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Keith & Judy Archibald, Prescott, Arizona
Dave & Sue Drown, Prescott, Arizona
Val & Sue Grant, Logan, Utah
Art & Lisa Hurt, Atlanta, Georgia
Will & Jo Rountree, Houston, Texas
Tuesday, March 23 - Grounds of the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Our wonderful tropical birding adventure began with excellent views of a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers as well as a Blue-headed Parrot and a Scaled Pigeon from the veranda before breakfast. After a tour orientation by your leader and a "Welcome to the Asa Wright Nature Center" introduction by resident naturalist Elsa Thomas, we birded along the entrance road with Elsa. During our walk we became acquainted or reacquainted with birding in a tropical rainforest. The temperature and humidity both were lower than usual and were very pleasant, but much of Trinidad and Tobago was parched, with no significant rain having fallen since October.
T&T Rare Bird Committee members Martyn Kenefick and Geoffrey Gomes joined us for lunch. Martyn accommodated us by inscribing our field guides. After lunch we had a go-round during which each participant had an opportunity to describe themselves, their birding experience, and their expectations of the tour.
At three o'clock we regrouped and joined resident naturalist Harold Diaz to hike the Discovery Trail in search of the Bearded Bellbirds. Our diligent efforts paid off with excellent views of several males. On our return hike we located a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and view it through the scope as it vocalized. We also enjoyed excellent views of Orange-winged Parrots as they perched above us on bare limbs in the golden light of late afternoon. As on each day of the tour, after dark we completed our day's checklist and had a sumptuous dinner, although not always in that order.
Wednesday, March 24 - Southwest and West Coast
At 4:15 a.m., after a hushed breakfast, we left the Centre in Ivan La Rose's maxitaxi, "God's Favour," stopped in Temple Village to pick up local birding expert Barry Ramdass, and headed for the deep southwest. At first light we stopped in Gulf City, where your leader purchased fresh fruit and beverages for the group. At Sudama Steps on the South Oropuche River we luckily nailed all of our target birds within the first 40 minutes, just before a short but heavy rain shower hit. During our stroll we had crippling views of Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, and Black-crested Antshrike at less than 10 feet. When the rain came, we wisely be cited to head to the nearby village of Debe for a second (or was third?) breakfast of a local specialty called doubles.
After filling up on local fare we drove north to Freeport, where we made lunch reservations and used the facilities at Jenny's Restaurant. We then drove to Carli Bay, where we saw Yellow-headed Caracara, Neotropic Cormorant, and a flock of at least 28 Saffron Finches feeding on the ground with Ruddy Ground-Doves. Next we indulged in some air-conditioned birding from the maxi taxi at Orange Valley, where the mudflats held myriad gulls, skimmers, and terns and a few shorebirds. Our first Scarlet Ibises of the trip blazed like neon lights against the brown mud. We visited the Hindu Hanuman Murti complex, and then had a fiery hot lunch of local food at Jenny's, along with the first of many lemon-lime bitters (LLBs). Returning to Asa Wright, we relaxed or birded from the veranda until dinner.
Thursday, March 25 - Northern Range
Our pre-breakfast burning from the veranda yielded Channel-billed Toucans and a pair of Double-toothed Kites in the scope. Our birding began atop Morne Bleu at the TexTel tropospheric scatter station. While birding around the perimeter we had a mouthwatering view of a Common Black-Hawk rising from below us, a duetting pair of Rufous-breasted Wrens, a relatively long view of a Long-billed Gnatwren out in the open, and a flurry of flycatcher activity in the wooded back corner, with Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Tropical Pewee, and Yellow-olive and Fuscous Flycatchers all in the same tree.
We walked halfway down the steep entrance road, catching a few glimpses of Speckled Tanager. Back in the van on Blanchisseuse Road, some participants stayed in the maxitaxi while the rest walked about half a mile along the level road. We then drove to Las Lapas Trace, where we picked up Slaty-capped and Dusky-capped Flycatchers and had a distant view of Golden-headed Manakin at the lek. We lunched at the Paria Junction bus stop and then walked slowly about a mile down the road, finding three Hepatic Tanagers, a rare Brown Violetear, and a Rufous-browed Peppershrike that everyone got to see.
That evening during our tally, a Common Potoo sounded off. It did the same thing most evenings for the rest of our stay at Asa Wright.
Friday, March 26 - East Coast
We were fortunate to have Barry Ramdass join us again for today's excursion. Barry put us a nesting pair of Pearl Kites before we even reached our usual first destination. Thanks to Ivan, we also got onto an adult Gray-headed Kite just lifting off. The Aripo Livestock Station was very dry but yielded most of our target birds, including Trinidad's newest colonist, Grassland Yellow-Finch, and a huge Cocoi Heron. We visited an attractive but birdless park with thatched-roof huts, and then completed a loop that took us back to the entrance. The highlight was watching, from only a few dozen feet away, a Southern Lapwing user body to shade her two downy chicks.
We made the traditional beverage and bathroom stop at the Ponderosa Bar in Valencia. The Ponderosa offered plenty of LLBs and even more decibels of soca music. A long drive to the East Coast was followed by a picnic lunch at Manzanilla Beach. Afterwards we drove slowly south as far as the mouth of the Nariva River, spotting perched raptors and finding a road-killed male American Pygmy Kingfisher on a bridge abutment. Several participants enjoyed raw oysters at a roadside stand at the Nariva River mouth while the rest of us reflected on what we had learned in our epidemiology and parasitology classes.
Because of the extreme drought, your leader chose to forgo the long drive south to the Nariva Swamp. Instead we headed back north to Waller Field, a former American military base, where we were escorted to the Moriche Palm area. We had exceptionally good fortune at this site, finding not only Red-bellied Macaws but also Epaulet (Moriche) Orioles and Sulphury Flycatchers as we sipped our rum punch and watch the sunset.
Saturday, March 27 - Oilbird Cave and Caroni Swamp
Resident naturalist Molly Calderon led us this morning on a hike to see the Oilbirds. Along the way she showed us a Spiny Tree Lizard, Tropidurus plica, helped us identify Sandbox Tree by its thorn-covered bark, showed us how to carve a dolphin from the seed of a tree, and whistled in a gorgeous male Red-crowned Ant-Tanager. The grotto in which the Oilbirds were nesting was deep, dark, thoroughly jungly, and filled with the sound of rushing water. On the vertical cliff face just outside the crevice was an empty nest of Chestnut-collared Swifts. In groups of three we entered the cave with Molly and admired, by the light of Molly's flashlight, the weird Oilbirds. Some were resting on ledges with others and some were alone on their nests. Molly estimated that we saw 17 of the 170 individuals currently in the colony.
After lunch we boarded "God's Favour", picked up Barry again, and headed south again, stopping briefly at the Trincity ponds, where we met a small group of fellow birders from Asa Wright, led by resident naturalist Mukesh Ramdass. About half of the ponds had recently been dredged and held no birds, but the other ponds yielded species such as Purple Gallinule, Striated Heron, White-winged Swallow, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird.
From Trincity we took an overland route through the Caroni rice fields, picking up a "flock" of three Peregrine Falcons harassing a huge flock of Rock Pigeons. Our planned bathroom break at the Caroni Visitors' Center yielded point-blank looks at a pair of the colorful endemic race of Clapper Rail but no bathroom facilities because of the lack of water. We took care of that situation by visiting the facilities near the boat docks.
Even before we boarded our private boat for our evening soirée, we added a pair of eye-popping Red-capped Cardinals to our list as they drank from a pool in the parking lot. Our Caroni Swamp expert and boatmen, Shawn Madoo, took us a short way into the swamp and then tied the boat to some mangroves well giving us a comprehensive introduction to the ecosystem of the swamp. During the next two hours he showed us some magnificent sights as well as such interesting birds as Boat-billed Heron, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Bicolored Conebill, Green-breasted Mango, Common Potoo, and of course the pièce de résistance, the Scarlet Ibis. Drinking rum punch while watching Scarlet Ibis fly in to roost is an unforgettable experience.
En route back to Asa Wright, our driver, Ivan, gave us a wonderful lecture that covered just about everything Trini. His infectious laughter, instigated largely by Val, had become a part of every day for us, and we knew we would miss him later in the trip.
Sunday, March 28 - Southern Tobago
This morning we reluctantly departed the Asa Wright nature Center and caught a 20-minute Caribbean Airlines flight to the island of Tobago. After recovering our luggage at Crown Point Airport, we met our maxitaxi and its driver, Roger James, and headed directly to the Crown Point Mini Mart so I could purchase cold drinks for the morning. Our first stop was at the Bon Accord ponds, where Tobago's first Purple Heron had been seen only minutes before our arrival by a large birding group led by my Tobagp friend Peter Cox. We did not find that bird, but we did find many interesting species in the area, including Least Grebe, stratosphere-high Broad-winged Hawks, three Mangrove Cuckoos, and Scrub Greenlet.
