Caroni Swamp

Scarlet Ibis, Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

Located on 12,000 acres (4,860 ha) in northwestern Trinidad, this swamp is home to 190 species of birds, as well as reptiles, caiman, and many other marine life. The most famous inhabitant, however, is the scarlet ibis.

 

Caiman, Caroni Swamp

An important wetland for its ecological diversity and protection of endangered species, the Caroni Swamp was designated a Ramsar Site in 2005.

 

Red Mangrove Swamp, Caroni Swamp

Like many swamps, the Caroni Swamp has overcome a history of nearly getting filled in; and although the marshland is now protected, there are still problems with poaching, hunting, and pollution.

 

Caiman’s lucky day, returned to the swamp, Caroni

In anticipation of watching the nightly ritual of roosting scarlet ibis, we boarded an outboard motor boat close to dusk. Just before taking off, there was a commotion and our guide insisted we get back out of the boat.

 

We ran over to watch a park ranger releasing a female caiman. A resident had called it in, and the ranger had captured her and was about to release her into the swamp.

 

Roosting island for scarlet ibis, Caroni Swamp

After that excitement, we climbed back into the boat and cruised through the mangrove channels. Large swamp trees with extensive aerial root systems, mangroves live in salt water in tropical and sub-tropical regions all over the world.

 

As the sun began to set, our boat meandered through the channel, navigating around the roots. We saw tree boas coiled up in the overhead roots and branches, as well as wading birds and raptors.

 

Before our boat was in position, the ibis were already arriving. Overhead and all around us, there was a swirl of bright red ibis. During the day they feed in Venezuela, 11 miles away.

 

2016 Roter Ibis.JPG

Photo: J. Patrick Fischer, courtesy Wikipedia

Photo: Charles J. Sharp, courtesy Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

Scarlet ibis roosting, Caroni Swamp

Living in large colonies throughout South America and the Caribbean, the Eudocimus ruber is a wader, with a long, curved bill and flaming-red feathers. More info here. They are the national bird of Trinidad.

 

In spite of two other anchored boats filled with people watching the spectacle of the incoming ibis, we were all quiet.

 

There is something so profound, so sacred, about watching hundreds and hundreds of glowing red birds coming in for their evening rest.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted

Scarlet ibis, Caroni Swamp

 

Daintree Rainforest, Australia

Australasian Darter (female)

The earth’s numerous rainforests vary widely depending on rainfall, climate, proximity to equator and many more factors. Here’s a look at the Daintree Rainforest, the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent.

 

Daintree River, Australia

Approximately 460 square miles (1,200 sq. km.) in size, it is nestled in the northeastern part of the continent on Cape York Peninsula.

 

One of the world’s rarest and most unique birds, the southern Cassowary lives in this rainforest. It is listed as Endangered, with 1,500-2,500 individuals left in Australia.

 

Southern Cassowary, Australia

Standing six feet tall with bright red and blue features, Casuarius casuarius is elusive. A flightless bird and second heaviest in the world, other features include: a keratin helmet atop the head; and one toe with a blade-like claw used for kicking, capable of killing dogs and humans.

 

One day our guide took us birding deep into this rainforest. We were quietly elated when a male cassowary came upon us. But soon we noticed he was very agitated with us, in spite of our respectful distance and quietness. As he became more agitated, we did our best to flee without disturbing him, and fortunately we did get away.

 

You can read more about it in a previously-written post (Bowerbird Bowers).

 

Spangled Drongo, Australia

Daintree Cassowary Crossing

During our two weeks in the Daintree Rainforest, I asked all the Daintree people we met if they had ever seen a cassowary. Only one person had.

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World distribution of Southern Cassowary. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

It’s a quirky part of the world, that’s what I love about it. The Village has a population of 78. We were the only guests in the only hotel.

 

Papuan Frogmouth, Daintree River, Australia

We lodged in Daintree to take the Daintree River early morning river cruise–a marvelous adventure. Although we saw many beautiful birds on this cruise (a few photographed here), our favorite was the Papuan Frogmouth. (Study the photo carefully, he is camouflaged, in the center.)

 

Queen Elizabeth II, Daintree Village

Our first night in Daintree Village, we ate dinner at their only evening restaurant. There was a shrine of Queen Elizabeth II next to the cash register, and we listened several times to Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire.”

 

After dinner we walked the short distance (100 yards) back to the hotel, and in that brief nighttime walk we came across six large cane toads, and two-inch cicadas swarming our heads; and watched as a grass snake tried desperately to get into the room next door.

 

Stalking killer birds, persistent reptiles, and a place where the only busy nightlife is wildlife. Ah, that’s my kind of place.

 

All photos taken by Athena Alexander.

 

Wicked Walkabout by Jet Eliot

A mystery novel I wrote, with Australian bird and wildlife scenes.

Click here to buy e-book Wicked Walkabout – $4.99

or from Amazon

 

 

 

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

 

Hawaii Surfing, Oahu’s Pipeline

Oahu Banzai Pipeline surfer

Oahu Banzai Pipeline surfer

The art of “wave sliding” has been an expression of the Hawaiian people for centuries.

 

Pipeline, Oahu

Pipeline, Oahu

From October to March, the winter storms of the Pacific Ocean deliver large ocean swells (i.e., a series of ocean waves) to the north side of the Hawaiian Islands, perfect for surfing. The North Shore of Oahu is legendary for surfing.

 

About a two-hour drive north of Waikiki is Oahu’s North Shore Banzai Pipeline. It is also known as Ehukai Beach, and attracts the best surfers from around the world. Every December they host “the Super Bowl of Surfing” here, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition.

 

One day last November we visited the Pipeline, strictly to observe, and I came away with a new respect and awe for this beautiful sport.

Pipeline, Oahu

Pipeline, Oahu

Many variables influence the ocean waves: winds, tides, storms, currents, underwater channels and reefs, sand, and freshwater runoff.

 

By looking at the map below, you see that the north shore of Oahu (in red) is wide open to the northern hemisphere. Winter storms move across the Pacific Ocean and hit the first land mass of the Hawaiian Islands.

 

The mixing of the arctic cold air with Hawaii’s warm tropic air forces the warm air to rise rapidly, affecting barometric pressure and increasing ocean surface wind. In essence, the northern hemisphere’s storm energy is transferred into the ocean by the wind. The result: the harder the winds blow, the larger the waves.

 

Bathymetry, or the study of the ocean floor, reveals that under the water at Pipeline is a flat tabletop reef that has several internal caverns. Air bubbles from the caverns, and the shallowness of the reef further contribute to the wave action.

 

Add to that the varying factors of wind, fetch (wind-generated waves), and swell period, and you have the complicated science of surfing.

 

“Mechanics of Pipeline” describes it well, demonstrating geology and the numerous reef wave patterns, and showing satellite images of this unique reef. It also has some of the best surfing photos you’ll ever see.

 

Click here for the link; then click on “Next” at the top of the page for an in-depth surfing lesson.

Surfboards, Pipeline, Oahu

Surfboards, Pipeline, Oahu

 

Wikipedia Banzai Pipeline info here.

Wikipedia History of Surfing here.

 

Pipeline, Oahu surfer

Pipeline, Oahu surfer

That day surfers were smoothly gliding atop the waves, from the wave-break all the way to the shoreline — steady, skilled, excellent.  Those few who were not in the water, were walking on the beach, carrying their surf boards, strategizing their next wave dance.

 

Ehukai Beach (Pipeline), Oahu

Ehukai Beach (Pipeline), Oahu

The Polynesians were seen riding wood planks on ocean waves back in the late 1700s. Surf boards have changed, technology has advanced, and women join the men now; but here’s a Hawaiian marvel that continues, after centuries, to embrace the culture.  Aloha!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Oahu (1).jpg

Oahu satellite image. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Map of Hawaii highlighting Oahu.svg

Hawaiian Islands, Oahu in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Three-time winner of 2016 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, John John Florence. Photo courtesy Triple Crown.

 

 

Enjoying the Bats

Long-tongued bats emerging, Asa Wright, Trinidad

Long-tongued bats emerging, Asa Wright, Trinidad

As the second largest order of mammals (after rodents) with over 1,200 species, bats represent 20% of all mammals worldwide.

 

They pollinate flowers, disperse fruit seeds, and consume insects–very important workhorses of our planet. More about bats here.

 

Last month, while lodging at Asa Wright Nature Centre in the rainforest of Trinidad, my partner and I had the thrill of watching a bat emergence every night.

 

bats-emerging-2At first glance they looked like brown birds at the nectar feeders. They swooped in and out so quickly, we didn’t know what they were; but soon it became apparent.

 

The next night Athena was photographing with the last light of the day, when she discovered where they were coming from. In a matter of minutes, dozens and dozens of bats were emerging from a narrow basement corridor underneath our lodge.

 

Long-tongued bats at nectar feeder

Long-tongued bats at nectar feeder

She came and got me, and we watched for 20 minutes as they stopped at the feeders, drank, and flew off. We estimated we saw over a hundred bats.

 

The next night we went early, in order to see them before they came out. And then like clockwork they began flying out of the basement corridor–five or six, then five more, ten more. They left the lodge structure, drank at the feeders, then disappeared into the night.

 

Using echolocation, or biological sonar, they emit calls (we humans cannot hear) that produce echoes. The echoes help the bat to locate and identify objects as they navigate.

 

Pallas' long-tongued bat, Trinidad

Pallas’s long-tongued bat, Trinidad

We were standing about 12 inches (30 cm) apart, when one bat zoomed between us. It was so fast that I didn’t see it, but I felt the breeze on my left ear.

 

Athena said, “They didn’t fly like this last night. They went more directly to the feeders.”

 

“Maybe we’re in their way.”

 

So we stepped back two steps, and instantly the bats’s flight patterns changed; they headed more directly to the feeders.

 

Once we all had our proper place in the world, Athena and I watched while the bats continued emerging, quickly and in abundant numbers.

 

This species is the Pallas’s long-tongued bat.  Glossophaga soricina have the fastest metabolism ever recorded in a mammal, very similar to a hummingbird. Over 80% of their energy comes directly from the simple sugars of nectar.

 

Pallas's long-tongued bat.jpg

Pallas’s long-tongued bat. Photo: B. Wills. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Interestingly, the long tongue of this bat has a mopping ability powered by blood. Elongated hairs at the tongue-tip trigger blood vessels, immediately increasing the length of the tongue by 50%, thereby expanding the bat’s ability to consume more nectar.

 

How does it feel to have dozens of long-tongued bats zipping around you?

 

It was a little intimidating at first, but after that…it was heavenly.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

 

 

Tufted Coquette

Tufted Coquette, male, Asa Wright Nature Centre

Tufted Coquette, male, Asa Wright Nature Centre

One of the smallest hummingbirds, when this little orange bullet zooms by, you’re not sure if it’s an insect or a bird.

 

Tufted coquette, male

Tufted coquette, male. See the pollen on the tip of his bill?

Plumes and polka dots, metallic green, a spikey rufous crest, and a red bill–this bird has jazz.

 

Lophornis ornatus–even the Latin name implies decoration. More bird info here.

 

We saw them on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, but they are also seen in the humid rainforests, gardens, and plantations of Venezuela, Guiana, and northern Brazil. Measuring 2.6 inches (6.6 cm) long, the genders of this tiny species do not look alike.

 

Like many hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, this bird trap-lines while feeding; meaning they repeatedly check the same nectar source, like a trapper checking their traps.

 

If it wasn’t for the vervain plant they predictably visit for nectar, they would have been impossible to observe or photograph. The flower has several tiny petal clusters. The coquette probes its bill into one flower cluster, then on to the next and the next; but they do this so fast, it’s usually just a blur.

 

They feed on the nectar so fast that often their rear end is lagging behind the rest of the body.

 

Tufted Coquette, female

Tufted Coquette, female

 

 

Studying the field guide before our Trinidad arrival, we had hoped to see this splashy bird. Once we found them, and the vervain, we parked ourselves in front of the bush–especially Athena; every morning at dawn.

 

A daily routine has never been so delightful.

 

Coquette drawing from Charles Darwin’s book: The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

 

 

 

The Purple Honeycreeper

Purple honeycreeper, male; Asa Wright, Trinidad

Purple honeycreeper, male; Asa Wright, Trinidad

Honeycreepers are a bird species found only in the tropical New World, they are small birds in the tanager (Thraupidae) family. Like hummingbirds, their long, curved bills serve to reach inside tubular flowers seeking nectar.

 

They live and forage in the rainforest canopy, and are sexually dimorphic (male and female differ in appearance).

 

The purple honeycreeper, Cyanerpes caeruleus, can be found in various parts of South America and on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad. They feed on nectar, berries, and insects.

 

Having recently returned from Trinidad, I had the joy of seeing many of these purple honeycreepers.

 

Purple honeycreeper males on nectar feeders, Asa Wright, Trinidad

Purple honeycreeper males on nectar feeders, Asa Wright, Trinidad

We stayed at a lodge in the rainforest, Asa Wright, that is dedicated to the natural environment and the wildlife of the Trinidad rainforest.  Here they have a verandah with numerous nectar feeders and feeding stations.

