Tuesday 17 April 2012

'P' is for Piping guan!

Well a damn early start this morning (or was it last night?) at 0230 with pickup by my guide Kenny at 0300.  We headed up to Gran Riviere up on the NE coast of Trinidad, and despite the fact that the island is not all that big, it took just over two hours to get up there.  First stop just before sunrise was the beach, where there was still at least three female leatherback turtles covering up their nests.  The beach was a mass of freshly dug nests and was pretty impressive to see.  I've only ever seen the odd turtle tracks on the beach leading to and from the water, but this was like a construction site!

We got pretty close to one female and I photographed her briefly as she covered her nest.  The laying had been done and her job was nearly complete as the sun came up.  A few loose eggs were found along the beach at other nests, and wouldn't last long as the town's dogs and black vultures started to appear as the light gradually increased.  We were on a tight schedule, so it was a brief stop before heading off up into the jungle to look for our next (and main) target.- the endemic Trinidad piping guan.  At one stage this was the islands only endemic, but with recent splits I'm not sure if this is still true. It is currently classified as critically endangered, with a suggested population size of 70-200 individuals, making it a good bird to see.

So we headed up into the forest, bordering the Matura National Park and stopped at a regular spot for them.  There perched in the top of a tree some way off was a guan!  Perfect!  Another bird joined it shortly after and managed a few record shots before a rain storm hit and everything dived for cover.  We waited it out and it gradually stopped, so we headed on a bit further and came to an area with small plantations of bananas, etc.  We heard some calling a wee way off and walked down a track spotting a few other things - red-crested woodpecker, plumbeous kite, white-flanked antwren, etc.  We heard the guans calling back towards the vehicle, and as we approached there was a pair of them in the cecropia tree above the vehicle!  Managed some better shots and they were kind of displaying to each other with their crests up.  Pretty cool.

They moved off and we continued looking around, finding a few other things - smooth-billed ani, Guianan trogon, blue black grassquit, and even a ferruginous pygmy owl.  Heard LOTS of these over the last days here, but they are damn hard to find!  We then found another three guans perched, and could hear several of them calling around the place, a rather weak and weird piping call for such a large bird, but the best is the noise they make with their wings!  Sounds like a really old tractor starting up!  Very cool.  We spent some more time watching them and looking for other things and as it started to heat up we decided to head back towards home.

On the way we drove along the beautiful NE coast, stunning beaches, with a lot of turtle tracks on them too.  We managed to pick up a few birds on the way home, a few more plumbeous kites, a ringed kingfisher, and just as we got to Mt Benedict a grey hawk.  What a great morning.  Back in time for a shower and lunch, only to discover MORE chigger bites.  Despite the deet soaked skin, socks and pants, and pants tucked into socks they still get me!  Whats up with that??!!

A leatherback turtle egg lies on the sand, having missed being buried with its 'siblings'

Female leatherback turtle covering up her precious eggs

Female leatherback turtle with sand caught in the 'tears' from her eye

Leatherback turtle leathery back

Covering the nest

The distant view of a Trinidad piping guan

Pair of guans with crests raised

Smooth-billed ani sunning itself

Spot the ferruginous pygmy owl!

Nice portrait of the guan

Looking furtive

Another profile

The area we found these birds

Which is to the left in this photo showing the plantation

Part of the Mutura National Park, one of the strongholds of these birds


  1. Great photos of the Pawi, one of two endemic birds. With the recent split of the motmots, the Trinidad motmot (Momotus bahamensis) is our other endemic species.

    By the way, I work in the Biodiversity Unit at the Environmental Mgt Authority in Trinidad and I would love to use some of your Pawi photographs for our educational material (with full credits of course). Please contact me at dnarang at ema.co.tt