Trinidad Feb 18—25, 2016

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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Fewer than two hundred are believed to exist in the world. Aware of its drastic decline in recent decades and also of the lack of sightings on recent tours, I felt we had little, if any, chance of seeing the Trinidad Piping-Guan, one of the world’s rarest birds. Our local guide had informed me, however, of recent sightings of one bird seen on and off for the last few weeks at a particular location high up on the Blanchisseuse Road. We departed Asa Wright Nature Centre early that morning to maximize our chances of finding the guan. There would be no stopping en route for other birds. After arriving at the location, we strolled downhill for a few hundred yard, looking and hoping. Along the way, some good birds demanded our attention—a singing Barred Antshrike, several Orange-winged Parrots perched in the open branches of a cecropia, and a gorgeous male Blue Dacnis outshined by the male Red-legged Honeycreeper next to it. It was easy to lose focus and get caught up in the action at hand. Then we heard a whistle from above. Charon, one of our local guides, was frantically trying to get our attention. He had the guan, and it was perched back by where we had parked the vans! A rather frantic charge back uphill ensued, until we reached the point where we could see the magnificent creature perched above the road. It was in full view and allowed frame-filling scope views for several minutes. The breathless gasps of excitement were drowned out only by the clicks of camera shutters. Suddenly the guan flew from its perch right over our heads in an odd, whirring flight that seemed as if it might be a display of some sort. It settled into a vine tangle above us, where we enjoyed more views before finally walking out of sight. Fewer than 200 in the world. Rarer than the Whooping Crane. Certainly one of the greatest single moments in my 40+ years of birding!

On the morning of Day 2, we found the bird of the trip in this incredible Trinidad Piping-Guan. Fewer than 200 of these birds remain, making it one of the rarest birds of the world.

Trinidad Piping-Guan— Photo: Barry Zimmer

 

Of course, our Trinidad tour was about much more than just this one magical moment.  Beginning with a dawn vigil on Day 1 from the famous veranda at Asa Wright, we were quickly enveloped in a world of spectacular birds. Fruit trays swarmed with brilliant Purple and Green honeycreepers, gem-like Violaceous Euphonias, four species of tanagers (including the velvety cool Silver-beaked), and Cocoa and Spectacled thrushes among others. A handsome Barred Antshrike worked the edges of the shrubbery, while fabulous Turquoise and Bay-headed tanagers fed in a nearby Trema tree. Small groups of Orange-winged Parrots sailed by, a Lineated Woodpecker called from a large tree, and a male Crested Oropendola put on an amazing display. Which way to look first? Hummingbirds buzzed about the feeders and flowering shrubs off the veranda with an astounding eleven species represented. From incomparable White-necked Jacobins to Black-throated Mangos to a dazzling male Ruby-Topaz (believed by some to be the prettiest hummingbird of all) to the tiny, almost indescribable Tufted Coquettes, we were mesmerized by these feisty, magnificent birds. Suddenly, the Centre manager called my attention to a distant perched raptor. A quick look in the scope revealed an immature Ornate Hawk-Eagle! Two splendid White Hawks sailed past the veranda, and then the breakfast bell rang. Thus had passed our first hour-and-a-half of birding! Our group had barely made it into the dining room when some of us lingering back spotted a pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls. A quick clearing of the dining room resulted in scope views for all. Not even food could stop the birds from coming!

Our trek was rewarded with killer views of several of these unique birds near the cave entrance.

Oilbird— Photo: Barry Zimmer

 

With six full days of birding, the highlights from our trip were countless. The lowland savannas and scrub of Aripo produced nesting Pearl Kites, Savanna Hawk, Striped Cuckoo, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Grassland Yellow-Finch, and Trinidad Euphonia among others. Night birding added Common Potoo, White-tailed and Rufous (rare) nightjars, and Tropical Screech-Owl. Further east, the Nariva Swamp yielded such prizes as Rufous Crab Hawk (rare), American Pygmy Kingfisher, Red-bellied and Blue-and-yellow macaws, Black-crested Antshrike, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird. The higher elevations of the Blanchisseuse Road produced a different set of birds, including Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-headed Parrot, Channel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Speckled Tanager. Birding the grounds of Asa Wright brought about some of the greatest moments of the tour with a bizarre and spectacular male Bearded Bellbird calling right over our heads, displaying White-bearded Manakins on a lek right next to the trail, wonderful views of Oilbirds in Dunston Cave, three of the endemic Trinidad Motmots on one branch, and a gorgeous male Golden-headed Manakin among the more memorable.

Before long the mangroves were covered with Scarlet Ibis like so many Christmas decorations.

Scarlet Ibis— Photo: Barry Zimmer

 

The tour concluded in grand fashion with a visit to the famed Caroni Swamp. Winding our way through the mangroves, we saw Green-throated Mango, Bicolored Conebill, and Red-capped Cardinals en route to our destination. Finally we reached a spot where we tied up against the mangroves and waited for the renowned evening flight of Scarlet Ibis. Quickly, they began arriving by tens and twenties, and then by the hundreds—glowing, brilliant red squadrons filling the skies. The sight of these wonderful ibis coming in to roost tied with the Trinidad Piping-Guan for favorite bird of the tour by group vote!

With so many fantastic sightings, I can hardly wait for next year’s trip!