Day 1: Arrival in Trinidad
Our Trinidad & Tobago birding tour begins at Trinidad’s Piarco Airport where you will be met and transferred to our lodge. Night at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Days 2-7: Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge
During our stay we explore the grounds and nature trails that radiate out from the lodge and we take day trips to the many excellent birding localities in Trinidad. The Nature Centre is located in a typical valley of Trinidad’s Northern Range. These valleys host several cocoa-coffee-citrus plantations, many active but several abandoned and which now have been taken over by second-growth vegetation, especially vines and epiphytes (“air-plants”) and surrounded by still impressive rain forest. It is in this setting that we begin our exploration.
We spend the first day learning and becoming familiar with the local birds - hummingbirds, including White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango and the splendid Tufted Coquette; honeycreepers, including Purple and Green; and Tanagers, including Silver-beaked, White-lined, Bay-headed and Turquoise. There is a nesting colony of noisy Crested Oropendolas along the entrance road to the centre, their long pendulous nests a conspicuous feature of the tall trees at the entrance. From the veranda one has a fine view of most of the Arima Valley, and this is an excellent spot to see such fabulous birds as Ornate Hawk-eagle, White Hawk and Channel-billed Toucan. One of the trails leading from the veranda is aptly named Bellbird Trail, after the Bearded Bellbird whose loud ringing “Bok” call is a characteristic sound of the centre. There are leks of both White-bearded and Golden-headed Manakins within easy reach of the centre, and there are usually Blue-headed and Orange-winged Parrots flying overhead, Great Antshrikes and Squirrel Cuckoos calling from the underbrush, and Black-faced Antthrushes whistling from dense ground cover.
We visit a cave where Oilbirds reside. Oilbirds are relatives of nighthawks and nightjars (such as Whip-poor-wills); however, unlike their relatives they do not eat flying insects but rather have a diet of fruit, and they have adapted to nesting in caves. We will have a guide take us to the cave, and hence minimize any disturbance to the birds. In these caves, Chestnut-collared Swifts have been found nesting.
On one day we travel through some of the most scenic mountains and highest rainforest on the island. We take the road from Arima to Blanchisseuse on the Caribbean coast, passing through lush rainforest vegetation and overlooking numerous picturesque waterfalls. We have a chance to see many higher elevation species along this road. All three species of trogons (Collared, White-tailed and Violaceous) occur in this area, as do Speckled Tanager, Swallow-tanager, Golden-crowned Warbler, Blue-crowned Motmot, Little Tinamou, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, and an array of raptors, including Gray Hawk, Common Black-hawk, Gray-headed and Swallow-tailed Kites, and Bat Falcon. At the highest elevation along the road, at 595 metres, we look for Yellow-legged Thrush and Blue-capped Tanager, and with a lot of luck we may see a Spectacled Owl. Rainforest trails could produce a flock of ant-associating birds such as antwrens, antvireos and woodcreepers, and maybe Streaked Xenops. The beach at Blanchisseuse has many Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds present, and may produce sandpipers and plovers, as well as American Pygmy and Green Kingfishers. We end the day having seen a wide diversity of birds as well as some spectacular scenery!
In contrast to the rainforests and lush vegetation of the Northern Range, we also visit the Aripo Savanna and the abandoned United Staes airfield at Wallerfield. These are two of the very few remaining natural savannas in Trinidad, and birding can be very productive. The Aripo Savanna is a seasonally wet prairie with a high diversity of open-country species of birds. Pearl and White-tailed Kites frequent this area, as do Savanna Hawks and Yellow-headed Caracaras. Red-bellied Macaws can sometimes be encountered in fruiting trees or more often flying overhead to feeding areas elsewhere. Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, a stunning bird, occurs here, and we have a good chance of finding it. Yellow-rumped Caciques are here, and an array of flycatchers, including Sulphury and Bran-colored Flycatchers. However, one of our target birds is the extremely rare Moriche Oriole, and we make special efforts to find one. It is also a spot where we might see mongooses.
The Wallerfield airbase has been overgrown somewhat since it was abandoned and hosts very diverse bird populations. Southern Lapwing and Wattled Jacana occur in pastures, hermit hummingbirds (all three species) occur here, and the shrubby vegetation holds Barred and Black-crested Antshrikes, Rufous-tailed Jacamars, and Blue Dacnis. Where vegetation is taller, Black-tailed Tityras and Yellow-breasted Flycatchers occur, and if there is standing water then White-headed Marsh-tyrant, Pied Water-tyrant and Yellow-chinned Spinetail might be present. We may encounter some nightbirds during our walks; pauraques are common, and White-tailed Nightjars and the very rare Nacunda Nighthawk are in the area.
An evening excursion to the Caroni Swamp is on every naturalist’s list of activities in Trinidad. The event is the truly spectacular flight of roosting wading birds which occurs each evening, starting about 5:00 p.m., and continuing until after sunset. Egrets, herons and especially Scarlet Ibis congregate in their hundreds in the mangroves, presenting a fine show of reds and whites against a background of the dark greens of the mangroves, at sunset - an unforgettable spectacle! The boat trip into the Caroni Swamp passes through mangroves where Boat-billed Herons and Common Potoos occur, and where we have a chance at seeing Dark-billed and Mangrove Cuckoos, Greater Ani, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Bicolored Conebill and Red-capped Cardinal. Channel borders support several species of herons and bitterns, including Rufescent Tiger-heron and Pinnated Bittern, crakes and rails, and whistling-ducks. If we are fortunate, we could see Long-winged Harrier or Aplomado Falcon. We also should encounter a school of four-eyed fish during the boat trip; these fish have their eyes divided into upper and lower halves, such that the upper half protrudes above the surface of the water looking for predators, and the lower half underwater looking for food.
The Nariva Swamp is a large triangular-shaped area along the eastern coast of Trinidad. It is primarily freshwater, with brackish water along the mangrove edges at the coast, and is good habitat for wading birds, rails, raptors, and Manatees! Yellow-hooded Blackbirds nest here, and two strikingly black and white flycatchers can easily be found, the Pied Water-Tyrant and the White-headed Marsh-Tyrant. The swamp is the best place in Trinidad to find Silvered Antbird. Red-bellied Macaws and Orange-winged Parrots fly back and forth across the open areas, and there may be Red Howler and Capuchin Monkeys in the larger stands of trees. In our travels to and from Nariva Swamp we should encounter Red-breasted Blackbird and White-tailed Kite.
Days 8-10: Tobago
Birding on Tobago is in direct contrast with birding on Trinidad. It is small enough that a short visit is sufficient to visit the major areas, much of the agricultural land is reverting back to second-growth habitat, and there are no chiggers, therefore walking in tall grass is not discouraged. We visit the central highlands, mangrove swamps, and take a boat ride around Little Tobago Island, with the target of finding those species not found on Trinidad. These include Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Striped Owl, White-tailed Sabrewing, White-fringed Antwren, Blue-backed Manakin, Scrub Greenlet, and Black-faced Grassquit. Some species are easier to find and observe on Tobago than on Trinidad, and we have a good chance of locating Yellow-legged Thrush, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Venezuelan Flycatcher, and Great Black-hawk, and especially Blue-crowned Motmot. Around Little Tobago, the seabirds are the main attraction, and possibilities include Brown and Red-footed Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebird, and the stunning Red-billed Tropicbird.
At the end of our Trinidad & Tobago birding tour, we leave Tobago in the morning of Day 11 for our flight back to Trinidad, to catch our flights back home after noon.