Trinidad and Tobago
24th July – 14th August 2013
Having booked a “tailor made” trip to T&T with Motmot, Brian and myself arrived at Tobago airport in the afternoon of Wednesday 24th July to be met by Prince, and driven to Blue Waters Inn on the North of the island. Caribbean Martins, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Cattle and Great Egret, Southern Lapwing and Smooth-billed Ani as well as a huge iguana were all seen along the way. Around the hotel were Tropical Mocking birds and Palm Tanagers, with Laughing Gulls, Roseate Tern, Brown Noddies and Brown Pelican seen over the sea before it went dark, around 6.30p.m.
A day spent exploring the hotel gardens and entrance track added Little Blue Heron, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Orange-winged Parrot, Grey-rumped Swift, White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Red-crowned and Red-rumped Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Tropical and Grey Kingbirds, Rufous-breasted and House Wrens, Spectacled Thrush, Bananaquit, Bue-grey Tanager, Shiny Cowbird, and Crested Oropendola to the trip list as well as several terns scoped around the off shore islands. The grounds were full of flowers, rotting fruit, lizards, butterflies and amazingly the birds were in PRISTINE condition, this really was the tropics I’d dreamt about, and yes it was hot but so far dry!
Friday morning we collected our packed breakfast and headed off for our trip with Newton George rainforest birding in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. This was the first of three amazing trips out with Newton, who proved to be every bit as good as his formidable reputation. A White-cheeked Pintail in Speyside village was our only one of the holiday. While we were watching it a Yellow-crowned Night Heron dropped into the tree next to me! Frequent stops along the road produced a bewildering array of birds including the stunning Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Collared Trogan and rather plainer, Fuscous and Venezuelan Flycatchers, as well as our first sightings of Blue-crowned Motmot, Golden-olive Woodpecker, and Broad-winged Hawk. A walk along Gilpin Trace revealed the true beauty of the rainforest as well as adding Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-legged and White-necked Thrush to the list. Blue-backed Manakins fed on berries over the path while a White-tailed Sabrewing bathed swallow like in the stream, before sitting and preening in the darkest spot available! Before returning to Blue Waters we spent a magical hour on Newton’s veranda with dozens of White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped and Ruby-Topaz Hummingbirds, Black-throated-Mango, and even a White-tailed Sabrewing arguing over the feeders, not to mention a stunning male Barred Antshrike, White-lined Tanager and Carib Grackle. Wow!
Saturday morning was spent exploring the track above Blue Waters, the highlight up here was the number and variety of butterflies especially in the area frequented by the goats! Black-faced Grassquits, Red-legged Honeycreeper and White-fringed Antwren were seen while Motmot and Jacamar added to the spectacle. An obliging juvenile Great Black-hawk perched over the track as we returned. 2 o’clock saw us heading off with Newton across to Little Tobago the crossing yielded Bridled tern as well as many more Laughing Gulls, Roseate Terns and Brown Noddies while Frigatebirds continually drifted overhead. Once on the island a steady, but not as bad as expected climb produced Brown-crested Flycatcher and several young Laughing Gulls among the trees before we arrived at the view point made famous by Dave Attenborough. Stunning views were added to by late nesting Red-footed and Brown Boobies and Sooty Terns, and then to everyone’s delight two Red-billed Tropicbirds came in to view. Eventually up to six of these delightful birds gave us stunning, if rather distant views. Short-tailed Swifts soared over the forested slopes of the island while the rare Scaly-naped Pigeon flew up just as we left the island. Our first Yellow-headed Caracara of the trip flew high overhead as we crossed back to Blue Waters.
Sunday morning saw us again collecting our packed breakfast and heading off on a tour of the island with Newton George. As we drove south we saw our first rain of the holiday, despite it being the wet season, but there had been non at our first and main destination for the day, Tobago Plantations. The lake by the entrance gate was surrounded by trees full of nesting Anhingas, while a Black-crowned Night Heron, joined several Yellow- crowned Night Herons, Common Gallinule and Black Skimmers all fishing in the lake. The Caiman warning signs were certainly needed as at least seven all six to seven feet long were seen during our visit. Further round a roadside bush contained lots of nesting Cattle Egrets and Tricoloured Herons as well as several Green Herons. Black-bellied Whistling-ducks flew over just as we headed through the gate to three further pools. The first produced a juvenile Least Grebe and female Masked Duck sat quietly among the lily leaves, with Wattled Jacana and Purple Gallinule making rather more noise. The second pond was quieter but then as an Osprey flew rapidly away Newton was surprised to see a selection of waders on the third pool. These were new in and contained, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semi-palmated, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers, what a start to the wader fest/headache which was to be a feature of our return visit to Tobago later in the holiday! Further round, more pools and a board walk through a mangrove swamp produced at least one elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Little Blue Heron and much to our surprise two Whimbrel. A walk around the golf course found over 100 roosting Black skimmers, Eared Doves, Fork-tailed Flycatchers and the ever present Southern Lapwings. Crossing to the Caribbean coast our next stop was a car park/picnic area at the Southern end of Turtle beach. The stream here was full of birds, crabs and even a caiman. Among the herons was a Little Egret,( it was only later that I realised how rare they are in the area) and a patchwork Little Blue Heron. Semi-palmated Plover, and Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers added to the wader tally. A visit to Grafton produced dozens of Chachalacas of mixed ages. Further roadside stops during the day added Green-rumped Parrotlet, Green Kingfisher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and Giant Cowbird to the trip list as well as cracking views of many species seen previously. After lunch we enjoyed the scenic but twisty drive along the North Side road which follows the Caribbean coast back to Blue Waters.
Monday was transfer day, so after an early breakfast we were once again in the capable hands of Prince for the drive to the airport. Blue Waters Inn had been a fantastic introduction to the Caribbean, with its stunning location, super rooms, good food and amazing staff . In just five days our trip list was an impressive 92 due mainly to the efforts of Newton George and his magic light enabling us to see many of these stunning birds.
A quick flight on the “air bridge” and waiting taxi ensured that we arrived at Pax guesthouse in time for lunch. We were quickly enjoying soaring raptors many close in with Black and Turkey Vultures the most numerous being joined by Common Black-hawk, Grey, Broad-winged and Short-tailed Hawk on various occasions while a family of Yellow-headed Caracara patrolled the road up the hill. Morning birding from the verandas and hillside roads with afternoon trips to Caroni Swamp and Yerette Hummingbird garden filled the next two days. Orange-winged parrots were numerous and noisy, tiny Ruddy Ground-doves were still nesting and a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl looked down from a tree top. The car park outside the neighbouring church proved a good view point and we heard mass on three mornings as it was relayed across the mountain! Great Kiskadee, Cocoa Thrush, Greyish Saltator. Yellow Oriole, Lineated Woodpecker and numerous tanagers were seen around Pax.
The trip to Caroni swamp was certainly one of the highlights of the holiday, we were taken by taxi from the hotel and met at the boat by Sean Madoo who proved to be an excellent birder and naturalist. First Sean took us on a tour round the mangroves pointing out a roosting pair of Tropical Screech-owl, Great Ani, Red-capped Cardinal, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, two Green-throated Mangos and finally a roosting Potoo, which although larger than I expected was still difficult to see amongst the tangle of branches as well as a couple of tree boas. An Osprey floated overhead. Then we headed out towards the more open areas passing a Great Egret as well as several Snowy Egrets before the roosting trees came into view. We were lucky that the tide was low allowing the birds to wash and preen on an exposed mud bar before heading into the trees to roost. Already on the mud were a Large-billed tern as well as several Scarlet Ibis and a selection of herons. A Neotropic Cormorant was drying its wings in a neighbouring tree. Then as we pulled into position a huge flock of Ibis flew in over our heads, what a sight, they glowed in the light from the setting sun looking, if possible, even brighter as they dropped from the sky. We spent the next half hour enjoying the spectacle before the fading light meant that we had to head back through the mangroves, exhilarated by what we had seen.
Scarlet Ibis & Snowy Egret
The following afternoon saw us at Yerette enjoying literally hundreds of humming birds and I must admit struggling to keep up with all the different ones with at least 8 species seen, Back and Green-throated Mangos, White-chested Emerald, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire as well as Ruby-Topaz, Copper-rumped and Jacobins. An amazing number in such a small area with over a thousand being claimed at peak times!
The following morning we left Pax, which it has to be said was the only disappointment of the trip with tired buildings and furnishings and non of the advertised trails being accessible, although the staff were super and food was mainly good and included local dishes and produce. Setting of in the taxi we had only got to the first bend when a strange noise came from under the car, several bends and speed humps later the driver stopped and jumped out, checked all the wheel nuts, no problem there so we carried on, still with frequent noises, then he thought he’d better check something else so around we turned, back to a “garage” jacked it up still no problem so off we went again, this time making it all the way to Asa Wright with more noises but no more stops or incidents....phew!
The next seven days were spent revelling in the delights of Asa Wright, with much time spent on the amazing world famous veranda, often on our own, and exploring the trails through the grounds. On our first morning we had our orientation walk visiting the Golden-headed Manakin lek and then further along the track was a White-bearded Manakin lek with at least 4 males on show at both despite the time of year, then our guide managed to locate one of several calling Bearded Bellbirds. During the afternoon I asked about the other trips available and following a call to the Matura Beech Turtle centre a driver was found and we were soon on our way. We arrived at the beach in time for a quick walk, noting dozens of Black and Turkey Vultures cruising up and down the beach, one carrying a hatchling turtle!! Waiting for it to go dark we had our sandwiches and rum punch, as soon as it was dark a call came through to say that a couple of turtles were heading up the beach, one of them just by the entrance. It was huge, and soon started to scrape the sand digging a circular hole a couple of feet deep before suddenly stopping and moving away, at this point a ranger brought two hatchlings for us to have a look at, helping to pass the time before our “mommie” started digging again, this time she scraped out a chamber at the bottom of the hole and started to lay her eggs. What an experience and all completed so early. We were back in our room by 10.30pm.
The following morning after breakfast we headed down to the oilbird cave, seeing Plain-brown Woodcreeper, White-flanked Antwren, Golden-fronted Greenlet and Golden-crowned Warbler along the trail. The Oilbirds were quieter than we expected but an awesome sight all the same, as with the turtles no flash was allowed, so “hand held night shot” was again tried.
Sunday morning saw us having an early breakfast and heading up the Blanchisseuse Road with Dave Ramlal as our guide. Even before we got to the “main” road Dave had picked up Green-backed and Gianan Trogans, Streaked Xenops and Red-crowned Ant-tanager all new birds for us. Driving with the window open it was amazing just how many birds Dave heard along the road. A stop just after the highest point produced White-bellied Antbird and Black-faced Antthrush . Further stops, or should I say Dave’s ears and knowledge produced White-winged Becard, Speckled Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Piratic Flycatcher, Great Antshrike, Swallow-tailed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Band-rumped and White collared Swifts and Grey Breasted Martins which were new for our trip.
Monday saw us heading out again with Dave on the trip to Nariva Swamp. First stop was at Aripo Livestock Station, an amazing place with lots of active birds. New were Wilsons Snipe, Striated Heron, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Grassland Yellow-Finches, Red-breasted and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Ringed Kingfisher and White-winged Swallow. Heading off to Nariva, we stopped for lunch by the beach, then Dave called a Striped Cuckoo into view, then to the serious business of checking the mangrove edge first finding Bicoloured Conebills then finally a stunning Pygmy Kingfisher closely followed by a pair of Silvered Antbirds and family of Red-rumped Woodpecker with at least 2 Black-crested Antshrikes also being new. It was time to head back to Waller Airfield and in particular Moriche Avenue. Sulphury Flycatchers were on view as soon as we got out of the van, a couple of Red-bellied Macaws flew noisily over, with two giving better views a little later and Fork-tailed Palm-swift soared over head. Finally Dave spotted a Moriche Oriole high in the palm trees which gave good though distant views as we sipped our rum punch and ate brownies!
Tuesday was spent on the trails around the centre before we headed out with Dave again early on Wednesday morning to the lowland Aripo Savannah, Grey-throated Leaftosser , Forest Elaenia, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher. Trinidad Euphonia, Masked Yellowthroat, Sooty Grassquit were all seen before we again visited the Aripo Livestock Station for an hours top birding, even though we had no new birds. Leaving the buffalos behind Dave soon located a Rufous-browed Peppershrike before finding us a Boat-billed Flycatcher, at last no need to check every Kiskadee so carefully! Yellow-rumped Cacique and a juvenile Plumbeous Kite were added to the list as we headed back to the centre.
Having read numerous trip reports I had been keen to spend as many nights, or rather mornings, at Asa Wright as possible, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The veranda was buzzing with a kaleidoscope of birds all day while you never knew what was going to appear on top of the distant trees next. Many birds came to the feeders but just as many were feeding on the ripening berries in the nearby trees. Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk and Black-tailed Tityra were scoped while Channel-billed Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker and Scaled Pigeons put in regular appearances on the ridge and a Black Hawk Eagle was seen circling above the Forest. Around the veranda were Rufous-breasted, Green and Little Hermits, Brown Violetear, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald and Copper-Rumped Hummingbirds. Barred Antshrike, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird and Crested Oropendola were regular. Long-billed Gnatwren were impossible while Bananaquit were everywhere. White-lined, Silver-beaked, Blue-grey, Palm, Turquoise and Bay-headed tanagers were all present while Blue Dacnis vied with Green and Purple Honeycreepers, Yellow Oriole and Violaceous Euphonia as the most colourful. While other birds were seen along the trails, White-throated Spadebill is the only one not mentioned elsewhere. When you add to this the wealth of flowers, butterflies, lizards, frogs and insects not to mention Agouti you begin to realise why Asa Wright is such an amazing place. This doesn’t take into account the ever obliging and friendly staff and even the weather was on our side, with some heavy showers but never restricting our activities. What a privilege to be there at such a quiet time of year!
Thursday 8th of August saw us having early breakfast and heading back to Tobago via the air bridge, but not before Caleb had found a rather interesting Flycatcher! Our trip list now stood at a staggering 198, thanks to Dave and his amazing ears!
Arriving in Tobago we collected our hire car and headed to the nearby supermarket, where first the heavens opened and second the car refused to start! To cut a long story short one new battery and several soakings later, the rain eased and we were on our way to our accommodation for the last six nights, Adventure Ecovillas. At this point we weren’t expecting any new birds, just hoping to be able to spend a bit more time allowing the birds to come to us! Apart from one day when we headed back to Gilpin Trace our time was spent around the South of the island basically at Tobago Plantations, Turtle Beach and of course Adventure Farm. Disappointingly the entrance to Buccoo Marsh was overgrown and inaccessible and Bon Accord sewage ponds no longer allow visitors.
The grounds at Adventure farm are superb, with lots of flowering/fruiting trees and well kept trails throughout. During our stay Motmots were common, but always in the shade, a Jacamar sat on the hand rail and dozens of White-necked Jacobins fought continually over the feeders. We had 26 species in the garden itself with our second Fuscous Flycatcher of the trip and White-fringed Antwren giving good views, but my favourites were the Green-rumped Parrotlets which we saw every day and which sat on the lodge roof at one point, unfortunately the 50+ Ruby-Topaz had all migrated the previous week however the Chacalacas were kind and only chose the tree outside our room one morning!
It was the waders which dominated out last few days with regular visits to the two creeks at either end of the Turtle Beach hotel complex, where the staff were very welcoming to visiting birders. We were surprised at the number and variety of waders so far South so early in the year, with Southern Lapwing, Whimbrel, Semipalmated Plover, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary, Spotted, Least, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling all seen either in the creeks or on the beach. This was also a good spot for terns, with Sandwich/Cayenne with a full range of beak colours fishing and roosting on the boats, Roseate and Brown Noddies were also common as were Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and their friends the Laughing Gulls. A Brown Booby joined the melee one afternoon. There was a Copper-rumped Hummingbird still feeding its young in a nest over the car park at the southern end and we finally clinched a Scrub Greenlet as we waited for the Red-crowned Woodpecker to return to its nest. The beach behind the airport produced a Black-bellied Plover.
We spent another superb morning at Tobago Plantations, with 46 species seen including Stilt Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher which were new for the trip, and had fantastic views of the Masked Duck, Wattled Jacana and Mangrove Cuckoo. Then the rain came down and we retreated to Turtle Bay.
A return visit to Gilpin Trace produced no new birds but we did have at least two juvenile Collared Trojans, Streaked Flycatcher, Rufous- breasted Wren, Golden-olive Woodpecker, a pair of Stripe-breasted Spinetail and several Blue-backed Manakins amongst others. A stop at the “Dwight Yorke” stadium produced several Giant Cowbirds on the way back.
On the last night we went to the Turtle Beach Hotel for Dinner and as we returned to the car we were approached to say that they were just about to release a clutch of hatchling turtles away from the lights if we were interested in watching..........wow!
The final morning arrived and we planned to spend it at Tobago Plantations, but when we arrived at the “wader” pool it was deserted so we headed out and went round to Pigeon Point. Having been disappointed with the bit of reef we saw off Little Tobago we hadn’t thought of going out on Buccoo Reef , however as we looked round the shops at the Point I began to think that I had made a mistake and the advertised trips didn’t get back in time for us to get to the airport! Half an hour later we were paddling out to a boat and off on our own to the reef. It was fantastic with hundreds of fish of all shapes sizes and colours weaving between the corals. Then as the motion of the boat began to get the better of Brian we headed back to a sand bar we’d passed on the way out it was covered in birds, adding Royal and Common Tern to our List, a fantastic way to end our holiday.
Our final Tally was 208 species, most of which were lifers and with the exception of the waders were in pristine plumage. What was surprising was that we had 91 species in the last Six days on Tobago when we were birding on our own showing just how good a birding destination it is.
This trip exceeded even my expectations from the organisation by MotMot to the helpfulness of everyone we met, the expertise of our guides Newton and Dave but most of all the wildlife, there was bird song everywhere you went and the variety and colour of the birds was stunning and all this in the school summer holidays, unbelievable!
All Images taken by Margaret Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography