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Trail Pace

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May 2016

According to Native Trees of Trinidad and Tobago, Hippomane mancinella, commonly known as manchineel, “grows only near the sea and can be found on Monos, Chacachacare, Point Gourde and Toco in Trinidad and Crown Point and Rockley Bay in Tobago.” Also, the fruit ripens from July to October. 

This tree in the Americas is so toxic, you can’t stand under it when it rains

Mt. Tabor

The following is a Field Trip Report of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club’s trip to Mt. Tabor. The trip was on 30th March, 2008 and is written by Damian Robinson. It is an excerpt from the TTFNC’s quarterly bulletin, The Field Naturalist, Issue No. 2/2008.

The March monthly field trip was to Mount
St. Benedict, which is located on the southern
facing slopes of the Northern Range.
All of the twenty-five (25) members and guests
that were present for this field trip finally gathered
atop the mount at around 7:30 a.m. The brief delay
arose when separate groups chose to park
their vehicles at the Church and at the Top of the
Mount complex respectively. The former group
was furthest from the meeting point and encountered
heavy rainfall en-route to the others, the
day having begun very overcast and rainy. Once
the groups converged and the rain lessened Professor
Cooper got things going by pointed out a
tarantula he had sighted on a nearby wall. After
hearing a bit on their biology we descended from
the car park to a well marked benched trail
through the forest and commenced the St. Benedict
field trip.

The dominant vegetation that was present at the
beginning of the trail was mostly seasonal evergreen
tropical forest, but with some remnants of a
cocoa plantation. As the group made its way along
the hillside trail we observed some sort of derelict
water collection apparatus and structures in the
valley bottom that appeared to be the former water
supply for Mount St. Benedict. Rusted pipes
lead from this water collection point to the Abbey.
As we walked further up the trail we encountered
the singing chirps of a Yellow-throated frog
(Mannophryne trinitatis). This frog is in the same
genus of the Bloody Bay Poison Frog
(Mannophryne olmonae) which is endemic to Tobago.
Dr Cooper explained that tests done on M.
trinitatis found the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium
dendrobatidis, which causes the amphibian disease
chytridiomycosis. This disease may be responsible
for the declining populations of M. olmonae, as that
species is now critically endangered; habitat destruction
may also be a contributing factor for its
decline in Tobago. Various bats were also seen

flying around under the forest canopy. 

After trekking through the relatively dense forest,
contrasting vegetation was entered, in which only
stands of Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea) were
present. This vegetation was planted as part of the
Forestry Division’s reforestation programme. A
forester once told me, whilst on an internship at
the Forestry Divisions North-West Conservancy
that different species of trees were initially used in
reforestation projects, but the only one that survived
the almost yearly dry season bushfires was
the Caribbean Pine. Therefore this species was
chosen for re-vegetating these once degraded and
deforested hillsides. This ability to survive bushfires
was evident in the area we were hiking,
which appeared to have been recently ravaged by
fire. The reduced undergrowth and leaf litter,
burnt pine needles and scorched trunks were testimony
to this. A Club member noted that one
clear disadvantage of the planting of only this species,
which is not native to Trinidad and Tobago,
was the reduction in biodiversity typically seen in
local natural forests. The area could well be described
as being “ecologically dead” the vegetation
having created a hostile environment for local

fauna. 

The trek up the steep Caribbean Pine hillside forest
soon transitioned to gently sloping dense
tropical forest, similar to that first encountered
when the hike began. A caterpillar of an unidentified
moth was found making its way along the foliage
with its armour of long spiny bristles that extended
from the body segments of alternating orange
and black colours. In the distance we saw,
through the undergrowth, what appeared to be a
very well kept trail. These trails were almost
smooth and are created and used by the leftcutter
ants (Atta cephalotes) to forage for leaves
which are transported back to the nests and used
to cultivate a fungus that is a food source for the
ants. Along or main tail we eventually reached a
fork. One path lead down back to Mount St Benedict
whilst the other lead up to the abandoned
remains of a building. The ruins, which were said
to be on the summit of Mt. Tabor, comprised
mainly the foundation of the structure. This was
the former residence of the Abbot. The only distinguishable
architectural features of the remains
were a retaining wall with buttress support and a
chamber that someone could barely fit into. This
chamber had a semi-circular arched ceiling made
of stone. Within the remains of this structure one
of the many tall trees that grew was of particular
interest. When the bark was slashed with a cutlass,
a dark red sap poured out that closely resembled
real blood. This species, commonly known as
the Blood-wood (Croton gossypiifolius) can be used
for making colour dyes and has recently been discovered
to have medicinal applications. The
mango trees observed were indicative of the human
influence in the forest.
Some of the birds seen in this area include the
Golden-headed Manakin (Pipra erythrocephala),
Short-tailed Hawk, (Buteo brachyurus), Orange
winged parrot (Amazona amazonica), and the

White-Lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus). 

