TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
14–29 March 2014
Situated just a few miles off the coast of Venezuela, these two islands boast a combined total of around 470 species and provide an excellent introduction to neotropical birding. We will be spending time at the world-famous Asa Wright Nature Centre and visit Grande Riviere to find the endemic Trinidad Piping-guan. On Tobago we will view seabird cliffs on Little Tobago Island and explore the Main Ridge Forest Reserve as well as visiting areas of freshwater wetland and lowland dry forest.
Day 1 Flight from London Gatwick to Tobago followed by an internal flight to Trinidad and an hour's transfer to the Asa Wright Nature Centre, our base for the first seven nights of the tour and where we will be greeted by the first of our daily complimentary rum punches.
Day 2 There is nowhere better for an introduction to neotropical forest birds than the balcony at Asa Wright, seated and sipping locally-grown coffee, which is a wonderful cure for jet-lag. We will spend all day birding from the balcony, walking the trails and perhaps also looking along the entrance track. Species likely to be encountered during the day include Black and Turkey Vultures, Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, Common Black-hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Ruddy Ground-dove, Orange-winged Parrot and Band-rumped and Grey-rumped Swifts. Hummingbirds may include both Rufous-breasted and Little Hermits, Black-throated Mango, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Tufted Coquette and Copper-rumped Hummingbird, while Guianan Trogon, the endemic Trinidad Motmot, Channel-billed Toucan and Barred and Great Antshrikes could also be seen. We should find a number of flycatchers including Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Tropical Pewee, Forest Elaenia and Ochre-bellied, Boat-billed, and Piratic Flycatchers, while Golden-fronted Greenlet, House Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Cocoa and Spectacled Thrushes, White-lined, Blue-grey, Palm, Silver-beaked, Bay-headed and Turquoise Tanagers, Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Bananaquit, Violaceous Euphonia, Crested Oropendola, Shiny Cowbird and Yellow Oriole may all put in an appearance – it will be hard to drag ourselves away to meals!
Day 3 Immediately after breakfast will leave Asa Wright and travel south down the Arima valley before turning east. Just below the foothills of the Northern Range lies the Aripo Agriculture Research Station which works primarily on a Water Buffalo x Brahma cattle hybrid. This open countryside allows us the opportunity to seek out new species including Savanna Hawk, Grey-headed Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, Fork-tailed Palm-swift, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Grey Kingbird, Grassland Yellow-finch and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. We will then drive to the Atlantic coast, taking lunch on the beach at Manzanilla, where we will have more than an outside chance of seeing Leach's Petrels on their 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 Savanna Hawk and have a realistic chance of finding Pearl Kite, Grey-lined Hawk or even Crested Caracara. A brief stop near some roadside mangroves offers the possibility of American Pygmy Kingfisher and, a little further south, we will try a sometimes reliable spot for the elusive Azure Gallinule. By mid-afternoon it will be time to retrace our steps westward before accessing a private site which holds a stand of Moriche Palm. Specialities of the area include Epaulet Oriole, Red-bellied Macaw and Sulphury Flycatcher. We will arrive back at the Centre in time for a quick shower before dinner.
Day 4 Most of the day will be spent within the Centre's grounds. Shortly after breakfast we will take a walk down the trail into Dustan Cave to view the Oilbird colony. As we draw near we will hear the guttural shrieks that give rise to their Amerindian name, Guajaro, or "he who moans and wails". The trail will provide us with a good chance of finding Green Hermit, Grey-throated Leaftosser, White-flanked Antwren and Red-crowned Ant-tanager. Whilst snakes are fairly common on the estate they are typically elusive, but this trail gives us our best chance of seeing, from a safe distance, a Fer de Lance or, with extreme good fortune, a Bushmaster. Both are highly venomous but neither is overly aggressive. Following lunch and an afternoon of local birding we will leave around tea-time and go back to the Aripo Agriculture Station, this time taking dinner with us. As it gets dark we will begin our quest for night birds. Regularly seen on the scrubby hillsides above the livestock meadows are Common Pauraque, White-tailed Nightjar and Tropical Screech-owl. If we are fortunate, we will also see hunting Barn Owl and perhaps even a Spectacled Owl. We will return to the Centre at around 9.00pm.
