The Samaan Grove Wetland System

Wetlands Inhabitants
Waterfowl 2
by Kevin Kenny - Click images to enlarge

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

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