March 8 - 17, 2013
Martyn Kenefick (Tobago)
Kris Sookdeo (Trinidad)
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Saturday, March 9
Having arrived in Trinidad by various means and at various times the previous day from Houston, Miami, and Panama City, and having stayed overnight at a couple of small local guest houses, the group all met up at 6:30am at Piarco airport for the 20-minute flight over to Tobago. Administratively everything went according to plan. Group check-in was efficient; the flight punctual and smooth; our baggage came "out the other end" in timely fashion; our local driver, Bert Isaac, was there to meet us; and so the birding began.
We made the short journey along the southwest shoreline to view roosting sea- and shorebirds on the beach at Store Bay. Amongst the numerous Laughing Gulls of all ages was a first-winter-plumaged Lesser Black-backed Gull. This "Tobago rarity" had been present in the area for a couple of weeks and was the first of its species seen on the island since 2003. Also fishing along the shoreline were at least four Sandwich Terns, best described as an uncommon visitor to the island, together with the more expected and resident Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans. Our first Magnificent Frigatebirds soared effortlessly overhead, whilst "ever busy" Sanderlings chased the water's edge as only Sanderlings do.
It was already becoming pretty warm and the sun was quite fierce when we took the 10-minute drive to Bon Accord for an introduction to Tobago landbirds. Everyday common species soon came into view: Eared and White-tipped Doves, Barred Antshrike, Tropical and Gray Kingbirds, Tropical Mockingbird, Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers, Black-faced Grassquits, and Carib Grackles. Caribbean Martins and Short-tailed Swifts hawked flying insects overhead. Southern Lapwings sought shade in the hedgerows. Smooth-billed Anis showed why their local name is "Old Witch" (from the resemblance of their crooked beak to that of a witch), and Green-rumped Parrotlets added a splash of color.
Lorie found our first Red-eyed Vireo, Ed our first Brown-crested Flycatcher, and we all watched a wintering Yellow Warbler "chipping" its way through the mangrove whilst our first Little Blue and Tricolored Herons as well as Cattle and Great Egrets made it onto the tour list. We were unsuccessful, however, in tracking down a "reported" Northern Parula which, without question, and if originally correctly identified, would have been the rarest bird found in Tobago this year, to date.
It was getting hot — time for some relaxation. On the drive out of the area, the roadside ditches provided us with our first Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs together with a couple of vocal Solitary Sandpipers and a "bobbing" Spotted Sandpiper. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Arnos Vale Adventure Farm - the "adventure" being sitting on a shaded patio in armchairs, sipping home-made mango punch supplied by our attentive host, Ean Mackey, whilst watching White-necked Jacobins, Rufous-breasted Hermits, Black-throated Mangoes, and Ruby-Topaz and Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, all coming to the sugar water feeders.
At 11:20am we found our first Bananaquit! This was the first tour in T&T I had ever led on which it took us until almost midday to find a BQ! The "ooh's and aah's" were reserved, however, for our first Trinidad Motmot, which posed gracefully whilst Pale-vented Pigeon, Spectacled Thrush, White-lined Tanager, and Shiny Cowbirds were added to the list.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Grafton-Caledonia Bird Sanctuary, a protected area of tropical deciduous forest. Whilst waiting, with stomachs grumbling, for our hamper to arrive, we enjoyed excellent views of Red-crowned Woodpeckers and an exquisite adult male White-fringed Antwren. The nearby Scrub Greenlets were definitely an anti-climax(!), whilst the air was filled with the noise of Rufous-vented Chachalacas ("Cocrico" in Tobagonian) — a sound with which we were to become all too familiar at all hours of day and night.
Lunch was piping-hot pastelles, a local favorite — a cornmeal parcel filled with finely chopped spicy meat and wrapped in a banana leaf.
Early afternoon is, without question, the quietest time of day for birds in the forest — siesta reigns. Nevertheless, we walked a couple of trails, finding our first pleasing Yellow-breasted Flycatchers and dazzling Rufous-tailed Jacamars. However, multiple house points, gold stars, and any other accolades you care to mention go to Lorie for finding a pair of fully grown Ruschenberger's Treeboa (Corallus ruschenbergerii) wrapped around both each other and a supporting branch in what was obviously a most passionate embrace.
Then followed a scenic hour-long drive up the leeward coast of the island to Runnemede and then down into the valley, arriving at Cuffie River Nature Retreat, our base for the first three nights of the tour. We were greeted by our gracious host, Regina Dumas, before settling into our rooms. Before too long we were enjoying an excellent dinner of pumpkin soup followed by stewed chicken, lentil rissoles, and fresh garden salad.
But birding never sleeps... right outside the dining room window, both Common Potoo and White-tailed Nightjar perched atop their preferred hunting snags to the delight of the photographers amongst us.
Sunday, March 10 Dawn broke to a cacophony of sound from both chachalacas and Orange-winged Parrots. Following a 6:00am breakfast, we boarded Bert's bus once more to drive north-east initially, following the Caribbean coastline until we reached the village of Parlatuvier. En route, we found our first Giant Cowbirds attending their respective cattle. We turned east to climb up into the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, pausing to watch a pair of Red-legged Honeycreepers foraging atop an orange-blossomed Mountain Immortelle tree.
Early morning was a little overcast, so we passed half an hour or so walking along the beginning of Niplig Trace, hearing little and seeing even less! A short distance further on, we reached the main trail down into the forest: Gilpin Trace (Niplig spelt backwards as it's on the other side of the road!). This is a beautiful rainforest trail winding down through a ravine and following several streams. It was here that we were to spend the entire morning.
Rainforest birding can be frustrating at times. You never see as much as you hear, and all of us were to experience both highs and lows — but we did exceptionally well. On the one hand, Yellow-legged Thrush (looking just like a European Blackbird with yellow legs — often a bird difficult to find) were ever present.
By contrast, Blue-backed Manakins were nesting and really gave us the run around — indeed, they were possibly only seen by half of the group right at the end of our hike. In between, we enjoyed excellent views of our principal target bird in Tobago, the White-tailed Sabrewing hummingbird. Considered "near threatened" by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), this species occurs only here in Tobago and in a small portion of the Paria peninsula of Venezuela. Our first was a female feeding close to her nest; the second, a very close male bathing in the stream.
An immature Great Black Hawk sat motionless about 15ft up in a stunted palm tree right besides the path, alternately staring intently into the water's edge for crabs and uttering a long, drawn-out screech as if imploring its parent to help it out. Perched immature Buteogallus hawks are notoriously difficult to identify; however, a sure way of separating Great Black from the (much rarer in Tobago) Common Black is the absence of any moustachial or malar stripes on the former.
Both Olivaceous Woodcreeper and White-throated Spadebill were seen briefly, albeit at close quarters, but only a couple members of the group caught up with the particularly flighty Fuscous Flycatcher and White-necked Thrush. By contrast, our first Golden-olive Woodpecker and Cocoa Woodcreepers could not have been more obliging. Back out on the road, small parties of Gray-rumped Swifts hawked low flying insects.
It was time to drive to the northeast corner of the island and the village of Speyside, pausing briefly to watch an adult Great Black Hawk perched atop a distant tree on the skyline.
Lunch was taken at Jemma's Seaview Kitchen restaurant, in an almond tree right on the beach — grilled kingfish with callaloo soup, macaroni pie, and vegetables — and very nice it was, too!
Our afternoon birding could not have been more different from this morning's. At 2:30pm, we boarded our glass-bottomed boat, crewed by Zelanie and Shayne, and made the 20-minute crossing to Little Tobago Island. Once ashore, we climbed a short but steep path onto the saddle in the centre of the island, accompanied by several Trinidad Motmots, Yellow-bellied Elaenias, and Brown-crested Flycatchers.
The first seabird lookout provided a most welcomed breeze (the hike up to the saddle is, without doubt, the most humid in all of T&T). Here we were able to enjoy our first good views of Red-billed Tropicbirds soaring and gliding too and fro against the backdrop of the forested hillside.
A shorter, easier trail brought us to the main seabird lookout. Here we were able to separate, at our leisure, three different plumages of the two different color morphs of Red-footed Booby and a number of adult Brown Boobies, as well as an ever increasing swirling cloud of tropicbirds — there may well have been as many as 200 birds involved. Had we been a week earlier, we might just have seen the single White-tailed Tropicbird that had appeared amongst the crowd. Sinister-looking Magnificent Frigatebirds awaited tropicbirds returning with full crops — indeed, we watched one female frigatebird mercilessly and repeatedly attack a tropicbird until the latter regurgitated its hard earned-meal.
Our boat collected us from the island at 4:45pm. We paused over the world's largest growing Grooved Brain Coral — at least 2,000 years old — and then sailed onto the snorkelers' paradise of Japanese Garden and Angel Reef. Whilst outflow from the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela had restricted viewing clarity somewhat, we still were able to identify a variety of clams, sponges, and corals, with attendant Creole Wrasse, Blue Tang, and Sergeant Major tropical fish. Suddenly a large Hawksbill Turtle glided nonchalantly immediately underneath our glass viewing area — the moment of the day for many aboard!
It was then time to sit back and watch the world go by during the 90-minute drive back to Cuffie River where, following a quick shower and change, we lapped up yet another magnificent meal. Tonight is consisted of callaloo soup, red snapper, and homemade soursop ice-cream, all enjoyed with Common Potoo and White-tailed Nightjar on view.
Monday, March 11
Our final day in Tobago had no fixed itinerary. We were to spend the day at Cuffie River allowing for a mixture of exploring the estate and/or relaxing.
Pre-breakfast birding was spent, in the main, down by the bridge, where common species abound, but there was little to excite. Red-legged Honeycreepers were in the Immortelles; Yellow-bellied Elaenias were ever present, as were Red-crowned Woodpeckers, but that elusive Venezuelan Flycatcher was heard just the once, and rather distantly. As we made our way back to the breakfast table, a pair of noisy Streaked Flycatchers added a touch of glamour to the proceedings.
Following a leisurely breakfast of fried salami and eggs, fruit, and cereal, we decided to walk the entrance track. Right in front of the main building, a tantalizingly brief view of a Myiarchus flycatcher had us wondering — it looked promising but remained silent and disappeared almost immediately. Back down at the bridge, a Blue-backed Manakin — presumably an unmated male — responded vocally to my tape but stayed tantalizingly out of sight, offering no more than a glimpse to a select few. Along the roadside, Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Trinidad Motmots, and Red-eyed Vireos were much in evidence, several posing obligingly for the photographers.
We turned off onto a benching trail, but by late morning the bird activity had really dropped off. A brief interlude during which technology came up trumps produced a very inquisitive Olivaceous Woodcreeper but little else of note. Some of us then headed back to the bridge, arriving in time to see a Green Kingfisher perched beside the river.
Lunch was a cold platter of mayonnaise chicken, coleslaw, and breaded crumble with freshly squeezed fruit juice.
Most of the group assembled once more at 3pm for a final determined quest to seek Venezuelan Flycatcher. We immediately found a perched female Green Kingfisher, in all likelihood the same individual seen before lunch. Over the course of the next hour or so, there were several "kingfisher fly-pasts" that may or may not have indicated two different birds. Almost as spectacular was a party of perhaps 50 Gray-rumped Swifts that swooped down out of the overcast skies before dashing up and down the river, actually passing under the bridge.
Still the vigil continued, with occasional tape playing, until, late in the afternoon, a most welcome Venezuelan Flycatcher perched up in the open — never close, but entirely satisfying.
We dined on roast lamb with corn fritters and salad followed by pumpkin ice-cream. Our resident potoo and nightjar posed at "point blank range" thus providing a fitting end to a most successful Tobago leg of the tour.
Tuesday, March 12
Today's principal focus was the inter-island flight back over to Trinidad, followed by road transfer to Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC). All logistical arrangements went according to plan — indeed, our plane left five minutes early. My good friends Kris Sookdeo and Ivan LaRose were at Piarco airport to meet us, and by 10:30am we were sitting on the Asa Wright balcony with a whole new world of birds to identify and enjoy.
The birding adventures of Trinidad forming the remainder of this report have been completed by Kris. As for me, I just wish to thank all of the tour party for their friendship and good nature. Their punctuality and, more important, sharp eyesight made my role so much easier, and it was definitely a pleasure to be a part of this tour.
Tuesday, March 12 (continued)
It would be hard to describe the flurry of colour that greeted the group upon their arrival at the world famous Asa Wright Nature Centre. Numerous Purple Honeycreepers, Green Honeycreepers, White-necked Jacobins, and the ubiquitous Bananaquit were in attendance at the birdfeeders, as they would be for the remainder of the trip. From the forest, the calls of Cocoa Woodcreepers and the amazing clanging of Bearded Bellbirds could be heard.
