challenge now. We head down, below the White-bearded Manakin lek, below the Bellbird intersection, down to the tree with the number "61" fastened to it, and another with "Incense" on a plaque on IT. We can see the well-worn steps in the dirt and roots, climbing up to the left, and up we go. Sharon finds the nest after about two minutes of searching. It's through a tiny opening in the greenery and is about 50 meters away, high in a tree. It looks like an eagle's nest, built from large sticks.

I take three sticks on the bround, break them up a little, and form an arrow pointing the exact direction of the nest. We'll tell Stuart and Yvonne, because they obviously want to get this bird also.

We wait 15 minutes, but no bird comes to it, and near as we can make out, there is no bird in it.

Back up the trail we go. At dinner we meet another British couple, Ann and Gerald, and they give us some advice about our planned birding/sightseeing trip to England nest (sorry, typo, I mean next) spring. They strongly suggest a car and bed and breakfasts rather than a camper (RV), because they say there aren't that many RV camps in England. Too few places to hook up.

Tomorrow we will go with David to try and find as many of the birds we missed as he can get us. He comes with excellent references from our fellow birders, many whom have used him over the last week.

My strength is back up to 85%, I'd estimate, and it should be even better for tomorrow's trip.

Lifers Today: Black-tailed Tityra, Band-rumped Swift, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, and (tentatively) Dark-billed Cuckoo. We won't officially count the cuckoo yet.

Handsomest Bird: The Black-tailed Tityra, black and white feathers with red around the eye and a red bill.

Rarest bird (tentatively till we get confirmation): Dark-billed Cuckoo. We'll try to find out how rare tomorrow.

Totals: Today 3, Trinidad 92+3= 95, Trip 111+3= 114. We're really slowing down.

There are more places to go now than we have time. We wish we had about two more days here, but that's how you're supposed to leave, isn't it?

Sharon and Bob

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