TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
by Robbie Fischer
Photo Album and notes by Joe Morlan
|Joe Morlan and I decided to visit Trinidad and Tobago during his January break from teaching. Asa
Wright was the primary draw as all who had visited gave glowing reports of the birds and ambiance. Our adventure
began inauspiciously when our flight was cancelled by American Airlines on Jan. 4th. We were able to leave the
following day, arriving at the Trinidad airport about 9 PM. Clearing customs took about an hour and we exited to
discover that the driver from Asa Wright had not been informed we were on this flight. Luckily, Joe had spoken
to another arriving passenger headed for Asa Wright and this man asked the driver to wait for us. It was about
11 PM when we arrived at Asa Wright and negotiated the steep path down to our unit carrying our luggage. I would
advise anyone booking this trip to ensure you are housed in a unit nearer the lodge unless you are in good physical
The morning of Jan. 6th Joe discovered his digital camera was not in his luggage. Since digiscoping is a passion for him, this could have been disastrous. Fortunately, I have exactly the same camera so he was able to use mine. We spent the early hours of the morning on the veranda, enjoying the antics of Green and Purple Honeycreepers, White-lined, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers and Bananaquits at the fruit and bread feeders on the path below. The hummingbird feeders drew multiple Copper-rumps and White-necked Jacobins while a female Tufted Coquette preferred the flowering shrubs.
After breakfast we were treated to an Orientation Walk on the Discovery Trail. This was a highlight of our stay. The naturalist was well informed and the first clearing we came to had Linneated Woodpecker, Bay-headed Tanagers and Golden-crowned Warblers working the area. Off the main trail we saw Golden-headed Manakin males displaying their prowess at sliding along the branches. Further along the Discovery Trail the White-bearded Manakins were "snapping" in their preferred saplings. We had neck-bending looks at White-tailed Trogon overhead. A White-flanked Antwren and Streaked Xenops were other examples of the diversity of species. When we arrived at the Bearded Bellbird interpretive sign, we saw and heard a male bellbird perched just above the sign.
We returned to Asa Wright for a lunch of seafood casserole and barbecued pork chops. The food was always varied and quite good. We spent the afternoon on the veranda, enjoying Black-throated Mango, Cocoa and Bare-eyed Thrushes, Barred and Great Antshrikes and the ubiquitous Crested Oropenolas and Orange-winged Parrots. Late in the afternoon, a complimentary glass of Rum Punch and appetizers brought guests together to exchange tales of their birding day. I had heard great things about the Rum Punch but found it less than stellar. Ice was hard to come by also. Asa Wright is a former coffee and cocoa plantation and the accommodations are somewhat spartan but the grounds are spectacular.
After dinner we took a night walk with one of the naturalists and saw a roosting Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl as well as a Pink-toed Tarantula, which looked as if it had a pedicure.
Jan. 7th Joe got up before dawn and joined an excursion to see a Trinidad Piping Guan and got some decent photos. It was a good day for raptors. I saw White Hawk, Common and Great Black-Hawks from the grounds. Later that day we and three other guests drove down the mountain back to the vicinity of the airport and visited some sewage ponds. Our guide was Jogie Ramlal. Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Yellow-hooded Blackbirds and Pied-water Tyrants were visible in the marsh. Smooth-billed Anis and White-winged Swallows foraged while up to 8 Ospreys circled overhead. As we left the ponds, I spotted a Red-breasted Blackbird perched on a wire across the highway. Cattle Egrets were common on the roadside.
We arrived at Caroni Swamp and boarded an outboard for the trip through the mangroves. Since this was a weekend, many Trinidadian families accompanied us in the boat. Our guide, Sean, detoured to a perched Green-throated Mango, a specialty of the lowland swamp. He spotted a Straight-billed Woodcreeper and then took us directly to a roosting Common Potoo. Joe photographed a tree boa and we had somewhat unsatisfying looks at a sleeping Two-toed Sloth. The rarest bird we glimpsed was a Rufous-necked Woodrail, thought to be nearing local extinction at one time. The purpose of a visit to Caroni Swamp is to see the hundreds of Scarlet Ibis returning to their island to spend the night. It's a wonderful juxtaposition of red against the evening sky. Two Yellow-headed Caracaras flew by and a Merlin zipped off through the mangroves on our way back to the dock.