Day 5 Today our journey will be much shorter, but no less rewarding. Following pre-breakfast birding within the grounds we will leave to drive north on the Blanchisseuse Road into the upper elevations of the Northern Range. 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 hot picnic lunch with us and return to the Centre in the late afternoon. Our target species will include Short-tailed Hawk, Blue-headed Parrot, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Collared and Green-backed Trogons, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Golden-olive, Red-rumped and Chestnut Woodpeckers, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Cocoa and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, White-bellied Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Dusky-capped, Slaty-capped, Streaked and Euler's Flycatchers, Grey-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Rufous-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-necked Thrush, Speckled and Hepatic Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, American Redstart, Golden-crowned Warbler and Yellow-rumped Cacique. If we are fortunate we may find an early Swallow Tanager or even an Ornate Hawk-eagle.
Day 6 An extremely early start today will see us driving to the south-west of Trinidad to arrive at dawn beside an extensive area of freshwater marsh. Here we will walk along a flat track on an embankment with a line of mangroves on one side and water meadows on the other to seek Pinnated Bittern, Striated, Cocoi, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Osprey, Long-winged Harrier, Wattled Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo, Smooth-billed and Greater Anis, Short-tailed Swift, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Yellow-chinned and Pale-breasted Spinetails, Black-crested Antshrike, Spotted Tody-flycatcher, Southern Beardless-tyrannulet, Pied Water-tyrant, White-headed Marsh-tyrant, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Masked Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, White-winged Swallow, Bicoloured Conebill, Red-breasted and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Blue-black Grassquit and Masked Cardinal. If we are extremely fortunate we may also encounter Stripe-backed or Least Bittern, Little Cuckoo or even a Prothonotary Warbler. Following a traditional "roadside breakfast" we will head back north and then west to overlook the tidal mudflats of the Gulf of Paria. We will make several roadside stops to look for Clapper Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Grey, Semipalmated and Wilson's Plovers, Short-billed Dowitcher, Whimbrel (hudsonicus), Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers, Laughing Gull and Royal, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns. Offshore we should see our first Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and Neotropic Cormorants. If time permits, we will briefly visit an ornate Hindu temple, where Saffron Finch is often found in the grounds, before taking lunch at a small restaurant nearby. We will start our return drive to Asa Wright mid-afternoon.
Day 7 Birding today will be in two very different halves. The morning will be spent at Asa Wright with our primary goal being to see Bearded Bellbird. This magnificent species is the emblem of the Centre; we will hear several males calling on their territories but, despite their distinctive coloration, it may take us a while to find a song perch. By slowly walking one of the trails we may also find other forest species not previously found. These may include Bat Falcon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Lineated Woodpecker, Yellow-olive Flycatcher and White-bearded and Golden-headed Manakins. After lunch we will board our bus for a ninety-minute drive south and then west to the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary. Close to the Information Centre the roadside mangroves often hold Green-throated Mango and Straight-billed Woodcreeper. We will not linger long, however, as our boat departs at 4.00pm. to witness the roost of Trinidad's national bird, Scarlet Ibis. Whilst navigating a series of channels, dependent upon the tide, we may find mangrove species not yet encountered. Most importantly, however, we will look for roosting Common Potoo and Yellow-crowned Night-heron and, if we are extremely fortunate, Boat-billed Heron, while our boatman will keep more than one eye out for other nocturnal creatures such as Cook's Tree Boa and Silky Anteater. Eventually we will moor up and sip our rum punches whilst watching the spectacle of hundreds of ibises that are usually joined by slightly smaller numbers of Snowy Egrets and Little Blue and Tricolored Herons all coming in to roost on a small island stand of mangroves. The boat will return to the jetty at dusk, leaving us to drive back for a late dinner on our final night at Asa Wright.
Day 8 Our priority today is the transfer to the village of Grande Riviere on the north-east Caribbean coast of Trinidad. There is still plenty of birding to be done en route, however. We will leave Asa Wright immediately after breakfast, travel south down the Arima valley and turn west. High in an adjacent valley we will visit Yrette – Home of the Hummingbird. This is a photographer's dream where it is quite possible to find up to one thousand hummingbirds of twelve species coming in to garden feeders. Our host is a professional photographer with a passion and he will invite you to view a superb interpretive DVD outlining the ecology of Trinidad and Tobago's seventeen species of hummingbird. We will then begin our lengthy drive up the eastern coastline of the island, stopping for lunch en route before turning west to reach our base for the next two nights. We will arrive in time for dinner and, perhaps, nesting Giant Leatherback Turtles.
Day 9 All birding today will be on foot. We will leave our hotel while it is still dark and walk through the village and up into the forest. In the pre-dawn light we will have an excellent chance of seeing Short-tailed Nighthawks but our main focus will be to find Trinidad Piping-guan. There is a small, stable population of this endemic species in the area and they are most active in the first few hours of daylight. During the course of the day other target species will include Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, Chestnut-collared and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Silvered and White-bellied Antbirds, Black-tailed Tityra, Greyish Saltator and Trinidad Euphonia. After dinner there will be another opportunity to view nesting turtles.
Day 10 We can spend the early part of the morning back up in the hills, having one last try for any Trinidad forest birds missed earlier in the tour. We will leave late-morning for Piarco airport and the short inter-island flight to Tobago. Once there, our drive will take us the length of the windward coast, arriving at Blue Waters Inn close to the village of Speyside in the late afternoon for a three-night stay.
Day 11 Tobago is very different from Trinidad geologically, culturally and ornithologically. The distance between the two islands is only 25 miles, resulting in considerable species overlap, and there are fewer species here, but there are a number which either occur only on Tobago or are far easier to see here. Pre-breakfast birding close to our hotel should produce Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Broad-winged Hawk, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Green Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Caribbean Martin and Black-faced Grassquit. The remainder of the day will be spent in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, which has been protected rainforest since 1765. We will initially walk along a narrow trail through pristine forest where our main quest will be the very localised White-tailed Sabrewing. This species is found in only two places in the world: here and in the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela. Other key species in the area include Venezuelan Flycatcher, Plain Antvireo, Blue-backed Manakin, Yellow-legged Thrush, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Red-eyed Vireo and Giant Cowbird. Both Trinidad Motmot and Rufous-tailed Jacamar are much easier seen here than in Trinidad and the reserve will allow us another opportunity to see Collared Trogon. All the while we will need to keep a look aloft for a soaring Great Black-hawk. A late-afternoon return will give us the chance to have a swim before dinner.
Day 12 The morning will be devoted to catching up with any open and dry scrub species not already found in Tobago. These may include Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, White-fringed Antwren and Scrub Greenlet. After lunch we will board a glass-bottomed boat for the twenty-minute ride to Little Tobago Island. Here, the forested seabird cliffs will be teeming with Red-billed Tropicbirds; closer to the water's edge both Red-footed and Brown Boobies will be nesting. There is always a chance of a daytime-roosting White-tailed Nightjar or an accessible nesting Audubon's Shearwater, whilst overhead Magnificent Frigatebirds will be ever-present. Our return boat will pause over the world's largest living Grooved Brain Coral together with two superb coral reefs where, in the course of a few minutes, it is quite possible to see over thirty species of tropical fish and have a good chance of coming across a Hawksbill Turtle.
Day 13 During morning birding in the Main Ridge rainforest, hiking different trails, there will be a fair chance that we will see some species, in particular Olivaceous Woodcreeper or White-throated Spadebill, which may have eluded us earlier. In the afternoon we will transfer to the southwestern corner of the island for our final two nights' accommodation.
Day 14 Pre-breakfast birding will be at a series of sewage ponds. Here we will find our first Least Grebe, Anhinga, Black-crowned Night-heron, Green and Great Blue Herons, White-cheeked Pintail, Black-bellied Whistling-duck and Red-crowned Woodpecker, while Eared and White-tipped Doves will be ever-present. During the middle of the day we will visit another private wetland site where patience and perseverance could well produce Masked Duck, Belted Kingfisher and Mangrove Cuckoo in addition to a number of commoner wetland species. Next we will visit "The Adventure Farm", where the "adventure" is to sit in deck-chairs, perhaps sipping home made fruit-juices, and watch an array of hummingbirds coming in to the sugar-water feeders right in front of us. At any one time we could be looking at one or all of Black-throated Mango, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin and Copper-rumped Hummingbird. Our final destination today is an extensive area of dry lowland forest where birds are fed daily. Our visit will coincide with the afternoon feed and we can expect literally hundreds of Rufous-vented Chachalacas, Pale-vented Pigeons and Eared Doves all around us. Both Trinidad Motmots and Rufous-tailed Jacamars are numerous here and we should still find new species such as Yellow-breasted and Fuscous Flycatchers.
Day 15 After a final morning's birding and lunch, sadly we must make the short journey to Crown Point Airport for our return overnight flight to the UK arriving on Day 16.
General Information The pace of the tour is generally relaxed with only a basic degree of fitness required to cope with one or two steep forest trails. In the tropics birds are most lively in the first few hours of daylight so the tour is geared towards early starts, normally leaving at 6.00am or 6.30am. We will bird until lunchtime, when lunch will be taken either back at the accommodation or in picnic form and a break will usually be taken when it is hot and humid and bird activity is low. We will then birdwatch again from mid/late afternoon. There will be opportunities to take time off to shop, sightsee or relax as required. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Please note that, even in the dry season, rain showers can be expected. We should see in excess of 200 species during the tour.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 4; maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader.