Trinidad & Tobago
October 1 - 11, 2007
Bill Murphy (Trinidad & Tobago)
Martyn Kenefick (Trinidad)
Click here to view the species list, here to view it as an MS-Word document, or here to view it as a PDF file.
This fabulous trip began with a phone call from Dick Esker of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Dick asked me if I'd be interested in guiding the Mountwood Bird Club on a tour of Trinidad and Tobago. Four of the participants had visited T&T with me in 1994 and were interested in making another visit. I jumped at the opportunity, looking forward to spending time with some old friends and making some new ones. The trip went off without a hitch. During the tour we found a grand total of 224 species of birds, an excellent number. Included were some real rarities along with a lot of excellent sightings.
I would like to thank all of the participants — Jane, Jeannine, Blair, Dick, Jeanette, Gene, Jeanie, Neal, Barb, Carl, and Shirley — for helping to make this an exceptionally productive and enjoyable tour. I would like to extend special thanks to Martyn Kenefick for all of the time, energy, and thoughtfulness he put into making this a truly memorable trip.
Photo credits: B=Blair Ellison; C=Carl Radcliffe; G=Gene Hilton; N=Neal Hohman; W=William Murphy
Monday, October 1
Today all 12 of us successfully journeyed from home to Trinidad aboard Continental Airlines flight #418 from Houston. I started the day in Indianapolis, while the rest of the group started in Pittsburgh. The 5-1/2 hour flight from Houston left at 4:15 p.m. local time. It took us east over Puerto Rico, south to Curaçao, then east parallel to South America over Margarita and on to Trinidad. We arrived after dark at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad shortly after 7:30 p.m.
Martyn Kenefick, my friend and our birding guide on the Trinidad portion of the trip, greeted us at the airport. Also there to meet us was Chaitram Bhola, manager of Sadila House Bed & Breakfast. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the airport food pavilion, after which Chaitram shuttled all of the participants to his B&B for the night. After reviewing our plans for the following morning, Chaitram began checking everyone into their rooms. Our group filled Sadila House completely, so as previously arranged I spent the night at a nearby B&B, Leo's Place.
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Tuesday, October 2
Most of us arose this morning before 5 a.m. After a quick breakfast of eggs and toast, Leo dropped me back at Sadila House, where everyone else was enjoying breakfast. The morning dawned clear with a few high, fleecy clouds. We left Sadila House for the airport at 6:30 a.m. and arrived in plenty of time to check our bags, browse the airport shops, and pick up some snacks before our 8:30 a.m. flight to Tobago.
Our 20-minute inter-island flight took us over Galleon's Passage to Crown Point International Airport. Caribbean Martin was the first species we saw in Tobago, with the ever-present soaring flocks of Magnificent Frigatebirds being the second species. At the tiny Crown Point baggage claim area we retrieved our luggage, loaded it into a waiting pickup truck, and waved goodbye as it headed to our home for the next four days, the Cuffie River Nature Retreat near Runnemede. Our driver, Anthony Bruce, was waiting for us with a spacious maxi-taxi. After a brief pause to visit the washrooms we boarded Anthony's maxi and began birding.
Tobago is a quaint island. Everything seems intimate. Driving from place to place on the south end is a matter of a few minutes at most. Our first stop was only two miles away at a very birdy spot called the Bon Accord lagoons, four ponds separated by grassy dikes [B, W]. In the golden leather fern, Acrostichum aureum, and other marsh vegetation on the south side of the street we spotted Green Herons, familiar from back home; Southern Lapwings, plump shorebirds with a startlingly gaudy wing pattern in flight; Wattled Jacanas with toes so long the birds can walk on lily pads without sinking; and Cattle Egrets, appropriately fraternizing with cattle and snatching up insects flushed by their hooves. Short-tailed Swifts swooped very low and close to us, vacuuming up flying insects. Gazing through or over the chain-link fence that surrounded the enclosure, we found Anhingas, also called Snakebirds; a flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks standing on a concrete cross dike; and about 30 more species, including Pectoral Sandpiper [B, G]. By far the most unusual sighting was of a pair of Buff-breasted Sandpipers foraging close by in the grass. Gene and Neal obtained fine shots of those birds [G, N1, N2]. The images were duly submitted to the T&T Rare Birds Committee. Also unusual were the 160 migrating Broad-winged Hawks circling overhead in three separate 'kettles'.
After examining the ponds we followed a trail along a canal to its mouth at the tranquil Caribbean [W1, W2]. Among the species we found were a nondescript Scrub Greenlet, a vireo relative, one of our dozen or so "target" species found on Tobago but not on Trinidad. Both male [B] and female [B] Barred Antshrikes made appearances. The 30-foot-long aerial roots descending from red mangrove trees along the canal were quite impressive. We also had good looks at Tricolored Heron, Whimbrel, Brown-crested Flycatcher, countless fiddler crabs, and the lovely, calm Caribbean. Near the maxi a local crab trapper showed us one of his recent catches [W]. In the roadside ditches were a variety of shorebirds, including a single Stilt Sandpiper that allowed close views from the maxi.
At midmorning we left Bon Accord and drove to the Pennysaver grocery store on Milford Road. Participants always welcome this stop because Pennysaver maintains an Arctic-like temperature. Here we sampled local beverages and stocked up on snacks.
We drove east to a Hilton hotel/golf course complex called Tobago Plantations. The lake at the entrance to the area hosted diving Least Grebes and fishing Anhingas while the grassy margins held Common Moorhen and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks [B]. Along the entrance drive was a female Red-breasted Blackbird, perhaps the only individual of that species on Tobago at that time. We spent an hour exploring the productive Tobago Plantations sewage lagoons, where we found more Least Grebes, large numbers of Green Herons, more whistling-ducks, a lone Blue-winged Teal, a flock of White-cheeked Pintail, and at least two Purple Gallinues. We also found some of the more common species of tanagers, including Blue-gray [B] and Palm. Several species of shorebirds were present, including Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and numbers of Semipalmated Sandpipers [B].
At lunchtime we drove north to the Grafton Caledonia Nature Sanctuary, to which Regina Dumas, owner/manager of Cuffie River, had kindly agreed to have our boxed lunched delivered. In the tranquil setting of a converted cocoa shed we enjoyed sandwiches of homemade bread with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers; fresh bananas; a current cake, dense with a mild flavor; and boxed fruit drinks and cold water. A full-grown boa constrictor that was coiled on a bench in the men's room surprised one of the participants [B]. I was able to borrow Barb's cane to lift it and move it outside. I estimated that it weighed 15 pounds.
After lunch we hiked slowly along the eastern trail, getting excellent, close views of many wonderful new species. Among the best species we found on this trail were Pale-vented Pigeon, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-fringed Antwren, Fuscous Flycatcher, and Blue-backed Manakin. We also watched a vociferous fledgling Shiny Cowbird being fed by its foster parent, a diminutive House Wren. At the 4 p.m. bird feeding, scores of doves and chachalacas flocked to the feeding tables, affording fabulous photo opportunities. Afterwards we boarded the maxi, and Anthony drove us through some spectacular hilly areas in central Tobago and through the town of Runnemede to the Cuffie River Nature Retreat.
Cuffie River features a 2-mile-long entrance road that provides an amazing sense of privacy, sufficient to warrant leaving the doors to the rooms open at night. Regina greeted us and assigned us to our spacious, welcoming rooms [B]. Afterwards, in the remaining daylight we viewed a pair of Rufous-breasted Wrens, several Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, our first White-necked Jacobin hummingbirds, and pairs of Orange-winged Parrots screeching and flying from ridge to ridge.
Daylight during our trip was basically 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a brief bit of dawn and dusk. Thus dinner this evening, as on all evenings, was a nocturnal affair. We enjoyed this repast at a long table in the open-air dining room on the first floor of the inn. Out front, two White-tailed Nightjars used the mercury vapor lamp as a McDonald's, catching flying insects attracted to the light. Food from the adjacent kitchen emerged through two pass-throughs to women who delivered it to the tables. Dinner this night consisted of pumpkin soup, roast lamb, mashed potatoes with a tangy cheese sauce, something like corn fritters with colorful bits of green pepper, and fresh shredded salad with homemade dressing. Along with lots of cold water, some of us had beer, while others had wine. For dessert we had tangerine/coconut and other exotic flavors of ice cream.
Afterwards we retired to the sitting room to conduct our first nightly tally rally. We'd gotten off to a good start, having seen 76 species of birds on our first day in Trinidad & Tobago.
Species new for the trip were Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Common Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Semipalmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, White-tipped Dove, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Orange-winged Parrot, Smooth-billed Ani, White-tailed Nightjar, Short-tailed Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Blue-backed Manakin, Red-eyed "Chivi" Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Caribbean Martin, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Bare-eyed Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Black-faced Grassquit, Yellow Warbler, Shiny Cowbird, and Carib Grackle.
I slept with my patio doors wide open, as I suspect all of us did. I also left the door to my room propped open with a rock, which allowed a very pleasant night breeze to pass through the room. I saw no mosquitoes in my room at any time while at Cuffie River.
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Wednesday, October 3
Tobago: Cuffie River Nature Retreat
Today we had a rather rare opportunity for a birding tour — a full, leisurely day to explore the trails in the area of our lodgings, the Cuffie River Nature Retreat. On most days of the tour we would be leaving early and not returning until dark.
Most of the group gathered in front of the inn at 6:30 a.m. for an optional pre-breakfast bird walk along the Cuffie River entrance road. A variety of hummingbirds were already partaking of the nectar at the hummingbird feeders in front of the inn. We walked slowly down the entrance road for several hundred yards and then dallied at the bridge over the Cuffie River watching Rufous-vented Chachalacas flying from tree to tree, looking like Hoatzins. We continued familiarizing ourselves with the Tobago specialties — Red-crowned Woodpecker, White-fringed Antwren, Blue-backed Manakin, Scrub Greenlet, Caribbean Martin, and Black-faced Grassquit. I heard a very distinctive "tu-tu-tu-tu" in the distance. As soon as I heard it, I recognize the call and was able to lure it into view. It was by far the best bird of the morning, an adult male White-winged Becard, a rare species on Tobago. As we were viewing it, the resident naturalist at Cuffie River, Desmond Wright, drove up and was able to view it with us as it perched not more than 30 feet away.
We gradually wandered back to the inn, where we enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, fresh fruit juice, and coffee.
After breakfast Desmond led us on an interesting hike through second-growth forest and beside towering groves of bamboo [B]. We hiked along the entrance drive to the head of a trail on the south side of the road. After a brief bit of clambering over rubble where a small landslide had covered the trail, we followed the old donkey path back in the direction from which we'd come. As it leveled out, the trail looped to the south and then to the west.
We followed this mostly level 3-mile trail over hill and dale, birding wherever we found avian activity. An adult Broad-winged Hawk soared up and away over the trees. Pale-vented Pigeon and White-tipped Doves were plentiful. The squawk of Orange-winged Parrots was a constant companion. It seemed like every 100 yards brought another Blue-crowned Motmot and Rufous-tailed Jacamar [B] into sight, both species often with insect prey in their long bills. We practiced identifying birds by call, especially such species as Scrub Greenlet, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, White-fringed Antwren, and Rufous-breasted Wren, all of which were more easily heard than seen.
By lunchtime the bird activity had quieted down. The drone of cicadas provided the main acoustical accompaniment to our hiking. The trail eventually rejoined the entrance road about a mile from the inn. We follow it back to Cuffie River, arriving at about 1:30 p.m.
We showered and then enjoyed a lunch of lasagna, garden salad with homemade dressing, and ice cream for dessert. The afternoon was free for individual exploration, catching up on postcards, relaxing, and snoozing. I use the time to explore the vegetation along the river for various sorts of insects. My primary goal was to collect snail-killing flies (family Sciomyzidae). Shore flies (family Ephydridae) were plentiful but I found no snail-killing flies. As I waded first downstream and then upstream I found very colorful crayfish, abundant minnows, inquisitive motmots, and no mosquitoes. Returning to the bridge, I found several members of the group at the bridge over Cuffie River [B] watching for kingfishers, while Blair, Gene, and Neal used their cutting-edge optics to photograph birds [B]. Later the entire group participated in another bird walk before heading back to the inn to clean up for dinner.
This evening we enjoyed broiled red snapper, fried plantain, steamed vegetables, and ice cream. At our tally rally we came up with a total of 43 species seen during the day, including nine that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 85. Species new for the trip were Gray-rumped Swift; Green Kingfisher; Plain-brown Woodcreeper; Ochre-bellied, Fuscous, and Brown-crested Flycatchers; White-winged Becard; Crested Oropendola; and Giant Cowbird.
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Thursday, October 4
Tobago: Little Tobago Island
As I was dressing at dawn today I heard the unmistakable scream of a bird in great distress. Rushing outside my second-floor room I looked down about 20 feet to the grassy hillside below to see a flurry of activity. A young boa constrictor was quickly looping its body around a wildly flapping motmot on the ground. I raced down the stairs shouting, "A snake has grabbed a motmot!" By the time I reached the pair, the snake had encircled the motmot with five coils of its body. The motmot's crimson eye was wide open, its beak was stretched wide, revealing serrated edges. The snake's mouth was clasped on one of the motmot's thighs. I grasped the snake behind its head, lifted the entire mass, and carried it to the front of the inn. By this time the motmot had died.
