Winged Creatures of Trinidad

 

Purple Honeycreeper (male), Trinidad

Trinidad is not the most popular island in the Caribbean. Many people have never even heard of it. But for those of us who embrace the glory of the natural rainforest and all the creatures who live in it, it is a paradise.

 

Here are some of my favorite winged creatures, found while spending a week on this small island eight miles (12 km) off the Venezuela coast. Trinidad Wikipedia.

 

A visit to the Caroni Swamp yielded many thousands of scarlet ibis. They flock to this protected swamp at night to roost. We sat in a boat and waited for them as the sun set.

Scarlet Ibis, Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

Red mangroves

Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

 

In the rainforest, nectar-drinking birds like hummingbirds and honeycreepers were plentiful.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Tufted Coquette hummingbird, male, Trinidad

 

Green Honeycreeper, male, Trinidad

 

We were fortunate to see the rare oilbirds. There are only a few places left in the world where these nocturnal birds can still be found. They use echolocation, or sound reverberation, for navigating — a system that bats use, but not usually birds.

 

We hiked to a specific protected cave, escorted by a guide, and because they are so skittish, we were allowed only a few minutes to peer into the darkness for them.

 

They squeal like pigs and are large, hawk-size birds.

Oilbirds, Dunston Cave, Trinidad

 

Bats were also abundant in the Trinidad rainforest. One day in the middle of the day when the sun was brightest, a white bat came fluttering down the trail, pretty close to our heads. Athena and I had gotten lost in the forest, I think we had surprised the bat…as much as a white bat in the daytime surprised us.  It’s whiteness lent the essence of a ghost.

 

But it was every evening when we saw bats in abundance. We stayed at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, where wildlife are protected and celebrated. We found a crevice under the lodge where 100+ long-tongued bats came flocking out every night.

Pallas’ long-tongued bat, Trinidad

 

Long-tongued bats, Asa Wright Centre, Trinidad

 

Typical of the tropics, many species of flycatchers, trogons, and tanagers greeted us daily.

Silver-beaked Tanager, Trinidad

 

The bearded bellbird was difficult to spot in the rainforest, despite the loud croaking sound it made all day long.

Bearded Bellbird, singing; Trinidad

 

Numerous species of hawks were present. This white hawk was hunting beside the trail.

White Hawk, Trinidad

 

The jacamar was a thrill to find, a small and colorful bird about the size of a hummingbird.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

 

There are over 400 species of birds on this one little island; and approximately 100 indigenous mammal species, with bats accounting for over half of the mammals.

 

I’m glad you could join me in this glimpse of their tropical world.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Scarlet ibis roosting, Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye, Belize

In Central America off the eastern coast of Belize is a small island floating freely in the Caribbean Sea.  Here is where I enjoyed my first trip to the Caribbean last year.  Americans in the central and eastern parts of the U.S. tend to vacation in the Caribbean, while those of us on the west coast frequent Mexico or Hawaii for tropical adventures.  So the Caribbean was new to me.

 

Ambergris-Caye,-village-squOur vacation in Belize was primarily planned for a birding trip with a group, but prior to meeting up with the group we spent a few independent days on this spirited and sparkly island.  Only 25 miles long and a mere one mile wide, the island is surrounded by white sand beaches.   You can read more about the island here (but skip the part about the meaning of the word “ambergris”).

Ambergris-Caye,-street

A pleasant convenience to this small island were the golf carts, the main mode of transport.  You could go anywhere in a rental cart, dressed in casual swimwear and flip-flops.

 

Frigate birds, pelicans and gulls

Frigate birds, pelicans and gulls

But I am a birder and don’t live that way.  We like to load up with pounds and pounds of optical equipment, dress in long-sleeved shirts so we can stay out in the sun until we nearly faint, and wear hiking shoes so we can trudge through the mangrove swamps.

 

snorkeling with rays

snorkeling with rays

 

And although I did do the swimwear thing and enjoyed a great day of snorkeling and beach walking, my favorite day was the day we explored the island on that crazy golf cart.

 

Spiny-tailed Iguana

Spiny-tailed Iguana

We watched mating iguanas, delighted in the frigate bird often cruising overhead, tip-toed through someone’s back yard in pursuit of an Olive-throated Parakeet, and escaped from some irate dogs as our golf cart flew across cobble-stoned roads.

