Monday, November 21, 2011

Snowy Owl

Well, it seems like it's going to be one of those rare winters when we are visited by Snowy owls in the lower mainland.
Audy and i saw our lifer Snowys behind a fence at the golf course in Boundary Bay back in 2007, it was cold back then when i digiscoped them but pretty neat to see. Back then, i wasn't really aware what a problem birders had with photogs when it came to owls but over the years i've grown to understand the concerns.
Of course it's not just photogs but anyone who wants to see a Snowy Owl in the wild around here that could be percieved as a disturbance to these birds. They come down this way i've heard when there is little food up north, they are hungry and when too many people disturb them, they don't feed. I get that.
It was suggested by a well-known birder recently that photogs "should get their shots and get out", i know what he was saying and don't take offense at all, it's when the bird starts getting chased too much that problems arise. I know some spend a lot of time working the birds around here, hoping for flight shots etc. and i want to do this also, but i've decided to wait until i visit their habitat up north.
In places like Barrow Alaska etc. Snowys can be plentiful, all the more reason to take that trip up north one spring.
I definately think everyone should get a chance to see one of these beauties if they so desire, just not sure we (as photogs) should be spending multiple days working these particular birds.

So, since Audy wanted to get out and see these guys we made a morning trip out yesterday and got lucky with one bird.
It eventually flew off and was chased again by a few, but my looks were good enough and since Audy and i were both freezing anyways called it a day.

I'm actually more excited about a non-owl species i'm planning to go after next weekend LOL, they are all good as far as i'm concerned.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Painted Bunting - West Vancouver

It was turning into a lazy rainy friday until i checked the local web board and was surprised to see a Painted Bunting just now reported in the "Vancouver area".
The bird was coming to a feeder on a private property but the owner had to be contacted before birders would be allowed to view it.
I chilled, took a quick nap and Pipit joined me in a cat-nap.
After waking i checked the board again and a number had been released.
A phone call later i was on my way to West Vancouver.
Shock on arrival when i was informed by a somber group of birders that the bird had been chased by a Anna's hummingbird and had flown into a window.
Prognosis wasn't good but the bird was in a shoe box and i decided to hang for a bit, others in the group were dispersing but i had nothing else to do and in a while the owner came out and asked for advice, the bird had come back to life and was jumping round in the box and chirping.
Ultra birder Mike Toochin went in to take a look and came out with the bird in hand.
I am always amazed by the small size of the birds in "real life" as opposed to through my viewfinder.
This bird was no different, soo cute, as Mike was letting it go Super birder Wayne Weber arrived and while i was able to get a look, Wayne saw only the bird taking off into the bush, alas.
We were all relieved that the bird seemed ok, Mike and Sharon left then and Wayne and i hung out and watched the feeders.
The owner was leaving for a bit but was happy for us to remain as long as we wanted, we were grateful.
While we watched the feeders i asked Wayne about meeting Roger Tory Peterson (RTP) way back when.
Having been a birder for over 40 years, Wayne had a few stories and i was happy to soak it in.

Suddenly a flash of red flew towards the feeder and we realized it was the bunting.

It disappered for a while and we weren't sure if it had flown off, there was a bush obscuring part of the feeder and finally we moved our position to the other side of the driveway to get a better angle.
Suddenly i spotted the bird poking it's head out of the bush.
It's a bit of a skulker and was in the bush the whole time we were wondering where it was.
At that point i was able to get a couple of decent shots, the other times (around 4 while we were there) it would fly directly onto the feeder and i suppressed the trigger finger, a branchy perch was desireable.

Painted Bunting - West Vancouver November 18th, 2011

It was getting cold and my bare fingers were feeling it, Wayne and i were both satisfied with our brief looks and left, happy that the bird seemed fine, my concern was for the cold night ahead of it, if the juncos and sparrows can survive though, this guy has a good chance too, i hope.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Trinidad and Tobago - Part 7 - back to Trini, Divali, and the Final Chapter

Oct 26th
We met Max again and he drove us back to the airport in the morning, our flight was at a decent time for a change, no need to hustle anymore, we were in the end stretch.

 one final shot from Tobago

Our flight back to Trini went off without a hitch, soon we were in a cab on our way to the Holiday Inn Express Piarco, a hotel about 5 minutes drive from the airport. It is also really close to the Trinicity shopping mall but we weren't sure if it would be open today, you see, it was a national holiday, an east indian festival called Divali and a festive time when candles are lit. I was glad that my online reservation was found as i couldn't remember if i actually made it, i was 90% certain, it's not like the hotel was full up anyways.
We crashed for a bit in our room, taking note of the television, sweet.
First though, we took a shuttle bus to the mall looking for a bite to eat, we were both hungry and the Holiday Inn didn't have a restaurant. We found a KFC and tried the fried chicken, it did taste a little different than what we get up here but still the same fast food when all is said and done.
It was interesting to see a large group of KFC staff out back of the restaurant practicing a dance routine, they were taking it seriously, chanting loudly "So Good!" and "KFC!" while doing some sort of chicken dance, i'm not kidding LOL.

Later back at the hotel we tucked in for a night of foreign television. Ever since watching spanish TV in Mexico we have been hooked on local TV.
In Trinidad, there were east indian channels, american channels and a south american version of  TLC.
I was pleased to be able to watch some episodes of a travel show i only ever get to watch when travelling myself, Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, i think i first saw it in Arizona or Texas and love the food and travel angle, he seems like a cool dude as well.

Since it was Divali we decided to watch a sub-titled east indian Bollywood film, some kind of Cinderella story with an evil step-mother and step-daughters, naive husband who seems easily way-layed, a coniving uncle (and his doofiish henchman) and a godess named Laxmi watching over our innocent Cinderella.
The best part was the ending when the evil uncle got his eyes clawed out by a hawk, now that's justice.

Oct 27th
Ok, it's go-time, destination home.
We took the shuttle back to Piarco for one last visit, checked our bags and made sure then were checked all the way back to YVR (i didn't know that we would all have to claim our baggage in TO no matter what as it was our port of entry), i was hoping to streamline things, we had two hours when we arrived in TO before our flight to Vancouver took off, if everything went smoothly, it was doable, at least that's what my travel agent told me LOL.
It looked promising, our flight was at it's gate, a crew was at the ready and soon enough we were boarding the craft.
When we were just about to leave the captain came on and announced that they were going to hold back a few minutes as a "part" was loaded onto the plane, apparantly, TO had called and were desperate for a part, i couldn't help laughing to myself, thinking that this must be the part for our plane from 10 days ago, finally getting it fixed i see, Trini-time and all.

There wasn't much of a delay and soon we were taxiing onto the runway. Another announcement from the captain, "flight crew prepare for take-off, we are next in line" then...we did nothing, the plane just idled for like 15 20 minutes before another announcement from the captain, "i'm sorry, there seems to be a problem with one of our hydraulics, we will be pulling back to our gate to look at it".
It turned out that it would take 2 1/2 hours to replace the hydraulic, test it etc. and i knew right then that a fly had appeared in the ointment, yet again.
There was no way we were now going to make our connection.
After everyone had been off-loaded from the plane back into the terminal and given lousy sandwiches i asked the desk about my missed connection, they made some calls to TO and were lucky to secure something for me, it would all be taken care of in TO.
So i relaxed, i wished my ipod battery had not died just then because there is nothing more irritating than drunk Canadians sitting behind you.
These two guys were just having fun, that's cool, i just wish they weren't so loud, my headphones blocked out most of the chatter thankfully, just no tunes.

So we arrived back in Canada, i was relieved, hey at least we were back home, just a quick hop across the country and we would be home. First however, we needed to find out about a new flight, since we had indeed missed the one that left at 11pm. When we de-boarded we were given a breakfast voucher and told we would be staying at the Sheraton located right in the airport, alright! finally something good, it was a nice hotel, really plush, we were a hop and a skip from the domestic terminal and even though we had to collect our luggage, it was all there in one piece.