The snake was about 3-1/2 feet long, the diameter of my thumb, and drab brown and white except for the last few inches of its tail, which were brightly colored and far more contrasting. It was much too small to have swallowed the motmot. I think the bird had dropped to the ground thinking that the snake's tail was prey and that the snake had attacked in self defense. Several of the participants photographed the awful sight [B]. After a few minutes it released the motmot and crawled away into the bushes. We examined the exquisitely colored motmot in the hand. Many of its feathers were still in papery sheaths, indication that it was a juvenile.
Birding on our pre-breakfast walk produced about 30 species, approximately the same as yesterday and in similar numbers except for the motmots. A group of about 20 of them assembled quietly in the trees above the bridge. I'd never seen such a large group. One could almost imagine that they had gathered to mourn the demise of one of their own. A female Red-legged Honeycreeper, our first sighting of the species, was the best bird of the morning.
Breakfast at Cuffie River today consisted of toast made from thick homemade bread, bacon, scrambled eggs, granola and other kinds of cereals, slices of watermelon and pineapple, delicious omelettes, hotdog-size Vienna sausages, fresh fruit juice, and coffee. A brisk shower during breakfast was the first precipitation of the trip.
At 8:30 a.m. we boarded Anthony's maxi. What luxury to have a VCR aboard a maxi! As we proceeded up the leeward side of the island we watched a Malcolm Rymer video, Jacamars, Jacobins & Johnny Jump-Up, which included my Birder's Guide to Trinidad and Tobago as a "must have" book for visitors to Tobago.
Turning east at the fishing village of Parlatuvier [B], we climbed the Roxborough-Bloody Bay Road up to the Main Ridge, proceeded down the other side to Roxborough on the Atlantic, and then followed the Windward Road northeast to Speyside and the Blue Waters Inn.
I'd asked my friend, Wordsworth Frank, to have his glass-bottomed boat ready to depart at 10:30 a.m. We arrived about 20 minutes late, which actually is right on time in Tobago. We made use of the washrooms, bought postcards and cold beverages, and then walked to the end of the concrete pier to board the glass-bottomed boat. Our boatmen for the day were Dion Adams, "Zee", and an older fellow whose name I didn't get. We departed at 11 a.m. and crossed to the lee side of Goat Island, where we viewed the rich marine life on a coral reef, then passed around the south end of Goat Island and made a straight run for Little Tobago Island. We made the 2-mile crossing in relatively calm seas in less than 20 minutes. As we approached Little Tobago Island we spotted two Brown Noddy terns fluttering along the shoreline and then had exceptionally close views of several of them standing on the black shoreline rocks. We also spotted a Belted Kingfisher, an uncommon winter visitor from the north. Dick spotted the first Crested Oropendola.
We tied up to the concrete pier and disembarked [B, W]. The day was already hot. I looked hopefully overhead for tropicbirds but saw none. The leeward side of Little Tobago Island was very humid, as it always is. Huge Anthurium hookeri plants dwarfed us as we climbed the 140 steps along the trail that led to the former warden's cottage. Along the way I pointed out Gumbo Limbo or Tourist Tree, Bursera simaruba, whose name comes from its red peeling bark, and Silver Thatch Palm, Cothrinax argentata. Chickens (Red Jungle Fowl), which have lived independently of humans on the island for some 150 years, scratched at the dry, crumbly earth. Lizards of various species scurried away at our approach. We found unoccupied burrows of Audubon's Shearwaters under the anthurium root balls, but nobody was home, their 2007 breeding season being over.
Glen and Neal began photographing the birds. Along the way Zee stopped to refill three split-bamboo bird-watering troughs as he pointed out various species of birds and trees and gave us a brief history of the island, including how Sir William Ingram had introduced a flock of Greater Bird-of-Paradise to the island in 1911 and how Hurricane Flora in 1963 had pretty much wiped them out.
Arriving at the top of the trail, we rested near the warden's house, from which point we had a terrific view back across Goat Island to Tobago [B]. A mixed flock of Blue-gray Tanagers, Tropical Mockingbirds, Brown-crested Flycatchers, and Yellow-bellied Elaenias greeted us. From there we proceeded directly to the second of two overlooks, the one with a thatched roof and blessed shade [B1, B2, B3]. Along the trail we stopped to examine clumps of tall green bamboo, gigantic specimens of Anthurium hookeri, and the occasional Virgin Orchid, Caularthron bicornutum, none in bloom at this time of year.
Birds nesting on the windward side of the island have all the food they need right at their doorstep, as several ocean currents meet there, producing an upwelling of nutrients and an endless supply of small fish. When we reached the lookout we could see goose-sized Brown Boobies and Red-footed Boobies in flight and perched on rocks below. After a while we picked out a few distant Red-billed Tropicbirds over the ocean. They gradually moved closer to us, and several of them landed clumsily among the cactus and scrub covering the cliffside to our left. Others passed very close in front of us, allowing terrific photographs to be obtained. To help everyone find and view different birds, we gave names to the most prominent geographic points in the area: "Nancy" was a nearby volcanic spire, and "Fred" was the slope of the island to our left.
After everyone had seen all of the species they had hoped to see, we headed slowly back across Little Tobago Island to the pier. The glass-bottomed boat, which had been anchored some distance from shore, returned to pick us up. Dion did us a great favor on the way back by steering the boat precisely over what may well be the largest brain coral in the world, appropriately named "Einstein". How he can quickly locate a single spot like this in an enormous expanse of open water baffles me.
Our return passage was a bit rougher than our outbound passage had been, but it was more invigorating than frightening. The cooler temperature on return crossing was a welcome relief. Once back at the Blue Waters Inn I bought the boatmen a traditional round of beverages while the group enjoyed ice cold Cokes and other drinks. I then met with the manager to arrange a place for the group to enjoy our packed lunches, which consisted of sandwiches (freshly baked bread with salami, tomato, and cheese), a tasty raisin cake, fresh bananas ("figs"), boxed fruit juice, and cold water. We had lunch near the tennis courts. I was surprised and sorry to see that the large shade trees had been removed from tennis court area. On past trips we had found numerous species of birds perched in their branches. Plenty of other trees remained on the grounds, however.
After lunch we lingered for a little while, watching Royal Terns flying along the beach and a mixed-plumaged Little Blue Heron foraging on the rocks. Our departure was delayed momentarily while I boarded the maxi and encouraged a curious Bananaquit to exit through a window.
