“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.”
“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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Renowned field guide author and illustrator David Allen Sibley spent time with Caligo Ventures’ groups at the Asa Wright Nature Centre to celebrate the Centre’s 50th Anniversary.
A special thanks to Carol Comeau, who hosted the two groups and Steve Wolfe who photographed the birds and the good times throughout the week. Thank you to Carol and Steve who worked together to write this guest blog. And finally, thank you to David Allen Sibley for joining us at the Centre. Continue reading Asa Wright Nature Centre with David Allen Sibley→
Every year, a group of locals and travelers participate in The Big Sit at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Birdwatcher’s Digest‘s The Big Sit! worldwide bird survey is pretty well known by now. On one designated day every year, you bird-watch from dawn till dusk at one particular site, never straying outside of a five meter radius, documenting the number of species you see or hear.
This year, like many other years, field guide author Martyn Kenefick participated in The Big Sit. Caligo Venture‘s group was lucky enough to be at the Centre during the event … the following is Martyn’s account of the big day.
Long-time friends of Caligo Ventures’ owner Peg Abbott enjoy birding Trinidad on their first trip to the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
By Guest Bloggers Carol Comeau & John Roser
For several years, we have been encouraged by friends to visit the Asa Wright Nature Center located in the Arima Valley of Trindad’s Northern Range. We finally had the opportunity to enjoy birding Trinidad and booked a 5-night Independent Birding Venture (IBV) through Caligo Ventures in April of 2017, and we found it to be one of the best trips we have taken. We appreciated how easy it was to make our travel arrangements. We booked our flights, and Caligo Ventures took care of the rest. To prepare, we received a detailed clothing and gear recommendation list, a bird list, and luggage tags. After flying to Trinidad from California, it was wonderful to arrive in Port of Spain and be warmly greeted at the airport by Asa Wright Nature Centre staff. Continue reading Birding Trinidad at the Asa Wright Nature Centre→
Caligo Ventures Announces New Optics for Trinidad’s Asa Wright Nature Centre — in partnership with Birders’ Exchange
In March, ten guides and members of the education staff at the Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) in Trinidad’s scenic Arima Valley will have access to 10 brand-new pairs of binoculars. Guides and visitors alike will also benefit from three new spotting scopes and two new tripods thanks to the generosity of the American Birding Association’s Birders’ Exchange!
Birders’ Exchange (BEX) collects donated new and used equipment and distributes it to colleagues working to conserve birds and their habitats in 30 countries throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. Optics and books are allocated based on availability and requests. Continue reading New Optics at the Asa Wright Nature Centre→
2017 marks the 50th Anniversary of the famed Asa Wright Nature Centre, and we are so excited! We can think of no better way to commemorate this incredible milestone than by celebrating with author Scott Weidensaul in a style that is completely in sync with the mission of this unique non-profit: Inviting YOU to visit, learn, bird, and enjoy — Trini-style!
So, what could be better than a late-winter trip to Trinidad and Tobago? How about a late-winter trip to this warm, bird-full island nation with a birding celebrity? Author, researcher, and educator Scott Weidensaul visits the Asa Wright Nature Centre March 18 – 25, 2017, and you’re invited to join him. Continue reading Join Scott Weidensaul at the Asa Wright Nature Centre→
Asa Wright Nature Centre: Where the birding is only surpassed by the staff.
By guest blogger Kimberly Vetter
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am a casual birder. I enjoy adding new finds to my life list and I don’t mind going the extra mile to do so as long as I have a guide to help me – OK hold my hand – along the way.