When the rest at the Mt. Tabor summit, with all
the wonders it gave us, was finished, the group
commenced the walk down the hill, and more surprises
awaited us. A few persons decided to follow
the trail that went higher along the ridge. As
we walked through the dense forest we entered
an area where the understory was almost as tall as
some of the people. The vegetation consisted
mainly of ferns and small plants with wild flowers,
which were lightly interspersed with palms and
medium sized trees. Some plants of interest there
were the Mountain Rose (Brownea latifolia) and
various savannah flowers. What made walking
through this area so relaxing, but surreal, was the
heavy fog that hung low over us. It appeared as
though we were in a cloud forest. The air was
cool and every breath of it felt replenishing. The
only thing missing from that landscape was the
calm sound of a light breeze over the plants. Instead
the sound of loud music emanating from the
Maracas Valley below overwhelmed and polluted
our senses. More birds were encountered here
including the Turquoise Tanager (Tangara Mexicana)
and the Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana). 

More surprises greeted us when we walked further
down the trail, away from the low vegetation
and back once more into the reforested area of
Caribbean Pine. What made this second encounter
with the pines different from the earlier one,
was the fog that was still hovering over the hills.
The fog-filled pine forest is not the typical vegetation
associated with Trinidad. The feeling when we
walked through was as if we were in a totally different
country, maybe in a whole different biome,
where such imagery is the norm. As we progressed
through the pine the rain started to fall
heavily, just as we reached the Forestry Divisions
fire tower. As some of us begun to bravely climb
the eighty-eight (88) steps of the flimsy looking

structure, we soon realised what a beautiful view
was revealed once we were above the crowns of
the pine forest. Even through the pouring rain, the
panoramic view of the Caroni Plains, Swamp, the
Central Range, and the San Fernando Hill, barely
visible on the horizon overwhelmed us. The sights
of all this really made Trinidad seem so small. After
climbing down the stairs we walked the remaining
short distance down the hill and back to
the car park. At this point the day’s field trip to St.
Benedict’s was over, and it was now time to be
heading off to the Coopers’ residence where the
Club was invited for some good old English tea
and a fun game of cricket.

A Caribbean island of Tobago that is an ecological haven

In the steps of Teddy Roosevelt -Cumaca then and now

Published on Sep 26, 2012 in the Trinidad Express

LIFE doesn’t get any simpler than in Cumaca. It’s one of the few places in Trinidad where one can leave windows and doors open without thinking twice. Its 100 or so residents live day in and day out without the basic necessities, like running water and electricity. Nevertheless, the people are warm, hospitable and good-natured; not to mention, hardworking. Husbands and wives, the young and old spend long hours tending to their crops, which they load onto 4×4 vehicles for the long trip to the market.

Unlike other routes along the North Coast that provide incomparable views of the Caribbean Sea, Cumaca is tucked neatly in the rainforest of the Northern Range, where one is surrounded by miles of forest. For the inexperienced traveller, getting to Cumaca is tiresome: the only road leading in and out the village is in an appalling condition, gutted and worn out.

The Paponettes are one of the oldest families in Cumaca. The fertile agriculture lands lured them to Cumaca in the first place and it’s what has kept this family there for more than 70 years. On any given day, Mary Paponette could be found working in her garden. Last Friday, she took a break from the blistering heat to share with the Express stories of brave men who came to Cumaca for something besides agriculture.

The 69-year-old remembers Easter of 1964 as if it were yesterday. She was at a church service on the morning of Palm Sunday, when luck ran out for two divers who tempted fate—and lost. Adam Richards and Victor Abraham were members of the British Sea Aqua Club and had trekked for hours into the Cumaca forest to get to their final location—the Cumaca cave. Undeterred by the frightful screeches of the oilbirds hidden in the cave’s crevices, the two friends were determined to find the cave’s water source. This meant diving into the dark waters and swimming through a dangerous whirlpool about 70 metres from the cave’s entrance.