We reboarded the maxi, which climbed up the hills above Speyside to the marvelous overlook, where we parked for a photo opportunity. From there we headed to the hamlet of Louis D'Or and followed a narrow road east along the Louis D'Or River to a tiny marsh. In this area we found Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, an adult Little Blue Heron, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Scrub Greenlet, and a flock of sheep with two newborn lambs in a fenced area. We returned to Cuffie River by way of the Windward Road to Mount St. George and then across Tobago through the town of Moriah and back to Runnemede. One of our White-tailed Nightjars made its thin, high-pitched whistle in greeting.
We'd seen 56 species during the day, including nine that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 94. Species new for the trip were Red-billed Tropicbird, Red-footed Booby, Brown Booby, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Brown Noddy, Streaked Flycatcher, and Red-legged Honeycreeper.
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Friday, October 5
Tobago: Main Ridge
An early morning departure is important if one is to arrive at a prime birding spot at the best time of day to see the most species. Thus it was just after dawn and after a savory breakfast of bacon/sausage melange, scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh fruit juice when we boarded Anthony's maxi and left Cuffie River. We drove past a 130-foot Kapok or Ceiba, Ceiba pentandra, tree along the road, amazed at the 40-foot circumference of its buttressed roots. We drove directly to the Gilpin Trace trailhead, the highest elevation attainable by road in the Main Ridge. Anthony watched us disappear down the rainforest trail into the gloom. In deep shade we birded quietly along the trail, stopping frequently to look and listen. Philodendrons of several varieties, including Swiss-cheese philodendron, climbed the towering trees. Tree ferns overhung the trail, and a prehistoric fernlike plant called Spikemoss or Selaginella covered the steep trail sides.
As we walked I pointed out tropical plants and insects along the trail, including members of the berry-producing melastome family, popular with birds, and a Costus species with a thick, reddish, tubular flower stalk, locally called Red-hot Poker. Very conspicuous were black-and-green moths with long white swallowtails, the White-tailed Patch (Page). Mosquitoes were present in small numbers, tiny but persistent.
Birds were unusually scarce this morning. With difficulty we located such species as Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, and White-necked Thrush but little else. This was not at all typical in my experience along Gilpin Trace. Making a command decision, rather than continue along Gilpin Trace I opted to head back to the maxi and drive to a much less used second trail [B]. As it is on the opposite side of the road from Gilpin Trace, jokingly called "Niplig" Trace, which is "Gilpin" spelled backwards.
One of the most common birds along this trace was a Tobago specialty, Blue-backed Manakin [B]. At times we had as many as four males in view simultaneously. Rufous-breasted Hermit hummingbirds were surprisingly common, squeaking loudly as they blazed past us at waist height. Other conspicuous species included the ubiquitous Palm, Blue-gray, and White-lined Tanagers. Several Venezuelan Flycatchers called in the distance but could not be coaxed into view. We birded slowly along this trail for several hours before returning to the maxi. Along the trail we found many ripe figs [B] that had fallen or been knocked to the ground by feeding parrots. Back at the maxi we found a local ice cream vendor, Parrotman, waiting for us near the maxi. Needless to say, he did a very brisk business during the next few minutes [B].
Anthony drove us to the top of the ridge to a forestry building on an overlook that offered a panoramic view of the Caribbean and the Main Ridge. Here we enjoyed our packed lunch of sandwiches of homemade bread with sausage or baloney and cheese with cucumber, fresh fruit, boxed fruit juice, and bottled water. For dessert we had cake. The restroom at this stop was particularly welcome [B].
After lunch we retraced our morning route a few miles, stopping to bird along the road [B] before reaching the Gilpin Trace trailhead. Even though it was early afternoon, the birdlife was much more evident now that it had been early in the morning. Our target species included the vanishingly rare White-tailed Sabrewing hummingbird, which we were able to find about one mile down the trail. A male flew in and perched on a tiny twig about six feet above us [B]. We also had excellent, prolonged views of normally retiring species such as Plain Antvireo and Stripe-breasted Spinetail, and we heard but did not spot a tiny White-throated Spadebill. A gorgeous male Golden-olive Woodpecker remained perched on the side of a tree long enough for everyone to obtain excellent views, and an American Redstart provided the final new bird for the day. All in all we had an excellent afternoon exploring this unique ravine, the only spot on Tobago that was not ravaged by Hurricane Flora in 1963.
Back at Cuffie River, we enjoyed watching the constant flow of hummingbirds. It was fascinating to compare the gaudy plumages of the more colorful species with the somber tones of the Rufous-breasted Hermit [B]. We also studied a male White-lined Tanager that had molted nearly all of its brown juvenal feathers, replacing them with jet black ones [B].
At our after-dinner tally we determined that we'd seen 53 species during the day, including 11 that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 105. Species new for the trip were White-tailed Sabrewing, Black-throated Mango, Collared Trogon, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Plain Antvireo, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Wren, Yellow-legged Thrush, White-necked Thrush, and American Redstart.
A special treat this evening was a spectacular performance on the steel drum by Tobago's virtuoso performer, Tony Williams, of Pan Jumbie Enterprises in Bon Accord, Tobago. He played a series of songs that demonstrated the complex harmonies that are possible with this Trinidad-originated instrument. Besides playing multiple parts simultaneously, he played it backwards and even while it was spinning. Afterwards he showed the group the arrangement of notes on the drum surface and told us an amazing amount of facts about pan music in general. Here is 20 seconds of the music he played [W].
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Saturday, October 6
Trinidad: Asa Wright Nature Centre
This was our last morning at the Cuffie River Nature Retreat. We were sad to leave, as everything had been perfect during our stay. Each participant probably had gained several pounds and added several species to their life list. After another fine breakfast of cereal, a variety of sausages, scrambled eggs, toast, and fresh fruit juice, we bade farewell to our congenial hostess, Regina, boarded Anthony's maxi at 7:15 a.m., and headed down the entrance road. On the Runnymede a flock of more than 40 Caribbean Martins were perched on the power lines. We proceeded to Scarborough and then toward the airport. We were well ahead of schedule, so we took advantage of our time to make an unscheduled stop at the Bon Accord ponds. From the bus we had excellent views over the fence of most of the species we had seen upon our arrival, including the Black Skimmers.
At the airport we learned that our flight had been delayed from 10:15 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. We checked our luggage through to Trinidad and then gathered in an air-conditioned restaurant across the street. Most of the group decided to take one last bird walk in Tobago, down a side street to the Caribbean. From the end of the street we could see a variety of seabirds sitting several hundred yards from us on a concrete pier behind some hotels. I obtained permission for us to walk through Jimmy's Holiday Resort to the pier, where we had excellent views of four species of terns: Common, Roseate, Sandwich, and Royal. The Sandwich Tern was of the "Cayenne" race, sporting an all-yellow, not just a yellow-tipped, bill. A few Brown Noddies were lounging among the white terns. Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds soared over the waves, and a lone Black-faced Grassquit sat in plain sight in a chain-link fence.
