The following is a Field Trip Report of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club’s trip to Cumaca Cave. The trip was on 29th January, 2012 and is written by

Stefanie White. It is an excerpt from the TTFNC’s quarterly bulletin, The Field Naturalist, Issue No. 1/2012.

The cave was made famous by having
previously been visited by U.S. president
Theodore Roosevelt in 1911 to
observe the famous Oil Birds colony of
the cave. It was also one site of work
on Oilbirds Steatornis caripensis by
David Snow in the late fifties and early
sixties.

On the drive up the valley most members
were struck by the width of the road, in excess
of 60 feet for much of the way due to
the quarry. What was striking was that the
forest beyond the immediate destruction appeared
to be primary forest with Mora Mora

excelsa, Crappo Carapa guianensis, Guatecare
Eschweilera subglandulosa, Wild chataigne Pachira
insignis
, Cajuca Virola surinamensis and
some type of Olivier apparent. Birdwatching
along the road was very good with more
than 60 species observed. Highlights included
a Bearded Bellbird Procnias averano in
full view and an Ornate Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus
ornatus as well as the leks of Green Hermit
Phaethornis guy and Little Hermit Phaethornis

longuemareus Hummingbirds. Unfortunately
only the earliest arrivals were able to benefit
from the bellbirds display. 

Upon arriving we were reminded of the two
men who drowned in the caves in 1964 and
after consecutive briefings by Lester Doodnath,
Bonnie Tyler and Reg Potter, the group
began the walk at 8:50 with Dan Jaggernauth
leading the way. The trail was very muddy. It
made the walking a bit tiresome and claimed 

the notebook provided by Dan for the trip
report. The trail climbed gently from an altitude
of just below 100m at the start to the
highest point at about 225m approximately
half way though the walk. The overall walk
was about 4.2km each way and the weather
was fine. 

Bird sightings were limited upon the start of
the actual walk as the canopy obstructed the
view of the sky and one had to look out for
mud and snakes.
Along the route Dan was in good form, sharing
his enthusiasm with all around him and
pointing out all the species of interest, like
the Ink plant Renealmia sp., and the aptly
named “wait-a-while vine’ as well as many of
the cultivated species. Most of the trail
passed through abandoned cocoa and coffee
estates with secondary growth. 

Cultivated

species seen included Pommerac, Mandarin,
Breadfruit, Avocado Cashew, Mahogany, Nutmeg,
Almond, and Plantain. The natural
growth was evidently coming back in with
the lots of natural pioneer species like Bois
Canon Cercropia peltata and a silk cotton
Ceiba pentandra tree at which Dan seemed
reluctant to linger. 

We arrived at the estate house at about
10:45. The house and workers’ quarters
were in a state of dereliction and occupied
by a group of about five sac-winged bats Saccopteryx
sp.
Few signs of mammals were observed. One
deer print was seen on the low-lying lands
between the estate house and the cave.
Apart from the bats, two rats were seen
within the cave and some claimed to have
seen some sort of Manicou (on the basis of
‘frightening-looking teeth’). There were no
other signs of mammals. However, the view

of any further signs may have been obscured
by the lush cover of the forest floor which
precluded seeing many footprints. It was
pointed out that the narrow trail with overhanging
Salaginella in parts was a good place
for hiding fer-de-lance; however no snakes
were observed. 

We arrived at the caves at about11:20 and
explored the first two chambers, most people
opting to stay out of the final chamber
which was accessible only though almost full
submersion in the river. The cave was humid
with most exposed surfaces layered in debris
from the Oilbirds whose shrieking calls and
clicking noises were very audible. Graham
White did a count of the apparently occupied
Oilbird nests and came up with a total of 273. This was lower than a previous count
in 1991, especially in the first chamber, but is
much higher than the original counts conducted
by Snow. There was no sign of any recent
poaching of the birds and there were a
few occupied nests which were within reaching
distance and would probably not be there
had poachers preceded us. When Snow did
his work the peak breeding is March to May
and it may be that the poachers know this

and are yet to arrive. Antoine Leotaud
(whose family once owned the estate) claims
to have “occasionally partaken of them” but
he confessed that “in consequence of a certain
cockraochy flavour, which is the reverse
of tempting, I have, for a long time, discarded
that dish.” 

After a short rest at the mouth of the cave
we continued back up the trail, slipping and
sliding as we went. We arrived back at about
2:00 in the afternoon.

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