Day 4 (Sunday, 15th February)
The rain had been bouncing off the roof again through the night, but continued until after daylight for the first time. Breakfast was supposed to be at 7:00, which translated into the Caribbean time of 8:00, so we had 1˝ hours of dodging in and out of the rain showers chasing after birds. As well as the usual birds seen here, an early flock of parrots turned out to be our first Blue-headed Parrots feeding on the Immortelle tree just beyond the base of the garden. The Copper-rumped Hummingbird returned to its usual perch, but we also had what was probably a hermit of some type close by, and possible jacobin on fly through. Just as we were clearing off breakfast, a White Hawk landed in one of the trees right in front of the terrace, giving stunning views.
After waiting for Gary to return to the premises, and lead us through Tunapuna to buy some of the delicious local coffee, and then to his office to pay the Visa bill, we eventually arrived at the Pax Guest House at 10:30. This is a colonial style accommodation, being formerly a monastery annexe, a few hundred feet above the town of Tunapuna. When we gazed at the front entrance, there was the discouraging sight of a group of people trying to squeeze in (they turned out to be an organised sightseeing trip from one of the cruise ships), so we decided to locate the viewing terraces to the rear of the property, and start birding immediately, before even contemplating checking in. There are in fact two terraces – an upper one for all visitors, and a lower one reserved for guests. Both overlook the lower elevation rain forest. Various fruit and nectar feeders had been provided, and were best seen from the lower guest’s terrace. We immediately had a plethora of the now common birds: Silver-beaked, White-lined, Blue-grey & Palm Tanagers, Kiskadees, Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, Bananaquits, and Tropical Mockingbirds. Hundreds of vultures were overhead, which reportedly also contain Zone-tailed Hawks at times.
With time rapidly passing by, we had abandoned the idea of leaving for another site for the rest of the day, and rather to spend the rest of the day exploring the Pax area. The feeders to the rear of the guest house provided lengthy entertainment, with a sponge cake laiden feeder being particularly popular, with Cocoa & Bare-eyed Thrushes, White-lined, Palm & Blue-grey Tanagers, at least 4 Yellow Orioles, Ruddy Ground-dove, Kiskadees, and Tropical Mockingbird all hanging around here in numbers. A single Greyish Saltator that popped in occasionally was much more elusive.
We grabbed some bananas and coke, and drove up the road to where it terminated, at St Benet Hall on Mount St Benedict Road. This was the place to park the car and the beginning of the Old Donkey Trail. It was now about 13:45. The first few hundred metres of the track followed the course of the dry stream bed below, and we did see Chestnut Woodpecker and White-lined Tanager, until we came to a right U-turn in the track, which marked the short course of the stream upwards (where bizarrely there were a couple of Virgin Mary statues at its head) – a spot reportedly good for breeding Rufous-breasted Hermits. We sat here for 15-20 minutes, missed out on the Rufous-breasted Hermits, but did see 1 or 2 Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, and a Green Hermit passing through briefly. Piratic Flycatcher and Violaceous Euphonia were overhead.
Just after leaving this small cul-de-sac, a calling bird just below the canopy led to backbreaking views (countered by lying on the back with backpack as headrest) of a small, preening russet brown passerine, with a supercilium, and second stripe further down the face. The upturned bill confirmed Streaked Xenops. It continued preening for a few minutes before flying off. Sparse but enjoyable forest birding continued as we approached what was marked as a manakin lek on the small map that we had from Pax Guest House. Around the area that we thought would hold the manakins, a Squirrel Cuckoo flew in, but no sign of the target birds. Once we climbed a little further, where the track took a sharp left turn, we thought we’d missed our chance, but followed up a couple of calling birds just above where we had begun our search. Within 5-10 minutes we had at least 2 male Golden-headed Manakins calling and occasionally showing very well. Not far up from this spot, we came across our first ant-eating birds, with a pair of White-flanked Antwrens. The male was all black, apart from rows of white spots on the wings; the female warm brown
The track from here became steeper and went through a small conifer stand. As we passed these conifers, we decided to turn back where the undergrowth was very dense, mainly due to the marching of time, but did find a little cut to the side, which led to a vista of the forested valley below and above. As soon as we peered through here, amongst the many vultures was a light phase Short-tailed Hawk, and Peregrine circling much higher.