Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 26th 2014 Contents A30
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, December 26, 2014
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and shrimp. At odd times we would hear a splash
or a plunk, as fish would surface and quickly dis-
Mangrove forests with massive arching roots sur-
rounded either side of us as we motored slowly up
the peaceful channel. We learned about the three
main species of mangrove: red, black and white. The
first kind we saw was the black mangrove, with
strange little aerial roots growing straight up, like
colonies of otherworldly fingers groping for the sky;
these roots can breathe even when submerged. Later
we saw red mangroves, with their complex networks
of tall stilt roots that grow down into the water like
Red mangrove is more common further down the
river, and at the seaward edge of the swamp, where
saline water mixes with fresh; and these red mangrove
roots are where the oysters like to live, said our guide.
All three mangrove species work together to help
stabilise the shoreline, trap tidal debris and provide
feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for a great
variety of fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife.
We almost missed spotting a little four-foot black
caiman, so well did his leathery ridged back blend
in with the surrounding roots.
Bird sightings included a Boat-billed Heron, a Yel-
low-crowned Night Heron, a Tri-coloured Heron
with his S-shaped neck, a Grey Heron, many Blue
Herons, a Belted Kingfisher and a solid, rugged looking
Common Black Hawk perched quietly on a branch.
We also saw keen black and white Ospreys or Fish
Hawks, which are fish-eating birds of prey. Ospreys
have such good eyesight that they can see fish under-
water from 100 feet in the air.
As sunlight glinted off the rippling river water, the
channel widened as we approached the expansive
horizon of the sea, with the sun straight in our eyes.
We went out into the Gulf of Paria, with the smell
of salt air and a spectacular view of Trinidad s coast-
line. In the distance we could see mainland mountains.
Seawards, ospreys swooped.
A special surprise was the sight of a huge pelican
party. Some were swimming along the bay, but they
all flew up into the mangrove on our approach. Per-
haps 50 or more Brown Pelicans then peered down
at us from their high roosts, keeping a wary eye on
us, their white heads and fantastically long bills
swiveling as they tracked our location. One lone pel-
ican remained in the water; when we approached,
we realised why: it had a damaged left wing.
On our return to the swamp, we saw a Merlin (a
small raptor) and a happy osprey with dinner in his
beak---something with a wriggling tail.
By 5.09 pm, Shawn had parked our boat facing
a large island in the middle of the swamp. Soon,
three other boats joined us.
Then, from all directions in the swamp, flocks of
Scarlet Ibis began arriving, intermittently at first,
and then picking up the pace. Some black cormorants
and tri-coloured egrets also flew in. As sunset shaded
into hints of dusk, over the short time of 20 to 30
minutes, hundreds more Ibises arrived, long lines of
flapping red flocks arrowing in on their favourite
roosting spot on the mangrove island. It was a breath-
taking display of one of nature s beautiful rituals.
Each new flock haggled for its spot in the island in
a cacophony of bedtime bird talk.
Shortly before dusk, suddenly there appeared long,
long lines of white egrets, almost skimming the water
in low-flying acts of grace, like spirits flying home.
They mostly roosted below the ibises.
The green mangrove island soon looked like a
beautiful Christmas forest---our own indigenous
Christmas beauty: not one of vertical fir trees, but
rather a sprawling, green, vibrant space, jewelled
with living red and white.
A breathtaking display
The T&T Field Naturalists Club:
PO Box 642, Port-of-Spain. E-mail: email@example.com.
All people over 15 who are interested in natural history
and conservation are welcome to join the club. The 2015
TTFNC calendar is now on sale.
The Caroni Bird Sanctuary:
Caroni Swamp, 38 Bamboo Grove Settlement No 1,
Uriah Butler Highway. Tel: 469-4076.
Web site: www.caronibirdsanctuary.com.
Online booking for tours. Daily 4 pm Scarlet Ibis tours;
also tours for general birding, photography, picnics,
fishing and wildlife education.
The scarlet ibis in full flight
over the Caroni Swamp.
Flight of the Ibis...
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