Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Woodpecker and bois canot

As kids who were fans of the animated cartoon Woody Woodpecker, we thought that the bird with its black and white body and red ruff of feathers was a figment of someone's imagination.

Much later in life, when we moved up to the Santa Cruz hill with a stand of bois canot trees, we would hear this loud staccato rhythm, rat-a-tat-a-tat-rrrr-at-tat-a tat-rrrr, stopping occasionally before resuming in a blur of sound. Then we would see him fly with a flash of red head to settle on another tree. The movement of his head is mechanical and regular, like a jackhammer. Later we could see the holes he had made in the tree, from which we assume he got enough for a meal.

Bois canot trees grow readily in cleared forested areas in the foothills and valleys of Trinidad's northern range. They are tall and reedy when they start out, but can thicken after a few seasons. The trunk or tree stalk is light and hollow, and harbours stinging ants which keep the tree free of other insects or vines. The large leaves of the bois canot shrivel and dry into a characteristic grey-brown bundle that is used in a herbal infusion. You can see the large leaves of the tree clearly in these photos of the woodpecker.

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