Native Son Captures Beauty of Trinidad's "Eden"

May 8, 2001

Most people are still asleep when Roger Neckles hikes up the mountains of Trinidad and Tobago's Northern Range, which rises just over 3,000 feet (914 meters). Neckles is Trinidad's most famous wildlife photographer and, this morning, he's at the Asa Wright Nature Center trying to shoot the piping guan, locally called the pawi.

"This is the best time of the day for me," he said in an interview with National Geographic Today, "getting up at five in the morning—heading off for the sticks, up into the mountains. The atmosphere, the temperature up here is just fantastic, pure oxygen. This is a typical day in the office for me."

While it may be a typical day for Neckles, his work is anything but ordinary. Neckles is arguably the most prominent wildlife photographer in the Caribbean. His work has been published in numerous local and international publications, including National Geographic magazine.

Career Born of a Passion

Born in Trinidad in 1956, Neckles moved to London with his family when he was still a baby. His interest in birds began when he was a boy in England, but became a passion when he visited Trinidad, home to more than 400 species of tropical birds, in 1978.

He has had no formal training in photography, but began taking pictures of birds when he was frustrated at not being able to find good pictures of them in the library.

Neckles has been photographing wildlife in Trinidad and Tobago for the past 15 years. His love for these small islands is unquestionable. "Close your eyes. Imagine you died and went to heaven—the Garden of Eden," he said. "It's incredibly beautiful—flowers, birds, butterflies zipping all over the place. It's like paradise."

The Asa Wright Nature Center, where Neckles describes the "Eden" that lures him to this country, is covered by tropical rain forest. The 1,250-acre (500-hectare) center is home to about 170 species of birds, 29 species of bats, and 600 types of butterflies.

Fat Bird Colony

One of the most famous attractions at the nature center is Dunston Cave, which has colonies of the owl-like oilbird (Steatornis caripensis), the only known nocturnal, fruit-eating bird species.

Rich brown in color, oilbirds have powerful hooked beaks that they use to pluck fruit while hovering in the air. They feed their young on rich, oily fruits, which makes them grotesquely fat until they slim down when their feathers begin to grow in. In the past, the baby birds were captured and their fat boiled down for torch oil, giving the species its common name.

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