Footprints in the sand

This is our last day here at the Hotel Anise. We’ve been treated like royalty being the only guests all this time. Last night, Neville the handyman took us in his jeep along the Coast to the Grand Rivière to see nesting leatherback turtles. This is another thing that I’ve always wanted to see, and Aunty was pretty excited as well. After a short but slow and jolting drive along the narrow single file road, swerving around potholes and crossing rivers via bridges made of wooden planks we arrived at the turtle nesting site.

This comprised of a large shed, a big desk where we had to buy a beach permit, a small glass case of souvenir trinkets, and a large hall with a video screen. The hall was big enough to seat around 100 people. Before we were allowed out to see the turtles and use our beach permit, we had to watch a video documentary. So we sat in the middle of the front row – the only ones there! Only after the documentary had finished were we allowed out and were greeted by our guide, who promptly ripped our beach permit in half!

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Then it started to get much more interesting. As soon as we were on the beach we almost fell over a nesting turtle oblivious to all around her. As our eyes started to adjust to the darkness we saw turtles were everywhere, digging, grunting, filling, laying and shuffling in or out of the sea. Because it is all too easy to disturb them with light we were lead around the beach via a small red light torch, but we were able to see plenty.

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The first turtle we came across was just finishing digging her nest, taking very delicate and dexterous scopes of sand with alternate left and right back flipper. Then when she was satisfied it was deep enough, started laying her eggs. Each nest contains between 80-120 eggs, and she will come up onto the beach about 6-10 times over the next couple of weeks to nest again and again.

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Later on we watched a huge female haul herself out of the surf and up the shore to nest. She then promptly shuffled between two other smaller turtles causing their carefully excavated nest to collapse, and they had to start again. The site she finally chose was the site of a previous nest, and as she dug down into the sand this nest was disturbed and eggs were scattered over the surface. This is a common occurrence with so many turtles coming ashore in a relatively small area.

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The survival rate from egg to maturity when a female is ready to mate and nest is only 1:1000. This is made worse by the unintentional by-catch in fishermen’s nets. In Trinidad they are trying their best to reduce these unnecessary losses through education, involving locals in research and banning net fishing during the nesting season. This seems to be working as all the locals we’ve spoken too are very proud of the fact that they have one of the largest remaining nesting sites in their area. Let’s hope that all the conservation and education work is not in vain and these fantastic and enigmatic creatures are not lost forever, and continue to migrate the oceans, including as far as the Welsh Coast.

This morning when we woke up we noticed fresh turtle tracks on the beach immediately opposite the hotel. A turtle had nested on the beach here as well last night. The tide had washed most of here tracks away, but there were enough left to show where she had nested.

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The beach here is also a roost for the Common Black Vulture, and we’ve seen these birds all over the island, so we can vouch for how common they are. During the turtle nesting season they do well feasting on the displaced eggs that are thrown up when nests are disturbed. They have left footprints all over the sand on the the beach as they walk, hop and run around.

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Mind you someone else almost didn’t have the opportunity to leave any footprints at all. We noticed a local clambering over the rooks collecting seaweed maybe. At one point he was caught off guard by a wave, but was still standing afterwards.

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We left our own footprints in the sand knowing that they will only be there until the next tide washes them away. But in the hope that despite the ephemeral nature of footprints in the sand the natural beauty of Trinidad will continue for future generations to enjoy.

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Say good bye to the rainforest

Yesterday we said good bye to the rainforest and moved on to our next destination, Hotel Anise on the Grand Rivière on the north coast of Trinidad. Though not before I was once again entranced by the hummingbirds at Asa Wright. And I can’t resist including a photo of a White-chested Emerald below.

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We drove for over two hours from Asa Wright to the Anise Hotel. It wasn’t far distance wise but the roads here in Trinidad are a cross between Welsh narrow and twisting roads, and Indian roads that have dirty great big craters in them ready to swallow up anyone daft enough to miss them. You can be hurtling along happily at a reasonable speed then suddenly the driver hits the brakes and we jolt along for a while, swerving and weaving around holes and dips, before picking up speed again. Our guide at Asa Wright told us about the direct action he and some friends took to repair the road to their village recently. One morning they blocked the road by felling trees and burning tyres, refusing to let any commercial traffic through. 2 hours later the government minister responsible for roads was there along with TV crews. And two weeks later work started. We can vouch for the smooth road surface that came from this piece of community action.

We finally arrived at the hotel to be greeted by what felt like all the staff, who are very keen to show us everything in the hotel before plying us with fresh fruit juice, tea and cake. I’m going to like it here.

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The hotel looks directly over the beach, all we have to do is walk down the hill a little and then cross a narrow road and we are there. The are even turtle tracks in the sand below.

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At dinner time we were treated to a four course meal on our own candle lit table by the pool. We’re the only people here this evening, and every five minutes we are asked if everything is OK. Donna the maid is fantastic and was determined to make sure everything was perfect for us. When we got back to the room the staff had scattered petals on there bed in a the shape of a heart and placed two swans in the centre.

Last Day At Asa Wright

Today’s our last day here at Asa Wright before we move on to the North Coast of Trinidad. But I thought I’d show you a couple of my favourite birds we’ve seen so far.

The first is a Barred Antshrike that appeared just off the balcony on our first full day.

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The Palm Tanagers are common, but are great to watch none the less. They are noisy and nosey. There are a number nests on the veranda, and just outside our room meaning we are woken early to their calls which sound just like polystyrene being rubbed up and down glass!

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The Green Honeycreepers are really striking birds, the male has a black cap, but the females are very bright green.

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The White Necked Jacobin hummingbirds are also common, and never seem to stop. They are also feisty, and won’t tolerate completion of anykind. Every so often there will be an explosion of colour as two birds burst into a spiral flight and fight it out.

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The Oropendola make a number of bizarre calls. One of which sounds like the tune at the end of a game on a slot machine. Just like a descending electronic trill.

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They nest in woven baskets hanging from the tops of trees.

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Another common visitor to the veranda were the Blue-grey Tanagers. In the early morning light they appeared to be almost ghost like.

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The Rufus Browed Pepperedshrike was a real challenge. Apparently they don’t like coming out into the open, a reality I can vouch for. It took me 15 minutes to find him in a small tree. But I did find him!

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OK, he may not be the prettiest of birds we’ve seen so far, but he did pose well for me, so I think the Common Black Vulture should be included here.

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But the one that everyone wants to see when they come to Asa Wright is the Tufted Coquette. At 7cm, about the size of my thumb, he is tiny. But makes up for it with pazzazz.

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We’d seen him very briefly a few days before, but I went down to the garden before breakfast hoping to see home again. What I didn’t hope for was the way he perched and sat for so long so I could get a few photos. What a way to end the stay here.

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Caroni Swamp

A couple of days ago we had a trip to Caroni Swamp, another bird watchers paradise here in Trindad. But not until we had undertaken a tramp around Bellbird Trail here at Asa Wright. Didn’t seen any bellbirds but we heard plenty of them. But we were lucky to see them yesterday and so here’s a slightly blurry photo of a Bearded Bellbird from yesterday. But at least you can see his beard.

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I’m having a fantastic time here, there is so much to see. But because of this many of the non- bird wildlife is us recorded and the guides are at a loss to tell me what I’ve photographed at times. But that’s not stopping me from asking! Like these beautiful bracket fungi growing on the dead trees.

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The water theme really took off in the afternoon with a trip to Caroni Swamp. Trinidad roads being what they are we had to stop on the way to get the tyres fixed.

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On the way to Caroni Swaps we stopped off to have a look at a power substation where apparently there are lots of birds. But the Challinor Jink worked and the place was deserted! Nothing to be seen for miles.

We finally reached the swamps we were ready for the toilet. The only problem was that the visitor centre and toilets were closed because of a lack of water. ironic in the middle of a swamp. So we pleaded to the security guard to let us in, which he did readily enough, but I think he regretted it as he has to chase everyone out five minutes later. The place was full of stereotypical images of swamps with abandoned and dilapidated boats scattered around.

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I love the mangrove swamps. These areas are fascinating in the variety of life. What does grab me is the way the mangrove trees grow out of the water as if on stilts. Our guide pointed out the three types of mangrove trees that gown on Trinidad. The red mangrove grows with its roots acting as scaffolding poles at it fights to reach the sun.

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The roots of white mangrove are completely different and stick up out of the water like hundreds of needles just above the high water line.

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We were lucky enough to see a lot on our way to see the Scarlet Ibis roost. A highlight was a great view of a Pootoo, which is a nocturnal bird that remains motionless during the day.

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Being a swamp there must be a snake somewhere. And there was. This is a Cook’s Tree Boa.

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However the real delight of the trip was watching the Scarlet Ibis coming into roost at the end of the day. There is a single roost on an island in the swamp, and if the mangrove forest encroaches on this area they move roost. The current roost has been used for the past 5 years or so.

The scarlet colour is obtained from their main food source tree crabs, which seem to be everywhere in the swamp.

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As the Ibis came into to roost and their wings caught the sun the colours were fantastic.

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A great end to the day.

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The Night Walk – Trinidad Style

Posts are a few days behind because the internet has been down here at the Asa Wright Reserve. We seem to be unable to function today without the internet! But Aunty was lucky, as there were a lot of other people I could bore here in the lodge in the evenings.

The other night the evening activity was a night walk along the road to see what we could see, or in my case what we could trample over in the dark!. And when I say dark – boy it was dark. There were five if us on the walk, but only one torch between us, and the ranger was not letting go of that. Aunty stayed behind and so I was free to ask all the stupid questions I could about what we saw.

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Everywhere you go here in the forest there are huge leaf cutter ant nests, and the trails they make across the forest floor are so clearly defined they look like animal trails. However, it’s not until it gets that you start to appreciate the shear number of ants there are here. The photo above shows a trail of ants along the edge of the road bringing back the leaves from a nutmeg tree just behind. Everywhere we went during the walk there were thousands of ants.

We went down a set of steps to find a Trinidad Chevron Tarantula, and all along the right hand side of the steps there was an leaf cutter ant trail, but I didn’t find this out until a little too late. As we came to where the tarantula was hiding I started to feel things crawling over my feet. Being the fool I am I had gone out in flip flops as there wasn’t time to put my boots on. “You’ll be OK the guide said!” Not I ******wasn’t! I managed to get a photo of the tarantula in between dancing around like a demented Austrian doing a Tyrolean dance. Mind you I had the last laugh. Everyone else was covered in ants up to their waists because they hadn’t felt the ants in their boots! No the ants weren’t wearing boots – work it out.

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Back on the road again we came across a whip scorpion. These chaps are not true scorpions or spiders but are a separate order of Arachnids. The ‘whips’ of tail-less whip scorpions or whip spiders are a pair of very long specialised legs that they use like antennae. They are useful for feeling and sniffing their way around and finding food and mates. These delicate legs are often damaged but can grow back when the animal moults, shedding their old skin and forming a new one.

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That was my favourite of the evening until we came across a velvet worm. I’ve wanted to see one of these since watching an episode of Life on Earth with David Attenborough. They are soft bodied worms with legs – that’s the easiest way I can describe it after watching this champ tonight. They have a fairly gruesome way of eating by laying in ambush and then covering their prey in slime to stop them escaping. Following up by an injection of saliva and sucking the poor unsuspecting prey dry. Fantastic.

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Just below the velvet worm on the back was a handsome long horn cricket. Which if it wasn’t careful could be the velvet worms dinner for the night.

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It was time to return back to the lodge. But the excitement hadn’t finished yet. Crossing the road in front of us was a beautiful snake, that may have been a pit viper so we all kept our distance. It was quite happy being followed and posing for photos. When we got back to the lodge and looked at the photos the general consensus from the guides was that this was a Snail Eating Snake. Even so it was great to see it.

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Despite the excitement with the snake, my favourite is still the velvet worm. If only because they are not often seen, but also down to its gruesome eating habits. Then closely followed by the whip scorpion. Though after seeing where the tarantula was hiding I certainly not going to poke my fingers into the ends of the pipes used for handrails! Oh, and next time I’m going to make sure I wear boots.

Trinidad here we come!

Aunty and I have gone a little further than usual this week. No, we didn’t take the wrong turning! After spending a night in the Hilton Hotel in Gatwick, we boarded the plane for Trinidad for a two week holiday that also includes Tobago as well. We’ve both been looking forward to this for a longtime as it’s our 25th wedding anniversary in the next few days.
Packing start a full 3 days before we were due to fly. Aunty was determined to be prepared for all eventualities from tracking through the rainforest to lying on the beach, with dress up dinners in between. We’d already had our yellow fever vaccinations about a month ago, luckily without any side effects.
The bags were packed full not only of clothes but we also had enough any mossie sprays, bite relief remedies. I think we have enough to set up our own pharmacy. But I’m sure at some time I’ll be glad Aunty was once a girl guide.

If hand pharmacy fails we could always put fly paper around our hats instead maybe.

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The flight took over ten hours, but this did include a stop off at St Lucia. All of a sudden the plane was empty as most of the passengers got off with the crew. Then it filled up again from the 40 minute flight to Trinidad.

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Our first 5 nights are at the Asa Wright Nature Reserve and Lodge. This was a coffee and palm plantation but after the war with increasing interest from naturalists because of the fantastic wildlife in the valley it became a nature reserve. We are staying in the old plantation house with a huge room and an antique shower. Working out how the shower worked was a major challenge. Turning the hot and cold taps seemed to create a random stream of hot or cold water. It was either too hot or too cold. At times I had to resort to evasive action as I jumped about in a unique version of a Morris Dance.
With the unerring timing of the Challinors we arrived just as the evening rum punches were being served. So with punch in hand we had a superb view from the veranda down the valley looking over the tops of the rain forest.

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Because of the time difference with huge UK we were wide awake at 5am and out on the veranda for tea and bird watching as the dawn broke. You don’t have to be a bird watcher to be here, the place is fantastic! The birds in all their glory are right there in front of you, with humming birds visiting sauger feeders less than a foot away. My face is aching from wearing a smile all day!

The Green Honeycreeper is my favourite bird for today.

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After breakfast we were given a short orientation tour and then left to our own devices to wander around the trails. Again being Challinors we decided on huge Adventure Trail. Now I don’t think many people take this trail! But after a few “Dr Livingstone I presume” moments we finished it and because we have psychopathic tendencies we then went onto the Bamboo Trail. 3 hours later we emerged onto the road and staggered back to the Lodge for lunch!

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The Tiger Lizards are common here, and we seen a few already around on our wandering a. However, they’re not the most macho of chaps. We’ve watched them being chased and harassed by a couple of mocking birds.

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There are lots of humming birds around the lodge and they don’t have move, so it’s a challenge to get them in frame. I’ve got lots of photos of where they were, only showing empty branches. This is a female White Necked Jacobian. I’m going to try and get the male tomorrow.

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It’s not only the birds that have fantastic colours, but the flowers are also superb. The Hawaian Torch Ginger is just one we came across fighting our way through the rain forest (sounds impressive eh?).

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More to come I hope. I’m still smiling!!!!!