Trinidad & Tobago: a tropical island paradise

Nine days of birding one of the best intros to the tropics!  

 

This tour can be run upon request

Asa Wright Nature Center ©Peg Abbott

Tour is run by Swallowtail Birding Tours partnering with Caligo Ventures (caligo.com) in T&T.

Avid birders and naturalist have flocked to Asa Wright Nature Centre for over three decades, drawn by a magnetic combination of fascinating birds, talented naturalists, and a place that makes history in the study of the New World Tropics. Many agree the twin islands, closely linked to South America in origin, provide the best possible introduction to the New World Tropics. In Trinidad and Tobago, GREAT VIEWS of the birds abound!
As if by some magic, the islands seem to create an unusual tameness in some amazing species, making them much easier to observe! Trinidad Motmots, Purple, and Green Honeycreepers are among some 30 species possible to see before breakfast on your first day, as they come to feeders. The Asa Wright Nature Centre’s Dunston Oilbird Cave is the most accessible on the planet.

 

Purple Honeycreeper ©Chris West

 

Why travel with Chris? Exctitement, Enrichment, Expertise.  His experience with past tropical travels and knowledge of tropical birds and ecosystems lends a more in depth aspect to your experience birding this island paradise.
Teamed with Trinidad and Tobago’s legendary local guides – this is a trip not to miss.

To Register for this Special Tour contact Caligo Ventures by Phone or Email, or contact Swallowtail Tours (info on the Contact page) and I’ll pass along your registration.
A Deposit of $300 holds your space. Balance is due two months prior to departure.

Limit of 12 participants!

BWI Franks boat for LTI

Boat to Little Tobago Island ©Peg Abbott

 

ITINERARY AT A GLANCE:
MAIN TOUR:
January 4: Arrival in Port of Spain / Transfer to Asa Wright Nature Centre
Jan. 5: Centre Grounds Birding: Bearded Bellbird, two species of manakins, tropical birds galore!
Jan. 6: Blanchisseuse Road and Trinidad’s Northern Range
Jan. 7: Nariva Swamp and Trinidad’s East Coast
Jan. 8: Dunston Oilbird Cave and Caroni Marsh Boat Tour for Roosting Scarlet Ibis by the Score
Jan. 9: Early Birding from Asa Wright’s Legendary Veranda / flight to Tobago / Birding
Jan. 10: Tobago’s Main Ridge Preserve Gilpin Trace Birding
Jan. 11: Little Tobago Island for White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird and snorkeling / Flight return to Trinidad
Jan. 12: Departures to USA or depart for 1N extension for rare Trinidad Piping Guans

Tour price: $1995/person (6-12 participants)
Single supplement, as available, is $580.00.
Trinidad Piping-guan 1 night extension to Grand Riviere: $255

Based on double occupancy. This tour price includes all accommodations, meals as specified in the itinerary, professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses.

Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to Port of Spain Piarco, Airport, optional activities, lodge and guide gratuities, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, maid gratuities or beverages from the bar.
Group Size: Minimum of 6 persons, maximum of 12.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

©Peg Abbott

ITINERARY
Day 1, Jan 4:
Arrive at Piarco International Airport in Port-of-Spain (POS).
Staff from the non-profit Asa Wright Nature Centre greet all arriving flights.
From the airport it is about a 45 minute to one-hour drive up into the mountains where we spend the next five nights in accommodations at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge. The original estate home serves as a common area for dining, relaxing, enjoying the “Birder’s Bar” and for bird viewing from the famed Verandah. Asa Wright Nature Centre lies at an elevation of approximately 1200 ft. in a habitat type known as Evergreen Seasonal Forest. Formerly the Springhill Estate, the grounds have returned to a wild state from once extensive coffee, cocoa and citrus plantations. Some coffee, cocoa, and citrus plants are still maintained alongside the wild second-growth forest vegetation at the Centre. Natural second-growth has taken over and festooned the abandoned plantation vegetation with vines and a host of epiphytes. The whole effect is one of being deep in a tropical rainforest. Those arriving by 6PM can enjoy their first rum punch while tallying up a host of species. For those arriving earlier, a walk within the forest is the perfect complement to time spent on the verandah of the Asa Wright Nature Centre, where Ruby Topaz, Tufted Coquette, Great and Barred antshrikes, Squirrel Cuckoo, and both Purple, and Green honeycreepers are among the many species that can be readily seen.