 

The purple honeycreepers visit the feeders all day long. They zip and zoom, just like hummingbirds, and there is a constant territorial battle among the other honeycreepers and hummingbirds that frequent here.

 

Purple honeycreeper, female, Trinidad

Purple honeycreeper, female, Trinidad

There are hundreds of birds coming and going all day long, it is difficult, even for an experienced birder, to be accurate in identifying the many different species; and then within each species, identifying the males, females, and juveniles.

 

Sitting at dinner one night at a long table with other lodgers, we were talking about the birds. I heard someone remark on how they liked the little black toenails on the purple honeycreeper.

 

I had been studying the purple honeycreepers–mesmerized by the male’s rich, cobalt color and contrasting bright yellow legs, the markings of the dark throat and moustachial stripe–but I had not noticed the black toenails.

 

What a pleasure it was then, to return to the verandah to study more of this stunning creature.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

Kilauea Volcano

Halema'uma'u Crater, Kilauea overlook

Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea overlook.

In Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can stand and watch the Kilauea Volcano violently spew molten lava. An active volcano on the island’s south eastern side, this hot spot called Kilauea, in one way or another, dominates the entire island.

 

The Big Island, larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, has five volcanoes. Three are currently active, one is dormant, and one is extinct. Of the three active volcanoes, Kilauea (pronounced kill-ah-way-ah) is the most active.

 

The other two active volcanoes on the Big Island: Mauna Loa and Hualalai (see map below).

 

Close-up, Halema'uma'u Crater at Kilauea Volcano

Close-up, Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea Volcano. The flames are lava.

There are many craters, vents, and lava tubes surrounding Kilauea.

 

Kilauea (meaning “spew” or “much spreading” in Hawaiian) is 300,000 to 600,000 years old; it emerged from under the sea approximately 100,000 years ago. The first well-documented eruption occurred in 1823, though verbal stories go back much farther. It continues to erupt to this day.

 

Lava Tube, Big Island

Lava Tube, Big Island. Open and lit for tours.

The current Kilauea lava explosions of today began on January 3, 1983. Amazingly, it has continued to erupt for 33 years. One of the longest-duration volcanic eruptions in the world, it has added 499 acres (202 ha) of land to the island.

 

Since 1983 towns and villages have been obliterated, 214 structures were buried, and nine miles of highway were decimated by lava 115 feet (35m) thick.

 

Historically, some years are explosive, other years are not. From 1823 to 1924 Halema’uma’u Crater (Hawaiian for “house of eternal fire”) was a lake of lava. Sometimes the crater was so full of molten lava that it overflowed, spilling rivers of fiery lava across the caldera.

 

Then in 1924, underground contact between magma and groundwater set off violent steam explosions. One explosion hurled an 8 ton (8,128 kg) boulder 1,000 feet (304 m) into the air.  More Kilauea info here.

 

In addition to the volcanic eruptions that burn down forests and smother struggling plant growth, this animated landscape of constant tectonic movement creates earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic fog.

 

Photo of Kilauea Halema'uma'u Crater in 1924

Photo of Kilauea Halema’uma’u Crater in 1924. From: The Big Island by Glen Grant et al.

To see the spurting geysers of red-hot lava, you can hire a helicopter. Less expensive, a visit to the Jaggar Museum; it provides ample information about Kilauea’s activities over the centuries, and good views of Halema’uma’u Crater.

 

View from Volcano House. Photo W.Nowicki. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Lodging at Volcano House, a historic lodge on the edge of Kilauea, is another way to see the volcano. Beautifully renovated, they hosted many famous guests including Mark Twain and president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

Hawaiian mythical legend embraces Pele, the goddess of fire. It is said that she resides inside the Halema’uma’u Crater.

 

Kilauea cone Pu’u’O’o, 1983. Photo: G.E. Ulrich, USGS. Courtesy Wikipedia

As we watched the hot lava flaring up, fuming, and spurting inside this crater, we saw an amazing fiery spectacle.

 

It is the most primal form of heat this planet has…and it’s alive and volatile and wildly beautiful.

 

Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

Photo credit: Athena Alexander, unless otherwise specified

 

PS – I’m taking a break for a few weeks, returning in February with more stories and adventures to share. See you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five volcanoes of The Big Island. Courtesy Wikipedia

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Hawaiian Islands, The Big Island in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.