The temperature had climbed and our flight time was fast approaching, so I hired a taxi to take most of the group back to the airport, while the rest of us walked the short distance. Our flight was smooth and uneventful. Martyn Kenefick and Ivan, our Trinidad driver, met us at Piarco Airport. We loaded the luggage, climbed aboard, and after riding about an hour in a vehicle in need of some repairs reached the superb Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Manager Ann Sealy and her nephew, Jason Radix, greeted us upon our arrival. At their insistence we proceeded directly to the dining room for a tasty lunch of stewed beef, fresh garden salad, beans of several varieties, and coffee. Afterwards we checked into our rooms, which were in cabins on a hillside, convenient to meals, transportation, and the fabulous bird-rich veranda. We then gathered for half an hour on that veranda, the most heavily birded spot in Trinidad. An avian welcoming committee included a pair of Channel-billed Toucans directly off the veranda.
At 1:30 p.m. we congregated in the main room. Martyn did an excellent job explaining the Centre's operating procedures, our Trinidad itinerary, and just about everything anyone could have wanted to know about how to get along during our stay. As soon as he was finished we all migrated back to the veranda and started ticking off new species. Hummingbirds got top billing as we studied them at arms length. We saw female and immature Tufted Coquette hummingbirds and watched for a gaudy male to appear. A pair of Tropical Kingbirds were in residence, hawking insects from various conspicuous perches. Glen and Neal were clicking away with their cameras, and everyone was having a good time. At 2:30 p.m. we gathered outside below the veranda for a long hike to the Oilbird cave. A resident guide, Barry Ramdass, lectured along the way about the birds and other natural features of the Arima Valley.
Along the way we had excellent views of many species including Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Little Hermit, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat, and White-tailed Trogon. Foraging on the ground in association with ants were Cocoa and Plain-brown Woodcreepers. Our visit to the awesome Oilbird Cave was successful, with everyone getting good looks at multiple birds inside the dark grotto.
On the return trip Barry showed the group a perched Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and a Red-crowned Ant-Tanager. At one point, hanging back behind the rest of the group, Barb, Neal, Barry, and I found a very young fer-de-lance, Bothrops atrox, coiled on the trail. This venomous pit viper species is one of only two species of poisonous snakes in the mountains of Trinidad.
Upon returning to the main house we hit the veranda, as usual, and enjoyed watching all of the birds at the birdfeeders. At 5 p.m. we enjoyed tea and a variety of pastries. From the veranda birders were able to watch a Pearl Kite glide across the valley. Normally seen in the lowlands, this was the highest elevation at which I'd ever seen this tiny raptor, whose behavior resembles that of a Kestrel. Also viewed was a perched adult Double-toothed Kite, a species that behaves very much like a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. On this and other evenings, just before dark several members of the group watched a Short-tailed Nighthawk fly up the valley, darting erratically just above the trees like a large bat. By 6 p.m. it was completely dark and we were enjoying the dangerously strong rum punch provided by the Centre.
For dinner tonight we enjoyed cream of corn soup, prawn crackers, sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, spaghetti, chow mein, and ice cream for dessert.
We'd seen 88 species during the day, including 35 that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 140. Species new for the trip were Black-crowned Night-Heron, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Pearl Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Sandwich Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Oilbird, Little Hermit, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat, White-tailed Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker, Great Antshrike, Black-faced Antthrush, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Bearded Bellbird, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Gray-breasted Martin, Cocoa Thrush, Silver-beaked Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, and Violaceous Euphonia.
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Sunday, October 7
Trinidad: Blanchisseuse Road
We birded quietly from the veranda from before dawn today, relishing the amazing variety of colorful birds streaming through the string of bird feeders below us and at the hummingbird feeders at eye level, mere inches from us. The Centre knows how to treat guests properly, setting out strong hot coffee on the veranda before dawn. After an hour we took a break to enjoy a buffet breakfast consisting of the usual three kinds of cereal, slices of fresh papaya ("pawpaw"), cheese, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit juice, and coffee.
Immediately after breakfast we left the Centre in two vehicles -- Martyn's SUV and the van Ivan had used to transport us from the airport. Ivan's vehicle proved to have an exhaust leak that resulted from the rear doors having been bent slightly. They no longer provided an air-tight seal, so exhaust was being sucked into the interior of the maxi as we drove. Ivan responed to the situation by replacing this maxi the next day with a far larger, more comfortable one while he had the leaking one repaired.
Our destination today was Blanchisseuse Road, at which the AWNC entrance drive ends. We headed north about two miles to the crest of the Northern Range, the easternmost extension of the Andes Mountains. We drove directly to the very top of the road that leads to the Textel microwave station atop Morne Bleu, a high elevation spot where birders sometimes find rare species. The view from there is fabulous. To the west you can see the Gulf of Paria and the Caroni Swamp. To the south you can see the petroleum refineries at Pointe-à-Pierre and beyond, all the way to San Fernando Hill National Monument. To the southeast you can see the Central Range. To the east you can see the long rainforest-covered crest of Morne Bleu stretching into the distance. What did we see today? Only thick fog in all directions. We searched for the Trinidad Piping-Guans that are seen here occasionally, but we found none. We also dipped on Speckled Tanager, another high elevation species. Not an auspicious start for the day, but better things lay ahead.
We rode the maxi back down to the bottom of the drive, disembarked, and watched as Ivan and Martyn left in the maxi to park about a mile farther along Blanchisseuse Road. The visibility was fair, so we walked and birded for about a mile on this relatively flat stretch of road. A Scaled Pigeon made an appearance [B], and a noisy flock of Lilac-tailed Parrotlets flew over, fast and high, followed later by an equally noisy flock of Blue-headed Parrots [B]. Collared Trogon was a good find here [B], along with a foraging flock or two that included Golden-fronted Greenlets, Streaked Xenops, and another American Redstart. Martyn rejoined us [B], having walked back from where Ivan had parked the maxi. He helped the group spot a furtive Black-faced Antthrush on which we probably spent 20 minutes, and a very rare species indeed, Black-whiskered Vireo.
Farther along the road we parked at the junction of Las Lapis Trace, which leads down into the Lopinot Valley west of the Arima Valley, in which we were staying. This was another high elevation site that often produces unusual species. We followed Las Lapis Trace for about an hour, past a 90° bend, and headed south into the Lopinot Valley. Here we picked up Slaty-capped Flycatcher, more Collared Trogons, Forest Elaenia, and both light and dark morphs of Short-tailed Hawk. A few distant Golden-headed Manakins were visible at their traditional lek deep in the forest. Martyn describes a Golden-headed Manakin as "a little black furry gonk with its head dipped in egg yoke." Butterflies were a highlight of this walk, with excellent views being obtained of Blue Emperor morpho, Postman, Sweet Oil, and other large, colorful tropical species.