We slept after watching a bit of TV.

Oct 28th
Our new flight was the next morning, at 7am, we got up early, went to the terminal and checked our bags, picking up our boarding passes and seat allocations. All things going smoothly i was relaxed.
I bought a coffee from the Starbuck's and we waited, our flight was on time and soon we were in line to board.
Things took a weird turn at this point, our boarding passes did not correspond with something in their computer so this ice-cold woman behind the counter takes our passports and says "please wait there on the side for a moment". We watched as every single passenger was boarded and finally, when the plane was ready to take-off they started looking at the problem with our passes. I was confused, i explained that we were supposed to fly but missed our connection due to the mechanical with Caribbean Air, this woman didn't really want to hear it and plunked away at the keyboard a bit and finally announced that we didn't actually have tickets for this flight as Caribbean Air had never paid Air Canada for it. WTF?
It got really bad when they took our luggage stubs and called down to the ground crew that our bags would have to be removed. I was pretty crushed, after everything, we were getting screwed again, so close to home and now it seemed so far after all.
Suddenly an angel appeared before me, a supervisor came over to find out what the delay was, i pleaded with her to look at my flight iinerary from my travel agent, "please look, see? this was our flight number last night.."
She typed it into her computer and right away our names came up on the screen, "well, here they are, didn't you look here?!"  she asked the ice-cold woman, another guy working there piped in at that point as well and said "i think we should let them board", i looked at my angel and said in a defeated voice "please let us go home" and next thing we know, we are ushered onto the flight, finally homeward bound.
 I figure we were literally seconds away from missing that flight, we never even got our luggage tags back it was that touch and go.

Well, we were in the air and actually this connection was better than arriving at 1am like we were originally supposed to, it would have meant an expensive cab ride home, instead, arriving at 11:30am we could just take the Canada Line and Seabus back home to North Vancouver.
I still felt uneasy the whole flight back, we were so close to missing that flight i couldn't relax.
I watched the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, Deathly Hallows part 2 and having read the books, was happy to see the conclusion, Harry had to deal with a number of challenges in the film, i couldn't help but think of the challenges we faced this trip as well, nothing really major in the big picture, but enough to keep us on our toes.

We arrived back in Vancouver, the wind was cold, much colder than in Trinidad but we were glad to be home, Pipit our cat had himself recently arrived back home from his holiday at mom's so it was a happy reunion for all.
Little did i know that i would spend the next 7 days processing the shots Audy and i took (as i said, almost 400 shots posted on Flickr) and writting this magnum opus of a trip report, 7 parts?! LOL.

For those interested to see how many of my target birds we were able to photograph, below is the wishlist and what we got. (N for no, Y for yes, S for seen but not photographed)

trinidad piping guan N
rufous-vented chachalaca Y
white-faced whistling duck N
muscovy duck N
comb duck N
white-cheeked pintail N
red-billed tropicbird Y
red-footed booby N
masked booby N
scarlet ibis Y
limpkin N
american flamingo N
king vulture N
ornate hawk-eagle N
yellow-headed caracara S
bat falcon Y
clapper rail N
wattled jacana Y
southern lapwing Y
buff-breasted sandpiper N
upland sandpiper S
eskimo curlew N
large-billed tern N
cayenne tern N
yellow-billed tern N
scaled pigeon N
pale-vented pigeon Y
eared dove N
lilac-tailed parrotlet N
striped cuckoo N
squirrel cuckoo Y
greater ani N
smooth-billed ani Y
oilbird Y
common potoo Y
white-tailed sabrewing Y
rufous-breasted hermit Y
green hermit N
little hermit N
brown violetear N
white-necked jacobin Y
blue-chinned sapphire N
white-chested emerald Y
copper-rumped hummingbird Y
long-billed starthroat N
tufted coquette Y
guianan trogon Y
collared trogon Y
green-backed trogon N
trinidad motmot Y
rufous-tailed jacamar Y
channel-billed toucan S
ringed kingfisher S
american pygmy kingfisher N
golden-olive woodpecker Y
chestnut woodpecker N
great antshrike Y
black-crested antshrike N
barred antshrike Y
scaled antpitta N
white-throated spadebill N
streaked flycatcher N
boat-billed flycatcher N
white-headed marsh tyrant Y
bearded bellbird H (heard only)
white-bearded manakin Y
blue-backed manakin Y
golden-headed manakin Y
tropical mockingbird Y
spectacled thrush Y
silver-beaked tanager Y
blue-grey tanager Y
turquoise tanager Y
bay-headed tanager N
speckled tanager N
blue dacnis N
red-legged honeycreeper N
purple honeycreeper Y
green honeycreeper Y
bananaquit Y
saffron finch N
red-capped cardinal Y
red-crowned ant tanager N
golden-crowned warbler N
crested oropendola Y
giant cowbird N
red-breasted blackbird Y
violaceous euphonia Y
trinidad euphonia N

