Trinidad & Tobago  -  p 4   NOTE:   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.

Blue-crowned Mot-mots3 May 2009
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.

Red-billed Tropicbird

5 May 2009
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.


Ruby Topaz maleAs 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 came.

Black-throated Mango

We 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.


Rufous-tailed Jacamar8 May 2009
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 trails. 
    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.




Travel Diary