Trinidad and Tobago, the beautiful, mountainous green islands off South America's northeast coast, are widely celebrated among birdwatchers, for whom they have an enduring and particular appeal. Nowhere, it seems, are tropical birds more accessible and easily studied, and nowhere is there a place more ideally suited than the Asa Wright Nature Centre for seeing them in an intense yet relaxed way. At an elevation of 1200 feet in Trinidad's Northern Range, surrounded (one might almost say invaded) by rainforest, with a cool climate and a broad prospect of the Arima Valley, this former coffee plantation offers comfortable lodging and truly excellent cuisine. Smaller and somewhat farther from the mainland, Tobago is probably the best island in South America for vagrant birds, and its Caribbean atmosphere, coral reefs and picturesque coastline provide many pleasing contrasts.
A number of elements combine to make this trip especially attractive. It is conducted at an easy pace, first of all, and while providing a good introduction to tropical birds--an introduction facilitated by an excellent field guide--it also has much to interest even the experienced South American birdwatcher. The trip list includes a number of birds difficult to find elsewhere, among them Oilbird and such hummingbirds as White-tailed Sabrewing and Tufted Coquette. And finally, the trip includes two marvelous avian spectacles: the Scarlet Ibises in Caroni Swamp and the seabirds at their island colonies off Tobago.
Day 1: Upon our arrival at Trinidad's Piarco Airport,we'll transfer at once to Asa Wright Nature Centre, where we'll spend the next eight nights. Night at Asa Wright Nature Center (Dinner,Breakfast, Box Lunch included)
Days 2-8: Even before dawn breaks over the Northern Range of Trinidad, birds herald the start of a new day. The low-pitched vocalizations of Blue-crowned Motmot, the unforgettable call of the Great Kiskadee and the repetitive whistle of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl beckon us to the famous veranda of Asa Wright Nature Centre. As the sun comes over the ridge, we'll sip our coffee or tea and watch an amazing variety of birds assemble around the veranda. Twenty-five or more species regularly visit the fruit and nectar feeders while many more forage in the nearby flowering shrubs. Still more probe the orange Erythrina blossoms overhead when they're first touched by sunlight or pluck fruit from the topmost branches of matchwood trees in the valley. The hummingbirds, honeycreepers and tanagers are fearless around the feeders and their brilliant colors and breathtaking closeness create an engrossing spectacle we'll return to watch time and again. We'll walk along the narrow and winding entrance drive, bordered with stands of giant bamboo and coffee, cocoa and citrus trees of the former Springhill Estate and search for species not attracted by the feeders. Well-maintained trails below the guesthouse allow us to visit a lek of White-bearded Manakins performing their courtship dances, seemingly oblivious to our peering eyes and clicking cameras. The constant tonk-tonk-tonk ringing through the forest will lead us to the haunts of an exotic cotinga, the Bearded Bellbird. Nights at Asa Wright Nature Center (Dinner,Breakfast, Box Lunch included)
Of eight breeding colonies of Oilbirds in Trinidad, the best known and most accessible is Dunston Cave on the grounds of the Nature Centre. The cave is actually a narrow, dimly lit defile, and with the use of a flashlight we'll have detailed views of these birds resting on ledges. On many of our days at the Nature Centre we'll venture further afield. One of our trips will be along the Blanchisseuse Road, where we'll look for forest birds of the Northern Range such as the vocal but skulking Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Black-faced Antthrush, Speckled Tanager, Plain Antvireo and Golden-crowned Warbler. As mid-morning approaches we'll scan openings in the forest to search for soaring raptors including the striking White Hawk and Common Black Hawk.
