Day 3 (Saturday, 14th February)
The target for today was to be walking the forest to the Aripo Caves for the Oilbirds. Any significant fall of rain tends to curtail these trips, presumably due to the type of steep muddy terrain that made up part of the route, so the sound of rain lashing on the roof over our heads through the night did nothing to endear the spirits. By the time we arose just after 6am, a lot of the standing water had dried up, and the rain clouds were lifting, and we were happily informed by Gary that Mervyn would be able to take us to the caves. The superb breakfast was all but finished by 7:30, but only after another hours birding beforehand. I took a small path to the rear of the premises through the gardens to a small stream. Hiking boots were a definite advantage here, tackling the combination of slope, mud and water admirably. In addition to the now usual species, there were also a few new species down here. Bare-eyed Thrushes continued to be unapproachable, disappearing from view almost as soon as they were picked up, but a Cocoa Thrush later was more accommodating. Nearby, a rather large hummingbird turned out to be Green Hermit, and one or two of these seemed to be hanging around the buildings on return. At the stream running at the base of the gardens, a Black-throated Mango was catching the light beautifully, and seemed to be doing more dancing in the air than feeding.
The Oilbird caves themselves are in the depths of the jungle, at a height of over 500m. How on earth they were found in the first place is anybodyís guess, but once in the caves proper, one of the strangest birds is found. The noise given off by them is very raucous, and they are surprisingly large. We descended the slippery rocks past the mouth of the cave, to within about 10-20m of the nearest Oilbirds. When our eyes had adjusted to the lower light levels, we had some good views of flying and perching birds, with some seen through binoculars eventually in almost half light. It had been a very long and difficult walk, but worth it for the experience alone, as well as seeing the Oilbirds, and some other species that were only found in this part of the rain forest. This outing had a sense of achievement surrounding it.
The trudge back to the main track didnít seem to take nearly as long as the ascent, although we didnít emerge out of the rain forest until about 14:30. More birds were added on the return, including Blue Dacnis and close Bay-headed Tanager. Once we had had a short sit down, we turned the corner to the favoured Immortelle tree, which seemed to have less birds than the previous day. However, it did hold White-lined Tanager, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Green & Red-legged Woodcreeper. After about 20 minutes of watching, it also threw in Southern Beardless-tyrannulet for the trip. More sensibly than yesterday, we found that lying on our backs in the road, with heads propped up on bags, made much more comfortable and practical watching.
When we left the flowering Immortelle, steady progress was made to where we had seen the Ruby-topaz Hummingbird female the previous day. It reappeared in no time, which was no great surprise, since we found that it was actually tending a nest in the bush where it had been first located, right next to the track.