Anhinga anhinga >

The Samaan Grove Wetland System

Wetlands Inhabitants
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

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. 

Mother and chick
Purple gallinule, Porphyrula martinica. So far we have only seen one adult with three chicks in December 2006, which was right at the end of the April-December breeding season. The nest is a floating structure built in the rushes at the edge of the lake. Eight to 10 eggs are usually laid. Egg coloration is buff with brown spots. 
The diet of these birds includes a wide variety of plant and animal matter, such as seeds, leaves and fruits of both aquatic and terrestrial plants, as well as insects, tadpoles, frogs, snails, spiders, earthworms and fish. They have also been known to eat the eggs and young of other birds. Although very common in Trinidad this bird was considered an agricultural pest and almost shot to extinction in Tobago. It is now making a comeback. The purple gallinule chick at the right is the same chick shown in the photo above but two weeks later.


These photos show a defensive tactic used by the mother to focus attention on herself by raising one wing in the air, giving the young time to hide in the rushes. This is a common action used by many bird species.


Wattled jacana, Jacana jacana. These birds only seem to appear when the man-made lakes have matured. It took many years to see them at Tobago Plantations. So far they are not very common at Samaan Grove, although they are well established at the Buccoo marsh. The Jacanas are a unique family of waders, specially adapted to exploit feeding on lily pads in shallow freshwater wetlands. Jacanas are primarily resident which is why they may have not decided to explore the Samaan Grove wetlands in greater numbers.

Nervously watching to see what the photographer is up to
They are incredibly adapted for walking on floating vegetation, especially on lily pads. An alternative name is for this beautiful bird is lily-trotter. They have greatly elongated toes and claws that spread their weight out over a significant area. They feed on fish, mollusks, insects and vegetable matter.

Showing off their flight feathers
The true beauty of this bird is only noticed in flight when the yellow flight feathers become visible, shown in the photograph below. They lay three to five eggs between January and March but so far we have not seen any young on the estate.

Least grebe, Tachybaptus dominicus, and Pied-billed grebe, Podilymbus podiceps. It is very difficult to get good pictures of these elusive birds. When startled they quickly dive under the water and pop up some distance away. In January 2007 we were able to photograph this mother and her two chicks on SWW#6B. Their regular breeding period is April to November yet these chicks must have hatched in early January. They build a floating nest usually hidden in the reeds. The two to three eggs are white but quickly get stained. Based on the description of the type of nest built and the timing of the discovery we think that the nest shown here was built by this bird.


 ^ Female least grebe and her chicks at SWW#6 in January 2007 ^

Green-backed heron, Butorides virescens. These birds are found wherever there is standing or flowing fresh water. In Samaan Grove they are seen at all the drains, usually alone. 
Small, short-legged and short-necked with yellow legs, they are 35 centimetres (14 inches) long with a wingspan of 62 centimetres (24 inches). This heron caught a small crayfish, one of its favorite foods which is found in most streams in Tobago


Little egret, Egretta garzetta (left). The distinctive and very noticeable difference between this bird and the cattle egret is the black beak. 

Cattle egret, Bubulcus ibis (below). These are the most common egrets at Samaan Grove and are very much at home, having no fear of man. As in other parts of the country, they love to follow the tractors when grass is being cut, picking at the insects that run from the cutting blade. They also follow fire lines in the dry season, picking at the insects as they flee the blaze. They roost in colonies sometimes in the presence of other birds. At Petit Trou lagoon there is a large hatchery with six different species of birds sharing the same habitat. 

They are 43 centimetres (17 inches) long and have a wingspan of 1 metre (3 feet). The sexes are similar and they have a short, thick pointed bill. 


Cattle egrets feeding for insects

Great white egret, Casmerodius albus. This was one of the first egrets to inhabit the estate. They are usually solitary birds and can be seen in the rushes feeding on small fish. Also known as the great egret, white heron, or common egret, this is a wading bird, found in most of the tropical and warmer temperate parts of the world. The great white egret is a large bird with all white plumage, is as much as 101 centimetres (40 inches) long and weighs up to 950 grams (2.1 pounds). It is only slightly smaller than the great blue or grey heron. Apart from size, the great white egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet.  


Great blue heron, Ardea herodias, is a wading bird of the family Ardeidae, common all over North and Central America and the Caribbean. This is the largest of the North American herons.
This species usually breeds in colonies in trees close to lakes or other wetlands, often with other species of herons. In Tobago it is almost always seen alone. It builds a bulky stick nest. The female lays three to five pale blue eggs. Both parents feed the young at the nest by regurgitating food. So far we have not noticed any nesting sites on the estate.


It feeds in the shallow water at the water's edge and spears fish and frogs with its long, sharp bill. Its varied diet can also include insects, snakes, rodents and small birds.

The great blue heron stands 130 centimetres (4 feet) tall, has a 210 centimetres (5.5 foot) wingspan and weighs 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds). It has a long yellow bill. Adults have blue-grey wings and back and a white head with a black cap and a long black plume. In flight, the head is held close to and aligned with the body in a downward bend in the long neck, very similar to the great white egret shown on P-156. The long black legs trail behind. This bird flies with strong deliberate wing beats. The call of this bird is a harsh croak. 

Southern lapwing, Vanellus chilensis. This is a very common resident at Samaan Grove. These birds are normally found in large flocks of over 10 individuals and have a very loud call that distinguishes them from most other birds. We often hear them flying at night which may indicate that they forage for food in the dark. When they are not dive-bombing you, they are a very attractive bird to look at. They have become a nuisance at the golf course at Tobago Plantations, as many a golfer has been seen fleeing the course as the kamikazes fly in to protect what they think is their egg.


Osprey, Pandion haliaetus. One solitary osprey has been on the estate almost from the first day the lakes filled with water. The photograph at the right, taken in October 2004, shows the osprey holding a fairly large tilapia in his talons which it caught in Lake 2. They can often be seen hovering above the lakes waiting on their chance to catch one of the abundant fish now present. At Tobago Plantations there is a number of pairs that fish both in the fresh water lakes and in salt water lagoon at Petit Trou.

One of the largest birds of prey in Trinidad and Tobago, the osprey eats fish almost exclusively, although on one occasion we did see one catch a small rodent. It is also one of the most widespread birds in the world. Size is 54-58 centimetres (21-23 inches) long with a wingspan of 150-180 centimetres (59-71 inches).  

Yellow-crowned (or black-crowned) night heron, Nyctanassa violacea. This is a very common resident found all over the island of Tobago. The local residents call it "Crab-e-a" because its favourite food is the local blue crab, which it usually hunts at night. It is also found hunting during the day. Growing to 40 centimetres (16 inches) in length with a 1-metre (3.3-foot) wingspan, both sexes have a blue-gray neck, chest, belly and back feathers with dark centers. They have red eyes and long legs varying in colour with age (black in adults).  


Other Birds

Red-crowned woodpecker, Melanerpes rubricapillus, is a very common Tobago bird. It eats insects and ants and can become very tame, taking bread from the table.


Pale-vented pigeon, Columba cayennensis. This is one of the largest doves (30 centimetres [16 inches]) found on the island, and as such is much sought after and hunted. It is usually found in small flocks but is also seen alone foraging for food. It feeds on fruits, berries and seeds. It is very common at Samaan Grove and will let you get fairly close before flying off.


Smooth-billed ani, Crotophaga ani, Merle Corbeau, is almost always found in groups of four and up. This fascinating bird has often suffered because of its uncomplimentary looks. The bill has a distinctive "broken nose" appearance and the eyes are yellowish-white.

They are about 30 centimetres (12 inches) long and glossy blue-black. They feed on large insects, small frogs and lizards. A member of the cuckoo family, they are very gregarious. They have never been extensively hunted and as such are very common on both islands.



There are two large lizards found on the site. The green iguana, Iguana iguana, and the matte, Tapenambis tiguscin, at the left. The green iguana is still hunted on the estate by both the villagers and the workers on the site. We do not have the ability to enforce a total hunting ban at this point in time. As soon as the area is fenced we will start policing it. There are many smaller lizards. 



Butterflies and dragonflies are among the many insects we see at Samaan Grove.



Other than the school of tilapia below, we have not yet started photographing the fish at Samaan Grove. All other images are from and each is linked to the detailed page on that site.

Mozambique tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, is the common fish found in the lakes and drains. They were introduced in Tobago many years ago and have now become the dominant species. The photograph below left was taken at Drain 1, just above the silt trap, and shows a school of juvenile tilapia. You will also find guppies (Poecilia reticulata) in the drain which seem to coexist with the other fish.  

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Bronze corydoras, Corydoras aeneus, were added to the ponds at Samaan Grove.

 Large image | Detailed page

 Swamp guppy, Micropoecilia picta

 Guppy, Poecilia reticulata

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The Development Team & Friends

Ian Lambie and author Richard ffrench on the
boardwalk at Petit Trou Lagoon

Richard Hadeed, craftsman par excellence,
inspecting his work on the well

Bob Dugan, EDSA, admiring one of the few
remaining coppers found on the estate

John Otway, Design Consultant on Samaan Grove
Mike Kenny Els (partially hidden), Phil Keb, West Paces Hotel Group LLC (yellow shirt), Fazir Khan, Alpha Engineering (back to us), Bob Dugan, EDSA (cap)

Handle Anthony (white cap), the main plumbing contractor, and Amateus Ottley, "Monty" (white
shirt), Alpha Engineering Ltd., supervisor
who handled all the on-site construction

Kevin Kenny and John Camacho, Alpha Engineering,
at a critical meeting

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