 

Trinidad Motmot ©Chris West

Day 2, Jan 5:
Morning begins with the raucous noise of the Crested Oropendola, just one of several exotic sounds. A cup of fresh-roasted Trinidad coffee is waiting for you on the property’s famous bird-viewing verandah. A first-time visitor might see 20-30 life birds before breakfast! Our day will start with a guided tour of the several trails that traverse this rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary. Along the trail we may find such species as Guianan (Violaceous) Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive and Chestnut Woodpeckers, White-bearded Manakins perhaps dancing at their lek site, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and perhaps a mixed flock that includes Turquoise and Bay-headed Tanagers. In lush forests along the trail, we hope to spot Golden-headed Manakin and the noisy Bearded Bellbird. Red-rumped Agouti spend time where forest fruits drop beside the trail, a colony of Crested Oropendolas ensures a steady stream of this species passing overhead; along with them keep watch for Orange-winged and Blue-headed parrots as well as raptors including Ornate Hawk Eagle, Black Hawk Eagle and White Hawk. Meet resident naturalists of the Centre who share a storehouse of local knowledge. In the afternoon, we take another trail or work the long driveway area leading in to the Centre, from which many of the more elusive species can be found. After a day of travel it is nice to explore on foot and the Centre grounds are replete with species. Those that wish can just remain on the Verandah and let the birds come to you! Tea is served daily in the late afternoon, followed by rum punch, a lovely custom to watch sunset with the birds from the Verandah. After dinner, enjoy an evening program or perhaps a leisurely night walk to listen for owls.

 

 

White-necked Jacobin ©Chris West

Day 3, Jan 6:
Today we embark on a scenic, all-day excursion following a lush and winding mountain road that passes over the Northern Range towards the seaside fishing village of Blanchisseuse. Trinidad’s Northern Range is an eastern extension of the Coastal Cordillera of Venezuela, a connecting range to the Andes. We leave just after breakfast, to drive north on the Blanchisseuse Road into the upper elevations of the Northern Range forest. This is the only road on the island which bisects the Northern range before finally descending to the Caribbean coastline. En route we reach the highest elevation possible by motor vehicle, some 2,200 ft. elevation. Our day will be spent birding both quiet country roads and wide forest tracks seeking species more easily found at this higher altitude. We will take a picnic lunch with us which will be enjoyed in the village of Brasso Seco where clean washroom facilities are available. This is not a day where we spend a long time driving. We make numerous roadside birding stops, never walk far from the vehicles and there are always coolers with both water and fruit juice on board.

TT 07 B RV Chach pair tail displayWEB

Rufous-vented Chachalaca ©Peg Abbott

Our target species include Short-tailed Hawk, Blue-headed Parrot, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Collared and Green-backed trogons, Golden-olive, Red-rumped and Chestnut woodpeckers, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Cocoa and Plain-Brown woodcreepers, White-bellied Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Dusky-capped, Slaty-capped, Streaked and Euler’s flycatchers, Gray-breasted Martin, Rufous-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-necked Thrush, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Speckled and Hepatic tanagers, Blue Dacnis and Golden-crowned Warbler. Bright blooms of the forest canopy attract a number of nectar-feeding birds. Along with rich birdlife, we will also have an opportunity to examine the fascinating world of leaf-cutter and army ants, and to photograph orchids, elephant ear philodendron, ferns, mosses, and other tropical flora. Occasionally an Ornate Hawk-Eagle can be seen soaring over and there is an outside chance of finding Trinidad’s most sought endemic species today – Pawi or Trinidad Piping Guan. Several birds reside in the high forests but we will need to be fortunate indeed to find them. In the appropriate seasons, wintering American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush can be found intermingled with resident species. Towards mid-afternoon we stop our northward journey at the village of Morne le Croix. Here we take afternoon tea and cake whilst looking for additional species such as Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Southern Rough-winged Swallow and Yellow-rumped Cacique before a late afternoon drive back south to the Centre in time for a shower before rum punch and dinner.

 

Day 4, Jan 7:
The east side of Trinidad hosts an ecosystem very different than that of Caroni on the west side. Here, where the Nariva River reaches the sea, freshwater environments are comprised of herbaceous swamp and swamp forest, dotted with a few patches of mangroves such as the area around Bush Bush Creek. Nariva is the largest freshwater herbaceous swamp on the island. Along its edges are “palm islands,” where the tall Moriche Palm is common. Here too we will see a unique mangrove community, made up primarily of the stilt-rooted rhizophora mangrove, which often reaches a height of 80 feet. Part of our drive follows the ocean shore down scenic “Coconut Alley”.As part of the day, we walk into the Bush Bush Forest, an area that provides good birding, and a good chance to see Red Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys and possible other mammals such as Prehensile-tailed Porcupines. This is a raised area of sandy soils, surrounded by wetlands, and site of much of the work of C. Brooke Worth that is described so well in his book, A Naturalist in Trinidad. In 1999, a reintroduction effort to restore Blue and Yellow Macaws was begun here. The walk is in an area where permits are required by the Forestry Department, in the sanctuary where hunting is not allowed and thus it’s a good place to look for mammals.

Tufted Coquette ©Chris West

 

Immediately after breakfast, we leave Asa Wright Nature Centre and travel south down the Arima valley before turning east. We have now entered the lowlands where Great Kiskadees and Tropical Kingbirds regularly perch on overhead utility wires, Carib Grackles abound and Short-tailed Swift is the most common aerial feeder. Just below the foothills of the Northern Range lies the Aripo Agriculture Research Station which works primarily with livestock, breeding a cross of Water Buffalo and Brahma cattle.
This open countryside and rough pasture allows us the opportunity to seek out a number of new species including Cocoi Heron, Savannah Hawk, Gray-headed Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing,Green-rumped Parrotlet, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift and White-winged Swallows. White-headed Marsh Tyrants, Pied Water-Tyrants, and Yellow-chinned Spinetails rattle throatily from the grasses whilst Red-breasted Blackbirds add a splash of color. This is also the only site where we can reliably find Grassland Yellow-Finches and there is a chance of finding Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. Having taken a comfort break in the nearby town of Valencia, we drive on for about an hour to the Atlantic coast, taking our hot picnic lunch on the beach at Manzanilla. Both Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans are easily found here. During January – April, there is an outside chance of seeing a Leach’s Storm-Petrel on its northward migration, especially if there is a strong on-shore wind. The early afternoon will find us driving slowly south through a million coconut palms looking for raptors sheltering from the midday sun. We should see Common Black-Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara and Savannah Hawk and have a realistic chance of finding Pearl Kite, Gray-lined Hawk and Crested Caracara. A brief stop near some roadside mangroves offers the possibility of Rufous tailed JacamarPlumbeous Kite, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-crested Antshrike, Silvered Antbird and Brown-crested Flycatcher. Eventually we enter Nariva Swamp through the settlement of Kernaham. Here we will slowly drive the raised bund roads looking out over both freshwater marsh and water melon cultivation fields. Target species here include Pinnated Bittern, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Purple Gallinule, Yellow-hooded Blackbird and we will spend time seeking out the enchanting White-tailed Goldenthroat hummingbird. Long-winged Harriers occasionally quarter the reeds and if we are lucky both Yellow-crowned Parrot and Red-bellied Macaw will be seen flying in to roost. Historically this has been the site for one of Nariva’s best kept secrets, the diminutive and secretive Azure Gallinule. They still exist in the marsh but the habitat is changing, and we would need luck to find one. Late arrival back at the Centre means going straight into dinner.

 

Oilbirds ©Chris West

 

Day 5, Jan 8:
We’ll visit Dunston Cave, a beautiful riparian grotto located on the sanctuary, home to a breeding colony of the fascinating nocturnal Oilbird. Naturalists will announce a walk down to Dunston Cave, home to one of the most accessible Oilbird caves in the entire world. A walk along Guacharo trail gets you there in around 45 minutes. The trail can be steep in places, but there are well hand-rails along the way and at the destination an Oilbird viewing area. Trinidad is perhaps the easiest place to see the world’s only fruit eating, nocturnal bird which navigates within the cave by echo location. It is much, much bigger than anyone expects (almost the size of a small harrier – it has a wingspan of up to 42 inches). The floor of the cave is littered with germinating palm seedlings. The Oilbirds swallow the palm fruit entire, and, after the pericarp is digested, regurgitate the seeds. Oilbirds are birds very important to seed dispersal of a number of tropical trees. Staff of the Centre have collected these seeds and planted them around the estate to enrich the habitat. En route, this trail

Blue Transparent ©Chris West

Blue Transparent ©Chris West

provides the best opportunity to find Gray-throated Leaftosser and Red-crowned Ant-Tanager on the Estate and perhaps your only chance of viewing, at a safe distance, a sleeping Fer-de-Lance. On the return we can retrace our steps, or connect to another of the Centre’s several trails to make a longer loop. These are less traveled and a real prize sighting might be that of the elusive Little Tinamou. The cave has a stream running through it; the water level is dependent upon recent rainfall. However you should not get more than your ankles wet. Please note the Centre regulates no flash photography at the Cave. Limited Access, guided walks only.

Caroni Swamp comprises 6000 hectares of protected area, including National Park lands, its habitat being mainly mangrove forest. It holds a very specialized mangrove forest that contains several genera and species of mangroves, showing classic examples of plant adaptation in a unique brackish water community. From the Centre, we drive in the direction of Port of Spain, close to the airport. This wild land area is south of the

Common Potoo ©Chris West

Common Potoo ©Chris West

growing sprawl of the city, but worlds away from the city’s congestion. Before our boat departs, we have the opportunity to seek out mangrove species from the roadside. Black-crested Antshrike, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Straight- billed Woodcreeper and Masked Cardinal are some of the possibilities. There is also the opportunity of clean washrooms facilities at the National Park Information Facility. After boarding our small tour boats, we explore to the west down the Blue River (or as we Trinis call it, No 9 drain). This is a public waterway used both by fishermen and leisure boaters before we turn south into the permit controlled forestry reserve. Our boat leaves around 4.00pm, under the leadership of an experienced tour guide who visits the swamp each day.

Whilst the highlight of the afternoon is the Scarlet Ibis spectacle, we will spend an hour or so slowly navigating some of the mangrove channels seeking out those specialties of the area such as Green-throated Mango, Greater Ani and Bicolored Conebill. Gliding through the peaceful mangrove habitat, we’ll seek out some of its more specialized denizens — Neotropic Cormorants, Anhingas, Striated Herons, White-cheeked Pintails, Large-billed Terns, Pied Water Tyrants, and striking Masked (Red-capped) Cardinals. Often there are roosting Tropical Screech-Owls and a Common Potoo close to the water and we have a distinct chance of spotting a kingfisher or two with Green, Ringed and American Pygmy all living in the swamp. There is also an outside chance of a Boat-billed Heron, the least confiding of our salt-water herons. On the way, the boatman will keep a special eye out for Ruschenberger’s Tree Boa roosting in the branches close to the river – these snakes feed almost exclusively on small birds and can grow to about 7-8 ft. long. We also have a Scarlet ibis flightchance of a roosting Silky Anteater or even a Spectacled Caiman. We then moor up, sip our rum punch and wait for parties of Scarlet Ibis, plus smaller numbers of Tricolored and Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets flying into roost in the mangroves. The star attraction will be the spectacular flight of Scarlet Ibises, which occur often by the 100’s, and in some months by the 1000’s, returning to their mangrove roosts at dusk. This is truly one of the world’s most dramatic natural moments. We leave as light begins to wane, retracing our steps back, arriving at the dock at dusk. En route we will search the mangrove-lined channels for the mysterious-sounding Common Potoo and with luck nocturnal Boat-billed Heron. We then, return direct to the Centre for a slightly later than usual dinner.

 

Day 6, Jan 9:
Enjoy a final morning of birding from the Verandah or trails, and then head to the Port of Spain Airport to take a flight to Tobago. We are met by a new local expert bird guide there, Gladwyn James, and start right away seeking out some of the island’s specialties. We visit a few ponds and lagoons looking for Least Grebe, Great and Snowy egrets, Black-Blue Waters Pool and Oceancrowned Night-Heron, Tricolored and Green herons, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Least Grebe, White-cheeked Pintail, and Purple Gallinule. In trees around the sites find Red-crowned Woodpecker and Scrub Greenlet. Overhead, watch for Caribbean Martin, and in scrub vegetation, Black-faced Grassquit and Eared Dove. From the airport to Blue Waters Inn at Speyside it is about an hour and a half, we enjoy a local lunch en route as well as birding. Once there its time to settle in and enjoy the beach and pool! Die-hard birders can find birds aplenty on the grounds, including Rufous-vented Chachalacas and Trinidad Motmots, both quite tame.

 

Red-billed Tropicbird ©Chris West

Day 7, Jan 10:
Enjoy waking up to sounds of forest birds in the lush vegetation all around. From the bay at Speyside we travel by boat (20-30 minutes) to Little Tobago Island, one of this nation’s most important wildlife sanctuaries. Crossing over to the island watch for Leatherback and Hawksbill turtles and enjoy spectacular views of one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful and pristine coral formations from the comfort of the tour operator’s glass-bottom boat. As we cross over to the island we will watch for Leatherback and Hawksbill Sea Turtles and enjoy spectacular views of one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful, and pristine coral formations from the comfort of our glass-bottom boat. Upon landing we explore the dry forests of Little Tobago Island, looking for Chivi Vireo, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Pale-vented Pigeon. Climb up to a lookout for a view of nesting cliffs above a grand expanse of ocean. In addition, explore the nesting ground of Red-billed Tropicbird, Red-footed and Brown boobies, Brown Noddy, and Sooty and Bridled terns.

 

Black-throated Mango ©Chris West

Day 8, Jan 11:
After breakfast with Ruddy Turnstones, we pack up, and then head out to explore the mountains of Tobago, seeing some of the scenic coastline of the island before driving up to the premier Unesco World Heritage Site of Tobago, a geographic backbone of rugged terrain reaching almost 2000 ft. in elevation and covered by forests and extending parallel to the coast in the Northeast portion of the island. Established in 1776, Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve is one of the oldest legally-protected forest reserves in our hemisphere. Early on its managers had the foresight to understand the connection of a healthy forest and a productive watershed for the island’s agricultural areas below.
A trail through this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an excellent place to White-tailed Saberwing, a stunning hummingbird thought to be lost, but rediscovered here after Hurricane Flora altered much of the island’s forest habitats in 1963.
On a winding trail that descends into the forest, we look not only for saberwings, but also Blue-backed Manakin, Olivacous Woodcreeper, Yellow-legged Thrush, both Fuscous and Venezuelan flycatchers, the elusive White-throated Spadebill, and Plain Antvireo. Tobago has weathered several hurricanes over the years and it is interesting to note how this has sculptured the forests, evidenced here by numerous palms. After our hike, we head down the island to Crown Point to the small Tobago airport for our short (about 30 minute) connecting flight back to Trinidad. We need to reposition here to make it possible for early morning flights from the International Airport. We plan to have an early dinner in Tobago as we wait for the flight, and just go to our convenient airport hotel for a good rest ahead of travels. This makes the most of a great last day in Tobago!
Day 9, Jan 12:
This exciting Trinidad and Tobago birding tour with Chris West ends this morning as you depart for flights homeward. Those departing will use the shuttle service of our hotel to return to the airport to meet your flight. Those going to Grand Riviere for the extension will be met by Asa Wright Nature Centre guides just after breakfast to go to Grand Riviere, birding en route.

 

Pawi or Trinidad Piping-guan ©Chris West

Day 9, Jan 12:
Accommodations for the one night of our extension will be at a delightful beachside hotel, known for serving delicious cuisine. The owner has a farm that gives us access to some excellent birding, and in the late-afternoon we are poised to find rare Trinidad Piping Guans as they return to roosts in the area. They are highly endangered, and Grand Riviere is their stronghold. We arrive in time for lunch, get settled, and head out for some birding, driving down a steeply wooded slope into some riverine forest where we continue birding. Exciting finds could include Gray-headed and Plumbeous Kites, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Silvered and White-bellied Antbirds, Green-backed and Guianan Trogons, Channel-billed Toucan, Black-tailed Tityra and Trinidad Euphonia. With great luck we may find a group of guans feeding and get to watch them at leisure.

 

Day 10, Jan 13:
Early, we drive up a wide forested track, park up and look out over a superb viewing area, specifically scrutinizing the wild nutmeg trees that are preferred feeding habitat for the Trinidad Piping Guans. We should find them here, or at an alternate location we know of TT 07 B Crested Oropendola (2)by networking with locals. We then return for a hot breakfast, pack up our gear, and head to the airport. We will time the return to our outbound flights but in general plan to be back at the airport by Noon. Those needing to take the early flight without a good afternoon option can return to the Holiday Inn Express for another night (additional expense) to fly out on the 14th

 

 

Itinerary subject to change to due to weather, road condition, access, and other real world factors. The order of the trips may also change. Should a location or region become unviable, we will make every effort to visit an equivalent location or region.

 

 

Photo copyrights:
Trinidad Piping-guan: AWNC
All other photos on this page: ©Peg Abbott, Naturalist Journeys/Caligo Ventures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s