Saturday, April 16, 2016

Grand Riviere 4/4-4/5--12 Life Birds, 2 Year Birds

Photo: Shari Zirlin
After leaving Yrette, we made a rather long, roundabout trip to the northeast side of the island. It wasn't until I looked at map that I was able to figure out why, if we were heading east, the sea was on my right. To get to Grand Riviere there is one road, and it overshoots the mark by quite a distance, so that you double back, going west, to finally arrive there.

The purpose of the journey is two-fold. When we arrived at our hotel, Mt Plaisir Estate, we ate what was definitely the best food of the vacation (the hotel is owned by an Italian national, so it was my kind of grub) then headed out to the beach, after dark, to look for Leatherback Turtles which come to this remote area to lay their eggs from about April through July. I knew Leatherback Turtles were big. Big, to me, was my arm spread. That would be a big turtle.

To see the turtles it is necessary to walk in darkness, lit, occasionally, by the guide's red light. White light would distract the turtles, so it is forbidden. We walked along, illuminated somewhat by starlight, until the guide said, "Here's one," then shined his red light upon it.

My only word was, "WHOA!" Before us was a turtle, as big as a Volkswagen, grunting with effort as it crawled through the sand, looking for spot to dig a 3 foot hole where it would lay between 80 & 120 Spaldeen-sized eggs. This was a BIG turtle. My only regret for the whole trip is that I didn't get a picture of one of these monsters (which, by the way, or incredibly gentle and oblivious of humans--once it was in its egg-laying trance, we were able to touch its head without it noticing--it feels like the outer rind of a watermelon), but at night it is impossible and we just didn't get up early enough to see the last of the turtles return to the sea at dawn.

Our primary birding goal was to find TRINIDAD PIPING-GUANS, a rare, endemic species, limited to the remote northeast corner of the island. There are probably no more than 500 birds in the wild. The local name for them is "Pawi."

The large, turkey-like birds, were once hunted almost to extinction, until the local community took it upon itself to protect the birds. Now, if a hunter shows up in Grand Riviere, he is advised that he would be wise to be elsewhere.

The birds live up in the nutmeg trees and eat the fruit of that tree. Since that is their only food source they live a precarious existence. We were extremely lucky to find them up the road from our hotel, where a local guide had access to a property where a small flock of between 10 & 16 was in residence. Kim said that he doubled the number of Pawi's he'd see in his life on this trip and that he'd never been so near to them. A few of them were in the trees right next to the roofed deck we were on.

In the same area Shari & I finally got to see a trogon--GUIANAN TROGON and we also came upon a small flock of GIANT COWBIRDS, a very interesting nest parasite, that unlike the other cowbirds, must specialize in parasitizing the nest of only one species--the Crested Oropendola--because it is only bird that make a nest large enough for the cowbird to fit into.

Earlier in the day, before breakfast, Kim found a couple of FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWLS that a flock of Palm Tanagers were harassing, chasing them from tree to tree. This was the first of many pre-breakfast life birds for the trip.

Our list for Grand Riviere:
Species                           Location
Brown Pelican   Paria Main Road, San Souci
Black Vulture   Mt. Plasir Estate
Turkey Vulture   Grande Riviere
GRAY-HEADED KITE   Grande Riviere
COMMON BLACK HAWK   Paria Main Road, Grand Riviere
Southern Lapwing   Mt. Plaisir Estate
Spotted Sandpiper   Mt. Plaisir Estate
White-tipped Dove   Mt. Plaisir Estate
Smooth-billed Ani   Grande Riviere
Black-throated Mango   Grande Riviere
GUIANAN TROGON   Grande Riviere
Channel-billed Toucan   Grande Riviere
Orange-winged Parrot   Grande Riviere
Great Kiskadee   Grande Riviere
Streaked Flycatcher   Grande Riviere
Tropical Kingbird   Grande Riviere
Rufous-browed Peppershrike   Grande Riviere
Tropical Mockingbird   Grande Riviere
Northern Waterthrush   Grande Riviere
TROPICAL PARULA   Grande Riviere
Blue-gray Tanager   Grande Riviere
Palm Tanager   Mt. Plasir Estate
Green Honeycreeper   Grande Riviere
Bananaquit   Grande Riviere
GIANT COWBIRD   Grande Riviere
Yellow-rumped Cacique   Grande Riviere
Crested Oropendola   Grande Riviere
Violaceous Euphonia   Grande Riviere

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