Final tally of species photographed - 94 species (8 actual days of shooting)

It's done, i get my every-day life back now, Maplewood here i come. : )

Trinidad and Tobago - Part 6 - Newton George

Oct 25th
We were excited to be getting away from the sleepy Cuffie River Lodge for a morning out with Newton, he was going to take us around the southern portion of the island and we began with the "hilton" ponds.
I had told him that one of my major target birds was the White-cheeked Pintail, i love ducks and any chance to add to the collection i savour, unfortunately, the Caribbean duck was not to be found.
We did get a pair of Masked ducks but i missed getting a shot of the pretty male as they both ducked into the reeds quite fast when we approached. I did get a shot of the female, this species wasn't new to me as we got a pair of females in south Texas in '09, just not as close as these were.

Other ducks we shot included Blue-winged Teal (not shown) and a flock of Black-bellied Whistling ducks on the old golf course.

We picked up Least Grebe (not a new species for us) but were excited to get our first Purple Gallinule.

Cattle Egret posing nicely

Another good bird we got was White-fringed Antwren, we cleaned up getting both species, the Trinidad only White-flanked earlier and now this Tobago only specialty.

I was quite pleased to nail some decent shots of Wattled Jacana, while i did get shots of them at Aripo in Trinidad the looks were too distant, at the "hilton" ponds, the light and scenario were much better, cool.

I scooped Newton with one bird that day as well, while viewing the Blue-winged teals i noticed a godwit in among them, i asked him "what's that godwit there, is that a Hudsonian?"

He looked and i think the bird took him a bit by surprise, he said "hmm, i think so.." , he asked me to send him a shot of the bird as i guess it is considered a rarity on Tobago, my Kenefick guide says "uncommon passage migrant in Trinidad, most records Aug - Oct. No recent sightings from Tobago". Score!

 On the way out Newton stopped his maxi and told us that he thought he saw an Upland Sandpiper, this bird would have been a lifer for me but the looks were so distant and the pics a little too unIDable that i will wait for a better look one day before checking it off my list. Newton also said he had recently seen a Thick-knee in the same field although we of course didn't this time.
Part of our mission that day was to find an ATM so i could pay Newton, he was charging us $150 US for the half day and it was a much better deal than if we had organized something with the Cuffie River Lodge.
The ATM situation in Tobago was a little funny that day, it seemed every ATM we went to was not working, or the door would not open to enter the terminal area, something telecommunications related was down that day, Newton said no worries and he would drive us to Scarborough later to use the Scotiabank machine. The other Canadian bank down there is RBC by the way.

We checked out Crown Point, the southern tip of the island later and i shot some Brown pelicans in flight.

Later we checked out the Grafton Santuary and i was able to get some shots of a species i had given up hope of seeing this trip - Blue-backed Manakin, Newton delivered with this bird!

Later still, we checked out the Adventure Farm, a pay-to-play private location full of hummingbird feeders. The entrance fee wasn't too steep and one could purchase a delicious home-made mango shake while watching the frenzy.
It was a frenzy, i hadn't seen this much activity since Asa Wright, they had chuncks of fruit and a lot of cool species were coming in. They even had a bell they would ring when feeders were re-stocked and the birds would come in. I loved shooting here, for me, the big draw wasn't the hummers, it was the Blue-grey tanagers amd Spectacled Thrush, as well, how can you go wrong when a Cocoa Woodcreeper presents itself soo close to you and on an unusual perch? The red-crowned Woodpecker made an appearance at one point, great perch, great light IMO.

At one point i heard Newton scolding the owner for chopping down a banana tree that used to be near the feeders, it used to be a great perch, i think a lot of their business was bird photographers like myself, they were trying to accomodate more photogs and i admit, they had the birds coming in to become a major draw.
We saw our only Ruby-topaz Hummingbird of the trip there, a female that would perch high up in a tree.

As well, hermits and mangos were prevalant as well, i avoid shooting them at hummingbird feeders but Audy got a few nice shots.

 Black-throated Mango - female

Black-throated Mango - male

Well, we got to an ATM machine that worked finally and Newton brought us back to Cuffie River, a successful outing and one i am glad we took, we added quite a few birds getting out like we did, Adventure Farm was a nice way to wrap things up.

I took shots of one more species this trip, and it was on the entrance road back to Cuffie River, there in a tree near eye level were the elusive Orange-winged Parrots, two of them at that. I grabbed a few shots from the window of the vehicle before we continued on to the hotel, and the packing up of suitcases, and paying off of food tabs etc.

When all was said and done, Cuffie River was expensive, they charged a lot for the meals (which weren't all that spectacular to begin with), everything was calculated, and a 15% VAT tax along with some other tax was added to the total.
I couldn't help noticing in the managers office that she herself had internet access, that must be where she occupied her time, because i never saw her the whole time we were there.
would be nice to have some WIFI for guests, get with the times people.

If i were to do it again, i would spend no more than 1 night at Cuffie, just enough to get the White-tailed Sabrewing, it's not worth the cost, we just looked at our CC bill for Cuffie and it's kind of crazy, had i known before....

Tomorrow we would fly back to Trinidad and spend a quick night at the Holiday Inn Express before jetting back home on my birthday, the 27th.

Trinidad and Tobago - Part 5 - Cuffie River

Oct 23rd
Max our driver pulled up to the Manta Lodge at around 8:30am and we piled our luggage in and took in some of the scenery on the Caribbean side of the island.

It was nice, postcard nice, there was one secluded bay that Max said the king of Quatar liked to pull up into on his yacht and spend a week, living i guess, like a king.

The Cuffie River Wilderness retreat was tucked away in the Runnemeade valley and was supposed to be quite birdy, the food was also supposed to be amazing, we would soon find out.
It was quiet when we pulled up, we would be the only guests the whole visit. The owner was away and her sister was going to look after us, which was fine. The hotel is modern yet rustic, clean and spacious, most importantly, with showers that flowed hot water.  The property seemed pretty overgrown and i couldn't see any obvious trails to wander down, once we walked down to the small bridge beyond their gate but other than seeing a jacomar and a few egret down by the water there didn't seen to be much.
The front of the hotel had 4 hummingbird feeders put out but no fruit was provided like at Asa Wright.
There were numerous Copper-rumped hummingbirds that seemed especially aggressive and protective about their chosen feeders, lots of bananaquits, a couple of Tropical Mockingbirds, and a couple of Trinidad Motmots along with a White-tipped Dove or two.
Blue-grey Tanager was seen as well by the elevated pool next to the hotel.

 our spacious and open room

No room keys were needed here the owners felt so secure about their location i guess, that and the guard and dog posted out front every night helped as well i guess.

The place wasn't cheap, there was no fridge of hotplate in the room and the location, far removed from the main road meant that we didn't have any options as far as eating and would be relying on the home cooking, which we would pay for when the bill was tallied.
Our first lunch didn't start off so well though, we were served some mush steamed in banana leaves, it was supposed to have chicken in it but honestly  couldn't taste any. I prayed to myself that all the food wasn't going to be like this. I appreciate good food as well, I married a Thai and of course enjoy most Thai cousine, i like a bit of spicy too, so i'm no prude when it comes to trying new things but here's the thing, we were birdwatchers, out every morning, sweating and shooting, carrying my 500mm lens and tripod is like exercise at the best of times, after all that energy burned, my palate is not craving to be challenged, it just wants something easy to eat, and a ice cold Carib beer to wash it all down with afterwards.