Joe and I spent a few hours before breakfast the following morning exploring more of the grounds of the lodge. Some of the birds we saw were Black-tailed Tityra, Rufous-breasted Wren and Scaled Pigeon. Later that morning we hiked with a naturalist to the Oilbird grotto. This nesting site is the most accessible on Trinidad and consists of about 130 birds. We found a Collared Trogon feeding a young bird, Blue Dacnis, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Blue-chinned Sapphire along with Forest Elaenia and Euler's Flycatcher. Back at the veranda the hummingbirds were out in force. Green and Rufous-breasted Hermit, a male Tufted Coquette and a White-chested Emerald reminded us we were in the tropics. The Silver-beaked Tanagers and Violaceous Euphonias always delighted us.
Jan. 9th was our last full day at Asa Wright. 5 Channel-billed Toucans posed in a large tree near the veranda. Yellow Orioles flew into the flowering Immortelle Trees and the naturalist was able to get a Blue-headed Parrot in the scope. Great Kiskadees and Bananaquits were building nests. A Golden-olive Woodpecker tapped on a snag in plain view. A Black Hawk-Eagle soared above the valley. But the best sight of all was the male Ruby-topaz Hummingbird that fed in the flowering shrubs below the veranda. It's a spectacular bird and we had seen the female occasionally but this was our first look at the male.
On Jan. 10th after breakfast we left for the airport to fly to Tobago. Our destination for the next three days was Cuffie River Nature Retreat. This is a wonderful place to stay with great, large rooms, a dining area open to the outdoors and covered verandas for those days that remind you why they call this rainforest. After a lunch of soup, cole slaw and tamale we spent the next few hours just enjoying the birds from the veranda or the pool. Rufous-vented Chachalacas and Orange-winged Parrots kept up a constant raucous chatter. Gray Kingbirds were fly catching and a Red-legged Honeycreeper drank nectar from the blossoms of the Immortelle. After a shrimp creole dinner accompanied by pumpkin fritters, we slept well in our room with huge French doors open to the night sounds.
The next morning the skies opened and rain fell in sheets. Joe braved the elements and went for a three hour bird walk with Desmond, the all purpose handy man and self-taught naturalist at Cuffie River. Later in the day I walked along the river and saw my first Rufous-tailed Jacamar, a gorgeous bird whose call reminded me of a Wrentit. Magnificent Frigate birds flew over the ridge and House Wrens sang outside our room. A Ruby-topaz Hummingbird briefly visited the feeder hanging in view of the dining room. After dinner Regina, the owner, advised us to go out back and watch the White-tailed Nightjar hawking insects around the yard lights.
Our final day at Cuffie River Joe and I took a walk between showers on the entrance road. Luckily we saw many of the species Joe had seen with Desmond the day before. Scrub Greenlet was one of the least distinctive species I've ever seen. I had brief looks at a male Black-backed Manakin but both male and female White-fringed Antwrens gave good views. We saw Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Fuscous Flycatcher and a Northern Waterthrush chirped along the river.
On Jan. 13th we left for Blue Waters Inn, on the Atlantic shore of Tobago. We were scheduled for a boat ride to Little Tobago, just offshore, and despite the driving rain, we were advised to go. The trail up the ridge was steep, narrow and muddy, not ideal conditions for digiscoping sea birds. Red-billed Tropicbirds were on nests under foot and we saw a tiny chick. In the distance Joe spotted a Red-footed Booby with a large chick in its nest. Numerous Brown Boobies were flying in an out of cliff nests. The weather conditions were difficult for land birds and we saw few.
Sunrise was beautiful over the ocean. We spent our last full day exploring the forest around Blue Waters Inn. Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers were common here as were Tropical Mockingbirds, and Shiny Cowbirds frequented the feeders near the restaurant. Ruddy Turnstones were so tame they walked up on the porches to pick up crumbs. A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron stalked the beach at dusk. The following morning we birded the grounds again before our drive to the airport. We were treated to a pair of Red-crowned Woodpeckers in the trees near the tennis courts. The day promised fair skies finally, but we were out of time.