Trinidad & Tobago
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Friday, February 3: Southern Tobago
All hands on deck! We enjoyed an early breakfast at either Sadila House B&B or at Leos Place and were at the Trinidad airport by 6:45 a.m. for our early flight to Tobago. The day dawned cloudy, but fortunately no rain fell until dinnertime. Our 20-minute flight to Tobago was more comfortable than many of our international flights had been, with a surprising amount of legroom. Once we had arrived at the Tobago airport, newly renamed the Arthur N.R. Robinson Airport, we claimed our luggage, used the airport facilities, and met our driver, Bert Isaac. Bernice spotted the first bird of the trip, a Magnificent Frigatebird soaring overhead. We boarded Berts maxi taxi, made a brief stop for bottles of drinking water, and headed for the nearby Bon Accord ponds.
I had contacted management a week earlier to gain access to the ponds, but as things tend to proceed slowly in the Caribbean, my request had been sluggish in moving through channels. When we arrived at the ponds, we found a crew of groundskeepers busily at work with gas-powered weed-eaters. The perimeter of the ponds and the road edge had been trimmed nicely, but the noise and commotion had chased away all but a few tenacious species such as Cattle Egret and Smooth-billed Ani.
We immediately were treated to point-blank views of a male Black-faced Grassquit. Overhead perched a pair of Tropical Kingbirds, and Eared Doves flew over throughout the morning. We expected the Short-tailed Swifts and Barn Swallows that were scavenging aerial insects but not the four Bank Swallows and certainly not the Southern Rough-winged Swallow; our sighting was one of the very few Tobago records of this species.
Bernice constantly amazed us with her visual acuity. She explained that orthokeratology (look it up!) had corrected her vision to 20/17, better than perfect (20/20). From the number of times that she spotted tiny or distant birds during our trip, usually before anyone else, I would have pegged it at 20/10.
Around the ponds we found Great Egret, Wattled Jacana, Barred Antshrike, Scrub Greenlet, and Gray Kingbird, along with adult and juvenile Ameiva ameiva, a common lizard locally called Zandolie, a corruption of the French les anoles (the lizards). The adults were large and copper-colored, and the juveniles had bright green heads. We also began ticking off butterflies and their allies, starting with the common red-and-black Postman.
Since my visit in October, the ponds had become covered with water lettuce, water hyacinth, and other aquatic plants; thus we found none of the expected waterfowl (White-cheeked Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe).
From the ponds, we walked to end of Mount Pleasant Boulevard, finding Little Blue and Green Herons, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, and Lesser Yellowlegs. A Whimbrel and four Southern Lapwings added to our excitement, and a brief push into the mangroves produced Barred Antshrike and Scrub Greenlet.
We next headed east to the Tobago Plantations, where we surveyed a lake that held more than a dozen Anhinga, a single Neotropic Cormorant (one of only two individuals known to be on Tobago), a wintering male Belted Kingfisher, Common and Purple Gallinules, and a very distant Least Grebe. We also found our first Spectacled Caiman, a freshwater alligator.
We checked out a site where Masked Duck is sometimes found (but not today) and then walked the perimeter of more ponds. An adult Least Grebe with a chick was a spectacular find. Green-rumped Parrotlets chattered around us, invisible in the greenery. Jack picked out our first Red-crowned Woodpecker in the nearby trees. An adult Peregrine Falcon flew. Other ponds held more jacanas, a wintering flock of Blue-winged Teal, and several Green Herons.
Birding the area simultaneously was Gladwyn James, a native Tobagonian, leading a group of British birders. Gladwyns father, Adolphus James, for years was Tobago's top bird guide. He taught me most of what I know about the birds of Tobago. When Adolphus retired, Gladwyn took over the family business. Gladwyn and I exchanged information about recent bird sightings on Tobago as both groups walked back to their maxis.
Next stop for both birding groups -- Grafton-Caledonia Wildlife Sanctuary, where in a converted cocoa-drying shed we enjoyed a packed lunch delivered to us by Cuffie River Nature Retreats resident naturalist, Desmond Wright. Lunch included sandwiches of cheese, tomato, cucumber, and butter on homemade bread; a tasty, very dense spice cake; bananas (called figs on T&T); and boxed fruit juice. From a rafter above us, a Richardss Anole (Anolis richardii) watched the proceedings. A highlight of our lunchtime was watching a snake above us on a different rafter lunge for, and catch, a very small lizard; the snake then fell to the concrete floor, where it quickly writhed its way through the feet of the Canadians to the vegetation outside, with the lizard still wriggling in the snakes mouth. Subsequent review determined that the snake was a Ratonel (Pseudoboa neuwiedii).
Lunch completed, we meandered along a well-groomed side trail, discovering Trinidad Motmots, Rufous-tailed Jacamars, White-fringed Antwrens, Rufous-vented Chachalacas, and Yellow-breasted Flycatchers. From Grafton we drove to Ean Mackays Adventure Farm near Plymouth, where from the comfort of our chairs we whiled away an hour admiring, often at less than arms length, all five hummingbird species commonly found on Tobago Copper-rumped and Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds, Black-throated Mango, Rufous-breasted Hermit, and White-necked Jacobin. Also in attendance at feeding trays were Pale-vented Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Shiny Cowbird, White-lined and Blue-gray Tanagers, Barred Antshrike, Trinidad Motmot, and about a dozen other species. Simultaneous observation and digestion induced widespread snoozation!
Prying ourselves away from Adventure Farm, we headed inland through a string of tiny hamlets and finally arrived at Cuffie River Nature Retreat, where we would spend the next three nights. Cuffie River owner/manager Regina Dumas and her husband, Earl, greeted us and showed us to our rooms. After settling in, we enjoyed a pre-dinner go-round and orientation. I learned from each member of the group what their target bird or birds were. Everyone marveled at the Cuffie River s ambience -- so airy, open, and welcoming.
In the remaining daylight, we found two beautiful male White-tailed Sabrewing hummingbirds frequenting nectar feeders in front of the lodge. Cuffie River is one of the few places anywhere that offers a reasonably good chance to see this extremely rare species. Our sighting of the sabrewings completed our single-day sweep of all normally occurring Tobago hummingbirds. We also had late-afternoon views of Red-legged Honeycreeper (a species often missed) and Blue-black Grassquit.
Dinner tonight included callaloo soup, sweet potato casserole, fried plantain, pigeon peas, baked pork, fresh chopped salad with homemade dressing, and cherry coconut ice cream for dessert. During dinner, a Common Potoo landed atop a stick in plain view of our table, and a White-tailed Nightjar landed on a nearby stick shortly thereafter. I think they stayed there and hunted for insects all night around the mercury-vapor light. They repeated this performance each night we were at Cuffie River.
None of us lasted very long after dinner, especially those of us who had enjoyed a local Carib or Stag beer or a glass (or two) of wine. By 9:30 all was dark and silent, except for the kitchen staff. Speaking of the kitchen staff, hats off to Regina, Earl, Caroline, and Yvonne you made our stay at Cuffie wonderful! Thanks especially for the ice cream!
New for the trip: Blue-winged Teal, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Broad-winged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Whimbrel, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, White-tipped Dove, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Orange-winged Parrot, Smooth-billed Ani, Common Potoo, White-tailed Nightjar, Short-tailed Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-tailed Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Trinidad Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Blue-backed Manakin, Red-eyed Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Caribbean Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit, Black-faced Grassquit, Yellow Warbler, Giant Cowbird, Shiny Cowbird, Carib Grackle
Saturday, February 4: Grounds of Cuffie River Nature Retreat, Tobago
Calling well before first light were Rufous-vented Chachalacas, Tropical Mockingbirds, House Wrens, and Common Potoo. Most of us arose before dawn, too. The weather throughout the morning was cool and breezy, with a few sprinkles. The sabrewings and a flurry of White-necked Jacobins enlivened the feeders. Armed with fresh-brewed coffee, from back balcony some of us observed a Venezuelan Flycatcher, a species often difficult to find, as it sat atop a light fixture a mere 10 feet from us. Also in close proximity were male and female Barred Antshrikes, an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher basing its forays from a bamboo branch over the stream far below, and an immature Little Blue Heron stalking prey in the stream. Overhead flew scores of screeching Orange-winged Parrots, almost all of them in pairs.
From the front of the lodge, we could see numbers of chachalacas and parrots moving through the hillside trees. Yellow-bellied Elaenias and male and female Red-legged Honeycreepers perched on the orange-red flowers of Mountain Immortelle trees. We spotted a fly-over Giant Cowbird and a Crested Oropendola.
For breakfast we enjoyed toasted homemade bread, pineapple and watermelon slices, granola, bananas, bacon, both fried and scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, coffee, and tea.