The soup was good in Trinidad and Tobago, not usually being a soup eater i would grab seconds, it was always that good (or maybe i was always really hungry LOL).

So why do birders come to Cuffie River?
Well, the main draw i suppose is the White-tailed Sabrewing, a large hummingbird not easily seen elsewhere. and not on Trinidad at all. The other bird not found on Trinidad is the Rufous-vented Chachalaca, there were many of them on the property, this was my 3rd chachalaca species photographed by the way.

 female White-tailed Sabrewing

male White-tailed Sabrewing

Rufous-vented Chachalaca

Got some other decent shots of hummers and hermits as well at Cuffie.

 Copper-rumped Hummingbird

The Copper-rumps on Tobago are apparantly a different sub-species from their Trinidad neighbors, i couldn't tell much difference, except that they seemed more aggressive. We were told later that since all the male Ruby-topaz hummingbirds were all on vacation the Copper-rumps could get away with it, once the Ruby-tapaz came back, they would take back their role as dominant species.

One other bird species we never saw anywhere else was Black-faced Grassquit, a species that reminded me of our Dark-eyed Oregon juncos.

Rufous-breasted Hermit

A really tough species to get standing still, got some lousy looks at Asa Wright but when Audy spotted this hermits "secret" perch i knew i could get a decent shot.

Trinidad Motmot

The motmots were quite tame at Cuffie River i have to admit.

Oct 24th
This ended up being pretty much a rest day for us, there was a small bit of rain in the morning and since yesterday, no new birds had come to the feeders. Actually, Audy spotted a White-necked Jacobin but it only seemed to come early in the morning. After nailing the species at Asa Wright i was happy to take a pass at trying for it. I spent time reading a BBC Wildlife magazine someone had left in the library and wondered why this type of magazine wasn't available here in Canada as it was a good read.
I noticed that Desmond, the award-winning nature guide employeed by Cuffie seemed to double his duties as a groundskeeper when not guiding people around the property.
We would have loved to take an introductory walk around the grounds with Desmond, apparantly his knowledge of the local plants and herbs, along with bird ID skills are impressive. I didn't think it was fair then, that we, who were spending 3 nights at the lodge ($240 US a night - no WIFI or TV), with no other guests around, were ignored because we didn't shell out an additional $120 US for a "3 hour walk around the grounds" with him. At least at Asa Wright, an introductory walk was free, and Dunstan cave was free after 3 nights, Cuffie should consider making Desmond available to paying guests (or at least provide a property map with trails marked), as it is, we didn't know where to walk and just hung out around the hotel or pool. Our one interaction with Desmond was when the shower knob stripped a thread or something and spun freely, i asked Desmond about it and he went and fixed it for us.

We did get our first shots of a Red-crowned Woodpecker, another of those species not found on Trinidad.

We spent a lot of time trying to shoot the Orange-winged parrots that would fly in large groups overhead us, it became a mission of Audy's to get an ID'able shot of them, before i nailed one down low on a branch our last night this was Audy's best effort.

After dinner we were treated (as we were every night) to the antics of a White-tailed Nightjar, who would perch close to a light post, hawking insects, right in front of our dinner table, that was pretty cool.
The first night i attempted to get a shot or two under the natural light of the light post but it illuminated everything this unnatural green colour so i used some fill-flash at low power instead to snap a few shots, the nightjar didn't notice at all, it was pre-occupied by guarding it's perch from another nightjar that would attempt to land every now and then.

Tomorrow we would be heading out with Newton George, the guide we had run into in Speyside, we would be checking out the "Hilton" pond complex. i put the word in quotes because it's not actually a Hilton anymore but i think most birders will always know it by that name.

Trinidad and Tobago - Part 4 - Tobago

Oct 21st
According to airport regulations in Trinidad and Tobago, one must arrive for domestic flights 2 hours before their 14 minute flight. Because of this we woke early to get a ride to the airport, our flight was at 8am so we arrived at around 6:30am, check in was a breeze and i was thankful for booking online weeks ago, these flights were always full it seemed. I had never been on a smaller propeller plane and it wasn't as scary as i thought it would be. 14 minutes later we were landing in Tobago, roughly 8:30am.
We were picked up by a driver from Blue Waters Inn, funny thing was though that we weren't going to be spending two nights at Blue Waters at all, apparantly they had been undergoing renovations and i guess they wouldn't be done in time to re-open when we were to visit. This was all a surprise to me since there had been no mention of downtime on their website when i booked in August. So they booked us into a neighboring hotel called the Manta Lodge, right by the beach in the sleepy little town of Speyside, a haven for divers from around the world, the reefs were renowned, as was the marlin fishing. Birdwatchers came to Speyside as well, most to take a boat trip to Little Tobago Island, a small island, declared a national wildlife sanctuary. It used to be called Bird of Paradise Island due to the small colony of introduced Greater Birds of Paradise in 1909, these birds were wiped out in Hurricane Flora in 1963, one of the few hurricanes to hit the area, but one that devastated Tobago.
Anyways, our drivers name was Bully, although he said he wasn't one anymore, he had an actual name but he spoke so softly that i never fully caught it, Bully i could remember however.
He asked how we liked Trinidad, we said it had been good, but we had been looking forward to Tobago, he said "ya mon, your holiday truly starts now, you will love Tobago". The windy main road followed the coast up north to the less populated part of Tobago, Bully would point out the spots of interest as we drove, he had a way of always saying "well, how can i say this?" before answering anything but we found out the difference between goats and sheep on Tobago from him, also, that everyone knew him in Speyside.

We mentioned that we were hoping to hook up with a Tobago bird guide named Newton George who lived in Speyside and Bully lit up with a gold-toothed smile and said "that's Newton's house up the hill there, he's my neighbor". Bully said he would let Newton know we were interested in a quick trip with him.

 The Manta Lodge

We had to chill a bit before being able to check into the Manta Lodge so we hung in the restaurant watching the Bananaquits and Copper-rumped hummingbirds. Every now and then a Tropical Mockingbird or Carib Grackle would come check out the banana chunks or sugar water feeder. It was entertaining, but nothing new for us after Asa Wright. We were told by staff as well that there was a small problem with the water but it should be fixed in 45 minutes. This must have been Trini-time again, because we never did get water that day or night LOL. We were given a water bottle and told to use that to clean ourselves until the water was fixed "they are working on it right now.." but later it became "well, they can't work on it because it is too dark now.."

Audy had a bit of a fright when she opened her suitcase, turns out close to two dozen Soldier ants (or were they Flesh-eating ants) had decided to take the trip across the water from Trinidad in her suitcase!
What is even more bizarre is that while at the airport, Audy had her suitcase examined by a white-gloved security guard while we were checking our luggage. No ants were found during the search, does this mean the lady didn't actually look at what she was searching or are the ants really good at hiding? LOL.
Anyways, we stomped as many of them as we could since they were running all over our room and had big pinchers, also, we didn't want to lay ruin to the Tobago eco-system by introducing a foreign species, if the ants indeed were.
Just a really strange occurance, my suitcase had nothing buggy about it at all.
later we took a walk along the beach to the main drag and checked out a few of the shops, and had lunch at the Birdwatchers Restaurant.

We had organized a trip to Little Tobago Island with the Manta Lodge as they offered it as one of the trips one could book and later in the afternoon a rasta called DeAngelo came calling, he told us it would be $37 US each plus a tip for the guide, it didn't really seem that he understood that my main purpose was to photograph the Red-billed Tropicbirds, i didn't really care about snorkeling. I agreed but felt uneasy about the transaction, we went for another walk later that day in search of a WIFI connection (some banking needed to be taken care of) and Manta Lodge had none. I came upon a local and we got to talking about the boat trip, he said that the going rate ws actually only $25 US each and no tip was required of guide, we were getting ripped off by Fear Not glass boat tours and i didn't like that. He told us to book with another company and someone from them would come see us the next morning, most importantly, he told us that going out to the island at 8am like i had planned would have been a disaster, i would not have seen the tropicbirds, and the light would have sucked, one needed to go after 2pm if they wanted to shoot them in flight like i did.

We raced back to the hotel (after stopping off at a small fruit stand to buy fruit), on the way back we passed a group of men sitting against a building on the other side of the street, suddenly one of the men got up and called out to me "are you Paul?" it was Newton George.
Bully had gotten in touch with him and the hotel had told him that we were out looking for a WIFI connection so he just hung out, it was a Friday evening and people were Liming, liming is what we call Chilling, Hanging Out etc., i asked a number of people where the term "liming" came from but never got a straight answer LOL.
We organized a day trip for Tuesday, we would be at the Cuffie River Retreat and he would come pick us up.
We were set.

We had dinner back at the hotel watching the bats come to drink from the hummingbird feeders, they would swoop all around us.
Later i checked out the beach by myself, sampling some tobago home-grown i had "picked up" on the street and rolled earlier, it must have been good, i was enthralled by the bright clear stars and later tried to count all the lights in Speyside (one could almost do it, the town was small), i could never get past a dozen before losing focus though. LOL.
Ah well, what do they say "What happens in Tobago, stays in Tobago?" lets leave it at that.
Later Audy was stressing about not being able to take a shower and i escorted her outside to the dive shop next door. We were told that a cold shower might be working there, the whole situation sucked but it got silly when we were brought out into the open next to the parking lot to a big sink with a water hose and Audy said "uh....." and i laughed and so did the hotel employee, "no, this isn't for washing, the actual shower is right over here". Audy didn't bother with a shower, just washed her face, i used the water bottle technique back in the hotel room and prayed there would be water the next day.

Oct 22nd
Little Tobago Island day. We got up early and headed out to a small bridge and fresh water stream flowing out onto the beach, this area is the entrance to Blue Waters and there is a ruined building and huge rusted water wheel there as well, the area was quite birdy as we found out, Speyside was impressing us.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Barred Antshrike

We also saw Anhinga, Grey Kingbird, Blackpoll Warbler, Semipalmated Plover, Southern Lapwing, Belted Kingfisher (brief look), Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Caribbean Martin and Green-rumped Parrotlet in the area.

Soon it was time to head to the beach for the boat trip out to Little Tobago Island, we would pass by a smaller island called Goat Island that was once owned by James Bond novelist and birdwatcher Ian Flemming.
We met up with Trevor (i think his name was), a young dude with a gold tooth, he was cool and we headed out in a speedboat, much faster than a glass bottom boat, since we weren't all that interested in the reefs (well actually we were somewhat interested but no matter). We made a water landing as the water was too choppy to tie the boat up against the dock, took boots off and jumped. The hike up was a grind, i don't know why i suffered so much but i did LOL, the 20 lbs of camera in my backpack really started to weigh me down on the way up. After some sweat and humidity we made it up to the prime vantage point for tropicbirds. On the way up Trevor pointed out a Trapdoor spider hole and a White-tailed Nightjar that Audy shot through branches.
Hermit crabs were numerous on the trail as well.
the view was amazing, and lots of tropicbirds flew all around me.
Audy and Trevor decided to leave me to shoot them in flight while they walked down a steep set of steps to the rocks below, hopefully she would get shots of Brown Booby.

Red-billed Tropicbird

Brown Booby

The walk down was a lot easier.

We thanked Trevor after we were back in Speyside and relaxed our last evening.

A driver from Cuffie River would pick us up in the morning and drive along the Caribbean side of the island to the small community of Runnemeade and our next stop, we would spend the next 3 nights at the Cuffie River Wilderness Retreat

The Waiting Area

The Waiting Area