A sewage pond is, like a landfill, one of those places by which non-birders get very confused. “Wait, you’re going to a sewage pond? Voluntarily? To see birds? What is wrong with you?”
That small minded perspective is difficult to overcome despite Clare’s continued insistence on the excellence of Poo Ponds and my own small contribution from my visits to Florida’s Viera Wetlands and Nevada’s City of Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve. The fact is that the treatment of sewage, because of the amount of water and nutrients involved, can result in some pretty spectacular habitat and birds. The Trincity Sewage Ponds in Trinidad and Tobago are no exception.
My visit to the best sewage ponds for birding on the island of Trinidad was on 19 July 2013. The (non-birding) group I was with was on our way to the Caroni Swamp when our guide suggested a quick stop at the Trincity Sewage Ponds so I could see a few cool birds. After steamrolling the resistance of the non-birders we pulled into the sewage ponds which are technically not open to the public, though a big hole in the fence provides access and it is tacitly approved by the employees there.
And that is when I saw my first Large-billed Tern!
Phaetusa simplex is the only species in its genus and it seems very unlikely that it will be confused with another tern species. As you can see in the image below it has a very distinctive pattern on its wings, to say nothing of the big ol’ yellow bill stuck on the front of its face. Though the Large-billed Tern is a bird of freshwater rivers, lakes, and marshes of South America it does wander to North America on very rare occasions. (One has been seen in New Jersey in 1988, in Illinois in 1949, and in Ohio in 1954 (Links are PDFs.) – interestingly, all in May.)
BirdLife International considers the Large-billed Tern a Species of Least Concern because of its large range and large and apparently stable population.
In addition to seeing and photographing several Large-billed Terns at the Trincity Sewage Ponds, which are a very nice spot for a quick birding fix, we also saw a couple of them out in the Caroni Swamp, which makes sense as they are known to sometimes inhabit mangrove swamps when they are not breeding.
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My visit to Trinidad and Tobago was sponsored by the Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Development Company but the views expressed in the blog posts regarding the trip are my own. For more information about visiting Trinidad and Tobago a good place to start is the official tourism website.