Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Settling in at Asa Wright

Asa Wright Nature Centre's infamous veranda, complete with Leica scope! :)

It was hard for me to believe (considering how well traveled the crew I was hanging with on this trip) that none in our crew but me had ever been to Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge before. Some 42 years in operation, we were hard-pressed to think of any eco-lodge with as rich a history, or one that had been in operation as long - especially in the western hemisphere. So it was with great pleasure that I introduced this group of life-long nature enthusiasts to the infamous Asa Wright grounds and especially inviting veranda!

veranda view - Leica D-Lux 4 camera 7/09

The view from the veranda is as lovely as it is "birdy" in a quick review of the Trini list it appears I've seen as many as 87 bird species from this site alone. The array of feeders filled with assorted fruits, breads, grains, as well as hummingbird feeders attract many local specialties in for close looks. Not surprisingly this also offers fantastic digiscoping opportunities, as the birds will often perch up on the vegetation edges some 30' or so away before dropping to the feeders which sit one level below.

Bananaquit giving me "raspberries" as I digiscope him, Asa wright 7/09

Pete & Linda were luckier with flights and able to make it in near mid day on the first day of the trip. I'm afraid for the remaining Ohio contingent they would not arrive until after dark. Not surprisingly, Pete Dunne took to the place like a duck to water. In many ways the Asa Wright veranda is like a ginormous hawkwatch platform, only with shade, a bar, tea time with fantastic treats, and a regularly scheduled rum punch service! So really no different than any other hawk watch I guess, huh?!?... ;p Of course, at first you can't help but notice the constant buzz of the Bananaquits, Hummingbirds, and Tanagers coming and going to the feeders and Linda (ever the photographer) was busily setting up her loaned digiscoping rig.

male White-necked Jacobin digiscoped @ Asa Wright verandah
Linda has likely forgotten more about wildlife photography than I will ever know, but at least in these early moments I had an upper hand in that she had yet to really embrace the world of digiscoping. Of course, after I'd spent about 3 minutes reviewing the limitations and advantages of the new Leica digiscoping rig, Linda was off and running and likely getting better images than me as well. Happily she's not the boastful type!

Palm Tanager digiscoped from Asa Wright verandah 7/09
As Linda and I snapped images, I kept sneaking peaks at Pete who appeared to now have almost unconsciously slipped into comfortable old hawk watching habits. Now melded into his stool with elbows braced on the railings, I watched as the inveterate master (founder of the old "National Brotherhood of Professional Hawkwatchers" of which I'm a proud member) slowly and purposefully glassed the horizon with his 7x42's. No clients, no participants, no deadlines... I could tell this guy was in the zone and had clearly done this practiced maneuver more than a time or two in the past. Before long he announced, "there's a Double-toothed Kite perched out here..."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Pete has a lesser appreciation for other birds or wildlife, it's just that it takes a special breed to sit chained to a platform (hypothetically speaking of course) for up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3+ months for less pay than one might spend in beer alone over the same period. That is the life of a hawkwatcher - at least in days gone by. Most with any sense at all would endure one season of this and happily move on to other activities. However, noting that both Pete and I gleefully came back to endure this year after year, likely tells a lot about our characters. It's a special kind of insanity to be sure!
view of Arima Valley from Asa Wright Verandah - Leica D-Lux 4 camera

My other esteemed fiends & colleagues (the Ohio contingent) consisted of Bill Thompson, III & his wife Julie Zickefoose representin' for the downtown "W" Whipple bird club, and Kenn & Kim Kaufman doin' the Oak Harbor crowd proud as well. For these four, their first real taste of veranda living would wait until Monday morning. A phrase that usually equates to board meetings, appointments, and other work-related hogwash, on this Monday morning at least, the Ohio contingent was in for a special treat. Their first view of the Arima Valley as seen above.
Forest Elaenia, digiscoped w/Leica APO Televid 82 scope, D-lux 4, & digital adapter4
I bumped into Bill Thompson & Julie Zickefoose early the following AM as they made their way down to the veranda for the first time. It was slow going with all of the Great Ant-Shrikes, Rufous-breasted Hermits, White-shouldered Tanagers, Tufted Coquettes, and the like to distract us, but we did finally cross the threshold of the infamous veranda together. The "Thompsofooses" (or is that "Zickesons") are no strangers to platform-birding either mind you. Their backyard deck/tower is a well known Whipple landmark (perhaps institution even) amongst local birders - especially when the annual "Big Sit" occurs. So I could sense their ease here as well, although I'm certain I caught Bill eyeing the thatch-roofed Tiki bar with a gleam in his eye. Perhaps he was envisionaing a remodel on the Whipple tower, I'm not certain. Meanwhile, Julie, the consummate artist, was noting some angles of light, and the play of color and movement that I was oblivious to being somewhat "left-brain challenged". Although, I still appreciate those who can capture this and make it so obvious that even a dolt like me can get it! Clearly though these two were also as taken as any who appreciate this stunning view for the first time.
distant Black-tailed Tityra digiscoped from Asa Wright veranda
Kenn & Kim Kaufman were the last from our group to arrive on the veranda after enjoying their own leisurely stroll down from their room - it's worth noting this is only a couple hundred feet but there is plenty of bird activity to keep you occupied along the way. Even though he had never been to Trinidad, Kenn was infinitely familiar with most of the bird species here due to past bird trips to nearby Venezuela on mainland South America when he worked as a professional bird guide. Never-the-less, anyone who knows Kenn understands what a keen student of bird distribution and plumage variation he is. So, as expected, he was enjoying this opportunity to reacquaint himself with these birds in a different setting and was already noting subtle subspecific variations in plumage or call.
Kim although admittedly suffering from cumulative weeks of sleep deprivation, was bubbling over with enthusiasm for all of the new sights and birds as she was not familiar with most of these birds. Even if it was a muted enthusiasm by Kim's standards. Nothing a little coffee wouldn't fix, and the Asa Wright staff had this and an assortment of teas at the ready for each of the groggy adventurers that were appearing this AM to soak in the bird activity as we awaited the sound of the bell signifying breakfast was served.
... and so it began the first morning of a ten day trip and our crew was already in awe of this place. Stay tuned for more from "the office". This typical Monday morning is merely the tip of the iceberg!


  1. Nicely captured, JB! It make me want to go back to Asa Wright right now! Right?

  2. Dude, you're like 10 posts ahead of me on the whole Trini bloggin thing, I have a lot of ground to catch up! :)

    Any truth to the tower remodel? Will the Whipple birders have a tower/tiki bar?

  3. "In many ways the Asa Wright veranda is like a ginormous hawkwatch platform, only with shade, a bar, tea time with fantastic treats, and a regularly scheduled rum punch service!"
    Thanks for reinforcing this spot on my travel wish list.

  4. arggh! I miss the neotropics. sounds like you guys had a brilliant time.

  5. Yeah Dale - birding any where in the tropics/neo-trops is just awesome. we had a GREAT group of folks and everything went without a hitch. Can't ask for much better.