 

The food was fantastic–rice, beans, fresh-caught fish, plantains–with a Caribbean and Mayan flair.

 

When it was time to return the rental cart, a local woman made a map in the sand for me, directing me to the island’s only gas station.  We found it in some back canal area, where a kindly man suggested I not turn my back on the canal in case of alligators.

 

snorkeling find

snorkeling find

 

Although I very much enjoy being with a guide and seeing far more birds in a day than I would on my own, I treasure days without a guide too.  Free-flying days give me big smiles and great memories.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Our airport chauffeur

Our airport chauffeur

Aerial view of Belizean coast

Aerial view of Belizean coast

 

 

Mennonites in Belize

Mennonite horse and carriage, Belize

Mennonite horse and carriage, Belize

I was with a birding group enroute to a Mayan ruin in northern Belize last year when our van passed through a Mennonite community. Belize is a Central American country bordering the Caribbean Sea, with a Mayan background.  Belizeans have chocolate skin, eat plantains and rice, wear brightly-colored clothes, and live in purple and green dwellings.  It’s a Caribbean world.

 

Mennonite church parking lot, Belize

Mennonite church parking lot, Belize

Within that laid-back and humid universe  are the fully clothed guttural-speaking conservative Mennonites, most of whom shun electricity and modern technology.  They wear identical outfits that cover the whole body, work industriously by farming, building, and engineering, and abide by their religious beliefs of the 19th century.  Stern faces, blonde, and fair-skinned, they looked like German farmers from another century.

 

It happened to be a Sunday and we were way out on rural gravel roads headed for Lamanai, a Mayan ruin in the jungle.  The Mennonites were also on the road, on their way to church.  We had an eye-opening look at a cultural phenomenon.  There were eight of us in this van and I noticed we were all gawking as numerous horse-drawn carriages passed by.

 

As we drove slowly along making room on the narrow road, our guide explained that there is a big Mennonite community in Belize that arrived in the late 1950s and early 60s from Mexico.  Originally from Prussia and before that Germany and Holland, they settled and re-settled in many parts of the world including Canada and nearby Mexico.  You can read more about their history here.  We drove by their farmsteads and had many questions.

 

Of Belizean as well as Mayan descent, our guide talked warmly about the Mennonites and praised the work they have done in Belize.  He said they have brought agriculture to his world, putting eggs and poultry on the table that they never had before.  So many vegetables they have now, he beamed.  And there was no one better, he said, for helping him fix his car and building furniture.  So dependable and honest, too.  He pointed to a farm tractor and explained:  their religion allows rubber tires on horse drawn vehicles, but gas-powered tractors or cars have to have metal wheels.

 

 

Mennonite men (in hats) on Lamanai trail

Mennonite men (in hats) on Lamanai trail

 

Later that day while birdwatching in Lamanai, we encountered a Mennonite group on the trail.  The men and boys walked in their own group, while the women and girls with armfuls of babies trailed behind.  Of course they stared at us as much as we stared at them.  We were sporting big cameras and binoculars, dressed in nylon and lycra, a group racially- and gender-mixed.  We all made quiet but warm gestures in passing, giving each other respectful room on the trail and nods of acknowledgment.  When they spoke amongst themselves their language sounded like German, but it is actually a combination of German and Dutch called Plautdietsch.

 

Mennonite women on Lamanai trail

Mennonite women on Lamanai trail

I pondered all this.  Their beliefs and values were almost completely the opposite of my own.  They razed the jungles to farm, and continue farming practices that are damaging to the environment.  They breed strictly amongst their isolated community and at high rates, with no regard to population control.  Men are superior in their world, and women are for tending the home and making more babies. But my philosophies, I realized, were beside the point.

 

The disparate cultures of Mayan- and German-based communities have worked together in Belize for over half a century.  Over the years they have learned to accept and respect one another.  This was the point.  We all passed in proximity on this trail, serenaded by howler monkeys and squawking toucans overhead, all of us breathing together under one tropical canopy.  If only more of the world could coordinate their differences so amicably.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander