A Final Big Morning in Tobago

Blue-gray Tanager Photo Stephan Lorenz

Blue-gray Tanager Photo Stephan Lorenz

Unfortunately the holiday had come to the inevitable end after an incredible two weeks in Trinidad and Tobago. We had explored a wide variety of sights and nature, including the famous Asa Wright Nature Center, the largest Pitch Lake in the world, plenty of beaches in Tobago, and the seabird haven of Little Tobago (probably everyone’s highlight). In between, we hiked, snorkeled, and relaxed. During my last morning on the island I could have slept in or enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the verandah, working on the increasing yard list, but I decided to go birding, no surprise there.

Spectacled Thrush Photo Stephan Lorenz

Spectacled Thrush Photo Stephan Lorenz

While I had “cleaned up” the birds I wanted to see, Red-footed Boobies of Little Tobago, White-tailed Sabrewing in the Main Ridge forest, and Trinidad Motmot in Arnos Vale, I decided to complete a big morning in the neighborhood, just to see how many species I could find.

Bananaquit Photo Stephan Lorenz

Bananaquit Photo Stephan Lorenz

During the past ten days I had become familiar with the small neighborhood of vacation homes set alongside the edge of the Bon Accord Lagoon, a mangrove lined wetland listed as a RAMSAR site. In addition to the wetland, the backyards and weedy lots proved surprisingly productive. It also helped that the Bon Accord sewage ponds were within walking distance (yes a birding hotspot) and a narrow lane cut through the mangroves to offer views of the nearby bay.

Northern Waterthrush Photo Stephan Lorenz

Northern Waterthrush Photo Stephan Lorenz

I started well after sunrise, missing my chances to hear White-tailed Nightjars (which I heard every night from the porch) and Common Potoo (which I heard every other night). Accordingly, I set my goal for the morning at a moderate 50 species as this would offer a sense of accomplishment and was feasible without running the risk of missing the plane.

Green-rumped Parrotlets Photo Stephan Lorenz

Green-rumped Parrotlets Photo Stephan Lorenz

I walked out the front gate with bird activity in full swing. Barred Antshrikes were calling, a sound that is heard throughout Tobago, where the species is incredibly common (I even spotted one a few days before on a telephone wire while driving!). Surprisingly, Scrub Greenlets were not heard, a species I would have to catch up with. The common birds fell into place, Eared Doves on the power lines, Pale-vented Pigeons hurtling above, Grey Kingbirds calling, and Carib Grackles moving about in little flocks. Each front yard seemed to hold a male Black-faced Grassquit, the birds fluttered on frenetic wings and with bill extended to a maximum on landing expelled a mechanical buzz, nearly exploding with the sheer effort of the simple call, barely worthy of an insect one-tenth the size.

Barred Antshrike Photo Stephan Lorenz

Barred Antshrike Photo Stephan Lorenz

An Orange-winged Parrot flew over the mangroves, a nice addition to the neighborhood list. I tracked down a warbler in a shrub and was surprised to find a Prothonotary, saving me the time of trying to squeak one from the mangroves. Northern Waterthrush and Yellow Warbler rounded out my warbler list for the morning bar any real surprises.

White-cheeked Pintails Photo Stephan Lorenz

White-cheeked Pintails Photo Stephan Lorenz

I carefully checked a pool of open water among a slice of mangroves and was happy to see at least three White-cheeked Pintails still present and a single Black-bellied Whistling Duck standing on a wet field among Southern Lapwings looked out of place, but was tallied nevertheless. Smooth-billed Anis, House Wren, and Spectacled Thrush were all expected and easily seen and it was impossible to get away from the ever present Bananaquits.

Eared Dove Photo Stephan Lorenz

Eared Dove Photo Stephan Lorenz

A quick flyby of a small hummingbird was the first Copper-rumped for the day and I did not hold out much hope for other hummingbird species. Near the sewage ponds I kept an eye out for herons and egrets, knowing that I could buffer the morning’s list quite a bit here. First up was a single Purple Gallinule that marched into view and a Common Gallinule followed suite. I kept an eye to the sky and added flyover Cattle Egret and a Yellow-headed Caracara dipped just out of view behind distant palms.

Gray Kingbird Photo Stephan Lorenz

Gray Kingbird Photo Stephan Lorenz

A Red-crowned Woodpecker called in the distance and I arrived at the intersection that had been busy the previous days. Again Scrub Greenlets, Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Barred Antshrikes, and Brown-crested Flycatchers were all present. I continued along the ditch and to my surprise spotted the heron I had seen the first morning on Tobago again…

Rewind by ten days. After a late afternoon arrival and shopping, we had gone to bed early and I managed to walk out onto the verandah of the vacation home with the sun already rising from the steaming mangrove forest. I started a cursory scan for any birds and spotted two herons feeding along the edge of a grassy clearing abutting the lagoon and mangroves. The first one was a Tricolored Heron and the second was a Western Reef Heron. I was still a bit drowsy and it took a moment or two to realize I should probably take a closer look and maybe some photos. My binoculars and scope were fogging up in the moist warm air and the bird flew before I could even get my camera. As it lifted out of view I could see the yellow feet clearly.

Western Reef-Heron and Little Blue Heron Photo Stephan Lorenz

Western Reef-Heron and Little Blue Heron Photo Stephan Lorenz

I roused Claudia, but despite some searching we could not find it again. Now, after keeping an eye out for the suspicious heron during the last ten days, there it was, conveniently parked next to an immature Little Blue Heron for a nice size comparison. I did not think twice and started taking photos (my camera defogged). This was a great addition to the morning list. Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron boosted the list even more. The Western Reef Heron flew off (I had plenty of pixels in the camera) and I continued along the trail towards the bay. (Turned out to be the third record of the species for Trinidad and Tobago if accepted)

Green heron Photo Stephan Lorenz

Green heron Photo Stephan Lorenz

I planned to scan the open water, knowing I would find at least Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns, hoping I would add a seabird or two. As luck would have it, it only took a minute before I picked up an immature Brown Booby actively fishing near some moored boats. It pulled a large, silver fish from the water and flew off towards the reef. On the walk back to the main road I heard Green-rumped Parrotlets and remembered to look for displaying Blue-black Grassquits.

Smooth-billed Anis Photo Stephan Lorenz

Smooth-billed Anis Photo Stephan Lorenz

I found a pot of gold along one of the ditches in the form of a small aggregation of shorebirds, three Solitary Sandpipers, and one of each, a Greater Yellowleg, Lesser Yellowleg, and Spotted Sandpiper. The Whimbrel popped out from the taller grasses just in time.

Whimbrel Photo Stephan Lorenz

Whimbrel Photo Stephan Lorenz

Pale-vented Pigeons flew over on the return trip and Ruddy Ground-Doves walked in the road. Eared Doves sat on the wires and White-tipped Doves walked in shadier yards. Near some flowers I lucked into a female Rudy-topaz Hummingbird. In a tangle of singing White-fringed Antwren came into views.

Black-faced Grassquit Photo Stephan Lorenz

Black-faced Grassquit Photo Stephan Lorenz

Despite looking I could only find Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers and missed the White-lined I had seen in the yard earlier. I added a handful more bird before I returned and ended up with a total of 56 species in about 2.5 hours. If you set your goals low you shall reach them and it can be a lot of fun along the way. It was definitely enjoyable to feel some familiarity of a distant birding place and I would love to return to try to beat my total one day.

Rufous-vented Chachalaca Photo Stephan Lorenz

Rufous-vented Chachalaca Photo Stephan Lorenz

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