After breakfast we explored the Cuffie River area. We walked along the entrance road as far as an old donkey trail, which we followed for about a mile. As we crossed the bridge over the stream called Cuffie River, Bette pointed out a Red-crowned Woodpecker on a flowering Mountain Immortelle. Eagle-eye Dick picked out a soaring adult Great Black-Hawk a while later -- against the sapphire sky, we could clearly see its yellow cere, legs, and feet and the broad white base of the black tail.
Along the donkey trail we had many looks at, or at least glimpses of, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Venezuelan and Brown-crested Flycatchers, and White-fringed Antwren. Distressingly, we also encountered a man and woman leaving the area with two cages, each of which contained a male Violaceous Euphonia, which they were using to attract and hopefully trap others of the same species by means of bird lime spread on perch sticks. While discussing their business with them, we found the only Horsewhip snake (Oxybelis aeneus) of the trip, in the grass at our feet.
We birded our way slowly as far as a saddle-shaped valley just shy of a recently constructed house. Here we were within sight of a cell phone tower. My cell phone is equipped with a SIM card from bmobile, a Trinidad telecommunications company that offers low rates for international calls. Some of us took advantage of the cell phone signal at this site to call our loved ones back in the United States before strolling back to the lodge.
For lunch we had homemade vegetable soup, chicken pastelles baked in banana leaves, homemade coleslaw, and cherry coconut ice cream for dessert. After lunch it was time for a siesta.
In late afternoon, most of the group joined me on a slow hike up the steep trail across from the lodge. Along the way, we found two adult and one immature male Blue-backed Manakins, had a brief (too brief to be countable) view of a Fuscous Flycatcher, and had Venezuelan and Brown-crested Flycatchers with us most of the way, close enough for us to examine the critical field mark a pink or black base to the lower mandible. We found plenty of motmots and jacamars. One jacamar allowed us such a close approach that we could hear the snap of its beak each time it caught an insect. In the falling light, scores of Orange-winged Parrots flew low over us and landed screeching in nearby trees. It had been a very enjoyable hike, a fine way to spend an afternoon.
Dinner included pumpkin soup with plenty of cumin, fried snapper with Creole dressing, eggplant casserole, red beans and rice, and stir-fried vegetables, with guava ice cream for dessert. As on each night, the potoo and nightjar returned to their respective perches across from the dining room.
New for the trip: Great Black-Hawk, Gray-rumped Swift, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Wren, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola
Sunday, February 5: Tobago Main Ridge and Little Tobago Island
Heavy rain just before dawn washed the air clean and guaranteed that my friend Junior Thomas, who rents boots (wellies) for Main Ridge hikes, would make some money today. Regina and her team prepared us an early breakfast of granola, watermelon and pineapple slices, omelets, Vienna sausages with Creole sauce, fresh fruit juice, coffee, and tea to start us properly.
Bert took us north along the leeward side of Tobago, stopping for a view a mammoth kapok tree, a Green-rumped Parrotlet on a telephone line, the beachside hamlet of Castara, and an immature Yellow-headed Caracara. I was very surprised to find the caracara so far north, as previously I had seen them only in the southern lowlands.
As the maxi began climbing the road to the Main Ridge, we came upon Newton George, a top-notch Tobago birder, with a British birding group. Bernice picked out several male Blue-backed Manakins in the fruiting tree they were examining. We also found Collared Trogons, chachalacas, Venezuelan Flycatchers, and Red-legged Honeycreepers in the area.
We rendezvoused with Junior Thomas at the Gilpin Trace trailhead. Properly shod, and aware that another birding group was heading for Gilpin Trace, I decided to backtrack to Niplig Trace (Gilpin spelled backwards) so as to have a place to ourselves. Along the road we saw a juvenile (flying) and adult (perched) Broad-winged Hawks, a soaring Great Black-Hawk added to the excitement. We birded Niplig Trace for the better part of an hour, encountering lots of Tobago specialties, including Yellow-legged and White-necked Thrushes, Blue-backed Manakins, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, and pairs of Stripe-breasted Spinetails and Rufous-breasted Wrens. A Golden-olive Woodpecker provided lingering views, whereas a brief glimpse of a Gray-throated Leaftosser in flight a few feet from us provided the only view Id ever had of that species in Tobago, but as no one else saw it adequately, it was not included in our bird list.
We lunched at Jemma's Sea View Kitchen, built around a beachside sea almond tree in Speyside. Jemma's family-style meals always satisfy. Today we had grilled kingfish, Creole chicken, and other entrées with sides of various local dishes. Many of us enjoyed our first lemon-lime bitters (LLBs) of the trip. This beverage becomes an instant favorite with all of my groups; the Angostura family could make a fortune if they would market it in North America. During lunch, a flock of Ruddy Turnstones milled about on the beach below, and Carib Grackles perched next to us, seeking leftovers.
After lunch we drove to the nearby Blue Waters Inn, where we relaxed by the brand new infinity pool while awaiting our glass-bottomed boat. I greeted my longtime friend Jason Radix, who had been manager of the Blue Waters Inn for about a year and a half. I also misidentified as a Peregrine Falcon a large falconlike bird flying in from the direction of Little Tobago Island. I was astonished to realize, upon second glance, that it was an adult Yellow-headed Caracara, my first for extreme northern Tobago. This species has expanded explosively since reaching southern Tobago a decade ago. Incredibly, we saw yet another individual on Little Tobago Island later that afternoon.
Our boatmen were Dion, Shane, and Zelonie ("Zee"), all very experienced and dependable seamen. They motored us across two miles of rather choppy sea and deposited us on Little Tobago Islands concrete dock. Zee lectured on the history and birdlife of the area and then led us on a slow hike up the leeward face of the island to a sheltered overlook on the windward face. Along the way, he pointed out an Audubon's Shearwater among the roots of a huge anthurium plant and later showed the group an Audubon Shearwater and its chick on a nest in the root ball of a fallen bamboo.
In the virgin littoral forest, we saw numerous landbirds such as Trinidad Motmot, Tropical Mockingbird, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Pale-vented Pigeon, and the ubiquitous Bananaquits. Strutting around with regal pride were feral roosters, released on Little Tobago Island about 100 years ago and left alone ever since. A Peregrine Falcon appeared occasionally along the cliffs, riding the wind.
From the windy overlook, we looked out on perhaps 100 Red-billed Tropicbirds in their elegant flight. Often they came almost within arms reach, riding updrafts from the cliff before us and attempting to land at their nests under shrubs on the cliff-face below us. Also in view were Brown Boobies and both light-and dark-morph Red-footed Boobies. Not far from the shelter, a tropicbird sat in clear view on her nest, while less than three feet from the tropicbird a White-tailed Nightjar rested on a bed of fallen leaves, resembling just another fallen leaf.
Six species of sea turtle nest on Tobago. While viewing tropicbirds being harassed by marauding Magnificent Frigatebirds, we spotted a large sea turtle on the surface, which Zee said was probably a Hawksbill.
During our return boat ride, Zee and his crew took us over several coral reefs, pointing out tropical fish, coral, gorgonians, sponges, and myriad other forms of marine life.
Our last dinner at Cuffie River included split pea soup, pumpkin fritters, potatoes au gratin, grilled chicken, and tossed green salad with homemade dressing, with cherry coconut ice cream for dessert. Of course, having potoos and nightjars perched just outside during any meal is dessert in itself!
Once again, Regina and her staff had outdone themselves by providing us with outstanding comfort and tasty food during our all-too-short stay.
New for the trip: Audubon's Shearwater, Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Red-footed Booby, Brown Booby, Osprey, Yellow-headed Caracara, Ruddy Turnstone, Collared Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Streaked Flycatcher, Yellow-legged Thrush, White-necked Thrush, American Redstart,
Monday, February 6: Grounds of the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad
We left Cuffie River before dawn and reached the airport only to find that our Caribbean Airlines flight had been canceled. As the saying goes, This is the Caribbean -- be prepared to expect anything. Fortunately, we found seats on the next flight and thus had time to explore the airport shops. I phoned our Trinidad driver to let him know wed be late. While waiting for our flight, some members of the group enjoyed talking with expert Tobago bird tour guide Peter Cox, who was also waiting for the flight.
At the Trinidad airport, we claimed our luggage and met both Martin Kenefick, my business partner and author of the field guide we use in T&T, and Ivan LaRose, our Trinidad driver. About an hour later we reached the incredible Asa Wright Nature Center, where Doolarie Ramlal welcomed us and assigned us our rooms.
Lunch today included buttered ziti, hotel pie (eggplant, tomato, bread crumbs), red kidney beans/carrots/onions, and jerked lamb, with sponge cake and a lovely chocolate sauce for dessert.