But before the birding could continue, the group had to be pulled away for a formal introduction to myself and the AWNC. While the Centre was founded only in 1967, the history of the house and the property itself goes back much further, with its history having been traced to at least 1906, when the main house was built and when the property was being cultivated as a cocoa and coffee plantation.
After a hurried lunch, the group reassembled on the veranda, from which a lone Zone-tailed Hawk, multiple Black Vultures, and an immature Common Black Hawk could be seen circling far down the Arima Valley. The birdfeeders continued to draw in a variety of colourful tropical species including Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, Blue-chinned Sapphire, and Trinidad Motmot. The Centre guides spotted a pair of Channel-billed Toucans far down the valley and aligned the veranda's spotting scope so that everyone could have a look. But you don't need to look very far to see good birds from AWNC's veranda. Next to the veranda grows a lovely Trema tree in which several interesting birds usually could be found and which was almost always attended by an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher.
For my first walk of the trip, I decided to take the group along the Discovery/Bellbird Trail in hopes that we could knock off a few of the more difficult forest species and at the same time avoid another noisy group that was also out for a walk at this time. As noted previously, birding in the early afternoon often is unproductive, but we soon managed to find a pair of Red-rumped Woodpeckers. Thereafter we were treated to the best views of White-bellied Antbird that anyone could wish for as a male and female pair worked the forest floor, eventually approaching within six feet of the group! (What a time to forget my camera!)
Proceeding along the narrow trail, we picked up Plain-brown Woodcreeper as well as Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins, while the sounds of Bearded Bellbird got closer and closer. Arriving at the Bearded Bellbird lek, it took me quite a while to locate the author of that tremendous clanging noise, eventually spotting a cooperative male Bearded Bellbird midway up a forest tree.
On the way back to the main house, a group member pointed out a bird perched above the forest trail. It was our first Collared Trogon! This spectacular bird has always been a favourite of mine with its crimson-red breast and contrasting green back. Higher up the trail we had a decent look at a Yellow-olive Flycatcher. On the same tree, we saw the distinctive nest of a species of wasp know locally as the "Tattoo" wasp because of the similarity of the nest to the hardened armour of an armadillo ("Tattoo" being the local name for the Nine-banded Armadillo).
With the veranda in sight, the group paused, hoping to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous male Tufted Coquette (which we eventually did). While waiting, I heard the distinctive scream of a Black Hawk-Eagle overheard. Rushing forward, the group was treated to the sight of this magnificent raptor circling directly over the main house. While formerly considered a very rare resident, the Black Hawk-Eagle has become commoner in the lowlands of Trinidad but remains rare in the mountainous forests of the Northern Range.
Retiring to the veranda and procuring their afternoon rum punches (which quickly became a favourite treat for the group), some of the participants briefly glimpses a Squirrel Cuckoo disappearing into a tall tree next to the veranda. After dinner, a few of us opted to go on a night walk along the main driveway, a foray conducted by Centre guide Barry Ramdass. Manicou Crabs of all sizes seemed to occupy every nook and cranny along the driveway, while harvestmen roamed the ground. Besides several smaller spiders that went unidentified, a Trinidad Chevron Tarantula (which is endemic to Trinidad) was spotted as it lay motionless on its bamboo stalk perch. Also of note were numerous stick insects of different species that seemed to be out in force that night. A lovely end to a lovely day!
Wednesday, March 13
This morning would see the group getting up very early so as to be ready for departure at 5:45am for the long drive to south Trinidad. Our first stop was at the Sudama Terrath, a religious site on the banks of the New Cut River. While some members of the group availed themselves of the public washroom there (amazingly, it was functional for once!), other members of the group quickly picked up Masked Cardinal and Pied Water-Tyrant in the nearby mangroves, while a Merlin made two flybys overhead. In the waterway that runs parallel to the mangroves, Striated Heron, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, and White-headed Marsh-Tyrant were seen.
Walking along the river bank, we were soon able to get good views of Yellow Oriole and the charismatic Spotted Tody-Flycatcher in the mangrove trees. Alas, we would spend close to 30 minutes trying to find a stationary Rufous-browed Peppershrike which, when it finally showed itself, was seen by only about half the group before it flew across the water channel.
After walking quite a distance, we were finally able to see a distant Long-winged Harrier, thanks to Johan. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the group onto Masked Yellowthroats, as the only birds I saw were all in flight. However, the group was able to enjoy good views of both male and female Black-crested Antshrikes in the mangroves as well as a surprise treat of a pair of Spotted Tody-Flycatchers building a nest. While scanning the extensive reed beds for the elusive Pinnated Bittern, we saw a Peregrine Falcon that had just caught a Purple Gallinule and was flying up to a nearby tower to have its breakfast.
We never did find that bittern, but that Peregrine reminded us of our own hunger, so it was on to the nearby town of Debe for brunch. Here the group enjoyed several local delicacies including Doubles (a fried sandwich with chick peas), Saheena (essentially a fried spinach and chick pea flour fritter) and Biganee (an eggplant fritter). Some group members even tried Barfi — a local sweet made with milk and sugar.
Refreshed and ready to hit the road again, we headed north to Carli Bay on the Gulf of Paria. This is an area of short-cropped grass, situated on Trinidad's west coast. Here we would quickly find Saffron Finch, Grayish Saltator, and a lonely female Great-tailed Grackle — a non-resident species. This individual appears to have been stranded here since July 2012, possibly hitching a ride on a passing cargo ship. [Earlier this year she was seen carrying nesting material at Carli Bay, and as of mid-March, she is being seen in the company of a male Carib Grackle and three suspicious-looking young.]
With the afternoon sun bearing down upon us and the group becoming a bit weary, I decided to cut short our stay at Carli Bay and head to the main attraction — Orange Valley. This wide expanse of tidal mudflat hosted thousands of Laughing Gulls, and the sight immediately perked everyone up (back at the AWNC we would later agree on an approximate figure of 3,000 birds). Scattered among the noisy Laughing Gulls were Royal Tern, Large-billed Tern, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Whimbrels, and Western Sandpipers.
But pride of place went to the flamboyant Scarlet Ibis that were probing the soft mud for crabs. (I had secretly hoped that we would not see these birds today so that the effect of seeing them on the final day of this tour would be amplified, but it was really hard for such a bird to go unnoticed amongst the sea of white gulls and terns at Orange Valley.) We were in for another surprise as a family group of Greater Anis were found hunting in the nearby mangroves. After spending close to an hour at Orange Valley, we decided it was time to head back to AWNC. We had no luck with finding the endemic race of Clapper Rail, but nobody seemed to mind.
Thursday, March 14
After facing the heat of yesterday, I was quite pleased to awaken to the sound of rain at 3:00am. (The sound of rain on rooftops in a tropical rainforest is about the loveliest sound in world, in my opinion.) Indeed, I had hoped for some rain, as this tends to increase bird activity. Unfortunately, I should have emphasized the word "some" when I made my wish because the rains would continue all morning. To compound matters, today we were to head higher up into the Northern Range, and a higher elevation usually involves even more rain. We could only hope that the weather would clear up.
The drive started pleasantly enough. Our first interesting find was a Common Black Hawk perched on a low branch over the roadway and affording everyone a good look. I decided to take the group up to the top of Morne Bleu, which happens to be the highest drivable section of the Northern Range and which is a good location for Highland Hepatic Tanager. While there, we did manage to see a female Piranga tanager that was almost certainly a Hepatic Tanager; unfortunately, the brevity of the observation and the poor viewing conditions made it difficult to be certain.
The rain and misty conditions would only worsen but not before some of the group managed to get onto Sooty Grassquit, Blue-headed Parrot, and a lovely male American Redstart. Eventually the rain forced us to return to the bus. We headed down to our next destination — Las Lapas. Las Lapas is a wide gravel track that snakes its way through the Blanchisseuse forest. Here we were hoping to pick up several interesting species including the gorgeous Swallow-Tanagers that were beginning to breed in tunnels dug into the dirt banks along the trail. This was not to be, unfortunately. Heavy rains made spotting or hearing birds all but impossible. After about 15 minutes of walking, we gave up and headed back to the bus, but at least we managed to have a good look at Scaled Pigeon and Tropical Parula.
I had one more trump card to play that morning — nearby was a large Trema tree that sometimes hosts Speckled Tanager and Olive-sided Flycatcher. But fate would be against us yet again as the tree was bare of fruit, and we could see no birds amongst the branches.
It was no fun being wet, miserable, and hungry, so I decided that our best bet would be to take an early lunch at the nearby Brasso Seco visitor facility. On the way there, we found a pair of Common Black Hawks on a nest, a Plumbeous Kite, and a Broad-winged Hawk. Amazingly, the weather in Brasso Seco was clear and sunny! My decision turned out to be quite profitable, as we were able to add Gray-headed Kite, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, and Yellow-rumped Cacique while feasting on a delicious rice pelau (which we mused was probably a descendant of the traditional rice pilaf).
