I have seen lots of new birds this month, birds that I have never seen before. But I am not adding them to my life list because they were outside of the United States. I have decided that I do not want to be a world birder. North America is enough of a venue for listing and occasional chasing. I have reached the point in my life where I do not need to see all of life’s variety and beauty, but what I do see, I want to enjoy and appreciate.
The birds were wary, but generally unconcerned by the close proximity of people. Some, like the ever-present Palm Tanager, flew through the open veranda, even venturing into the living room and down the hall of the big house.
The Jacobin seemed to limit his territorial concern to others of his species. Not so the smaller Copper-rumped Hummingbird (about Ruby-throated size). He chased everything, from the diminutive Crested Coquette (the second smallest bird in the world) to the larger White-chested Emerald and Blue-chinned Sapphire. These latter names, by the way, capture the iridescence that flashes when these birds are in the sunlight the way a fine jewel might reflect that same sunlight.
There were two species of mannakins - dumpy little birds that are known for their elaborate dances and courtship display. The Yellow-headed Mannakin concludes his courtship song with a Michael Jackson type of backward shuffle along a branch. He takes time to feed, but most of his day he spends in a lek with other males, perpetually singing and shuffling in demonstration of his superior qualities. We watched him feed from the veranda, and later watched him dance on his lek.
Then there were the trails. Wandering through several hundred acres of mountainous tropical forest, any moment might bring a movement, a blossom, a butterfly, a scurry, or a new call.
For over forty years, the Asa Wright Nature Centre (a not-for-profit NGO) has supported research, conservation, and education. The most visible portion is the former coffee and cocoa plantation house which is the visitors’ center and lodge and which provides most of the financial support for the organization. The Centre was doing eco-tourism long before the term came into general use.
We talked with friends and did internet research before deciding on Trinidad. Trinidad, just off the Venezuela coast, relies on oil and gas for its economy; it has not developed a Caribbean tourist industry, except for the Asa Wright Nature Centre which attracts mainly birders from around the world. As birdy as the Centre is, we met several couples with a non-birding spouse who was enraptured with the veranda entertainment.
Accommodations were not luxurious, but they were very comfortable and spotlessly clean. Food at the Centre reflects the many cultures which contribute to modern Trinidad - Amerindian, Indian, French, creole. In the best British tradition, tea is served at 4pm, and from the West Indian tradition, rum punch is served at 6pm. Both are evidence that pockets of civilization still persist.
This year’s winter birds on my backyard feeders have been loyal patrons, but like the Dark-eyed Junco, they have been mostly colorless, varying only in degrees of gray. So it was a delight to watch brightly colored birds, like the Purple Honeycreeper with the male’s rich, deep blue plumage, or the Green Honeycreeper with the male’s brilliant turquoise green body and bold black mask. The females of both species are stunningly beautiful in their own right with bright, warm, green plumage.
Indeed, the whole show at Asa Wright was captivating. Except for the tick bites I collected, it was a delightful week.
And now ... I’m home and ready for the season of great birding.