Embiids at the Asa Wright Nature Centre

Asa Wright Nature Centre Board Member, Raymond Mendez, delivers a fascinating insight into Embiids, or Webspinners – often found at the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad.

Embiids in Trinidad
Embiids by Raymond Mendez

“I first became aware of Embiids or Webspinners in Trinidad, at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, where tree trunks are often covered with their homes. The top webs make a protective covering for the silk tunnels that the adults run, breed, and feed under. A web spinner is actually what Spider-Man should have been!

They shoot silk from their front legs, just like he does in the movies. The females are wingless and primitively social in that they care for their young; the young live in the mother’s web system until they are almost adults.”

Embiids in Trinidad
Adventures from the Asa Wright Nature Centre

“The male Embiids at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, or Webspinners are a different story. They have wings, fly, and search out the females’ webs. They are small, dark individuals reminiscent of termites. When they land on the web, they have to make an opening and dig into the system at high speed. Looking a lot like termites during mating flights, the little fellows are prone to becoming someone’s meal. The most fascinating part of his adaptations is the ability (remember he has to catch the female to mate) to run as fast backwards as forwards. However, his wings might catch in the web and the female would get away. To compensate, his wings are hinged in the middle, and he can fold them over his head so they don’t slow him down. If he runs forward they just flip back.”

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Global Big Day 2020 from the Asa Wright Nature Centre

Global Big Day was a little different at the Asa Wright Nature Centre during the current global pandemic. AWNC board member Martyn Kenefick, describes his eventful experience below.

Martyn at the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Author Martyn Kenefick at the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Global pandemic restrictions and social distancing—how could I match the two on Global Big Day?

Fortunately, I am on the Board of the Asa Wright Nature Centre here in Trinidad. In the last few weeks, it has become my 2nd home. So on the Global Big Day 2020, together with a couple of fellow Board members, between us we census’d for just under 14 hours—always keeping at least 10 feet apart, some walking trails, others watching from the verandah. And how did we do? A magnificent 84 species were seen and heard, including more than a couple of surprises!

Bearded Bellbird at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Bearded Bellbird by Doug Greenberg

It started well before dawn, when I walked up into a clearing—the top parking lot for those of you who know our geography at the Centre. Mottled, Spectacled and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls were all making occasional noise together, with a Common Potoo, and a couple of Little Tinamou.

Tufted Coquette at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Tufted Coquette by Doug Greenberg
Table feeders were stocked with fruit, and hummingbird feeders with sugar water, so we settled down to begin the daylight vigil.

During the day, hummingbirds were obviously a major attraction. We found 11 species, including males of Ruby Topaz and Tufted Coquette, a couple of Brown Violetears, and a quick stop and drink by a timid Long-billed Starthroat. A fruiting Ficus tree, just off of the verandah, played host to continual visits of both Turquoise and Bay-headed Tanagers and a couple of Guianan Trogons.

Ruby Topaz at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Ruby Topaz by Doug Greenberg

Bearded Bellbirds were perched out in the open. Surprisingly Channel-billed Toucans, which are so often very conspicuous, were shy by comparison. My colleagues walked down to our Oilbird cave to carry out the monthly census. 18 birds on Global Big Day, which, bearing in mind this has been a very harsh dry season, is a respectable total. They also heard both Gray-throated Leaftosser and Black-faced Antthrush.

Oilbird at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Oilbird by Doug Greenberg
It took a while for birds of prey to enjoy the warm air.

We started off with a pair of White Hawks soaring over the valley and a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. A very noisy adult Black Hawk-Eagle repeatedly drifted over the Main House. Then, our only ‘non-birder’ Board Member pointed out the best raptor view, if not quite the best raptor of the day. Flying at eye level and closing to no more than 25 metres from us was a superb Swallow-tailed Kite.

Swallow-tailed Kite at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Swallow-tailed Kite by Greg Smith

Obviously, the middle of the day heat takes its toll on both birds and birders alike. But the vigil was more or less maintained, and we were rewarded with an immature male Swallow Tanager appearing in a Yellow Poui tree. This is a scarce breeding visitor to Trinidad, and one we do not find on the estate every year.

By mid-afternoon, resolve was waning and a couple of us were half-heartedly trying to identify silhouetted Chaetura swifts flying distantly in the valley below—a tough and often thankless task even when you are wide awake. By 4.00 p.m., the others left.

Turquoise Tanager at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Turquoise Tanager by Doug Greenberg
The valley looked magnificent in the late afternoon sun.

At around 5.30 p.m., my attention was drawn to a noise I hadn’t heard at the Asa Wright Nature Centre for weeks. A party of some 10 Lilac-tailed Parrotlets had descended into a Mango tree. I was able to watch them (frame filling my telescope) delicately clean their bills on bare snags for about 10 minutes.

As the light began to fade, I decided to return to the top parking lot, hoping a Short-tailed Nighthawk would make at least a fly by. Unfortunately, no such luck. However, all of a sudden, a Bat Falcon flew straight towards me. It swooped down and then reappeared with a bat in its talons. Less than five minutes later, it, or its mate, did exactly the same thing and was again successful.

Bat Falcon at the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Bat Falcon by Hugh Simmons Photography

Then the darkness set in on the annual Global Big Day. It all started with a Little Tinamou mournfully wailing and it ended in same manner. Boy, that bottle of beer tasted good! I cannot wait for the world to return to some form of normality so that others can share this beautiful place.

Written by Martyn Kenefick, author of Birds of Trinidad & Tobago

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