The next few hours included fast-paced birding from the veranda. We added many new species to our trip list. Martyn, who had driven me to Asa Wright from the airport so we could catch up on current avian events, stayed for an hour, pointing out birds and inscribing copies of his book. Some of the best birds we saw from the veranda included a male Tufted Coquette, one of Trinidads must see species, and a Black-whiskered Vireo, a species that had not been seen during the entire preceding year. As the afternoon wore on, our veranda group shrank little by little as members drifted off to unpack, settle in, and take an afternoon siesta.
At 3:15 I led our first Trinidad birdwalk, along the entrance drive. Bernice found one of our best birds, a displaying young female Collared Trogon, while Hazel found pair of Black-tailed Tityras and I located some distant Scaled Pigeons and a Channel-billed Toucan. Despite periodic light showers, the birding was quite satisfactory.
Dinner included callaloo soup, fresh homemade rolls, black-eyed peas with carrots and onions, sautéed bhodi (long green beans) with corn and carrots, Creole pork chops, and fresh chopped salad with homemade dressing, with coconut mousse for dessert.
Asa Wright provides wireless access in all of their buildings. This evening, several participants used Skype to communicate visually with a good friend in the United States whose illness had prevented her from joining our group. It was truly an unforgettable reach out and touch someone experience.
New for the trip: Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Short-tailed Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Little Hermit, Green Hermit, Tufted Coquette, White-chested Emerald, Ringed Kingfisher, Channel-billed Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker, Great Antshrike, Eulers Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Great Kiskadee, Black-tailed Tityra, Bearded Bellbird, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Black-whiskered Vireo, Gray-breasted Martin, Cocoa Thrush, Silver-beaked Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Violaceous Euphonia
Tuesday, February 7: Eastern Trinidad
We were on the veranda before dawn today. At first light, we viewed Scaled Dove, Channel-billed Toucan, Gray-fronted Dove, and hordes of nectar-and fruit-loving species of birds as well as Golden Tegu lizards and a lone Gray-fronted Dove beneath the feeders.
Breakfast included bacon, homemade bread, three kinds of cereal, fresh sliced fruit, and omeletes made to order, along with fruit juice, coffee, and tea.
From the Centre, Ivan drove us south and then east to the Aripo Livestock Station. Our first stop yielded a pair of Pearl Kites. In the station itself, we dodged rain showers while finding a few Red-breasted Blackbirds, an abundance of Grassland Yellow-Finches, male and female White-tailed Goldenthroat hummingbirds, a perched adult Peregrine Falcon, Savanna Hawk, and lots of other new species for our trip. While sheltering from a shower, several Least Sandpipers approached us very closely, as did Yellow-chinned Spinetails farther on. We found a Merlin perched on a dead tree. A small copse of trees yielded Black-crested Antshrike and a furtive Pale-breasted Spinetail. Finding the Pale-breasted Spinetail completed our sweep of all three spinetail species found in T&T.
After a brief respite at the Ponderosa Bar in Valencia, we proceeded south past the city of Sangre Grande to the Atlantic coast, at Manzanilla, with a stop along the way to view a colony of Yellow-rumped Caciques. At a pleasant state-run park on the beach, we enjoyed a picnic lunch of barbecued chicken, macaroni pie, and fresh tossed green salad with homemade dressing, with bananas for dessert, along with cold fruit juice and ice water.
We spent the next couple of hours exploring the coast, examining thousands of coconut palms in hopes of spotting perched raptors. We challenged eagle-eyed Bernice to a contest to see who could spot the greatest number of hawks. She modified the contest to front seats (Bernice and Ivan) vs. back seats. By the end of the afternoon, the score was tied at seven-all, with sightings of Savanna Hawk, Gray Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, and Yellow-headed Caracara.
Nariva Swamp was hot hot hot, so we spent only a short time walking along the road, our feet actually sinking slightly into the hot tar. Birds were few and far between, except for Pied Water-Tyrants and Yellow-chinned Spinetails. For our final birding foray of the day, we made a fast drive north to Waller Field, an area of Moriche palms that attracts some rare species. Here we found probably a dozen Sulphury Flycatchers, a Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Gray and Tropical Kingbirds, a few Fork-tailed Palm-Swifts, and a Bat Falcon that blazed past us so quickly that identification was made by residual retinal impression. Alas, no Red-bellied Macaws flew in to roost, but our evening had been very successful nonetheless.
For dinner we enjoyed cream of corn soup, yam pie, sautéed okra and pumpkin, stewed red beans, breaded baked fish with citrus sauce, and fresh chopped salad with French dressing, with cake for dessert.
New for the trip: Little Tinamou, Striated Heron, Pearl Kite, Gray Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Merlin, Bat Falcon, Least Sandpiper, Gray-fronted Dove, Striped Cuckoo, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Sulphury Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Greenlet, White-winged Swallow, Long-billed Gnatwren, Turquoise Tanager, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Moriche (Epaulet) Oriole, Yellow Oriole, Red-breasted Blackbird, Yellow-hooded Blackbird
Wednesday, February 8: Southwestern Trinidad and the Gulf of Paria
On this, our earliest morning departure of the trip, several members decided to stay behind and enjoy the ambience of the Asa Wright Nature Center. They found some very good birds at the Centre, while the rest of us headed to southwestern Trinidad. Along Ramahut Trace, while birding in an Oriental-looking ground haze, we were treated to views of both species of gallinules, copious numbers of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, and most of the usual marsh species. A side road yielded a male Masked Yellowthroat, Limpkins calling in the distance, and several sightings of mongoose.
A well-timed rain shower allowed us to enjoy the ambience of a roadside café and to spot a dark-morph Long-winged Harrier while we enjoyed cold beverages. Proceeding to Sudama Steps, we found several Red-capped Cardinals foraging amid praying Hindus at a crematorium. Hiking a muddy track between the mangrove-lined South Oropuche River and an expansive freshwater marsh, we found our target birds -- Black-crested Antshrike, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Bicolored Conebill along with Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, and lots of Carib Grackles.
For brunch we drove to the town of Debe, where we devoured all sort of preparations of fried dough filled with spinach, potato, chickpeas, and other fillings, with as much pepper sauce as desired, along with plenty of cold beverages. We then proceeded to several sites on the Gulf of Paria. At Carli Bay we found our target species, Saffron Finch, along with Royal Turn and Laughing Gull. At the Orange Valley mudflats, Bette found our first Scarlet Ibis, and we also added Willet, Whimbrel, and Black Skimmer. Near the Temple-in-the-Sea, we watched a light-morph Long-winged Harrier drop, wings raised high, into a tree, grab a grass nest, and fly off with the entire structure. A Peregrine Falcon appeared out of nowhere and dove on the harrier, which managed to retain its prey, land on the ground at the far end of the field, and enjoy its lunch while we watched.
Dinner included pumpkin soup, seasoned corn and rice, red beans with pumpkin, christophene (chayote), bhodi (green beans), barbecued lamb chops, and a fresh chopped green salad with homemade dressing, with banana rum pudding for dessert.
New for the trip: Snowy Egret, Scarlet Ibis, Long-winged Harrier, Zone-tailed Hawk, Limpkin, Willet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Black-faced Antthrush, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Bicolored Conebill, Saffron Finch, Masked Yellowthroat
Thursday, February 9: Trinidads Northern Range
Today began with showers before dawn, followed by partly cloudy conditions with intermittent showers throughout the day. Breakfast included three kinds of cereal, sliced watermelon and pineapple, homemade toast, and omeletes made to order, along with fruit juice, coffee, and tea.
From Asa Wright we drove directly to the top of the Morne Bleu tropospheric scatter station, the highest elevation we reached on Trinidad. We were soon viewing a beautiful male Hepatic Tanager, a male Violaceous Euphonia, the resident flock of Gray-breasted Martins, and at least one pair of Southern Rough-winged Swallows. Some participants glimpsed a Channel-billed Toucan before a serious shower blew through. We gradually work our way about halfway down the entrance road, finding Dusky-capped Flycatcher and a few other species along the way. Further walks along Blanchisseuse Road and Las Lapas Trace produced few sightings except for some distant male Golden-headed Manakins at their lek.
We enjoyed a packed lunch of chicken/cheese sandwiches, tossed salad with homemade dressing, bananas, and cold fruit juice at Paria Junction. Thanks to Martyn Keneficks detailed directions, I found a Trema tree that held a hyperactive Olive-striped Flycatcher. This was a lifer for everyone in our group, myself included.
Continuing to the hamlet of Brasso Seco, we visited a roadside bar to use the facilities and to purchase beverages and snacks. I inquired about the tusks and teeth on the necklace that one of the Brasso Seco residents wore. He told me that the short ones were tusks from peccaries and that the longer ones were antlers from red brocket deer.
