Saturday, February 17, 2018

Local birds: an introduction

Our variety of local birds annually attracts bird-watchers from foreign lands, yet very few of us even bother to pay attention to our feathered friends.

Ashton Brereton has combined his love of birds with his hobby of photography. The result is the book, Introducing the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, a collection of photos and brief descriptions of the birds seen across the islands.

The genesis of the book, he revealed, came about when he finally had the time to devote the effort and energy to his particular interests.

"About seven years ago, I decided, quite deliberately, to put into practice these interests. I bought an Olympus digital camera in 2005 and every weekend I got into my car and drove to see what I could take. Before long, I said this could be serious. I was very excited and interested in it, so I bought an old Nissan Patrol jeep. I wanted to be as rugged as possible because I was going by myself and [did not want a vehicle] particularly attractive to theft. I literally drove all over the country, taking pictures of birds. As I did so, I realised that I had to improve on the technology I was using. As a consequence, I went through three cameras until I eventually settled on what I use now, which is a pretty expensive Nikon camera with a fixed lens."

He said along the foothills of the Northern range, from Chaguaramas onward, there is a remarkable variety of birds.

"Quite a few of the shots which I have in the book can be had in my neighbourhood where I live, which is in Champs Fleurs. It is quite fascinating. This is one of the reasons why I put together a slide show—which I've never used, by the way—on the birds of Champs Fleurs."

Brereton decided to put his collection of photographs to use. He decided upon creating a book, not laced with scientific terminology and jargon, but meant for those with a basic interest in local birds.

"I decided that I was going to produce something that would be of interest to young people and visitors to the country, not particularly to bird-watching experts, but people who are interested in the flora and the fauna of the country.

"I particularly wanted to ensure that young people are aware of what they are seeing and missing. Many of them see these birds and it means nothing to them. This book is couched in such a way so that it is not a technical publication. I could have done so, but I deliberately put it in such a way that it focuses on the birds. The emphasis is on the bird in action, doing something in its natural environment, with as little comment as possible, but enough to make it of interest to someone looking at it. I would like children at schools to look at it and read it."

Brereton said he intends to officially launch the book after the distraction of the Carnival season has subsided.

"By that same token," he said, "I wanted the book to be available now so that visitors coming in now could get a chance to see the book and buy it. The book is already on sale at Nigel Khan bookstores and Reader's Bookshop in St James, Paper Based in the Normandie Hotel."

With increased hillside and other land development over the past few years, one would expect it would become more difficult to locate birds, but Brereton said this was not the case.

"What has happened is that in all the development many people plant fruit trees so I have not noticed a shortage or scarcity. The only time that there was something of a shortage was about two years ago when we had a particularly dry season and the hills at Mount St Benedict were burnt brown. I almost cried when I saw the place. The birds had to leave because there was nothing there. It was like a moonscape. Since then they have come back."

Brereton said one did not have to journey far to see most of the birds found in the book.

"Within two hours or so of most built-up areas, you can see them. You have to be patient and look for them, but they are there."

He said his favourite bird is a fairly non-descript one called the tropical mocking bird.

"It is my favourite because it is a very handsome bird, not brightly coloured, but more than anything else, it just loves to ramajay. It just sings for the love of it."