Friday, November 4, 2011

Trinidad and Tobago Trip Report - Part 1 - Asa Wright Nature Centre

Well, we are indeed back, having processed and posted nearly 400 shots (both mine and Audy's) since getting back, i feel confident that the trip is still sharp in my mind and i can faithfully transcribe the events that unfolded during our photo expedition to the West Indies.
Trinidad and it's little sister island of Tobago were our hosts for 10 wild days as we spent a little time in a number of locations on both islands. I feel that we were sucessful in our goal of documenting as many species as possible while still trying to raise the bar (on a personal level) as far as quality and aesthetic appeal of shot goes.

I've written enough on our reasons for going, preparation etc. in previous posts so will just start with the usual day to day report we birdwatchers are accustomed to aight?.

Oct 16
Our trip officially began when we were dropped off at the airport at 9:30am by a friend of Audy's.
The threat of a strike by Air Canada's flight attendants mere days before we were to fly was still fresh in my mind and i got us there 3 1/2 hours before our departure time of 1pm.
Smooth sailing through baggage check and screening, we had our boarding passes in hand and i noted that our luggage was tagged to POS (Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad), transferring through Toronto should hopefully be a breeze. I don't tell many people that i was actually born in TO and i suppose my hatred of the Maple Leaf's has something to do with it.
I used to sport a defiant West Coast Rules attitude of superiority over anything to do with the east coast ironically enough but i must admit that birding has softened me regarding the East, after all, there are great birds in the east, birds you won't get unless you travel there (like i did to Ohio in May for warbler migration and a few years earlier to Cape May for the World Series of Birding).
So yah, our Air Canada flight to Toronto went off without a hitch, our Caribbean Airlines flight was at the gate in TO and i watched as our luggage was loaded, things were going alright.
I had arranged with a driver from Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad to meet us at the airport at 6am Oct 17th so it was kind of important that things went according to plan.
Well, the time we should have been boarding came and went, there was very little communication from the Air Caribbean gate crew but we eventually found out that there was a "mechanical" issue with the craft and they were waiting to get a part to fix whatever it was that was wrong (we never did find out). Our flight was to depart at 11:30pm but it never left the gate, at 3:30am Oct 17th an announcement was made that the flight had been scrapped, those that wished could take a limo to where ever or take a shuttle to the nearby Doubletree hotel.
Most of the passengers were a bit disgruntled at this point and the lack of communication (again) by the crew regarding which line to que in for hotel vouchers or limo rides (it made a difference, believe me LOL) just added to the black comedy. The staff at the Doubletree continued the unrest among wearly passengers by taking as long as possible to process each person (roughly 40 of us), we had done nothing but wait for hours but finally we had a bed at 4:30am and instructions to be back at the airport for a 5pm flight Oct 17th. I was able to get a quick and slightly delusional sleep and food deprived email off to Asa Wright informing them of our delay, no doubt the driver would end up waiting unfortunately.

Oct 17th
The breakfast voucher we were given was a joke, $20 seems like a lot at first but for both us us?
Airport hotels are like vultures, they know that no one would ever book a holiday at a airport hotel, the traveller is usually in transit, and stressed about missing a connection, they know this and still have the gall to charge someone $20 for a simple breakfast of - 1 small cup of coffee, 2 pieces of toast, 3 small strips of bacon and a fried egg!
what a rip-off.
Audy decided to forgo the breakfast and even with voucher still i ended up shelling out cash in the end because i was starving to eat.
At least our luggage was at the airport somewhere and we would not have to deal with it.
The shuttle bus driver to the airport asked why we had missed our flight and then laughed and pointed at a Caribbean Airlines jet on the tarmac and said "looks like they still haven't fixed it".
Ha ha...
We had gone early and decided to just wait it out at the airport, (my wallet couldn't afford the lunch the Doubletree offered anyways, even with a lousy coupon) finally getting boarding passes and optimism that our flight would take off.
We did finally get off the ground, in a different craft this time, an Air Jamaica flight, (same company as Caribbean i found out).
The meal they provided was actually quite good, a decent bun, rice, chicken in a zesty tomato sauce, veggies and small bag of wheat crisps, compared to the nothing i got on the AC flight across Canada it was heaven and i savoured it.
We eventually touched down at Piarco International airport just before 11pm Oct 17th, our driver (the same one who had waited needlessly earlier that day) was wandering around the airport somewhere and we were alone with our luggage looking around for who? i didn't know, other drivers waiting around proved friendly and helpful telling us who to look for, (guy with green hat with bird on it) finally our driver appeared in his Asa Wright hat pointing to the airport flight status monitor that still listed our flight as "delayed" even though we had landed half an hour ago.
This must be the "Trini-time" i've heard about i though with a smile, things move at a different pace in the Caribbean, best to just go with the flow.

Well it was finally true at least, we were in Trinidad and about to spend our first night at Asa Wright.
For some reason i never bothered to change the time on my Nixon wrist watch the whole trip, TO was 3 hours ahead and i was surprised to find that the time zone was the same - 3 hours ahead of Vancouver, i would just add 3 whenever i looked at my watch.
I couldn't really tell if our driver was pissed at us or not but it wasn't our fault, he seemed cool and i converesed with him on the windy drive up the Arima hills to the nature centre overlooking the valley.
Having studied the online T&T newspapers for a couple of months before the trip i would throw out stuff i had read to get his reaction to whatever, perhaps i impressed him a bit with my "local knowledge", at least i wasn't without a clue.
The SOE and curfew meant that we were driving during the prohibition period, he explained that there was a police office in the airport and passes were given in cases like ours where we arrive late at night.

Finally we were there, we pulled up into a driveway next to the big house (with famous veranda) and were greeted by the head of security, "good evening" i said by way of greeting, "no, good morning" was his reply with a smile, it was indeed after midnight and we were now in a new day.

our room at Asa Wright

Oct 18th
We woke to the sound of birds, sometime around 6am, both us us were pumped to finally see the country in day light, arriving in the dark we had no idea just how overgrown and "jungly" everything was, so green and wild, it was just what we needed.
We were greeted on the veranda at one point in the morning by the manager and i organized a couple of field trips with her.
Unfortunetely, the mechanical delay with our flight in TO had cost us a day of birding and i had to condence our plans and ambitions somewhat. I decided that a trip to the Caroni Swamp was a must, i wasn't however sold on the traditional evening trip out to see the Scarlet Ibis fly to their roost. They feed in Venezuala during the day and come to sleep in Trinidad believe it or not. The problem with the evening trip for a bird photographer was that the birds would be distant and boats would not be allowed anywhere near the roost, there would be many boats out as well, the trip is popular with cruiseship tourists, i asked about a morning trip, i was interested in shooting kingfishers and other species possible in the mangroves as well as ibis.
The centre was able to organize a trip for Audy and me early the next morning, a special morning session, i was told Scarlet Ibis wasn't guaranteed in the morning but chances were good, good enough for me, as well, the driver would stop off at a couple of locations on the way back.
The other trip i organized was for the following morning to the Aripo livestock station and Aripo savannah, there were some hard to find birds like Red-breasted Blackbird that could be found at the station, as well as Southern Lapwing, a species i really wanted, i was familiar with the Red-Wattled Lapwing from Thailand and wanted to add another to the list.

The rest of the present day would be spent at the centre, plenty to shoot around the centre for sure.

the Bananaquits were everywhere on both islands

Lineated Woodpecker - so like our Pileated

Crested Oropendola - good poser

Green Honeycreeper
the honeycreepers were my favourite species overall i think, maybe..

At around 8:30am we were met by a guide on staff by the name of Barry, he was cool and took us down a slippery trail. Since we were presently the only guests at Asa Wright it was just us.
He showed us the Golden-headed Manakin lek.

We heard Channel-billed toucans up high in the canopy at one point and while i hoped to get a shot none was given, Audy had spotted a couple of the toucans way down the valley through the scope earlier in the morning and no one got a shot at the time, i was pre-occupied shooting underneath the veranda on ground level at the time and assumed i would get another shot at them, i did have a look through the scope as well and can say of course that i have seen them. They don't typically come close to the centre however and the next two mornings we would leave the centre early and missed out on seeing the toucans again on those days, and of course, our last morning when we really were hoping to see them again - they were nowhere to be seen. 
We should have taken those long distance shots the first morning, that's birding though, nothing is ever a sure thing.

Barry tried hard to bring in some Bearded bellbirds for us, they were a target species and while we heard a couple of them calling close to us never got a look at one, ah well.
We did see our only Great Antshrike with him and later on the veranda he pointed out a nice Golden-olive Woodpecker for us.

He asked us later when we wanted to go check out the Oilbirds, since we were staying at the centre for 3 nights or more a guided trip down to the Dunstan cave was a freebie, i said we were here until Friday and he said ok, friday morning then. Cool, we were set.

Another of my target species was the amazing Tufted Coquette, a bumble-bee sized hummingbird know for the males punkish look, it seemed however that a number of the different hummer species departed the islands for the mainland of Venezuala this time of year, i was lucky though and soon spotted a female Tufted Coquette, i love to shoot hummers on a perch but i never saw this girl stand still for a moment, it would show up suddenly, and then be gone, the Copper-rumped hummers would hang around and so would the White-chested Emerald.
 female Tufted Coquette

Shooting was good underneath the veranda, even when it started to rain i was sheltered enough to be able to keep shooting. In fact, i never once used the fancy rain cover i purchased prior to the trip.
 Copper-rumped Hummingbird having a rain bath

 Purple Honeycreeper

Here is a shot of an adult male Purple Honeycreeper, truly a special bird.

the hummers kept me busy as well

Copper-rumped Hummingbird

White-chested Emerald

Here are a couple of shots to show you what it looked like at Asa Wright.

the famous veranda

and one shot of our cabin in the rain - the metal roof really made the rain sound impressive at night.

The total as far as species photographed that first day was something like 20, all lifers of course, birds shot include Bananaquit, Tropical Mockingbird, Great Kiskadee, White-lined Tanager, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Trinidad Motmot, Barred Antshrike, Purple Honeycreeper, Palm Tanager, Tufted Coquette, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Green Honeycreeper, White-chested Emerald, Collared Trogon, Guianan (Violacious) Trogon, Great Antshrike, Golden-headed Manakin, Crested Oropendola, and Lineated Woodpecker, we also got a lousy shot of a Rufous-breasted hermit (i never posted it because i nailed it later on Tobago).
Birds we dipped on include Channel-billed Toucan and Bearded Bellbird, we never got to see the White-bearded manakins at their lek with Barry either but Audy spotted one briefly near our cabin later in the day and we got shots from our balcony the next day.

Up next, Caroni Swamp and Aripo.

1 comment:

Les said...

Amazing start to your vacation Paul. Sorry to read that it took you 2 days to arrive though. Can't wait to read more.

The Waiting Area

The Waiting Area