Friday, October 16, 2009

More Vacation Planning [What We Gonna Did]

Now that the hard part of picking a country to visit was out of the way (by a process delineated earlier) I could get down to the serious business: the itinerary. That may sound somewhat benign, but only until you realize that beneath my mellow and laid-back exterior lies the intensely anal-retentive persona of recidivist OCD patient. I would now need to chart out every minute of every day, knowing where we'd be, give or take a square meter or two. Maybe two. And layered on top of those parameters, what birds would be there? What birds would be likely, what would be within the realm of possibility but in the don't-hold-your-breath category?

Time to dig out the books and scour the Internet reports.

First task, figure out what birding areas Trinidad has to offer. Not unexpectedly, rainforests. But also dry forests and savannas. Obviously wetlands and coasts. Plus a whole sister island called Tobago.

To check off as many species as possible we'd have to spend time underneath the multiple-canopied habitat to find forest birds, in grasslands for birds adapted to open habitats, on rocky coasts scoping for pelagic species, beaches and mudflats for shorebirds, inland wetlands and/or rice fields for rails, crakes, blackbirds, and others, and we'd have to pull the car over to examine any raptor we came across, perched, soaring, or otherwise . . . man, this could be dizzying.

But Trinidad birding is weighted towards the central and northern regions, likely due to the industrial presence south side of the island. I can't say first hand, but it sounds as though it's pocked with oil wells and refineries. In fact, every gringo we met on Trinidad was affiliated with the oil industry, the exceptions were those that were tourists or owned a guest house.

Either way, given our time frame we opted not to route in the south side of the island. Given more time we would have explored the southern sites outlined in Murphy's Birdwatchers' Guide to Trinidad & Tobago and what turned up in Internet searches, but for this trip our choice was clear: stick to areas on the northern side of the island. Options we focused on included:
  • cruising Blanchisseuse Road for forest birds at a variety of elevations,
  • joining an evening trip to Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibises come in to roost and, hopefully, find a few specialty mangrove-affiliated species,
  • scoping Waterloo for shorebirds, gulls, and terns
  • surveying the Caroni Rice Fields for rails and other freshwater wetland species,
  • visiting Waller Field, Aripo Savanna, Aripo Livestock Station, and the Arena Forest for low-elevation and grassland birds,
  • exploring Nariva Swamp on the east coast for a different suite of coastal wetland birds,
  • and, naturally, staying at Asa Wright Nature Center - its reputation alone made that decision a no brainer.
Oh, and Tobago. Not a twin sister of Trinidad, but completely unique avifauna. Reading through the distributions in the field guide I was surprised at how many species are on one "T" or the other, but not both. The phrases, "Absent from Tobago" and "No records for Trinidad" showed up more frequently than I expected. Clearly we'd have to get over to Tobago for a couple of days, but should we take the cheaper, but 5 and a half hour, ferry? Or splurge on the 20 minute plane ride? We'd deal with that later.

Our Trinidad plans changed almost immediately. It turns out that staying at Asa Wright would be prohibitively expensive on our budget, even in the "off" season (aka, the low-, rainy-, or the more euphemistic-sounding "green"-season). But more to the point they have a policy that disallows children under eight staying at the center, so it wasn't really an option anyway. After flirting with the idea of letting five-year-old Reina get her own lodging somewhere else we thought about staying at Simla, aka the William Beebe Tropical Research Station,, the neighboring facility that houses researchers. I had been considering doing some sound recording anyway, and Donna is collecting slime mold samples this semester while on sabbatical. Sampling a few sites in the mountains of Trinidad would surely be novel for slime mold research.

We ultimately decided this was vacation, we didn't want to be tied to anything, so Simla was out. We started to re-evaluate our options, where could we set up base camp where we'd be lulled to sleep by Tropical Screech-owls, Little Tinamous, Ferruginous Pygmy-owls, hopefully a nightjar or two, and still make all of the relevant day trips we had planned?

Hmmm, maybe this wasn't going to be as straight-forward as I originally thought.

What's next? Find out here!


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