Trinidad & Tobago
Leaders: Sam Fried & Bill Murphy
Click here to see the checklist.
Sam and I ran this tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the trip on which we met at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. What better way to remember a great time than by revisiting a hallowed birding site with some good friends?! Temperatures reminded us of the famous Trini song Hot, Hot, Hot! The rainy season treated us extremely well, with torrential rains coming at night and not during our time afield. We finished the trip with a very respectable 200 species of birds seen or heard by the group (not counting another dozen seen or heard only by Sam or Bill), along with sightings of tropical mammals, reptiles, butterflies, fish, and other organisms.
Wednesday, October 24: Tobago: South
With all participants finally "in country," we drove from Sadila House B&B to Piarco airport for our early flight to Tobago. Once there, we claimed our luggage, used the airport facilities, and met our driver, Bert Isaac. The first birds of the trip, a pair of White-winged Swallows apparently building a nest in the open end of a pipe at the airport, might represent the first nesting attempt of that species on Tobago. Magnificent Frigatebirds soared overhead, taking the place of the vultures we would see later in Trinidad -- Tobago lacks vultures. We stopped for bottled water and then headed for the nearby Bon Accord ponds, which we found very windy. The ponds were covered with water lettuce, water hyacinth, and other aquatic plants; thus none of the expected waterfowl (White-cheeked Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe) were present. We quickly picked up a number of interesting species, including a fly-over and calling Belted Kingfisher and an exceptionally unusual Southern Rough-winged Swallow. A push into the red mangroves produced two species found on Tobago but not on Trinidad -- White-fringed Antwren and Scrub Greenlet.
Next came a stop at the air-conditioned Pennysaver store for beverages. 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. One anecdote from that stop was a woman in a full burka, who, according to the clerk, was there to buy lipstick.
Then it was on to the Tobago Plantations, where the best birds included the first Gull-billed Tern I'd ever seen on Tobago, several Least Grebes, Southern Lapwings, and nesting Anhingas. The back ponds yielded both Common and Purple Gallinules, both species of yellowlegs, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal, a gorgeous pair of White-cheeked Pintail, and a pot-bellied shorebird initially thought to be a Ruff, Reeve, or redshank but which later proved to be a Pectoral Sandpiper.
Next we drove to the Grafton/Caledonia Wildlife Sanctuary, where in a converted cocoa-drying shed naturalist Desmond Wright waited with a packed lunch from Cuffie River Nature Retreat -- thick cucumber, tomato, cheese, and butter sandwiches on homemade bread; bananas (called "figs" in T&T); a tasty, very dense spice cake; and boxed fruit juice. Rufous-vented Chachalacas were everywhere, begging for bread and other scraps. Lunch completed, we walked along a mostly level trail that was overgrown with seed-bearing weeds, finding Trinidad Motmots, our first of several male Blue-backed Manakins, more White-fringed Antwrens, and Rufous-breasted Hermit hummingbirds. Overhead flew Short-tailed Swifts and Caribbean Martins. At 4pm, hordes of pigeons and doves flew in for the traditional afternoon feeding.
Late in the afternoon, we headed inland through a string of tiny ridge-top hamlets, finally arriving 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. Everyone marveled at Cuffie River's ambience -- so airy, open, and welcoming. As we would do each night of the tour, we reviewed the birds seen during the day, added the sightings to our running checklist, and then discussed the next day's itinerary and field conditions.
Ours was the first group to enjoy wireless access at Cuffie River. What a treat to be able to follow the US presidential election and the path of Hurricane Sandy from our remote site in a tropical paradise.
For dinner this night we were served baked lamb, sweet potato pie au gratin, stewed pigeon peas, and fresh tossed salad, with coconut ice cream for dessert. While we enjoyed our dinner, a White-tailed Nightjar perched in front of the lodge in full view.
None of us lasted very long after dinner, especially those 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!
Total number of species seen today: 70
New bird species for the trip: 70
Running total: 70
New for the trip: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Osprey, Yellow-headed Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Wilson's Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Gull-billed Tern, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, White-tipped Dove, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Orange-winged Parrot, Smooth-billed Ani, Gray-rumped Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-tailed Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Trinidad Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Fuscous Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Blue-backed Manakin, Scrub Greenlet, White-winged Swallow, Caribbean Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Black-faced Grassquit, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Shiny Cowbird, Carib Grackle
Thursday, October 25: Tobago: Cuffie River grounds
Today we were up before first light, with chachalacas screaming at 5am and Orange-winged Parrots joining in at 5:30am. Armed with fresh-brewed coffee, from the back balcony some of us watched foraging birds that included Brown-crested Flycatchers, Barred Antshrikes, Tropical Mockingbirds, Tropical Kingbirds, House Wrens, Short-tailed and Gray-rumped Swifts, two different Merlins, and small flocks of Crested Oropendola, including one completely yellow individual. The hummingbird feeders in front of the lodge hosted a flurry of Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobins, two male and a female White-tailed Sabrewing, and tons of Bananaquits.
For breakfast we enjoyed toasted homemade bread, pineapple, bananas, papaya and watermelon slices, granola, bacon, fried and scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, coffee, and tea.
Desmond Wright showed up after breakfast and led us on a morning walk to explore the Cuffie River area. Reg picked out a Green Kingfisher perched on a bough over the river, a feat that netted him a Stag beer at dinner. We walked along the entrance road as far as an old donkey trail, which we followed for about a mile up and down gentle hills. We found another male Blue-backed Manakin, lots of male and female Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Trinidad Motmots, and several Cocoa Woodcreepers. Eventually we made our way back to the lodge in time for lunch.
For lunch we had homemade lentil soup, chicken pastelles baked in banana leaves, and homemade coleslaw, with cherry coconut ice cream for dessert. [Click here to listen to Yvonne describe dinner.] After lunch it was time for a well deserved siesta.
At 3:30pm, we hiked up the steep trail across from the lodge. Here we saw Spectacled Thrush, more jacamars, heard Olivaceous Woodcreepers, called in a pair of Fuscous Flycatchers and a pair of Venezuelan Flycatchers, and had a furtive pair of White-necked Thrushes fly past us twice, uttering their distinctive "chuck" note. It was a fine way to enjoy the late afternoon.
After our evening tally, dinner included split pea soup with plenty of cumin, fried snapper with Creole dressing, pumpkin fritters, eggplant casserole, red beans and rice, and stir-fried vegetables, with guava ice cream for dessert. Regina joined us after dinner for Q&A session about the government of T&T and its policies.
Tonight a Common Potoo shared the stage with the White-tailed Nightjar, each on its preferred perch across from the dining room. Both birds sat quietly as a torrential downpour drowned out all thoughts of post-dinner conversation.
Total number of species seen today: 46
New bird species for the trip: 12
Running total: 82
New for the trip: Merlin, Common Potoo, White-tailed Nightjar, Green Kingfisher, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, White-necked Thrush, Blue-black Grassquit, Crested Oropendola
Friday, October 26: Tobago: Main Ridge Reserve, Little Tobago Island
The nighttime rain 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, slices of papaya, watermelon and pineapple, omelets, a mélange of Vienna sausage with Creole sauce, eggs, fresh fruit juice, coffee, and tea to start us properly.
We took the North Coast Road past a gigantic kapok tree, past idyllic tropical coves, and up into the Main Ridge Reserve to an overlook hut, where a radiator hose connection on Bert's bus came loose and allowed a lot of radiator coolant to escape. Fortunately, Bert had brought extra coolant, and we continued the day as planned. By the cars parked at a trailhead, I could see that other birders were already on the Gilpin Trace. Because birding is best when you're the first group there, we got our wellies from Junior and drove back a short distance to Niplig Trace (Gilpin spelled backwards) to begin our forest birding. The deep forest was very quiet indeed. As predicted, the trail was mud-luscious! In the muted light we had brief, repeated looks at Stripe-breasted Spinetails, Rufous-breasted Wrens, White-necked and Yellow-legged Thrushes, and Blue-backed Manakins. Olivaceous Woodcreeper and Plain Antvireo also made brief appearances, but most birds were hiding this morning. We walked back down the road to Gilpin Trace afterwards, exploring this primeval trail for about 15 minutes before returning to Bert's maxitaxi.