We next stopped at the Pennysaver supermarket for an opportunity to purchase local foods, more cold drinks, and rum for later on. Then it was on to the Tobago Plantations, where a stop at the pond yielded Red-crowned Woodpecker and a very interesting large heron that at first, at a distance, looked like a Great Blue Heron but which showed whitish or light gray thighs, more indicative of a Eurasian stray, the Gray Heron. Subsequent research since I got home leads me to believe that this bird, which we saw again briefly on a different pond, was a juvenile Cocoi Heron. Our birding at the water treatment ponds produced birds mainly in the woods at the far end. As we left the Tobago Plantations, we made a stop suggested by Martyn Kenefick to walk a trail to a pond on which he had recently found Masked Ducks. Our quest was successful. We found for Masked Ducks, a new species for your leader.
For lunch we drove to Store Bay, lined up in front of Miss Alma's stand, ordered a variety of local foods, and spent the next hour eating and investigating various shops and kiosks in this tourist-oriented area. We then drove to the fabulous Adventure Farm, where we spent an hour digesting our lunch while viewing all but one species of the commonly seen Tobago hummingbirds. We also had extremely close views of Red-legged Honeycreeper, Shiny Cowbird, Trinidad (Blue-crowned) Motmot, Barred Antshrike, and all four species of doves on Tobago.
Since we had seen nearly all the species to be seen in the Tobago low lands, we decided to skip the Grafton/ Caledonia Bird Sanctuary and drive directly to the Cuffie River Nature Retreat. By now we were used to our driver, Roger's, laughter, again instigated largely by Val. Everyone simply fell in love with Cuffie River with its enormous rooms, completely open architecture, and especially, its inviting elevated swimming pool. In no time at all most of us were soaking or doing laps in the swimming pool while Val's aromatic cigar smoke wafted over us. What a memorable experience it was watching the puffy clouds slowly take on hues of evening while floating in such a beautiful pool. After dark we watched a White-tailed Nightjar catching insects and returning each time to the same perch on a guy wire just below our balcony.
Monday, March 29 - Grounds of the Cuffie River Nature Retreat
Shouting Rufous-vented Chachalacas obviated the need for an alarm clock each morning while we were at Cuffie River. Interestingly, sometimes our avian alarm clocks sounded off at 4:15 a.m. and then were silent until dawn. This morning our resident naturalist, Desmond Wright, led us on a two-mile hike through the hill country around Cuffie River. Tobago was almost as dry as Trinidad had been, with the vegetation sere and crunchy underfoot. During our four hours of birding we added more new species to our list and had good views of yet another Common Potoo. Desmond clearly demonstrated his knowledge of every species to be seen in the Cuffie River area. He also knew his reptiles, showing us a grass-green Mexican Vine Snake, Oxybelis aeneus.
Following this somewhat grueling loop hike, we had lunch and then a long nap. Late in the afternoon, four of us (Sue Drown, Art and Lisa Hurt, and I) hiked up the initially steep trail across the entrance drive from our lodging. Once we caught our breath where the trail leveled out, we had very good birding. Among the prizes were Olivaceous and Cocoa Woodcreepers, Blue-backed Manakin (immature and adult males and a female), and White-fringed Antwren. Then it was back to the inviting swimming pool, our tally, dinner, and bed.
Tuesday, March 30 - Main Ridge Reserve and Little Tobago Island
On our last day of the trip, Roger drove us northeast to the village of Parlatuvier, and then turned inland until we reached Gilpin Trace, at an elevation of about 1,500 feet. During the morning we walked very slowly a streamside trail in a deep and narrow gorge, finding more Tobago specialties such as Blue-backed Manakin and Venezuelan Flycatcher and finding the nest of a cooperative White-necked Thrush.
We had found most of our target birds before reaching the traditional turning point on the trail, so the consensus was to head back to the maxi taxi and go to lunch. We made one stop en route, at the Speyside overlook, which afforded us an opportunity to purchase locally made jewelry, carvings, and other souvenirs. Lunch at Jemma's Treehouse Restaurant was as delicious as always. We washed down our traditional Tobago Creole meal with plenty of LLBs.
