Memories of a Trinidad Mountaintop. . . .
Morning atop the ridge that holds the telecommunication towers high above the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge is magical. Mist prevails but rises as sun filters over the ridge. Mixed flocks of tanagers and other songbirds fly like bullets through dense leaves. The sounds are incredible – birds, katydids, people in the far off village waking up. Toucans vie for my attention – how can I NOT look at such a day-glow oddity of nature.
But this day, we were on a mission. Trinidad lists few endemic birds as, having been joined to South America during lower sea levels of the last Ice Age, it lacks the isolation often needed to separate species. So the Trinidad Piping Guan, Trinidad’s only endemic, is very special. It’s also BIG with a long neck, colorful wattles and known to inhabit lush but difficult to search forests. It is very limited in distribution even on this small island. Until a few years back one had to venture to a wild stretch of forest on Trinidad’s Northeast Coast to try to find one. I had made five or six trips to this dual island country and had yet to see one.
Luckily, this day I was with Roodal and David Ramlal who have not only keen eyes as guides, but also instinct. David has spotted the birds up this road one morning when out with a group interested in finding large insects around the communication tower lights. Several quiet birders had seen it and he was willing to work with our group for a try. Breakfast was waiting. Coffee was waiting. So were we. Guans love fruit, and as we were about to give up, it was the sound of their eating that David keyed into. Before our eyes was a group- three rather incredible black and white Aburria (Pipile) pipile (scientific name) locally known as PAWI. We had a good ten minutes to watch them, so marvelous as they are highly endangered, a Red List species of the IUCN. There are likely less than 200 individuals left in the world, but environmentalists and scientists are working to secure the population. Their sudden appearance in forests close to the Asa Wright Centre brings hope they may be increasing in number. They are a member of the guan, chachalaca and currasow families.