Lunch was at Jemma's Sea View Kitchen, built around a beachside sea almond tree in Speyside. Jemma's family-style meals always satisfy. Today we enjoyed grilled kingfish, Creole chicken, eggplant and breadfruit casseroles, and other local dishes, with cake and/or ice cream provided as a surprise treat from Jemma. Again we enjoyed delicious LLBs with our lunch. A flock of Ruddy Turnstones milled about on the beach below, and Carib Grackles and Bananaquits perched nearby, seeking leftovers. We took time to browse for local crafts across the street, and then we drove to the Blue Waters Inn, carrying with us box lunches for our three boatmen -- Zelonie ("Zee"), Dion, and Tyrone, all very experienced and dependable seamen.
From the Blue Waters Inn pier we boarded a glass-bottomed boat. Our drivers motored us across two miles of calm sea and deposited us safely on Little Tobago Island's concrete dock. Once we were all ashore, Zee lectured us on the history and birdlife of the island 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 Audubon's Shearwater feathers among the roots of a huge Anthurium plant.
In this 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. At one point, an adult Peregrine Falcon appeared far out over the waves, flew toward us, and then zipped around the corner of the island and out of sight. Male Peregrines make nonstop crossings from North America to T&T, catching and consuming birds while on the wing.
From our windy overlook, we looked out on several hundred Red-billed Tropicbirds engaged in elegant flight, often in pairs. Many passed by quite close to us, riding updrafts from the cliff face. Also in sight, both in flight and perched, were Brown Boobies and both light-and dark-morph Red-footed Boobies. Zee took some of the group down a nearly vertical trail to observe some seabirds while the rest of us took our time returning to the pier. A final surprise was a lone out-of-season Brown Noddy that seemed to materialize only a few feet behind the boat on our return trip.
Most of the group dozed on the 45-minute drive back to Cuffie River. Our last dinner there included split pea soup, grilled chicken, pumpkin fritters, stuffed baked potatoes, eggplant casserole, and tossed green salad with homemade dressing, with cherry coconut ice cream for dessert. Of course, having Common Potoos and White-tailed 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.
Total number of species seen today: 61
New bird species for the trip: 13
Running total: 95
New for the trip:Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Red-footed Booby, Brown Booby, Ruddy Turnstone, Brown Noddy, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Plain Antvireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-legged Thrush
Saturday, October 27: Trinidad: Asa Wright Nature Centre
We left Cuffie River well before dawn after a tasty farewell breakfast, reached the airport in plenty of time for our flight, flew to Trinidad, claimed our luggage, and then had time to browse the airport shops while waiting for our Trinidad driver, Ivan LaRose. After a quick stop at a pharmacy for sundries, we reached the incredible Asa Wright Nature Center. Deborah Castillo welcomed us and assigned us our rooms, all of which were conveniently at or below the level of the Main House.
After settling in, we engaged in fast-paced birding from the veranda. We quickly added many new species to our trip list. Some of the best birds we saw from the veranda included a female Tufted Coquette, one of Trinidad's "must see" species, and endless Purple Honeycreepers, with fluorescent yellow legs and feet. I squeezed in an orientation lecture just before lunch.
Lunch today consisted of stewed pork, spinach rice, bok choy with carrots and sweet peppers, black-eyed peas, and pumpkin and carrotlets, with bread pudding with custard sauce for dessert. [Click here to listen to Wendy describe dinner.]
Afternoon lunch, our veranda group shrank little by little as members drifted off to unpack, settle in, and take a siesta. At 3:30pm, my good friend and expert naturalist Molly Calderon led our first Trinidad bird walk, down the Discovery Trail, which leads downhill from the Main House. During the hike, we saw a Short-tailed Hawk circling overhead and visited the display leks of Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins.
Before dinner, we did our daily tally and discussed logistics for the following day. Afterwards some of us contacted friends and family back home. Asa Wright provides wireless access in all of their buildings. During our visit, the wireless was not functioning well, but from time to time we were able to monitor events happening back in the USA. Many participants lived in New England, which was predicted to be the target of the approaching hurricane, so internet connectivity was of special interest to them.
Dinner included corn soup, buss-up-shut (flat bread, spiced beef, chick peas, potato, and other foodstuffs that are normally used to make a burrito-like roll) with rum and pineapple mousse for dessert.
Total number of species seen today: 60
New bird species for the trip: 35
Running total: 130
New for the trip: Little Tinamou, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, White Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-collared Swift, Band-rumped Swift, Green Hermit, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Great Antshrike, White-bellied Antbird, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Great Kiskadee, Bearded Bellbird, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Gray-breasted Martin, Long-billed Gnatwren, Cocoa Thrush, Silver-beaked Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Tropical Parula, Violaceous Euphonia
Sunday, October 28: Trinidad: Sudama Steps, Gulf of Paria Sites
This was our earliest morning departure of the trip. Our very early breakfast today included bacon, homemade bread, three kinds of cereal, fresh sliced fruit, and omelets made to order, along with fruit juice, coffee, and tea.
We drove in darkness down the Arima Valley, west almost to Port-of-Spain, and then south to the Oropuche Lagoon area. In the extensive wetlands on either side of Ramahut Trace, we were treated to views of both species of gallinules, good numbers of Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, several pairs of Yellow-chinned Spinetails, and the usual array of marsh species. A foray to the end of a little-used side road yielded a quick view of one of our target birds, Small-billed Elaenia, a furtive Grayish Saltator, innumerable Blue-black Grassquits, and a cooperative but skittish Pale-breasted Spinetail. Sudama Steps lacked Red-capped Cardinal, which we were later to find at the Caroni Swamp, but did yield good numbers of Spotted Tody-Flycatchers. Long-winged Harrier was a great find, too.
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 primary target, in fact the only individual of its kind ever seen in Trinidad and Tobago -- Great-tailed Grackle. This bird had been discovered there in July as a juvenile and was now molting into adult female plumage. Thanks to excellent directions from my friend Martin Kenefick, we were able to locate and admire a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls roosting in the shade of a dome of vines. We also located several pairs of Saffron Finch.
The moon was full today, and the Orange Valley mudflats were covered by a very high tide, but nevertheless we nailed several good species at this stop. At the tip of the pier stood an American Golden-Plover that allowed a close approach and endless photographic opportunities. More searching turned up two more, one of which retained some of its breeding plumage. Among the flooded mangrove shoots we located a few Whimbrel and other shorebirds.
And then it was back to Asa Wright for afternoon tea and pastries, rum punch, and dinner, which included pumpkin soup, salmon (called whitefish in T&T) with tomato sauce, parsley potatoes, lentils, and a fresh chopped green salad with homemade dressing, with crème caramel for dessert.
Total number of species seen today: 91
New bird species for the trip: 38
Running total: 168
New for the trip: Black-crowned Night-Heron, Striated Heron, Snowy Egret, Long-winged Harrier, Gray Hawk, Limpkin, American Golden-Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Whimbrel, Solitary Sandpiper, Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Large-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Tropical Screech-Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Ringed Kingfisher, Channel-billed Toucan, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Small-billed Elaenia, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Black-tailed Tityra, Saffron Finch, Grayish Saltator, Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow Oriole, Red-breasted Blackbird, Yellow-hooded Blackbird
Monday, October 29: Trinidad: Aripo Livestock Station, Nariva Swamp, Waller Field
Again many of us were birding from the veranda at first light today. For breakfast, we again enjoyed the omelet station and salt fish, along with the usual breakfast fare. Afterwards we boarded Ivan's maxi and headed down Blanchisseuse Road to explore Eastern Trinidad. Our first stop was just beyond Arima to view a tiny Pearl Kite perched on a telephone wire. Then it was on to the Aripo Livestock Station, where we spent time observing Grassland Yellow-Finch, Gray-breasted Martins, White-winged Swallows, Pied Water-Tyrants, White-headed Marsh-Tyrants, Red-breasted Blackbirds, and other species. A distant Savanna Hawk provided our first observation of this large, reddish, long-legged South American grassland raptor. Welcome cumulus clouds provided cover from the intense sun, allowing us to spend much of the morning afoot in relative comfort.
From the livestock station, we continued east to the town of Valencia, where we made a brief stop at the Ponderosa Bar to use the restrooms and grab cold beverages and snacks. Continuing south, we diverted around the outskirts of Sangre Grande, the largest city in Eastern Trinidad. A stop along the road several miles farther south provided a view of Yellow-rumped Caciques in a mango tree near a traditional colony.
At Manzanilla Beach Park on the Atlantic Ocean, we enjoyed a picnic lunch of shepherd's pie and tossed green salad and homemade dressing, with slices of watermelon for dessert, along with fresh fruit juice and ice water. It always strikes participants as humorous that the park charges TT$1 (about US 16¢) to use the restroom at this park. Can you keep your receipt and visit again without paying a second time? We found the answer to be no.
Leaving the park, we drove slowly past thousands of coconut palms along the Atlantic Ocean until we reached the mouth of the Nariva River. Continuing south and then east into Nariva Swamp proper, we birded for a few hours from the comfort of Ivan's air-conditioned maxi, through hundreds of acres of wild rice. One of the best sightings of the afternoon was of a Pinnated Bittern only a few yards from the maxi.
In late afternoon, we headed north to Waller Field, a former U.S. Army Air Corps base. In a grove of Moriche palms, we located three target species: Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Sulphury Flycatcher, and the rarest of all, Moriche Oriole. As darkness fell, a Rufous Nightjar called, sounding like a Chuck-Wills-Widow. We enjoyed cake and rum punch until true darkness, after which we walked slowly and quietly alongside Ivan's maxi, observing Rufous Nightjars as well as White-tailed Nightjars in the headlights. What an exciting way to end a day!
For dinner we had corn chowder with homemade dinner rolls, chicken in Creole sauce, spaghetti, stir-fried vegetables, and tossed salad with homemade dressing, with coconut gel for dessert.
Total number of species seen today: 92
New bird species for the trip: 10
Running total: 178
New for the trip: Pinnated Bittern, Pearl Kite, Common Black Hawk, Common Pauraque, Rufous Nightjar, Forest Elaenia, Sulphury Flycatcher, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Moriche (Epaulet) Oriole
Tuesday, October 30: Trinidad: Northern Range
Everyone loves a day in the cool heights of the Northern Range. After an early breakfast (three kinds of cereal, homemade bread, spicy eggplant on flatbread, pineapple and watermelon slices, and bananas), Ivan drove us about three miles north up Blanchisseuse Road and up the very steep entrance to the Morne Bleu Tropospheric Scatter Station. We had an extraordinary view of southeastern Trinidad from the perimeter of the security fence while standing in, and inhaling the fragrance of, wild cilantro. The view included the Caroni swamp to the west and Piarco Airport and the Plains of Caroni to the south.
We strolled slowly a few hundred yards down the entrance track, spotting as many tropical butterflies as birds -- the Postman, Sweet Oil, Doris, Flambeau, Cattleheart, Giant Sulfur, and Monarchs. We then boarded the maxi and continued to Las Lapas Trace, which connects the Arima Valley with the Lopinot Valley to the west. Here our hard work produced views of lovely Collared Trogons and a very cooperative Golden-crowned Warbler.
We continued north on Blanchisseuse Road, passing our usual lunch stop at Paria Junction and stopping at the hamlet of Morne La Croix for a restroom and beverage stop at the only shop for many miles. From there we continued all the way to the Caribbean, to the town of Blanchisseuse. Ivan stopped at a small inn, where, at my urging, Helga engaged the proprietor in a conversation in German. He offered us passage through his property to the beach or riverside and encouraged us to visit his inn if we were ever back in Trinidad. Later I read his business card and discovered that he was Gottfried Zollna, who had been manager of the Blue Waters Inn in Tobago many years ago.
Ivan obtained permission for us to enjoy our lunch in the shade of a bar's outdoor "liming" area, which overlooked one of the most dramatic seascapes we would see during our trip. Lunch consisted of macaroni casserole, fresh garden salad with homemade dressing, and sliced watermelon for dessert. Afterwards, at the group's request, we cut our birding day short and returned to the Asa Wright Nature Center to spend a pleasant afternoon. We enjoyed afternoon tea and pastries, rum punch, and another sumptuous dinner, which consisted of pumpkin and ginger soup, baked lamb, homemade dinner rolls, Spanish rice, lima beans, and fresh garden salad with homemade dressing, with rum and banana mousse for dessert.
Total number of species seen today: 72
New bird species for the trip: 5
Running total: 183
New for the trip: Little Hermit, Collared Trogon, Blue Dacnis, Golden-crowned Warbler, Golden-fronted Greenlet
Wednesday, October 31: Trinidad: Oilbird Cave, Caroni Swamp
All good things must come to an end. This was our last day in Trinidad and Tobago, and it was to be a superb one. We would track down the hard-to-spot Bearded Bellbird and visit the dramatic Oilbird Cave in the morning and later witness the most unforgettable flight of Scarlet Ibis in the Caroni Swamp that I seen in all my 80 visits to Trinidad.
After breakfast, Mukesh Ramdass led us on a walk, first along the Discovery Trail again past leks of White-bearded and Golden-headed Manakins and then to the Oilbird Cave. During the walk we found our first Green-backed and Guianan Trogons. Once we had finished chasing trogons, we began our half-mile trek to the cave. Mukesh provided a comprehensive discourse on the biology of our target species. When we reached the bottom of the gorge, Mukesh took three people into the cave at a time to view the Oilbirds by the light of her flashlight. The rest of us stayed outside, viewing Trinidad Yellow-throated Frogs, huge blue Emperor Morpho butterflies, and a moss-covered cliffside nest of Chestnut-colored Swifts.
After we had returned to the lodge and freshened up, it was time for lunch, which included baked chicken, christophene in cream sauce, red kidney beans, raisin rice, fresh green salad with homemade dressing, and chocolate cake with custard sauce for dessert.
At 1:30 p.m., we left the Centre, headed south to Arima and then west to the Caroni Swamp, also known as Caroni Lagoon National Park. At the Caroni rice fields, we took a few minutes to scan for birds. At one time I had seven Ospreys in my field of view at once! New for the trip were several Pied-billed Grebes. We spotted yet another Long-winged Harrier coursing in the distance. Two gentleman crabbing in a drainage ditch were kind enough to show us their catch.
We drove to the Caroni Visitor's Center, where we made use of the last restrooms we would see for several hours. Our boatmen for the evening excursion were an excellent young naturalist named Shawn Madoo and his brother Darin. They prepared their flat-bottomed boat while we birded in the adjacent mangroves. At one point, Shawn stopped his work to walk us back up the entrance drive to show us a dead juvenile Boat-billed Heron and a very much alive American Pygmy Kingfisher in the mangroves. In that area we also observed another mangrove specialist, the Straight-billed Woodcreeper.
Once we were all aboard Shawn's boat, he steered it into the channel and headed "upstream," toward the highway, intent on showing us a species we had missed earlier, Masked Cardinal. He was successful in his quest, and just about everyone got good looks at an adult male. Shawn's eyesight and ability to pick out critters from among the tangled mangrove branches and roots was incredible, as evidenced by his spotting a young green iguana as we motored past the mangrove in which it was basking. A rather formidable Cook's Tree Boa that Sam spotted completed the excitement for that part of our ride.
The highlight of every trip -- and this afternoon's was no exception -- is the evening flight of Scarlet Ibis returning to their roosts from their feeding grounds. As we left the narrow mangrove-lined channel and entered a very broad lake-like lagoon, we were treated to the sight of hundreds if not thousands of herons, egrets, and Scarlet Ibis flapping and gliding toward an isolated mangrove island. This "hummock" already was covered with scarlet, white, gray, and blue herons, egrets, and ibis. A black storm front to the east provided striking contrast as the sunlight seemed to spotlight the incoming birds, rendering them luminescent. It was a photographer's dream! As the birds settled into the mangroves, we, too, settled down to some serious rum punch drinking and cookie eating.
As twilight fell, Shawn motored us back to the dock. We bid him farewell, reboarded the maxi, and an hour later were back at Asa Wright enjoying our final dinner, which included cream of tomato soup with cheese biscuits, crispy fried fish with garlic sauce, creamy mashed potato pie, fried plantain, stewed black-eyed peas, fresh tossed salad with homemade salad dressing, with fresh fruit salad for dessert.
We completed our final tally, said farewell to Ellie, who was leaving before dawn, and drifted away to our rooms. It had been a rewarding visit to a very welcoming country. We had been treated kindly by the rains, stuffed with savory food by the staffs of Cuffie River Nature Retreat and Asa Wright, and kept reasonably entertained by several hundred species of birds.
As for me, I enjoyed meeting each of you, and I hope to see you again.
Total number of species seen today: 111
New bird species for the trip: 17
Final total: 200
New for the trip: Pied-billed Grebe, Scarlet Ibis, Gray-headed Kite, Striped Cuckoo, Oilbird, Green-throated Mango, Green-backed Trogon, Guianan Trogon, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Streaked Xenops, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, White-flanked Antwren, Euler's Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Bicolored Conebill, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Red-capped Cardinal