Before lunch we made one more stop, this time at the junction with Brasso Seco Road, where we had good looks at many species, including another Black-whiskered Vireo. The best birds of the morning had been the two Black-whiskered Vireos, Euler's and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, and the Streaked Xenops.
From the Brasso Seco junction we continued along the very sinuous road through the tiny hamlet of Morne Le Croix to a thatched shelter for lunch, which consisted of a hot rice pilaf with large chunks of beef, fresh garden salad with a homemade mayonnaise dressing, watermelon slices, fresh fruit juice, and cold water. While enjoying our lunch we watched for Yellow-rumped Cacique, a species that during the first part of the year sometimes colonizes a lone pine tree within sight of the shelter. None showed up during our lunch, but we had the best view imaginable of a very close Euler's Flycatcher [B], the only Empidonax flycatcher in Trinidad.
Afterwards we returned to the Centre, cleaned up, and then headed for the veranda to enjoy another couple of hours of birding there or along the entrance drive or the trails. Seeing a lone Fork-tailed Palm-Swift was a surprise at that elevation. They're far more common in the lowlands, where they live in close association with, and nest in, Moriche palms.
We enjoyed our usual 4 p.m. tea and pastries and our 6 p.m. killer rum punch, then retreated to our bungalows to clean up for dinner. Tonight we were treated to roast lamb, a whipped starch concoction of taro, potatoes, and yams, a lentil/carrot dish, fresh garden salad with Italian dressing, and Papaya Bavaria for dessert.
We'd seen 80 species during the day, including 25 that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 165. Species new for the trip were Little Tinamou, Common Black Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Blue-headed Parrot, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Green Hermit, Streaked Xenops, White-flanked Antwren, White-bellied Antbird, Forest Elaenia, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Euler's Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Black-whiskered Vireo, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Long-billed Gnatwren, Speckled Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Tropical Parula, Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow Oriole.
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Monday, October 8
Trinidad: Sudama Steps, Brickfields, Waterloo, Orange Valley
Having a very quiet first breakfast of toast and coffee this morning at the uncivilized hour of 4 a.m. was quite a change for us. We boarded the maxi and made off down Blanchisseuse Road, through sleeping towns at the foot of the mountains and far south to the city of San Fernando before the sun rose. This was a different landscape than any we had seen before. Sugar cane grew on rolling hills for miles around us, with an occasional oil derrick pump slowly bowing and rising in the fields. We passed through the village of La Romain and a few tiny one-house-on-each-side villages before stopping along a mangrove-lined river. Near the bus stood a roofed concrete platform with steps leading down to the river, the ediface that give the place the name "Sudama Steps".
Green-rumped Parrotlets foraged in a nearby tree, and several landed close by, providing excellent photo opportunities. A derelict washroom amid overgrown brush provided a strange experience for those who tried to use the building as cover for their personal needs. Cameras were readied, binoculars were strapped on, and with the sun at our backs we began our birding trek along the river, which empties into the South Oropouche. We walked for about a mile with the canal on our right and a vast expanse of marsh on our left, across an irrigation ditch. We spotted Yellow-hooded and Red-breasted Blackbirds in the marsh and a steady supply of Yellow-chinned Spinetails in the marsh grass and along the path. Striated Herons were common along the ditch [B]. In the mangroves flitted several birds, tiny things with long, flattened bills — Spotted Tody-Flycatchers.
Some of the most common species in the marsh were Pied Water-Tyrant and White-headed Marsh-Tyrant. A huge Ringed Kingfisher flew over us early in our walk, and an amazing number of Fork-tailed Flycatchers were flying east from the Oropuche Swamp, at least 100. A female Masked Yellowthroat was a good find among a small flock of what were probably female Lined Seedeaters, which Martyn had discovered at this spot recently. Lacking a well marked male, we didn't feel comfortable adding Lined Seedeater to our trip list. Also along the path were Bicolored Conebills, small grayish-blue birds that are partial to mangroves.
Far out in the marsh we could barely make out the long, grayish neck of a Pinnated Bittern projecting above the grass. As we continued to watch it, the bittern straightened up, exposing more of its neck. Eventually we found three of these cryptic birds, including one in flight. A dark, blindingly fast raptor jetting across the marsh proved to be the only Bat Falcon of the trip. A swallow that showed a narrow band across its breast turned out to be a Bank Swallow, uncommon in Trinidad. Yellow Warbler and Northern Waterthrush were the most common species in the mangroves, and a pair of Red-capped Cardinals was a nice find. At the far end of our walk we found an obliging Least Bittern teed up atop a weed stalk. It remained in view for a long time, flying from one perch to another. During the morning we observed four Long-winged Harriers, including two immatures, light-morph and dark-morph adult males, and an adult light-morph female. Being able to compare the suite of plumages was delightful.
We left Sudama Steps at midmorning and headed into Gulf City, just outside San Fernando, where we feasted on a late breakfast of doubles from our traditional streetside vendor. This was a first for most participants. Doubles are flat fried pieces of dough, two pieces overlapped like a fat figure eight, atop which is applied a mango paste, split channa (chickpeas), and hot pepper sauce. I ordered "slight hot" for everyone, which meant very little of the incendiary pepper sauce. Each person also enjoyed a cold beverage — carbonated pear, orange, or an old-fashioned Coke (= made with cane sugar, not beet sugar).
From Gulf City we headed back north to Freeport, where we stopped for ice cream at Donut Boys while Martyn made lunch reservations for us at Jenny's Kitchen Corner, a local eatery known for its excellent roti. A roti is a staple Trinidadian food prepared by stuffing rolled dough with ground yellow split peas, cumin, garlic, pepper, and beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish, shrimp, conch, potatoes, or vegetables, and then sealing and rolling it to distribute the filling.
Along the Gulf of Paria we birded from an area known as Brickfield, where the low tide provided excellent conditions for viewing shorebirds. The mud flats provided us with views of many species of herons and egrets, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Among them were nice species such as American Golden-Plover, Whimbrel, and a South American specialty, Collared Plover [B]. A Lesser Black-backed Gull relaxed some distance from us on the mud. It was blazingly hot in the sun, so we were glad to find shade about half a mile south of us at a famous Hindu temple built over the Gulf of Paria at the end of a long pier, an area known as Waterloo. The temperature dropped as a brief shower cooled the area. Here, as we gazed through our telescopes from the shade of coconut palms, we found large numbers of Large-billed Terns and a single Yellow-billed Tern perched on pilings [B], Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons perched in the mangroves, and more shorebirds. Across the Gulf of Paria we could make out the islands between Trinidad and Venezuela and the distant cloud-covered peaks on the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela.
