Sunday 2 December 2012

Southerly Migration

This winter I'm fortunate (also grateful, glad, delighted, and a few other adjectives I could use) to have been able to migrate south for a couple of months, just like so many of my favourite feathered art subjects do. I'm now far, far away from the chilly, grey weather of southwestern British Columbia. Instead of being just north of the 49th parallel, I'm about 10 degrees north of the equator, a few miles off the coast of Venezuela, at the very southerly end of the chain of Caribbean islands. I'm in Trinidad!

Trinidad doesn't fit the typical concept most northerners have of what a Caribbean island is like. It's a teeming, bustling, busy place with lots of commerce and industry. Although only 1,864 square miles in size, it has a population of 1.4 million people, most of whom live along a highway corridor that links the capitol city, Port of Spain, with towns and villages situated eastward across the island. Pretty well everyone has a car, so the roads are jammed and the driving culture is, shall I say, "chaotic". Everyone also has at least one cell phone, and there appear to be no laws prohibiting phoning while driving. Yes, there are beaches, but not many and they're a bit isolated and not the safest for swimming due to strong currents. Yes, it's very warm but at this time of year it's still rainy and humid. It has abundant tropical vegetation including a beautiful, foliage-covered mountain range to the north, flat, fertile lands that stretch to the south, and a couple of fascinating swamp areas on both east and west coasts. There's music everywhere: soca, reggae, steel bands practising for the upcoming Carnival season, Christmas "parang" music of Spanish influence, and choirs singing at Sunday church. It's often described as being more like a South American country than a Caribbean one; I think it's a blend of both.

In addition to people, cars, cellphones and music, the other thing Trinidad has lots of is BIRDS! It's positively teeming with them. I understand that it has one of the most dense and varied bird populations in the world, despite human development and habitat loss. In my brief time here so far, living in a fairly urban area, I have seen flocks of orange winged parrots squawking as they flap overhead on their way from the northern mountains to their southern feeding grounds, colourful tanagers flitting among flowering shrubs, raucous kiskadee flycatchers perched on power lines and, at one point, harassing a raptor that paused in a nearby palm tree. Yesterday I glimpsed a furtive wren (not sure what species) on a wall beside my apartment and today I caught sight of a crested oropendola - an acrobatic black bird about the size of a jay that has a couple of flashy yellow tail feathers only visible when in flight. All these and more, without making much of an effort to spot them. It's a bird-watcher's paradise.

I've only been here a couple of days and between jet lag and culture shock, I haven't yet made much use of my camera. However,  given this is not my first visit to this place I have some photos in my file I can share with you to whet your appetite for what's surely to come:

Orange-winged Parrot
Kiskadee Flycatcher

Blue-grey Tanagers
My drawing of a Crested Oropendola from a couple of years ago.

I did, however, take one particular photo today of a dear little ground dove who is nesting on the structure that supports the apartment's air conditioning unit. She's hunkered down, safe from marauding cats and snakes, brooding her eggs while her mate brings morsels of food at regular intervals.

As I write this, darkness has fallen. The birds have gone to roost, replaced by bats and whistling frogs. I can hear dogs barking as they now become active in the cooler evening temperatures, and the sound of speeding vehicles. Hopefully dogs and vehicles will avoid one another (dogs here are, by necessity, pretty street-savvy). I look forward to waking up to the abundant birdsong that gets underway just before dawn and to seeing what the day will bring.

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