On a late afternoon trip to the Aripo Savannah we'll search the moriche palm glades for such specialized species as Moriche Oriole, Sulphury Flycatcher and Red-bellied Macaw. As night falls we'll use spotlights to search for Paraques and White-tailed Nightjars and we'll listen for and attempt to locate Tropical Screech-Owls and Common Potoos as they start their nocturnal rounds. On Trinidad's west coast we'll visit a picturesque shoreline where good numbers of herons, waders, gulls and terns feed on the extensive mudflats exposed by a falling tide. We'll take an evening boat trip in Caroni Swamp to explore narrow watercourses through the mangroves in search of Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Silvered Antbird, Black-crested Antshrike or Clapper Rail. Non-avian species could include Cook's Tree Boa and the astonishing Anableps or Four-eyed Fish as well as numerous crabs. The world-famous and intensely colorful finale is provided by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Scarlet Ibises gathering to roost. The brilliant color against the darkening sky is an unforgettable experience for any visitor.
On the island's east coast we'll visit another swamp, Nariva, where we'll look for retiring species such as Pinnated Bittern, Azure Gallinule and Yellow-chinned Spinetails. A sunset vigil at a grove of royal palms will allow us to witness Red-bellied Macaws as they noisily assemble to roost. Early one morning we'll make a three-hour drive to a remote area of the island where we'll await the dawn while listening for the distinctive wing-drumming sounds from the surrounding forest indicating the presence of Trinidad's only endemic species: the Trinidad Piping-Guan. We'll scan distant trees in hopes of spotting one of these highly endangered birds. Nights at Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Day 9: Leaving early for Piarco Airport, we'll take a short flight to Tobago. From Crown Point Airport we'll drive to Speyside, where we'll be based for two nights. After lunch we'll depart on a 20-minute boat trip to Little Tobago Island. Following a short hike along a forested track we'll witness a seabird extravaganza as Red-billed Tropicbirds sail past in screaming groups and Brown and Red-footed Boobies glide over the waves below and land on their cliff nests. Magnificent Frigatebirds will join the groups of boobies and tropicbirds, sometimes harassing them to give up the food they have just caught. Rising steeply from the sea about a mile off Tobago's northeast tip is the little archipelago of the St. Giles Islands, home to considerable numbers of seabirds. Although landing is not permitted, our boat trip there will allow excellent views of nesting birds including Masked Booby and Magnificent Frigatebird, some of the males with their gular pouches inflated like huge red balloons. Night at Blue Waters Inn.
Day 10: After an early breakfast we'll travel to the center of Tobago to visit the Tobago Forest Reserve, the oldest protected forest in the Western Hemisphere. Our primary target here will be the White-tailed Sabrewing, a spectacular near-endemic hummingbird, but we'll also search for other species including Fuscous Flycatcher, Blue-backed Manakin, Venezuelan Flycatcher and Olivaceous Woodcreeper. We'll spend the rest of the day birding other forest areas before returning to our hotel in the late afternoon. Night at Blue Waters Inn.
Day 11: Following breakfast, we'll spend the morning birding local forested areas in seach of birds we may not have seen on the previous day. We will continue across the island during the day stopping at coastal areas before arriving at our hotel in the late afternoon. Night at Crown Point.
Day 12: On a pre-breakfast trip to nearby mangroves and local sewage ponds we'll scan groups of Snowy Egrets in search of the rarer Little Egret. We'll search the surrounding areas for other herons and waders while watching the nearby trees for Belted Kingfisher and Mangrove Cuckoo. After breakfast we'll explore other areas near Crown Point. A visit to Grafton Estate will provide an opportunity to search for any forest species we may have missed. At the estate's 4 p.m. feeding we'll be able to view and photograph Tobago's national bird, the cocrico, or Rufous-vented Chachalaca, as well as Pale-vented Pigeons, Blue-crowned Motmots and many other species that overcome their wariness to partake of the food offered daily. Night at Crown Point.
Day 13: The tour concludes this morning at Piarco International Airport.
Note: Maximum groups size 10 with one leader (and local guides). Single room availability may be limited at Asa Wright Nature Centre.
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Central America and Caribbean Trinidad and Tobago Nature & Wildlife Birdwatching Ecotourism