Our last birding stop of the day was at a very long pier at Orange Valley, where mudflats on both sides of us provided excellent views of shorebirds that included at least two Wilson's Plovers and another "Cayenne" Tern. Martyn showed the group how Western Sandpipers differ from Semipalmated Sandpipers in their feeding style, the former species probing the mud while the latter picks at prey items on the surface. Carl walked all the way to the end of the pier looking for a reported Flamingo, which turned out to be the local name for Scarlet Ibis. The bird had been seen earlier but had departed, as we did, tearing ourselves away from this fascinating spectacle and returning to Jenny's [B]. Here we devoured our savory rotis, washed down with lemon-lime bitters. After lunch we walked to Donut Boys for another helping of ice cream. You've gotta love a group that can eat ice cream several times a day.
We headed back to AWNC, where we enjoyed a leisurely nature hike with resident naturalist Cherryann and an apprentice, Akela. We headed down the hill to the White-bearded Manakin lek. Several of these black-and-white, puffy fellows were on their dancing perches, flying from one twig to another with loud snaps of their wings. On our return we stopped to view a very interesting sight — two male Violaceous Trogons in some sort of a duel along the trail. Both of them sat facing each other on the ground, occasionally making feints toward the other [B1]. They seemed almost oblivious to us. This was a behavior none of us had witnessed before. Eventually our presence broke up whatever trance they were in, and they flew up into the nearby bushes [B2].
Later in the afternoon one of the highlights was watching a Short-tailed Hawk and a distant Ornate Hawk-Eagle circling over a distant ridge. The hawk-eagle landed long enough to be viewed through the telescopes, although making it out took some work. We enjoyed our tea and our 6 p.m. rum punch, then headed back to our bungalows to clean up for dinner, which tonight consisted of christophene soup, breaded chicken, scalloped potatoes, an ocra/pumpkin mix, baked beans, and freshly made cole slaw. For dessert we had ice cream for the third time today.
We'd seen 126 species during the day, including 35 that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 200. Species new for the trip were Pinnated Bittern, Least Bittern, Striated Heron, Long-winged Harrier, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Merlin, Bat Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, American Golden-Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson's Plover, Collared Plover, Willet, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-billed Tern, Large-billed Tern, Band-rumped Swift, Violaceous Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, White-winged Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Bicolored Conebill, Red-capped Cardinal, Grayish Saltator, Masked Yellowthroat, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird.
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Trinidad: Aripo Livestock Station, Nariva, Waller Field
Today we enjoyed an early morning walk with Martyn along the entrance road. The air was crisp and clear, and birds were vocal and abundant. The best bird of the trip appeared as we rounded a corner, as Martyn pointed to a bird on the ground about 50 feet ahead of us, the owner of a fist-sized burrow beside us in the roadside bank. This skulker of a bird, Gray-throated Leaftosser, is a species we rarely see during our trips. A small, chunky, violet-and-yellow Trinidad Euphonia was also new to our trip list. Euphonias are partial to mistletoe and help these parasitic plants propagate by wiping off their sticky seeds in the treetops.
We boarded the maxi, left the Centre, drove down Blanchisseuse Road almost to Arima, and turned east onto the Eastern Main Road to the Aripo Livestock Station. The security guard let us enter, and we drove slowly through a disinfectant bath. At the first stop we found open-field species such as Red-breasted Blackbird [B], White-winged Swallow [B], White-headed Marsh-Tyrant [B], and a scattered flock of about 30 Grassland Yellow-Finches, some of them nicely teed up and in good view. This is the latest species to have colonized the island of Trinidad from South America. We found a number of spectacular Savanna Hawks, rusty brown with bold black-and-white tails and extremely long legs, typical of grassland predators. We had the immense good fortune to find yet another Pinnated Bittern here. Other species we picked up as we walked along the asphalt drive were Wattled Jacana, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, and a bird that at the time we had to put down as "snipe spp.", as we could not determine whether it was a Wilson's or a nearly identical South American Snipe [B]. After the trip, an expert examined the photos taken of the bird and identified it as a South American Snipe, a life bird for everyone on the trip, including me.
Around the cattle barns we studied the Buffalypso, a breed of water buffalo whose name was coined from combining "buffalo" and "calypso", the indigenous music of Trinidad and Tobago. Our driver was very good at following us with the maxi at a reasonable distance. We continued to bird our way up the eastern hill, walking a considerable way and seeing more of the usual species along with three more American Golden-Plovers in the freshly plowed field, where they were quite well camouflaged. The habitat at the top was very pleasant, a shady 20-foot-high shrub forest with a few larger trees. Here we spotted a distant pair of White Hawks circling over the foothills and a pair of Common Black-Hawks shortly thereafter. We worked for a long time attracting a hard-won Rufous-browed Peppershrike. Astonishingly, yet another Black-whiskered Vireo appeared in the branches above us. Also flitting in the treetops was a Blackpoll Warbler.
From the Aripo Livestock Station we headed east to the town of Valencia for a much needed rest stop at the Ponderosa Restaurant. Everyone had cold drinks, and I picked up some cookies and crackers for the group. We then began the long, straight drive to Sangre Grande, passing the seasonally flooded forests of the Aripo Savanna. We skirted around Sangre Grande to the west and arrived at our lunch spot, a park along Manzanilla Bay on the Atlantic Ocean [C1, C2, C3]. We enjoyed mildly spiced shepherd's pie, salad, fruit juice, and cold water. Afterwards we tossed tidbits of leftovers to the bony, wary Third World dogs.
We spent the first half of the afternoon exploring Mayaro Road, which runs through millions of palm trees, parallel with the Nariva River. We crossed over the Nariva River bridge and continued to its mouth, where we stop to examine the sandy peninsula tip. Here we found a resting group of birds that included Least Tern, Sanderling, and a single Red Knot, a species in dire straits because of the dredging of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay in the U.S. A Yellow-headed Caracara was an exciting find, but not as exciting as the adult Crested Caracara that Jeanette spotted perched high in a mangrove. We were able to view it through the scope, and several participants obtained photographs documenting the occurence of this rare species [N].
Our final eastside birding was a slow drive along Kernaham Trace, which runs through the southern end of Nariva Swamp. The first bird we found was a large raptor that Martyn immediately identified as an immature Aplomado Falcon [B, N]. From the maxi we had good views of its whitish superciliary as it perched unsteadily atop a cecropia tree some 100 feet from us before flying off with powerful wingbeats. We continued birding in the area for about an hour, finding the usual marsh birds and water buffalo grazing knee-deep in the marsh.
In late afternoon we headed back north to visit Waller Field, which consists of two long concrete runways and a grid of taxi-ways, part of a World War II U.S. Army base called Fort Reid. The area is under heavy construction, with many of the former taxi-ways and runways being closed. We proceeded to a grove of Moriche palms [B] where we usually find another of our target birds, Red-bellied Macaw, and several other species closely allied with moriche palms. While birding the area [B] and later enjoying rum punch and cake, we found several species that are very partial to morich palms — Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Sulphury Flycatcher, and Epaulet (Moriche) Oriole [B] but, for the first time ever, no macaws. Either the construction at the site had disturbed them, or they had found ripe moriche fruit somewhere else.
Our final bit of birding, done just before dark, was a walk to the south end of the moriche palm grove, where we picked up a first-ever species for my tours — Gray-necked Wood-Rail. We heard their unmistakable "chirin'-co chirin'-co chirin'-co" antiphonal duetting from within the flooded forest. They were close, but tape playback failed to lure them into view before it was too dark to see.
I think that most of us dozed during our ride back to Asa Wright. We arrived, cleaned up, and enjoyed a slightly late (7:30 p.m.) dinner of pork chops, beans, bok choy, fresh garden salad, with ice cream for dessert. At our tally-rally we found that we had seen 123 species during the day, including 19 that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to 219. Species new for the trip were White Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, South American Snipe, Red Knot, Sanderling, Least Tern, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, White-collared Swift, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Sulphury Flycatcher, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Epaulet Oriole, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Trinidad Euphonia.
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Wednesday, October 10
AWNC, Caroni Swamp
Rain was falling as we walked to the main house this morning [B]. Common sense dictated that there would be no pre-breakfast bird walk, so most participants had what Martyn called a "lie-in". Overnight the rains had been torrential, as is usual at night during the rainy season. We had been fortunate at having had no rain interference to our birding throughout the trip. This morning's rain seemed to have little effect on the birds, most of which, such as a Lineated Woodpecker [B], seemed to enjoy bathing in it. The hummingbirds, especially, seemed to relish getting wet. They repeatedly spread their wings and tail, lowered their heads, and then shook the rain off. Only a rain-shy Boat-billed Flycatcher seemed to want to stay dry [B]. Birds were as active as usual at the feeders, including Crested Oropendola [B1] and mixed groups of Purple Honeycreepers and Bananaquits [B2].
The rain lessened as we filed into the dining room to enjoy another leisurely breakfast buffet. By the time we'd finished, the rain had stopped completely and the sun was poking through the clouds [B]. This was the morning of our Bearded Bellbird hunt. We assembled on the veranda and then hiked downhill past the manakin lek until we arrived at the traditional bellbird calling area. During the next hour we were always within hearing range of one or more bellbirds, but try as we might, we couldn't spot a single one. Finally one of them flew to a perch that was visible through the foliage, and everyone had a good look at it. The same bird, or another one, landed even closer and allowed us all to see every feather as it threw its head back and emitted a series of "BOK" calls [B]. Blair captured its display dance on a 48-second video [B]. Carl accurately described the birds as having dreadlock beards.
Mission accomplished, we began our return hike, stopping at one point to view a foraging pair of Golden-crowned Warblers, a species new for the trip. Some participants walked to the stream-fed pond on the property [B1, B2], enjoying the sight of huge flowers such as Torch Ginger, Etlingera elatior [B].
For lunch we enjoyed baked lamb, vegetable rice, "hotel pie" (eggplant), some kind of pinkish beans, and fresh garden salad. Again we had ice cream for dessert.
Following lunch, we organized our equipment and boarded the maxi for an hour-long drive to the Caroni Swamp for one of the trip's highlights — the spectacular evening flight of Scarlet Ibis. Getting there was a challenge, though. The torrential rains had flooded the Arima River, along which runs Blanchisseuse Road. Not far from the Centre, near the entrance to William Beebe's famous Simla research station, we stopped at a flooded stretch of road as the driver debated on the prudence of trying to drive through it. Two other drivers got out of their cars and waded through it, determining it to be only about two feet deep. We proceeded through the water and continued on to Arima, where we encountered terrible traffic because of the flooded roads. We made a quick stop to purchase a replacement air filter for the maxi's wet one and ended up reaching the boat docks about half an hour late. Because of the delay we had to skip a planned visit to the Caroni Swamp Visitors' Centre, where we would have had a good chance at seeing the endemic race of the Clapper Rail.
My 22-year-old friend, Shawn Madoo, was our expert boatman for this evening's excursion. Before we departed down the canal, Shawn and I reviewed the species we wanted to see. He was confident that he could help us find most of them. In fact, almost as soon as we were under way Shawn began picking them out one by one. As a result we had a splendid trip, seeing almost every species we wanted to. He found a Common Potoo, looking very much like a continuation of a branch, a mangrove-loving Green-throated Mango hummingbird, and a Two-toed Sloth (Silky Anteater) curled up in a honey-colored ball, sound asleep.
We finally reached the Scarlet Ibis roost, an extensive area of open water where hammocks of mangroves provide secure places for ibis, herons, and egrets to spend the night. We watched flock after flock of these luminescent birds fly in, along with herons and egrets of all kinds [B]. As Shawn guided the boat back through the labyrinth of mangroves, we were a happy crowd indeed! [B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, C1, C2, C3, C4, C5].
Shawn motored us back to the docks, as a spectacular sunset erupted behind us [B1, B2]. We thanked Shawn profusely for an excellent trip, reboarded the maxi, and rode through rush hour traffic back to the Centre. After cleaning up, we enjoyed our final dinner of the trip, which consisted of curried chicken, buss-up-shut skins, white rice, pumpkin casserole, potatoes, and bhodi (very long green beans), with ice cream for dessert.
We'd seen 80 species during the day, including five that were new for the trip, bringing our trip total to an excellent 224. Species new for the trip were Scarlet Ibis, Common Potoo, Green-throated Mango, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and Golden-crowned Warbler.
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Thursday, October 11
Our final morning in Trinidad was an early one. To be certain of meeting the airport's security regulations, we needed to be at the airport by 6:30 a.m. So with luggage packed and placed outside the bungalow doors for the staff to carry to the waiting pickup, we gathered for another buffet breakfast at 5 a.m. and were in the maxi and ready to leave 15 minutes later. We made it to the airport 10 minutes ahead of time.
With fondness and profound thanks we bid farewell to Martyn, my talented and highly skilled guide, and Ivan, who had safely and comfortably provided transportation for us over so many miles. Not long thereafter, the Mountwood Bird Club members were en route to Houston, while I headed with Martyn back to his house for the next three days.
So as they say in Trinidad & Tobago,
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