Just over a week ago I received an urgent phone call from a long-time friend and fellow birder. I was washing the dishes at the time, so my wife took the call. The message she relayed made me blurt out a string of words that cannot be repeated on this blog – let’s just say that my priorities immediately shifted. Although my friend’s house is walking distance away, due to the urgency of the situation I jumped into the car and was there under five minutes.

Quarantine rules in these times have led us to monitor our backyards much more frequently. Although we don’t share the same backyard, Jason and I live in the same development and routinely do backyard counts in tandem. Text messages such as “flock of Magnificent Frigatebirds headed your way” are not uncommon. While our house is located more in the middle of the development, Jason’s is on the outskirts, bordered by wild growth and peppered with medium-large trees.

Our most significant sighting in our backyard since quarantine began was this Pale-breasted Spinetail that never gifted me a direct view. Typical of the species.

The last time I had seen a Summer Tanager was during a Christmas Bird Count in 2012. Sightings in Trinidad have been sporadic, 38 to be exact since the formation of the T&T Bird Status and Distribution Committee. I got to Jason’s place, jumped the fence, made sure I was wearing pants, and began looking for the bird (not necessarily in that order). Amazingly, it was still there!

Summer Tanager with evidence of raiding the nest on his bill. This is an immature bird, as evidenced by the yellow wash on his underparts. You can see what he will eventually become here.

The bird seemed comfortable with the two of us observing from distance – it was engrossed in digging into a wasp nest at the very crown of a 30 foot mango tree. The only harassment came from the resident Red-tailed Squirrel family – which seemed to be more curiosity than anything else, as their nest was just about two feet away. Both species seemed content to observe each other though.

This young male Summer Tanager didn’t linger or waste time. After gorging himself on protein-rich larvae, he wiped his bill and flew off, never to be seen again. Until maybe next year, who knows? Bon voyage, friend, may you traverse the next two thousand miles safely, may you not encounter any glass windows and may you find a mate and breed successfully!

It was difficult to stop photographing this bird, even though it was more or less in the same setting for the duration of the sighting.

Naturally, I made the most of the opportunity and grabbed images of many of the backyard residents there.

A pair of Tropical Screech-owls have been roosting in a cherry tree for a number of years.

A male Black-throated Mango owned a few choice perches on a plum tree.

Surprisingly, a pair of Striated Herons in breeding plumage flew in as dusk tightened its grip. Hopefully they found a suitable place nearby to raise the next generation!

The full list can be found here.

It should be noted that in the face of such an exhilarating sighting, both of us at all times maintained our distance, avoiding even the intense urge to high-five each other in glee.

Written by Faraaz Abdool
Faraaz Abdool is an internationally published freelance conservation and wildlife photographer/writer who specializes in birds and the issues they face worldwide. He graciously serves on the Trinidad and Tobago Bird Status and Distribution Committee (formerly the Trinidad and Tobago Rare Bird Committee), and leads birding trips on both islands. Faraaz also runs yearly birding and wildlife tours to East Africa. Although he doesn’t keep a life list, Faraaz has been a keen birder for many years, separating Black and Turkey Vultures at distance as a little boy, skipping class to gaze at Magnificent Frigatebirds as a teenager and quitting his job as an electrical engineer to put all his energy into conservation as an adult. Faraaz cultivates wildlife consciousness via his words and images, in a last-ditch attempt to reconnect humans with nature and save the world.