Trinidad & Tobago - p 4
Images were prepared using screen settings of 1024x768, and are
best viewed with those settings. As usual, the name of the bird can be seen by placing the cursor over the photo.
After waiting out the worst of a driving
rainstorm, today we flew over to the other half of the country, the island of
Tobago. It's much smaller than Trinidad, only about 27 miles long by 8
miles wide. It seems larger, however, owing to torturous winding roads
through its hills.
Tobago is farther from the South American mainland, and has
been separated from it much longer than Trinidad, ~10,000 years, when the end of
the last Ice Age caused sea levels to rise and cut off everything here.
Island biogeography tells us that there'll be fewer bird species around.
We were met at the airport by our driver, Hetsell, who is studying
nutrition at the University of Trinidad. During the drive she offered
helpful tips on nutrition, such as drinking lots of water as soon as one gets up
in the morning.
We're staying at Cuffie River Nature Resort, which bills
itself as Tobago's birding paradise although it really is not. It does,
however, hold some photogenic birds, including Blue-crowned Mot-mot. A
pair is nesting in a road bank burrow down the hill from the lodge. In my
best photo, both male and female perched in bamboo to compare the insects they
had caught for their chicks.
The ever-reliable Hetsell today drove us to the northern end
of Tobago to the off-shore island of Little Tobago, uninhabited except for
chickens. From its heights, reached after a strenuous hike in the
sweltering heat and humidity, we found seabirds galore, including Magnificent
Frigatebirds, nesting Brown Boobies, and lots of Laughing
Gulls thrown in for good measure.
The most beautiful were the Red-billed Tropicbirds, unmatched
for gracefulness as they soared around a small inlet. A few were nesting
on cliff ledges. Little Tobago must be the best spot in the world to
photograph this bird.
As expected, Tobago
lacks many of the colorful birds seen on Trinidad. Only 5 of the 14
species of tanagers found on Trinidad live here.
But curious anomalies exist. The Rufous-vented Chachalaca, a
dull-plumaged, chicken-sized bird, is abundant on Tobago and in Venezuela, but
absent from Trinidad. Did it wander down from other islands in the Lesser
Antilles where it is also found? Flocks wake everyone at Cuffie River at
the crack of dawn with their raucous calls. They hop around the tree
foliage rather like turacos in Africa.
Duncan and I are more interested in hummingbirds,
surprisingly well-represented here. The best place on the island to
photograph them is Adventure Farm. The main house has a porch and
hummingbird feeders with constant activity. Pride of place goes to the
handsome Ruby Topaz, brilliant when the sun catches his gold and ruby plumage.
This one hovered, awaiting his turn at a feeder, even as a morning rain shower
paid a fee to sit pretty much all day and photograph hummers. The lady who
took our T&T dollars stayed inside and watched 'The Bold and the Beautiful' on
TV. For us, those same adjectives applied to the hummingbirds, even
including a female Black-throated Mango.
The other attendees were mainly Rufous-breasted Hermits,
White-necked Jacobins, and Blue-tailed Sapphires. Seed feeders beyond the
porch attracted Palm Tanagers, Shiny Cowbirds, and Red-crowned Woodpecker,
another Tobagan species that is absent from Trinidad.
Cuffie River resort knows how to spoil its
guests. Coffee is waiting when I come down to the great room in the
morning, followed by a breakfast of papaya, fresh orange juice, omelets and
bacon. After a long hot day chasing birds, we return for an eagerly-awaited
dip in the swimming pool, and then a cold Stag beer or two or three.
Highlights of the evening meal are spicy Caribbean soups and very tasty ice
cream for dessert.
A birding couple from northern California, whose names I have
misplaced, were an inspiration as they avidly sought out Tobago's rarities. I
did get to see the White-tailed Nightjar they found in the road near Cuffie
River, but missed their Red-legged Honeycreeper.
Today I finally got photos of a
common bird along a nearby trail into the old cacao plantation, Rufous-tailed
Jacamar. The resemblance of this bird to Old World bee-eaters, who are in
a different family, is truly uncanny. Both jacamars and bee-eaters are
colorful. Like bee-eaters, jacamars use their oversized beaks to fly out
from a low perch and nab insects, especially butterflies, on the wing. Species
of both taxa are mainly monogamous, the male and female
usually together. Bboth nest in burrows in the soil of banks along rivers and
It makes you wonder. Convergent evolution?
Or two families descended from a common ancestor that moved into the tropics
millions of years ago and, although separated by an ocean, stayed the course and
filled the same avian niche on each continent?
I spend my last night on Tobago cogitating on this over another beer.