The finale of our tour was an exploration of Little Tobago Island. At the Blue Waters Inn we boarded Frank's glass-bottomed boat, and our boatmen -- Shane, Zelonie (Zee for short), and Roy -- motored two miles across Tyrell's Bay, spotting a Hawksbill Turtle almost as soon as we were underway. On Little Tobago Island we hiked slowly to the midpoint, where a shelter was being constructed for visitors, examining, along the way, burrows made by Audubon's Shearwaters, incredibly bright Tobago race of Blue-gray Tanager, gigantic anthuriums, Anthurium hookeri, and other wonders.
From the first overlook we had views of plenty of breeding-plumaged Laughing Gulls of the Antillean race along with our target species: Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, and Red-footed Booby (both light and dark morphs). A local guide, Ian Eastman, arrived on the scene in time to take most of the group to the thatch-covered second lookout while Sue Drown and Judy Archibald accompanied me on a very challenging, nearly vertical, trail that on previous visits had yielded nests of various species of birds. This time was no different. We found seven young and two adult Red-billed Tropicbirds in nests, watched an adult Brown Booby nuzzling and tending to its fuzzy white, chubby nestling, and had a look through the scope at the only Audubon's Shearwater of the trip. Meanwhile, the rest of the group had seen more tropicbirds and boobies.
When I arrived at the second lookout, I scouted a short side trail and was soon showing the group a young Red-billed Tropicbird on the nest as well as male and female White-tailed Nightjars almost too close to focus on with binoculars, a superb finish to a superb trip.
DAILY ADDITIONS TO TRIP LIST
Tuesday, March 23 - Grounds of the Asa Wright Nature Centre (64 new): Little Tinamou, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Little Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Green-backed (White-tailed) Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, Collared Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Great Antshrike, Forest Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Piratic Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-tailed Tityra, Bearded Bellbird, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, (Tropical) House Wren, Cocoa Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Grayish Saltator, Tropical Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola, Shiny Cowbird, Trinidad Euphonia, and Violaceous Euphonia
Wednesday, March 24 - Southwest and West Coast (58 new): Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Magnificent Frigatebird, Striated Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Scarlet Ibis, Pearl Kite, Long-winged Harrier, Yellow-headed Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, Clapper Rail, Purple Gallinule, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson's Plover, Whimbrel, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Ring-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Yellow-billed Tern, Large-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Smooth-billed Ani, Short-tailed Swift, Ringed Kingfisher, Trinidad (Blue-crowned) Motmot, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Pied Water-Tyrant, Streaked Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, White-winged Swallow, Gray-breasted Martin, Barn Swallow, Bicolored Conebill, Saffron Finch, Blue-black Grassquit, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow Oriole, Carib Grackle, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird
Thursday, March 25 - Northern Range (27 new): Plumbeous Kite, White Hawk, Bat Falcon, Oilbird, Common Potoo, White-collared Swift, Gray-rumped Swift, Green Hermit, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Brown Violetear, Long-billed Starthroat, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, White-flanked Antwren, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Fuscous Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Rufous-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-necked Thrush, Speckled Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Hepatic Tanager
Friday, March 26 - East Coast (22 new): Anhinga, Cocoi Heron, Osprey, Gray-headed Kite, Gray Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Merlin, Southern Lapwing, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Red-bellied Macaw, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Silvered Antbird, Bran-colored Flycatcher, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Sulphury Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and Epaulet (Moriche) Oriole
Saturday, March 27 - Oilbird Cave and Caroni Swamp (9 new): Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Tricolored Heron, Eared Dove, Green-throated Mango, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and Red-capped Cardinal
Sunday, March 28 - Southern Tobago (18 new): Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Masked Duck, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Red-footed Booby, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Broad-winged Hawk, Common Gallinule, Greater Yellowlegs, White-tipped Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed (Chivi) Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Caribbean Martin, and Black-faced Grassquit
Monday, March 29 - Grounds of the Cuffie River Nature Retreat (7 new): White-tailed Nightjar, White-tailed Sabrewing, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-fringed Antwren, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Blue-backed Manakin, and Giant Cowbird
Tuesday, March 30 - Main Ridge Reserve and Little Tobago Island (7 new): Audubon's Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Great Black Hawk, Ruddy Turnstone, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Two good sites to help you identify the lizards seen during the trip: