REPORT NO. 11 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP

Monday, April 24, 2000 Trinidad Day 8 of 8. Trip Day 18 of 38. DAVID -- OUR DRIVER AND EXPERT BIRDING GUIDE -- GETS US THE MOST DIFFICULT TRINIDAD BIRDS.

7:16 am and we're down at the Ornate Hawk-eagle lookout for fifteen minutes, hoping to see one. But no soap. The good news is that on the way back up, we see first a brown and yellow female, then a gorgeous male WHITE-BELLIED ANTBIRD* (rusty back and tail, white belly, yellow below that, black face and chest, and gray dividing the black from the rusty parts), another of the family of antbirds.

8:29 am, and we are sitting in our guide David's car, waiting for him to finish some business with the front desk. When I was up at the cottage, I saw a male Barred Antshrike, and when I came back down, Sharon and I both saw a pair.

I can't wait to show David my cuckoo video, and I do. Initially, I can't tell if he's excited or not, but he calls out, "Dad. Dad!" I walk to where he's talking with his dad, with my video camera, and show the video to his dad, another expert and even more-experienced birder. "Striped Cuckoo," he says, loud and clear and confidently. I list all the points arguing for Dark-billed Cuckoo, and he says, "No. That's the call of the Striped Cuckoo."

Now I think I've made a mistake in playing the video along with the audio. But now I decide that perhaps a Dark-billed Cuckoo copying the Striped Cuckoo's call. So I say, "Try not to listen to the song, just look at the bird." I rewind it and play it one more time. After about three hundreds of a second, David's dad says, "Striped Cuckoo." I can't help laughing. "OK, I don't understand it, but I am looking at a man who is absolutely certain," and go back to David's car. We later look up the Striped Cuckoo in another book ("Birds of Venezuela"), and swing over to David's dad's viewpoint. Dangit. Lost a lifer. I HATE when that happens.

David drives us up the Blanchisseuse Road, and stops at a couple of places. He is excellent at the Collared Trogon's call, and that's our target bird of the moment. He whistles, and we hear a return, identical whistle. This goes on for a few minutes, and then David says, "He's coming!"

Then a few more, and "We should see him now," and we walk around a corner, down an old trace. Suddenly, the COLLARED TROGON* flies right over our heads and lands on a branch, with his beautiful forest green back to us. He turns, looking over his shoulder at us. I get a great look with my binoculars, and reach for my video camera. Dohp! I left it in the car.

I turn and race back up, get the camera, and start back down, but David and Sharon are walking back up. "He's up here now," they say. I reverse direction, and see the beautiful male Trogon for a couple of seconds before he takes off. No video.

Moral: Consider the video camera an attachment to my binoculars. Dang! That's OK. The real deal is to SEE it well, and I did that. Well, his back anyway.

We drive on, slowly, with David's head cocked a little, listening intently to all the bird calls and songs. His face lights up, "Sooty Grassquit!" he says, and pulls over. He steps out and puts his binoculars on the bird. He searches the trees ahead of us and gets him. We get him also, the SOOTY GRASSQUIT* we thought we'd never get. Fantastic. The Davinator. Davola. DAVID.

We resume our drive up the road, when Sharon or David, from the front seat, says "Is that a snake?" We pull over, and sure enough, it's a little snake playing possum, as we used to say in Missouri as I well know, since I did it as a small boy so Dad would pick me up and carry me to bed.

We get out, and oh by the way, we pick up a WHITE-NECKED THRUSH* in the bargain. But back to the snake. It is maybe 16 inches long, and looks mashed flat, but it is sort of ripply-looking. If it IS alive, how on earth can it achieve this shape? I get a video of the snake and am convinced it is dead. Sharon and David both are sure it's alive because they saw it in its original cross-sectionally round shape (Sharon says later), before it flattened and rippled itself. David gets a stick and sweeps it partway off the road, but that doesn't faze it the first time. He does it again, the little brown snake comes to life, and zips off the road.

I figure its camouflage routine was trying to simulate tire tread marks on its back, and is probably a Y2K-associated improvement.

9:35 am, and we get GRAY-BREASTED MARTINS*, on the electrical wires, just before we entered Las Lapis Trace. These birds are pretty cool, because if you start with a Purple Martin, then paint him white on the belly, you'd pretty much have our bird.

We immediately pick up a Swallow-Tanager in about the same place Sharon and I got our first ones, on this same trace a few days ago. "SLATY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER*," calls David, as he points out the little flycatcher, with a dark crown and earpatch. This little bird follows us throughout our walk.

David then says, "Pair of Blue-headed Parrots feeding around here," meaning he recognizes their chomp chomps. Then he gets us a Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, which we got earlier on our own.

9:52 am, and we hear a Blue-headed Parrot fly over, but we don't see it. A LONG-BILLED GNATWREN* is the tiniest little bird you can imagine, with a long, long bill and an equally long, cocked-up tail, like a house wren. He is incredibly active, and doesn't stay more than a second or two in one place. Later we would get much longer looks.

10:03 am. We get a Dusky-capped Flycatcher. We first got this bird in Missouri in the spring of 99, when Y2K was beginning to grow on peoples' minds.

Then the funniest thing happens. We see two life birds, but only I see one, and only Sharon the other. Mine is a Tropical Parula, a warbler related to Missouri's Northern Parula. Sharon sees a wonderful female Blue Dacnis, a type of honeycreeper. And we can't count either. More on these birds later. Keep your fingers crossed.

10:22 am, and Sharon has spotted David and me a little flycatcher, which David has to identify, and it's a SOUTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET*, to match our Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet of California and other parts of the U.S. He is a little impressed by her eye for spotting.

We see an Olive-sided Flycatcher and a pair of wonderful Red-legged Honeycreepers, though neither are lifers. Then come a pair of Summer Tanagers. This pair is interesting, because they are surely the last migrators to leave the area. All the normal North American warblers and tanagers have left, except these two, we figure. The male is all red, from top to bottom.

Next another most unusual thing happens. I see a little forest mouse on the track ahead of us, as we are coming back out of the trace, but it is moving very slowly, sort of randomly wandering. The other unusual thing I notice is that there are black circles around its eyes. This is a weird mouse, if it is a mouse. I point it out to Sharon and David, and David says, "Baby tree possum." There is a blown-up photo of one in the hallway at Asa Wright, but there, it's called "Mouse Opossum."

Sharon wants to pick it up and take it home, it's so cute. She's afraid some raptor will swoop down and claim it. This is nature's hard lesson. We value the cute little, helpless possum over the experienced and powerful hawk, but the truth is, that they are both part of the ecosystem/foodchain, however you think of it. [Foodchain, smoodchain, it was little, helpless, and cute. I hated leaving it there but told myself maybe its mother was just in the bush somewhere watching and waiting for us to leave-- Sharon]

And the other thing is, that all the experienced nature folks tell you to leave single babies alone, because chances are that one or both parents are waiting for you to leave, so then can come and rescue it. We cross our fingers, and move on. An unbelievably cute little tyke, and I get some video.

11:30 am, and David is calling and calling. A call similar to the Collared Trogon's, but with more notes -- all the same pitch. Our target finally flies into view and parks in a tree, seen by all of us. It's a WHITE-TAILED TROGON*, the largest of the three in Trinidad. The fact is, David heard him ONCE, while we were driving, stopped the car, and called him in. What a powerful feeling for us.

We would never have gotten this bird, or the Collared Trogon on our own.

While we are watching the beautiful Trogon, another little bird pops out of the tree, and is working a vine, hanging from the tree. I look at it with my binoculars, and call out, "Pyratic Flycatcher, I think." David looks, and says a couple of magical words, that mean another lifer for us, "STREAKED XENOPS*," pronouced ZEN-opps. A type of flycatcher. We check our ffrench's and sure enough.

We break for lunch, which David lays out for us, prepared by the Asa Wright kitchen people. We sit in a little bus waiting structure, out of the gently falling rain that has begun. Sharon has the tuna casserole and I eat my special-request steak sandwich.

David recommends a man named David Rooks when I ask him who he would recommend as a guide on Tobago. This is the only bad thing David does, but we don't know it yet. That will come later, over on Tobago. He recognizes a call, and plays the tape of the Long-billed Gnatwren. It soon comes around, and I get much better looks this time. Earlier I saw its front half once, and its back half another time, and it's better to see it all at once.

David moves us from Blanchisseuse Road over to Lalaja Trace, much higher in elevation, and we resume birding there.

2:19 pm, and he gets us BOTH a female BLUE DACNIS*, the bird Sharon saw earlier but I missed. This bird is beautifully green, with a blue head. It's the all-blue male we're after, but this one will do just fine, thank you. Nobody back at Asa Wright has seen one there all week, though they supposedly come there sometimes. We see another Barred Antshrike, all black and white stripes.

2:30 pm. David whistles us in a very hard-to-find TRINIDAD EUPHONIA*. This little fellow is similar to the much more common Violaceous Euphonia, but is oh so much more difficult to get. The throat on the Trinidad is violet, while the Violaceous throat is yellow, like the other underparts. Finally, we see a BLUE-HEADED PARROT* fly, and it's clearly different from the more familiar Orange-winged ones, though that judgment is from being direction below it, looking up with binoculars.

2:46 pm, and David is doing the owl call. A pair of TROPICAL PARULAS* respond, in addition to the more normal set of birds. So Sharon and I each see the other's morning bird. No lifers lost. We also get a tiny female Tufted Coquette, working the little flowers.

David spots an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, but we already have him. Soon after that, we get a better look at another rare male Trinidad Euphonia.

A SCRUB GREENLET* calls from thick brush, but we never see it. I point out that ffrench's book says they are only on Tobago. David says there are a few high up in this area, but they are extremely shy, and do not come out in response to calling like most other birds.

We see this familar little butterly, all black but with orange wingtips. It's called a Postman, because its colors are similar to the colors the postal deliverers wear in Trinidad. Very cool.

The very last bird David gets us is a few SCALED PIGEONS*, working high up in some trees. We need my scope to see them, but the scales are clearly visible. There are also a couple of Orange-winged Parrots near them. We hear the oo-ooo sounds of them gently calling.

David brings us back and we relax, take showers, and head down for dinner. After our last Asa Wright dinner, we go back up to the cottage, and begin packing for tomorrow's transfer to Tobago.

Lifers Today: White-bellied Antbird, Collared Trogon, Sooty Grassquit, White-necked Thrush, Gray-breasted Martin (swallow), Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Blue-headed Parrot (flyover and call), Long-billed Gnatwren, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, White-tailed Trogon, Streaked Xenops, Blue Dacnis, Trinidad Euphonia, Tropical Parula, Scrub Greenlet (heard only), Scaled Pigeon

Handsomest Birds:
1. Collared Trogon (shiny dark green on back, head and upper chest, with a red lower chest and belly. A white collar, or band, separates the green from the red at mid-chest. The long tail has horizontal black and white bars on the lower part of the tail, with a few special white half-circles),
2. White-tailed Trogon (Similar to the Violaceous Trogon except that a) it's bigger, and b) the tail -- looking from the front of the perched bird -- appears to be solid white, with a black vertical line);
3. Blue Dacnis (female only. Shiny lime-green underparts, a little darker lime-green upper parts, with a beautiful intense blue upper head),
4. Trinidad Euphonia (similar to the Violaceous Euphonia, but the throat color tells the difference. The Trinidad Euphonia is violet above, yellow below, with a violet throat);
5. Tropical Parula (yellow below, dark gray above, with an olive green patch on the back. Classic warbler shape).

Rarest Birds:
1. Sooty Grassquit (we only see two in all our time on Trinidad and David gets them both for us),
2. Trinidad Euphonia (put a gold star by this rare bird's name. Found usually only at the highest points in Trinidad). This is the Euphonia everybody wants to get.

Most Remarkable Bird: The tiny Long-billed Gnatwren

Totals: Today 17, Trinidad 95+17, = 112, Trip 114+17, = 131

Trinidad has been fantastic. There are great birds we haven't seen, but in the Sharon and Bob tradition, we substitute the addage, "Always leave something for another future visit" for our true feelings. Which are, "Dangit, we missed that bird."

See you in Tobago,
Sharon and Bob

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