With no rope the men resorted to using a cord, which they would fasten to themselves while their friends back at the surface held the other end. That cord was to be their lifeline, their guide back to the surface. But while underwater tragedy struck and the cord became detached, leaving both men stranded without any way of getting out.

Richards and Abraham drowned.

Divers from South Trinidad were sought to retrieve their bodies, but only one of the men was pulled out of the water.

Paponette heard about the incident a day later, when her husband made enquiries when he noticed men scrambling back and forth on the track. A plaque honouring the lives lost on that day was erected by the men’s friends and colleagues and it remains on the wall of the cave.

Almost 50 years before the men met their watery deaths, another group of adventurers sought out the Cumaca cave. One of the expeditionists happened to be the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.

Largely regarded as one of the best (and greenest) presidents of the US because of his conservation policies, Roosevelt was, first and foremost, a naturalist.

His love for the outdoors began in his childhood and continued well into his later years and to his death at the age of 60. He had been on several expeditions before, during and after his presidency, but it was on his last trip to South America that Roosevelt and others came to Trinidad in 1911.

Roosevelt travelled by boat from the Demerara River to Trinidad’s north coast, and then he and his team rode for four hours on horseback to Cumaca.

“I made an interesting trip with three friends into the northern mountains of Trinidad to see a guacharo cave,” Roosevelt wrote about his trip in one of the 35 books he authored.

Roosevelt wrote in precise detail the wonders that beheld him as he rode through the virgin forests.

“We saw blue tanagers and heard the songs of thrushes and orioles. There were repeated showers and we were drenched by the time we reached our destination, but between times the sun had almost dried us and the rain made the brilliant green woods fairly glisten.

"Most of the time we rode under the primeval tropic forest with its incredible wealth of strange and noble forms of plant life. Cecropias grew on the newly cleared soil. Moras sent out buttresses. Here and there a giant vine had strangled some mighty tree. There was a wealth of ferns on the wet slopes. Orchids were numerous. Large blue butterflies and smaller red and black ones floated on the trail,” he wrote.

But what would Roosevelt make of Cumaca today? Its forests still stretch for miles, but the abundance of wildlife is in no way comparable to the early 1900s, when Roosevelt visited.

On the road to Cumaca there lies St Alban’s Quarry, a large imposing reminder of the high price tag that comes with development. Meanwhile, inside the village itself, it appears that all remants of development in the community are slowly being erased.

“There were more people in the village because there was work. Two roadside gangs used to maintain the roads, cut the bush and clear the drains. There were shops in the area and there was transportation. Cars used to take people in and out of Cumaca, but then all of that stopped.

"People couldn’t get employment in the area and they left. The road got worse so no cars would help out with transportation anymore,” said Lousie Paponette, who added that Cumaca was more developed 20 years ago than it is today.

“There were plenty access roads to estates. Anybody could have walked those roads, but now everything is growing back into forest. The Sangre Grande Regional Corporation comes here once every two months to maintain the road, but that’s not good enough and the drains aren’t cleared so whenever it rains, the water flows and settles into the road, making it worse,"added Paponette (Mary).

There is no sound of laughter coming from pupils at the Cumuca RC Primary School, no longer can passers-by see children bent over their copy books—the school’s doors have been closed to facilitate repairs and classes have been transferred to the Valencia RC Church.

Much to the disappointment of residents, many of whom are Catholic, the church which stands on the same compound as the school has been closed until repairs on the school are completed.

Residents have seen their community fade into the background slowly but surely. They can no longer pray in their beloved church, but at home they will pray the school and church do not suffer the same fate as the Cumaca road—once a gateway to the outside world, but now a symbol of neglect.

From the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club Facebook page (check it out for more info on T&T’s natural history):

The parrot snake (Leptophis coeurleodorsus) is commonly seen in well vegetated areas throughout the country, often entering gardens. It is harmless. Formerly Leptophis ahaetulla.

meenakshigpartwork:

Lookout || Maracas || Trinidad and Tobago
25.03.2015
Photography || Travel || Life

Meenakshi PHOTOGRAPHY ©2016
_______________________________
Do Not Use Without Permission

jasonhagley:

Do what you love…so no matter what life throws at you will be have a smile on your face. #adventureracing #loveit #lovelife (at Bamboo Cathedral)

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