Trinidad & Tobago

Map

Trinidad and Tobago, the perfect combination of Caribbean and South American birding! Tobago probably separated from Trinidad and the mainland about 12,000 years ago, due to sea level rise after the last ice age. However recent studies suggest the possibility that Trinidad separated from the South American Mainland as recently as 1,500 years ago. Combine this with islands that host extensive wetlands, rainforest covered mountain ranges, savannahs, mudflats, dams, and the best; sewage ponds! It all adds up to fantastic birding.

At last count Trinidad and Tobago had 468 bird species recorded. Recent additions include Black-tailed Godwit, Kelp Gull, Slaty Elaenia, Western Reef-heron and birds like Cerulean Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. The list is probably pushing up towards 500. Put all this in a country that speaks English (though at times you may not think so); has a low crime rate, and a people with a vibrant culture, which invented the Steelpan. Here birding is as far as your balcony, or as close as your nose as a hummer zooms past chasing an intrepid interloper while nearly going off with a piece of your nose.

Some highlights include male Oropendolas sticking their heads between their legs, rattling their wings and beaks, while giving a most peculiar song to impress the girls, and they do impress them. The females will build meter long nests (some can reach nearly 3 meters) for the most impressive male who may have a harem of up to 20 females!

Then there are Pepershrikes that are often heard but rarely seen, or Woodcreepers and Antbirds following trails of Army Ants. Manakins buzzing about, clearing their own dance spot in the forest floor, or sliding along a thin branch (they invented the moonwalk, not Michael Jackson); again all to impress the ladies. To top it off there are the showy birds like Scarlet Ibis, Red-Breasted Blackbirds, Turquoise Tanagers, Ruby Topaz, White-necked Jacobins, and Red-legged Honeycreepers.

Then there are the strange birds like the Bearded Bell Bird that can be heard miles away with its toll like call, or the Antshrikes ending their call with a sound like a windup siren that suddenly lost power. Though the ultimate in the strange category are the Devilbirds or Oilbirds that live like bats in caves going out at night to feed on fruit using echolocation to navigate through the dark forests.

Tips: Along with a Richard ffrench I would also carry a good guide to North American birds, and if you have space and money also the Guide To Venezuelan Birds is recommended. Bill Murphy’s Guide to Birding in Trinidad and Tobago also has lots of invaluable information. Before coming, check out the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club’s website and while there go to the Rare Bird Committee page and find the Bird Alert, it will give the current sightings.

Crime in Trinidad is mainly centred around the drug trade and cities. Hence, outside of this crime is relatively low, however, prevention is always the best way to go. Always be courteous and kind to people you meet they will respond in kind, making you much more of a friend rather than a target. Never flash fancy things around, yes you do have binoculars, scopes etc, but don’t flash money or show off your equipment. Ask locals which areas are safe and which are not.

Throughout the year there is great birding, in the Northern Winter there are the migrants from North America, in the Austral Winter there are the South American migrants. The best weather is found from January to May as this is the Dry Season, and the Wet Season is June to December. A large portion of the wet season is the hurricane season, which does blow in a few rare birds. Don’t worry Trinidad is below the main track of hurricanes, so usually it just gets the benefits of the birding.

Tobago

Tobago probably separated from Trinidad and the mainland about 12,000 years ago, due to sea level rise after the last ice age, whilst Trinidad separated from the South American Mainland as recently as 1,500 years ago! This means that whilst Tobago shares much of Trinidad’s avifauna it is not all and, moreover, it has its own endemics.

On Tobago I stayed at the Blue Waters Inn and could see tropicbirds and greater frigate birds from my window and there were hummers nesting in the trees and turnstones running between your feet on the beaches. [Fatbirder]

Buccoo Swamp (Map)

On Shirvan Road that takes you from Crown Point to Mt Irvine it goes into a long dipping right-hand turn; at the base of the dip and apex of the corner on the left hand side is a wooden gate. Pass through this gate and walk along the grassy road. Along the way you may see Green-Rumped Parrotlets, Barred Antshrikes and others. Soon you reach a lagoon, around this are Whistling Ducks, Jacanas, Lapwings and Warblers. This can also be accessed from the Fishing Depot at Buccoo Bay; just walk south along the beach, then follow the dirt road/trail.

Grafton Bird Sanctuary (Map)

Grafton Bird Sanctuary On the Western road from Crown Point (which takes you past Turtle Beach and the golf course) there is a sign on the right about 1km from the golf course, with a steep short track to the reserve. It once boasted a restaurant (now closed) and is still clearly managed for birds with a feeding programme. This attracts all sorts to feeders and a table of fruit including hundreds of Bananaquits and dozens of Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers (a different sub-species to all those you saw in Trinidad); Chachalacas and the tamest Motmots anywhere. I also saw a Red-crowned Woodpecker (not to be found in Trinidad) on a hummingbird feeder and in the woods. The very short trails were productive of Woodcreepers, White-fringed Antwrens, Fuscous Flycatcher, warblers and very confiding Jacaranda. At the end of the left hand trail Blue-backed Manakins may be found. The whole place is a great photo opportunity as well as somewhere to pick up Tobago specialisms with relative ease.

Little Tobago Island (Map)

Frigates, Red-footed and Brown boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds and a good head of passerines. All the specialist birds can be scoped from Speyside and you will get an occasional close up from them early morning or late evening. The island also has nesting Audubon ‘s Shearwater that you might see in their tunnels with a strong torch. Even these can be seen occasionally from shore, coming in just as the light is dying.

Mountain Road (Map)

Here I refer to the road that goes from just south of Roxborough through to Bloody bay taking you past the entrance to Gilpin Trace. In my check-list I refer to it as the Mountain Road. I found it to be good birding for its entire length with a few tracks, open areas and nooks worth checking each time you pass. I also found one very productive piece of the roadside observable from the car (well, I would wouldn’t I). En route from Roxborough to Bloody Bay there is only one patch of bad road-surface where there are usually tethered cows and a small hut. This is approximately 3k up the road between a sharp right hand bend and a left, all up hill. (Even if they improve the road there should be evidence of the new surface and gravel and lumber on the verge to give you a clue). If you park on the left facing back downhill in the Roxborough direction, there is a slightly open forest edge with several immortelle trees in bloom (they are always in bloom until no more rain is due according to legend – which means all the time). This site produced 3 red-legged honeycreepers, 2 sabrewing, tanagers, an evening roost of 10 orange-winged parrots, Venezuelan flycatchers, an over-flight by a yellow-legged thrush and more common stuff.

Roxborough Dam

The Dam itself can produce Shorebirds, Ducks andAnhingas, and on the wires on the way into the dam Caribbean Martins can be seen. The forests around it are good for Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Collared Trogons, Flycatchers, Motmots, Hummingbirds and Tanagers.

Turtle Beach (Map)

This is the main tourist area but still the best place for congregations of pelicans, gulls and terns. It is also a good spot for seashore loving waders. I also saw brown boobies diving into the bay fairly close to the shore. It can be a hassle here if you are outside of the hotel compounds – the only place we had to avoid youngsters trying to charge you for smearing you with unwanted gobs of aloe vera. A good view can alsobe had from Fort James on the headland that is the north end of the beach; it can be accessed through Plymouth.

Trinidad

Trinidad separated from the South American Mainland as recently as 1,500 years ago! The island hosts extensive wetlands, rainforest covered mountain ranges, savannahs, mudflats, dams, and the best; sewage ponds!! It all adds up to fantastic birding.

Bird highlights include male Oropendolas sticking their heads between their legs, rattling their wings and beaks, while giving a most peculiar song to impress the girls, and they do impress them. The females will build meter long nests (some can reach nearly 3 meters long) for the most impressive male who may have a harem of up to 20 females!

Then there are Pepershrikes that are often heard but rarely seen, or Woodcreepers and Antbirds following trails of Army Ants. Manakins buzzing about, clearing their own dance spot in the forest floor, or sliding along a thin branch (they invented the moonwalk, not Michael Jackson); again all to impress the ladies. To top it off there are the showy birds like Scarlet Ibis, Red-Breasted Blackbirds, Turquoise Tanagers, White-necked Jacobins, and Purple Honeycreepers.

Then there are the strange birds like the Bearded Bell Bird that can be heard miles away with its toll like call, or the Antshrikes ending their call with a sound like a windup siren that suddenly lost power. Though the ultimate in the strange category are the Devilbirds or Oilbirds that live like bats in caves going out at night to feed on fruit using echolocation to navigate through the dark forests.

I stayed on Trinidad at the world famous Asa Wright Nature centre where one can sit all day on the Veranda over looking the valley and just watch the hummingbirds and honeycreepers coming to the feeders, the antwrens picking through the leaf litter or the hawks and vultures soaring overhead. You can wake to the sound of Oropendolas squabling or the peppershrikes calling. Leaning over the balcony you can watch woodcreepers creeping, hummingbirds humming and bellbirds tolling.

Some top birding sites include:

Arima Blanchisseuse Road (Map)

The road from Asa Wright down to the sea at Blanchisseuse is 19 kilometres of birding, Tanagers and Trogons, Toucans and Manakins, Cuckoos and Jacamars to name just a few. The highest Point of this road where it passes from the leeward to the windward sides is about 2,000 feet above sea level and is know for high elevation birds such as Speckled and Blue Capped Tanagers, and is good for migrant Warblers.

Aripo Savannah and Arena Forest (Map)

This is an all day trip around the savannah off the Eastern main Road via Cumuto village and Waller Field, culminating with time in the Arena forest after lunch. The morning is leisurely stopping frequently to scan roadside bushes and open areas and takes in Cumutu village for a colony of yellow-rumped caciques. Waller Field has its specialities too, primarily as it has scarce moriche palms attracting turquoise tanagers, sulphury flycatchers and fork-tailed palm swifts. There are also some pools formed from gravel or sand workings and lots of abandoned runways and roads at the old airfield. Lunch is usually taken as you arrive at the Arena forest (where you may see a roosting barn owl in an abandoned house). The forest itself is old plantation and pretty dense. Tape luring usually brings all three trogons down for crippling views, along with woodcreepers, woodpeckers, tanagers and jacamars. (Cumuto is best early morning or late evening when it can also produce many Red-bellied Macaws and Ruby Topaz.)

