Our national bird, the scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber), presents a striking sight as it flies in a mass influx of thousands to roosting sites in our mangrove spaces, its brilliant adult colour the empirical distinction. It is a major tourist attraction in the Caroni and South Oropouche swamps.

So far, these two swamps have seen a general increase in numbers despite poaching, even receiving visitors from the mainland of Venezuela to add to the home population. Along the Pedernales river mouth and some way inland, flocks are flourishing and often some cover the distance between our two countries to feed in our mangroves.

My friends have texted, “Hay muchas Ibis Escarlata ahora en Pedernales y Capure. !Muchas!”

On an early morning it is an arresting sight to witness large numbers of scarlets winging their way past Soldado Rock towards the south-west and western parts of our island.

Tour guide at South Oropouche swamp Roland Binda shared that just two weeks ago, he and a touring party viewed a flock of about 3,000 birds flying in.

“In the late evening, we are accustomed seeing a flock of about 1,000 coming in to an open area just before the 14 gate. The lagoon has mudflats where these birds probe for mangrove crabs and insects as is their diet. People are always surprised to see so many ibises in this swamp.”

This year has been a rainy one and swamps in other parts of the country have remained in flooded conditions throughout the months. Oyster and crab catchers and people whose livelihoods depend on access along tracks through the swamp to reach the coast to harvest coconuts have been impacted by flooded conditions. Waist-high water in these areas has made it impossible for foot travel.

This had resulted in partial habitat loss for our wetland birds. Our scarlets have not been seen in these swamps since last year. When the water is too high, our birds have nowhere to find sustenance.

Binda commented that the levels of water at South Oropouche are controlled by gates so that negates the problems of too much water submerging the mud flats that are the feeding grounds of the birds. Caroni is naturally controlled by tidal influx and ebb so that a balance in levels is maintained.

This column has found that swamps such as San Jose, Los Blanquizales and Moruga where scarlets used to be seen regularly especially during the months of January and February are devoid of these precious reds among the green foliage.

This year, the Moruga river maintained high levels of brown water throughout and flooded the mangroves along its course. Periods where the water reverted to its pretty reflected green colour were brief.

Members of the nearby fishing community commented that this is the first year that the birds have been absent from the area. Some blamed it on increased boat traffic along the river while others noted the submerged conditions of the terrain and commented that only birds that could dive below the water could survive there.

People who drive along the road that runs through the San Jose swamp in Icacos are accustomed to seeing our national bird among cattle egrets and other water birds feeding on the mud flats within the lagoon.

However, because of the high water levels throughout the months, these birds have not been seen. They have not been observed to retire to deeper parts to the east such as Los Blanquizales that provided an alternative feeding and roosting site in the past because of the inundation throughout. Residents lament that they do not even come to sleep at a known spot among the houses and are wondering where their precious birds have gone.

The disappearance of the scarlet ibis from some areas is not only because of flooded conditions but permanent habitat loss where housing developments have claimed acres of mangroves. Where bird watchers used to enjoy the thrill of seeing the scarlet ibis flying and settling in to roost among the greenery of the mangroves at Rousillac, this is no longer possible because houses have replaced the mangrove trees.

One resident commented that this was a thing of the past and “who want to see ‘flamingo’ could go to Caroni swamp. Birds free to fly and go where ever they want but we can’t.”

This writer thinks that with present trends both natural and man-made, we may have to visit the Pointe-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust where the species is protected to see what our national bird looks like, in the future.

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

Calling all men! A conference, which will put the spotlight on issues affecting men on a daily basis, will take place next Saturday at Bishop’s Anstey, Trinity College East, from 10 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.

Hosted by Rev Karen Alexis, founder of Walking in Freedom Ministry, The Gathering of Men Conference, which comes on the heels of celebrations for International Women’s Day (IWD), is aimed at not only placing the spotlight on men’s issues but also honouring and celebrating men.

Acclaimed Barbadian saxophonist Elan Trotman blew those pained words through the connecting phone lines and across the Caribbean Sea, on the eve of his impending return to T&T for tomorrow’s Jazz Artists on the Greens (JAOTG) concert.

Christine Carla Kangaloo became this country’s seventh President following her inauguration ceremony, which took place at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, on Monday. When the pomp and ceremony was over, specially invited guests celebrated at a reception at the neighbouring National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA).