The one nice thing about writing a blog about a place after everyone else has already written about it, is that I can write what I like and you readers pretty much know what I’m going on about : )
As I have stated before, there are a lot of birds in Brazil. So much, in fact, that it is impossible for a guide book to be made which contains a sufficient amount of information and which doesn’t give you any back problems if you simply try to move it a bit. So there you have an immediate bird-identification problem. I overcame this problem by using the internet combined with the computers at the Iate Clube. I was generally able to get a photo of any new bird I saw, and was able to identify the bird off that. Simply remembering what a bird looks like is a hopeless way of finding a bird. Just when you think that this time you saw and can remember all the traits that will separate it from all the other birds, you find that your options narrow down to three (and if you are very lucky) very similar looking birds. Often when I have photos I call Marike to help me identify the bird; I give her my two options and then she decides between them based on the information on the photos. She is more artistically inclined, so she often sees things that I miss.
So when we left Rio I had almost no way of identifying new birds species which I saw along the way. And at Paraty I saw a lot of birds, of which the Red-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanocephala), Plain Parakeet (Brotogenis tirica) and Long-tailed Tyrant (Colonia colonia) were my favorite. I just tried to take photos of all the new birds and hoped that somewhere along the line I would actually be able to identify them. During the unexpected stop at Salvador I was able to identify most of the birds, but not all. and I had to do it on my phone; only time I every really whished my screen was bigger : l. But not having identified all the birds meant that the photos had to stay on my camera from where I could have easier access to them if I needed to look them up; plus I’m rather trigger happy when It comes to taking photos. . .so yeah, by the time we reached Trinidad I had a few thousand photos on my camera.
At French Guiana it was the same, except we couldn’t use the internet for anything except WhatsApp, since it was pretty expensive. And there were no bird books available. By this time I was getting a bit tired of all my untidy notes in my notebook where the bird names should have been (at each place we go I write down all the birds I see there). Luckily, there weren’t too many birds at French Guiana which I did not know.
When we reached Trinidad the problem arose that most bird books of the Caribbean do not include Trinidad & Tobago, as they have quite a number of species which do not occur on any of the other islands, because they are the only islands with rainforest. You would expect, though, that Trinidad itself would have the ‘special’ bird identification book freely available, but it doesn’t. The only place where such a book can be found is at the ASA Wright Nature Centre (incidentally also the only place you can get postcards). That’s one of the reasons ASA Wright was one of our first excursions, and it was AWESOME! There was a big porch with a small hummingbird garden outside it. They had several feeders all around the porch and in the garden, so close to the people that if you stuck out your hand you would actually be able to touch the hummingbird on the feeder! That is, you would’ve, assuming the hummingbird doesn’t fly away. . . The hummingbirds flit here and there between the feeders and the trees; sometimes a shortcut through the porch is taken and you can feel them zoom right over your head! I myself would never have been brave enough to try and identify all the birds I saw there, especially not the hummingbirds. But there was a guide sitting with us on the porch, Caleb Walker, and he was very nice. He answered all my questions and pointed out any new or interesting birds he saw. All the staff at ASA know what they are doing and is super friendly and helpful.
Armed with my newly acquired book and knowledge gained at ASA I was now able too take on Trinidad properly and catch up with some of the unknown birds of our previous countries. Trinidad is simply alive with birds. Where there are no buildings there is forest, and where there is forest the birds thrive. Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) are as always to be seen in the air, along with one or two Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura). Every evening at round about sunset at least one pair of macaws fly over Power Boats screaming joyfully to each other. When a larger group flies over you can more clearly see that they fly in pairs, never far from each other. At the pitch lake I wanted to look at the birds in the reeds and on the water that collected in the lake, as well as hear what the guide was saying. I didn’t manage it though and kept getting rather behind. There was an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), a lot of terns and also Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger). The skimmers have long straight beaks, but the bottom half is longer than the top half, so they look as if they are constantly jutting forward their jaw. They fly with slow even beats of their wings and never seem to be in a hurry.
Caroni Swamp was lovely. We went once in the afternoon while Ouma was here, but then there weren’t quite as many Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) coming in to roost as some of them were still nesting, but it was still lovely. We liked it so much we decided we would go again, but this time in the morning too see the Ibis take off. It required booking a boat especially just for us, and waking up at 3:30 A.M. We invited another South African sailor from Leila to come with us and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The Ibis didn’t all quite take off at once, but the main body did and it was very beautiful. The swamp itself was cool and calm, us being the only boat out there. It was also low tide and as we waited for the Ibis to take off all around us in the water were ripples of where big fish were skimming the surface while feeding. Going back to the starting place through the swamp in the early morning light is amazing. The mangrove reflected on the water so well you could hardly tell where the trees ended and the water began. It felt like I was staring into a fairy world, and if I slipped into the water I could effortlessly float among the trees in the golden light.
O! And before I close off this blog, I have to tell about the Pelicans. The beautiful, clumsy Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) that can be found anywhere along the coast. They’re not really all that clumsy, they just look terribly clumsy and not quite in proportion. They are able to fly way too effortlessly than sound reasoning would allow, if you ask me, but the way they dive make up for it. When a Tern dives it’s quick, sleek and efficient, shooting into the water like a bullet. The Pelicans don’t fly quite so high, and when they dive they look like a bomber plane crashing into the earth, beak open wide, and with a nice big splash! They also love sitting on the mooring poles at the jetties. Going to land on these poles is not just something a pelican does. For them it’s an art – an art which the older ones have mastered, and with which the younger ones have trouble. Even if they are sitting right next to the desired new perching place, they have to take off and make a wide circle before coming in for the landing; I’ve seen one not slowing down enough, so that he was on the pole, but its momentum kept it going forward, so that it had to swoop off and try again. Sometimes the Pelicans on the neighboring poles don’t feel too safe with the other one flying around so close to them, and just move over a few poles.