Asa Wright Nature Centre (Map)

The most relaxed watching anywhere with veranda feeders, acres of secondary forest to wander and the most accessible colony of oilbirds in the world.

Caroni Rice Fields (Map)

The entrance to the Rice Fields is just across the highway from the area where you get the boat for the Caroni Swamp tour. It is best during the Hurricane Season from July to November, though is worth a look anytime of the year. It hosts many migrant birds travelling both north and south to and from wintering grounds and some spend the austral winter there. Pintails, Whistling Ducks, Godwits, numerous Sandpipers, Bitterns, Herons and Plovers may be found here.

Caroni Swamp (Map)

Take a boat ride along the blue river into the mangroves, and then into open water with mangrove clad islets to see the spectacular roost of 2,000 scarlet ibis with a supporting cast of boat-billed and tri-coloured herons, potoos and caracaras.

Nariva Swamp (Map)

There is a seven-mile beach of Cocos Bay on the east coast lined with (so they say) a million coconut palms at the end of which one turns into Nariva Swamp travelling along Bush Bush peninsula that juts out into the Swamp. The swamp itself isn’t much of a swamp in the wet season still less in the dry (this is due to unregulated farming in the swamp). There is a creek running beside the very pot-holed road (with fisherman’s huts along it) backed by very tall grasses and sedges – The road the creek runs along is called Kernahan Trace. It is the place for the two Gallinules, Pinnated Bittern and Dickcissel. There will be a supporting cast of Herons and Egrets, Tyrants and Yellow-hooded and Red-breasted blackbirds. The trip culminates with rum punch back in the palm trees as dusk approaches and you wait for over 50 Red-bellied Macaws to come into roost in a stand of Moriche palms.

Paria Springs Eco-Community (Map)

This is a series of Host Homes located in Brasso Seco, Paria, along with a lodge that will be constructed in 2002. This is a rural community and offers excellent forest birding along roadsides and trails that have little or no traffic. Bellbirds, Toucans, Blue Dacnis, Bay-headed or Turquoise Tanagers, Green Purple or Red-legged Honeycreepers are among the list of showy birds found here. Since this is on the windward side of the Northern Range many Raptors may be see gliding on the thermals. Paria Springs also has a guesthouse in Grande Riverre, Le Grand Almandier, and this area is the best for viewing the Trinidad Piping Guan (Pawi). Also from March to July Leatherback Turtles can be seen nesting on the beach.

Pax Guest House (Map)

Not far from Port of Spain, located on the hills overlooking the Caroni Plains it offers, it also offers good birding from its balcony both in its feeders and the forests. A walk along its trails can produce many passerines and at times nesting Raptors may be seen.

Point-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust (Map)

Dedicated to the conservation of wetland birds, it is located in the centre of an oil refinery. It has a main lagoon, which a guided tour can be taken around and offers good views of Whistling Ducks, Anhingas, Cormorants, Green Herons and sometimes a Red-capped Cardinal or a Saffron Finch may make an appearance.

South Trinidad

The Southern Half of Trinidad has many great birding spots, however, unless you are in Trinidad for a significant amount of time, the birding is not so different to North Trinidad as to be worth the long drive. If you do go down there Fullarton Swamp, Icacos and Trinity Hills can be productive.

Trincity Ponds (Map)

Near to the Capital these old sewage ponds should also only be visited as a group as some birders have experienced problems with theft! [I have just been told that recently a fence, with a gate and gateman have been installed so theft is no longer a problem here]. A series of old concrete tanks with waterbirds etc. Great for waders, hirundines, grebes, and passerines. Watch for Caiman, which slide away into the water to get out of your way. Our guide said Look, a caiman. to which an American birder asked Is it in flight?.

Waller Field (Map)

Lamping on this old airfield can produce two types of owl, nightjars, paraques and potoos and (surprising to me) roosts of waders such as Southern lapwing and semi-palmated plovers. There will also be the chorus of frogs some of which hop across the runway. This is not somewhere to try when unaccompanied as, it is rumoured, it is still occasionally used as an airport by gentlemen of dubious character importing exotic extracts from South America.

Waterloo (Temple in the Sea) (Map)

These are mudflats that are exposed at low tide; so check the tide table in the newspapers. This can produce rare Gulls, Terns, Skimmers, Sandpipers, Plovers, Herons and lots more. Often well over 1,000 birds can be seen feeding on the mudflats. If you have the time going further south from here during low tide and check various coastal spots may be rewarding.

Major Source: © Fatbirder

Map Source: Googlemaps™

Photo Source: ©