Anhinga anhinga >

 The Samaan Grove Wetland System

Wetlands Inhabitants
Waterfowl
by Kevin Kenny - Click images to enlarge

One of the design objectives of this system of lakes, ponds and wetlands was to create a wildlife reserve second to none on the island. During the planning and consulting phase of the development, there was much public concern over the effects that the development would have on the existing environment and in particular in the potential loss of wildlife habitat. We made a commitment to the public that the development would become one of the best places in Tobago to view wildlife. The objective of the development was not to reduce habitat but to increase and improve it.
With just a small part of the estate developed, the results are very encouraging. Although many different waterfowl visit the lakes, we are only covering the main resident population that now make Samaan Grove their home. Much of the identification information on the birds comes from the Richard ffrench book "Birds of Trinidad & Tobago". 


Ducks in flight at Samaan Grove

Waterfowl
Black-belly whistling tree duck, Dendrocygna autumnalis. We have just completed our second rainy season and have recorded two different breeding pairs of tree ducks on the ponds. This corresponds to their breeding season of June through December. The largest clutch of ducklings (10) seems to have been bred in the area SWW#6. Other than the local lizard "matte", there are few natural predators and we believe that most of these ducklings will survive to maturity. The second clutch was smaller with only six ducklings.  

 
First family 


Mother and 10 ducklings at Samaan Grove 

In general, black-bellied tree ducks are tall long-legged and long-neck birds. They have a black belly with a chestnut nape, lower neck, chest and back. A chestnut cap tops the head with a bright red/orange bill and a white-eye ring. The long pink legs are easily observed while they are perched in the trees. They stand 50-55 centimetres (20-22 inches) tall. They are vociferous in flight uttering a whistling "wee-che-che." This is when one can see the large white patch above their wings. Pairs most often partner for life and share responsibilities of incubation and brood rearing.  

Nests are usually located in tree cavities or on the ground in grassy and marsh areas or under brush. Female black-bellied ducks lay an average of 13-14 eggs. They commonly feed on grain, seeds, insects and mollusks, as well as leaves and shoots found in fields, drains and shallow water.

A lone black-belly in the afternoon sun >


They seem to love the golf course at Tobago Plantations where their population has exploded. Flocks are seen feeding in the short manicured lawns all over the estate. The photograph below was taken in September 2004 at Samaan Grove and show a breeding pair and eight large ducklings not yet able to fly but feeding for insects in the freshly cut grass. Part of the problem facing us in Tobago is that they have become so tame that during the hunting season they make easy prey for legal hunters.  

   

Anhinga anhinga. It is wonderful to see the Anhingas swimming and catching fish in our lakes. They were among the earliest visitors to our new lakes. They prefer the deeper areas, probably because the fish are larger and it is easier to swim. In the afternoons they can be seen drying their wings in the sun. If startled they tend to dive into the water rather than to fly off.  


Anhinga swallowing a small tilapia

Since the construction of the lakes at both Angostura resorts, the population seems to have grown. It is difficult to know if they have bred on the estates as we have not seen any signs of nesting nor have we seen any young. In November 2006 we counted over 30 birds in the sky over the lake at Tobago Plantations 


Surfacing for a breath of air
The Anhinga is about 70 centimetres (28 inches) long with a wingspan of 120 centimetres (47 inches). It has a very long, thin neck with a large pointed tail. It often swims with just its head and neck above surface. The adult male has a black head, neck and body with white plumes and edgings on wing coverts, while the female has a tan head and neck with a black body, white plumes and edgings on wing coverts. It is sometimes confused with the Cormorant which has a hooked bill, shorter tail and neck.

 
Drying her wings after foraging under water
(Also see the cover photo)
   

Common moorhen/Gallinule, Gallinula chloropus. We have counted up to five different pairs at one time in the lakes. They are the most common waterfowl found at Samaan Grove which indicates they have a preference for the environment we have created.
We have observed four sets of young so far with clutches of two to three chicks. All of these were seen in the area of SWW#6. They are still very wary of people and tend to hide in the reeds whenever approached. Breeding took place in December 2006. At Tobago Plantations they have become quite tame; at Samaan Grove when approached the mother will encourage the chicks to run into the bush behind SWW#6. It may be that this is where the nests were built. We have only seen one abandoned nest in the rushes and are not sure which species built it.   

It is a distinctive bird, with dark plumage apart from the white under-tail, yellow legs and a red facial shield. The young are browner and lack the red shield. It has a wide range of gargling calls. This species will consume a wide variety of vegetable material and small aquatic creatures. They forage while swimming, sometimes upending to feed or walking through the marsh.

The nest is a roofed basket built on the ground in dense vegetation. Eight to 12 eggs are usually laid, which are incubated for about three weeks. More than one brood may be raised in a year. Both parents incubate and feed the young. It will be interesting to learn if fewer eggs are laid or why fewer eggs hatch at Samaan Grove since we see only two or three chicks.

This bird is common and widespread. It loves the habitat being created at all of the large integrated resorts in Tobago. 


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