From Brasso Seco, we proceeded to a nearly abandoned formerly-paved road along which we spent the rest of the afternoon birding. This was by far the best stop of the day. We had at least three close looks at a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, multiple sightings of male and female Blue Dacnis, a cooperative Squirrel Cuckoo, and, after a great deal of scanning, two fly-over Blue-winged Parrots.
Dinner tonight was pretty much the same as dinner last night.
New for the trip: Plumbeous Kite, Blue-headed Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Blue Dacnis, Hepatic Tanager, Tropical Parula
Friday, February 10: Bellbirds, Oilbird Cave, and Scarlet Ibis Spectacular
Despite our long days, I was pleased to see several members of the group on the veranda today at first light. Some of our best birds often are seen from the veranda before the breakfast gong sounds. Today's early highlights included a male Tufted Coquette hummingbird and a different Black-whiskered Vireo just off the veranda.
Breakfast included three kinds of cereal, sliced watermelon and pineapple, corned beef hash, and French toast with homemade plum syrup, along with cold fruit juice, coffee, and tea.
Shortly after breakfast, my longtime friend and AWNC resident naturalist Molly Calderon led us down the trail to search for several species we still needed to see. En route we found many hummingbirds, thrushes, euphonias, and other edge species. We also found both species of manakins that inhabit Trinidad: Golden-headed and White-bearded. At one stop, Molly called in Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, White-flanked Antwren, Plain Antvireo, and Cocoa Woodcreeper. Bearded Bellbirds were calling all around us on their lek, but it took us a long time indeed to find one that was visible to everyone. Eventually we saw at least three males.
Molly then led everyone but Carol, Dennis, Ed, and me to the Oilbird Cave, where everyone had excellent views of this weird nocturnal fruit-eating bird. Ed, Carol, Dennis, and I eventually made it all the way to the Oilbird Cave, too, which meant that everyone who so desired added Bearded Bellbird and Oilbird to their life lists. We all agreed that Dennis deserved some kind of award for his determination and persistence in nailing those two difficult species.
Lunch today included callaloo stew, a medley of provision slices of purple taro, yellow sweet potato, and white cassava -- cubed pork, and a tossed garden salad with homemade salad dressing, with mixed fruit for dessert.
Immediately after lunch, we left on our last birding foray of the trip, which took us to Trinidad's Caroni Swamp, just south of the capital city of Port of Spain. En route we found a Ringed Kingfisher perched on a telephone wire along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, near Trincity. Our superb local expert, Shawn Madoo, was already at Caroni Visitors Center with his flat-bottomed boat, with a group of Canadian birders. During the few minutes between our arrival and boarding, we were treated to views of Straight-billed Woodcreeper (a mangrove specialist) and a nearly invisible Tropical Screech-Owl that Shawn pointed out.
Once in the channel, Shawn first backtracked a bit to show us a gorgeous perched Green-throated Mango hummingbird (another mangrove specialist). A brief walk through the mangroves proved unproductive but was more than compensated for by the superb views we got shortly thereafter of an American Pygmy Kingfisher, Spotted Sandpipers, Little Blue Herons, and Scarlet Ibis. As with the spinetails and manakins, wed made a clean sweep of all four normally occurring kingfishers in T&T, a first on any of my tours.
Like Bernices visual acuity, Shawns is almost beyond belief. While motoring through the mangrove-lined channels, he was able to point out, and then often get very close to, interesting creatures such as a softball-sized Silky Anteater and a Cooks Tree Boa.
We finally tied up along a mangrove island deep in the swamp in an open lagoon. The warm-up event was a Peregrine Falcon diving on Tricolored Herons, forcing them into the water and playing with them. Top billing went to the hundreds of luminescent Scarlet Ibises flapping and gliding their way into their dark-green mangrove roost trees. Below them, just above the waterline, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons and Great and Snowy Egrets piled in as well. Cookies, strong rum punch, Scarlet Ibis, and a cloudless sky a dramatic ending to a very nice trip.
Our last supper included split pea soup, a vegetable/rice medley, stir-fried carrots, kale and onions, black-eyed peas with peppers, grilled chicken breast, and fresh tossed salad with homemade salad dressing, with cherry ice cream for dessert.
New for the trip: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Gray-headed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, Tropical Screech-Owl, Oilbird, Green-throated Mango, Blue-chinned Sapphire, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Plain Antvireo, White-flanked Antwren, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager