Day 5 (Monday, 16th February)
After ticking off Lilac-tailed Parrot and Short-tailed Swift in an hours birding before breakfast at Pax Guest House, we set off for the Asa Wright Nature Centre, which we somewhat surprisingly found at the first time of asking. It was only about 50 minutes drive from Pax. As soon as we alighted from the car, we had amazing views of male and female Tufted Coquettes, feeding only metres from the car on a hedge of purple flowering shrubs. After tearing ourselves away from these magnificent little creatures, we ambled down to the reception desk and paid the $TT180, which included both entrance and the 10:30 guided walk for 3. This left us with half an hour to spend on the viewing terrace. What a treat! This location is everything that we had expected, and these expectations were very high. Despite the construction noise in the background, we weren’t distracted from the half a dozen tables and feeders placed directly below the terrace, and there was constant avian activity on these. In addition to the now expected Blue-grey, Palm, White-lined & Silver-beaked Tanagers, were all 3 species of Honeycreepers, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, White-breasted Emerald, Ruddy Ground-dove, masses of Bananaquits, Cocoa & Bare-eyed Thrushes – even a Crested Oropendola visited one of the tables to steal some food. The backdrop to this feeding area is beautiful, looking down the valley, and across the top of the rain forest for some miles. You can’t help but be excited by the place.Cameras and camcorders were trained on the birds below, but there were so many birds that the challenge was to capture them away from the feeders. Our proximity (less than a metre in some cases) to some of the nectar holders didn’t deter White-necked Jacobin and White-chested Emerald from feeding within touching distance.
One point that needs to be noted about the centre is that a guide is a must for the trails – they will not allow any other access to reduce disturbance. The benefit is that this uses the experience of the guides to point out the birds that would normally be missed. We almost had a guide to ourselves, before 5 non-birders ambled up to the group, but you can’t always have everything! Harold led us down the Discovery Trail, which is a tidy footpath through mixed woodland and forest, ending at the base, near to a Bellbird lek. Some flowering shrubs have been planted alongside the path at the beginning of the trail, and this is a magnet for hummingbirds – we saw Tufted Coquette chasing Blue-chinned Sapphire, as well as Copper-rumped Hummingbird. In a tallish tree just off the path was a roosting Common Potoo, which Harold picked out of the leaves in the top branches. Continuing down the path, we came across a male White-bearded Manakin in a small round clearing. A male Golden-headed Manakin was found further down the trail, while Harold was attracting a Violaceous Trogon to within 30m or so of the group. Moving on, a male White-flanked Antwren was close to but brief, as was Long-billed Gnatwren. The target at the bottom of this walk was a Bearded Bellbird lek, and a few raucous birds could be heard from a distance. We staked out the lek for about 10 minutes, and could hear the birds almost constantly, but they seemed to be stationary a little further down. Next part of the plan was to traverse the tangled vegetation across the track to try to hunt them down. They were now only calling sporadically, so we returned to the main site of the lek, where a single calling bird was perched out in the open only a short distance from us. This was possibly one of the strangest birds yet – all white, apart from brown cap and dangling wattles, and the size of a pigeon, and an eerily far carrying call.
The timing of arrival from the walk was impeccable – when we were back under the shelter of the viewing terrace again, the heavens opened for over half an hour. However, quite dry and still birding, we witnessed birds such as White-necked Jacobin and White-chested Emerald making the most of the impromptu showering facilities. Almost as soon as the rain had stopped, the bird activity exploded, with the already busy feeders and bushes in front of us even more alive with birds. Pride of place on the feeders in front of us were Blue-crowned Motmot male Barred Antshrike manoeuvring briefly on the tops of the foliage, and, elusive at the base of the bushes, male Great Antshrike. The tree to the immediate left of the feeders was superb for variety, particularly for tanagers, eventually holding a brace of Turquoise and a trio of Bay-headed Tanagers. Also on here at least 2 Ochre-bellied Flycatchers, which were almost constantly present, and what looked like a Forest Elaenia. Violaceous Euphonia passed through. The trees further away from the terrace had manic displaying Crested Oropendola, Greyish Saltator, with an even more distant bare tree playing host to singles of Olive-sided Flycatcher and Violaceous Trogon. This also coincided with a peak in human activity, since there was at least one tour group here, taking their birding log call – we were pleased to have front row seats, despite the large size of the terrace building. They were cramped into two rows depth, but most probably still obtained good views of the birds on show. We also had lunch here, and while it was too tempting to break away from watching the birds, we munched our way through burgers that were large enough to fill a small army while still perched on the seats overlooking the terrace.
We eventually stayed at the centre, through yet more rain showers, until about 16:15. The birding display was too good to leave, curtailing plans to go to sites elsewhere. A variety of species continued to come and go into the afternoon, and we were just about to leave when a Golden-olive Woodpecker appeared on the branches directly in front of us, with a male White-bearded Manakin on the branches to the opposing side of the terrace.
We wound our way down from Asa Wright Nature Centre in no time, eventually finding a petrol station near to the airport – they are few and far between on the island. A full tank of petrol only cost $TT80. We then set of for the Trincity Ponds. These sewage ponds are located on the first small turning to the West of the airport / Churchill-Roosevelt highway interchange. On pulling up at the locked gate, the gatekeeper within more or less said “tough luck, we’re shut until tomorrow!” (the opening hours are supposedly 7am – 16:00). However, we must have been wearing our pathetic faces, because he let us in as we were about to leave. The site is a definite bonus. There are four square sewage ponds of equal size, two containing active water filters, one with some open still water, and the fourth with marsh interspersed by occasional bushes. There is a good mix of wetland species, some in huge numbers. The first active lagoon had hundreds of White-winged Swallows feeding over the surface water. The second sported a Caiman, slowly meandering across the open water, with Wattled Jacanas, Yellow-chinned Spinetails, and Pied Water-tyrants around the edges. Just beyond this was a cultivated field full of cultivated green vegetables, which contained literally hundreds of adult and juvenile Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, laced with many Shiny Cowbirds.
The third lagoon didn’t seem to hold any standing or open water, but contained wall to wall low, marshy vegetation. Amongst the handful of Pied Water-tyrants was a single adult White-headed Marsh-tyrant. A superb, dapper bird, which enjoyed doing slow circuits of the lagoon by plant hopping. There seemed to be a family of Yellow-chinned Spinetails here, as well as a single female Yellow Warbler. Adding to the numerous White-winged Swallows was a handful of Southern Rough-winged Swallows, which seemed to prefer to feed and perch over the open fields. A Little Blue Heron flew in and landed next to the fourth, working lagoon, and a Ringed Kingfisher was glimpsed as it flew off into the distance.
By the time we
were leaving, the light was fading, and most of the hirundines had gone, but it
had been a very productive stop off on the way back to Pax. We had read in some
reports that the ponds were a bit of a crime spot, but that seems to have been
eradicated with the addition of the locked fence and the gatekeeper. I’m not
sure if the opening hours he told us were true, but being pleasant to him
seemed to do the trick.