Leaving sunny Brasso Seco behind, we headed back up into the hills — and right back into the rain and mist! At this point, we gave up. Ed suggested switching Saturday's planned trip to the Oilbird Cave to this afternoon and give Blanchisseuse another try on Saturday. A brilliant idea! After a few phone calls, the kind folks at AWNC gave us the go-ahead for this unanticipated fine-tuning. Back at AWNC, we were able to spend some time on the veranda. Down the valley, a pair of Double-toothed Kites rested on a favourite perch. Some members of the group were also able to pick up both Green-backed and Guianan Trogons.
In the meantime, Becky, Rick and I decided that we might as well make use of the wet weather and do some frog hunting. We managed to observe several of the endemic Trinidad Stream Frogs (Mannophryne trinitatis), but the star was undoubtedly a sleeping Gladiator Treefrog (Hypsiboas rosenbergi) that was just over six inches long. Soon it was time to head down to Dunstan Cave. Along the way, our Centre guide, Richard Smith, told us the history of the cave and a bit about the ecology of the Oilbirds within. We heard a pair of Stripe-breasted Spinetails calling to each other in the forest, but these secretive birds would remain unseen.
As we neared the cave, the ghoulish sounds emanating from within took everyone by surprise — certainly no birds could make such a sound! It was, of course, the sound of AWNC's very own Oilbird colony — billed as the most accessible Oilbird colony in the world. In the gloom of Richard's torch, we could make out the huddled masses of these amazing birds clinging to the grotto walls. I would have loved to stay until dusk to see the birds fly out, but I doubt that the group would have forgiven me if I'd made them miss their rum punches.
Later that night, Richard hosted another night walk along the driveway. We expected more frogs with the wet weather, but, oddly enough, there were not too many about. We did manage to find a young Ruschenberger's Treeboa (which in Trinidad & Tobago has long been confused with Cook's Tree Boa) and relocated our Gladiator Treefrog, albeit fully awake this time.
Friday, March 15
The rains would not bother us today, as we were heading off to the lowlands. In fact, the overcast conditions would help us avoid the worst of the glaring sun. Earlier in the morning, a few group members had managed to spot a Short-tailed Nighthawk from the comfort of the veranda. While awaiting our transport, we were able to find Cocoa Thrush, Gray-fronted Dove, and Scaled Pigeon.
Our first stop today was the Aripo Livestock Station — an open-country ranch environment. We arrived at 8:00am. The guards waved us in, being used to the frequent presence of local and foreign birdwatchers at the facility. We quickly added Red-breasted Blackbird, Savannah Hawk, Grassland Yellow-Finch, and White-winged Swallow to our list.
I really wanted to find a Pinnated Bittern for the group, but a careful search of the grass pastures turned up nothing. Unfortunately, this year's "dry season" had taken its toll on the lowlands, and dry conditions prevailed, desiccating the wet patches that this bittern frequents. Further into the station, I briefly observed a male Ruddy-breasted Seedeater but was unable to get the group onto it in time. The ranch also contains small patches of scrubby secondary forest, and here we saw Blue Dacnis, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Yellow-breasted Flycatcher.
Leaving the Livestock Station, we headed east to Manzanilla, stopping for lunch at the lovely Manzanilla beach facility. Here we saw Sanderlings, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Gray-breasted Martins while picnicking on tuna casserole and bread pudding. Next, we headed south along the coconut-palm-lined east coast. These coconut palms are a favourite habitat for raptors. With the help of Ivan's sharp eyesight, we soon added Gray-lined Hawk and Crested Caracara.
Eventually we arrived at the sleepy village of Kernahan, at the southern edge of the great Nariva Swamp. I was hoping that we would have a chance at Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Common Gallinule, and perhaps one more shot at Pinnated Bittern here. Unfortunately, the area had been wracked by bush fires, and we could find nothing of interest except for a Giant Cowbird and a lone Crested Caracara near the Forestry Division's watchtower. Although a Crested Caracara anywhere in Trinidad is a spectacular find, in retrospect, I think that our time here could have been better spent at out next destination — Wallerfield.
Wallerfield is the location of an abandoned US military base that was constructed during World War II. Instead of hosting airplanes, the old airstrip now hosts birdwatchers who visit the area for its easy access to extensive stands of Moriche Palms. With some effort, we eventually found three of our target species — Sulphury Flycatcher, Moriche Oriole, and Fork-tailed Palm-Swift.
While the group enjoyed their rum punches (yes, we brought it with us!), they kept a lookout for our fourth target species — Red-bellied Macaw. Unfortunately, no macaws had been seen or heard by the time we had to pack up and head back to the AWNC, making it back just in time for a late dinner.
Saturday, March 16
We awoke on this, our final day, to overcast skies. Indeed, it began to rain just after dawn, but eventually the weather began to clear up, so we decided to try our luck along Blanchisseuse Road once again. Everything looked great as we headed to Las Lapas. But then the mist began to gradually creep in. By the time we rounded the final bend at Las Lapas, it was a complete whiteout, which greatly reduced visibility.
Determined to make the best out of it, we turned around and headed back to a clearer area. Birding was hard here, but we managed to find Golden-crowned Warbler, White-flanked Antwren, Euler's and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, Rufous-breasted Wren, and Green Hermit. I then decided to take a shot at Morne Bleu once again. Arriving at the top, we once again saw our female Piranga tanager hunting along a perimeter fence (classic Hepatic Tanager behaviour in this area), but once again, poor visibility ruled out definite identification. We did, however, get good looks at a Black-whiskered Vireo — a scarce migrant to Trinidad & Tobago.
Descending from the top of Morne Bleu, we stopped to inspect a hummingbird nest sited precariously close to the road. While we were there, a Short-tailed Hawk glided overhead and then hung motionless in midair as if suspended on strings.
I had hoped that the weather would have improved a bit, so we shot off to Las Lapas for one more try. Everything looked great as we drove nearer. But as we came around that final bend, all hopes were dashed, as Las Lapas lay still shrouded in thick mist. At this point, the consensus was to return to the AWNC. Here we would make one last-minute dash along the Discovery Trail to try and add as many new species as possible. Our efforts were rewarded with magnificent views of the elusive Gray-throated Leaftosser, a Great Antshrike, and a good look at several Yellow-olive Flycatchers.
After a hurried lunch, the focus shifted to getting everyone ready for their final departure from AWNC. Check-out proceeded smoothly, and by the time we had reassembled on the veranda, some group members had added Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Golden-olive Woodpecker to their lists. As the group met for its last briefing at AWNC, Caleb Walker, one of the Centre's guides, spotted a distant White Hawk and graciously positioned the spotting scope so as to allow everyone to add one final species to their lists. With that, it was time to say our goodbyes to the AWNC's staff and depart Asa Wright for good.
We proceeded directly to the Caroni Swamp, where I immediately took the group to a nearby location (actually an electricity sub-station!) for the sole purpose of adding Common Ground-Dove to the list. Mission accomplished! With the dove found, we headed to the Caroni Swamp Visitors' Centre, where we met up with our expert swamp guide, Shawn Madoo. We took our places in one of Shawn's spacious wooden boats, and he soon put us onto a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls roosting in the mangroves overhead.
Cruising about, Shawn pointed out the curious looking Four-eyed Fish (Anableps sp.), which patrolled along the surface of the water. As the boat ventured deeper into the swamp, we picked up more new birds, including Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Common Potoo, American Pygmy and Green Kingfishers, and Green-throated Mango (excellent job, Shawn!). Bonus points to Shawn for also getting the group onto another mating pair of Ruschenberger's Treeboa and a sleeping Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus).
As dusk drew nearer, we eventually entered into an open lagoon and moored up alongside a mangrove island. As the rum and cookies were passed around, we all enjoyed the final spectacle of the trip as huge flocks of luminescent Scarlet Ibis wheeled in overhead and gathered in a nearby mangrove island. The clicking of cameras and collective gasps were all but drowned out by the squawks emanating from the colony, which by now had taken on the appearance of a huge Christmas tree, decorated with red ibis and white egrets. What a sight to behold!
As darkness fell, more and more birds arrived. All too soon, it was time for us to leave. Indeed, this would be our last birding moments together in Trinidad & Tobago. I can't imagine a better way to end the trip! My sincere thanks go out to everyone who participated on this trip for making it a productive experience despite the inclement weather. It was a pleasure birding with you all.