A Green Honeycreeper approaches the feeding table at Asa Wright Nature Centre. Photo: Judy Davis
Lying just off the coast of Venezuela, the island of Trinidad shares much of its birdlife with the nearby continent. A large percentage of South America’s avian families are represented but without the confounding variety of species encountered on the mainland. For this reason, combined with its pleasant island atmosphere, its logistical accessibility (English is the official language), and world-renowned accommodations, Trinidad has long been considered the destination for fostering an understanding of Neotropical birds.
While on the island we’ll be based at the famous Asa Wright Nature Centre, which perhaps needs no introduction. At this former coffee plantation now invaded by rainforest and converted into a first-rate eco-lodge, we’ll be sure to devote ample time to simply enjoying the grounds and the view from the veranda, letting the dazzling array of birdlife come to us. Visiting the feeders daily are perhaps 10 or more species of hummingbird, including Tufted Coquette; honeycreepers; and several species of tanager. Bearded Bellbirds can be seen from the lodge, as well as Channel-billed Toucan, nesting Crested Oropendolas, manakins, several species of swift, and a variety of tropical raptors, among many others. The grounds are also home to a colony of Oilbirds, one of the most accessible colonies in the world of this spectacular and enigmatic bird. We’ll also pick a day for a spectacular boat trip through Caroni Swamp out to a roost of Scarlet Ibis, herons, and egrets numbering in the many thousands.
Once hunted to near-extinction, the Trinidad Piping Guan has been the focus of considerable local conservation efforts. The bird has responded well to this effort and has been slowly increasing in numbers and visibility. We will make a special effort to find this bird along the northern coast of Trinidad at Grand Riviere.
A short plane ride from Trinidad will take us to the island of Tobago, Trinidad’s smaller, more Caribbean, and (perhaps) even fairer sister. Based at another scenic and bird-rich eco-lodge, we’ll have the opportunity to search for a number of species not present on Trinidad, while enjoying beautiful sand beaches, rainforest, and a short boat ride to Little Tobago Island, where swarms of seabirds—including frigatebirds, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, and boobies - build their nests. We may even opt to spend an afternoon snorkeling in one of several coral reefs off the island. Tobago is also an excellent island for vagrants, of either New World or Old World origins. Few tours combine relaxed pace, comfortable lodgings, and relatively little travel with such an intense tropical birding experience.
Day 1: The tour begins mid-afternoon at Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport, where ground transportation will take us to the fabulous Asa Wright Nature Centre, located in the Arima Valley on the south slope of Trinidad’s Northern Range. This will be our base for the next five nights and where we’ll take most of our excellent meals. Night at Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Days 2–5: The first morning at Asa Wright can be almost overwhelming to the senses. Our introduction to the birdlife of Trinidad will begin right from the lodge’s famed veranda. As we sip coffee or tea, we’ll enjoy close encounters with many of the 25 or more species that regularly visit the feeders here, including several species of colourful tanagers as well as hummingbirds, among them the magnificent little Tufted Coquette. The veranda also offers a spectacular view over the surrounding forest, where many other species not prone to visit the feeders can be spotted in the first rays of sun lighting the treetops, including Bearded Bellbird or perhaps even Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Still more species can be seen by taking short walks on the grounds or along the narrow entrance road to the lodge. We may witness the outrageous displays of Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins, and three species of trogon are possible.
From our very birdy home base at Asa Wright, we’ll take day trips to explore other habitats found on the island. One such trip will take us farther into the majestic forest of the Northern Range along the Blanchisseuse Road, where we’ll look for Black-faced Antthrush, Speckled Tanager, and Golden-crowned Warbler, among many others. We’ll keep an eye to the sky for raptors, including the beautiful White Hawk, and hope for an encounter with the rare Trinidad Piping-Guan, Trinidad’s only endemic. As evening falls, we’ll have a chance for several species of nightjars and owls.
We’ll take a day trip out to Trinidad’s Atlantic coast, with many exciting stops along the way, ending in Nariva Swamp, where specialties include the Azure Gallinule and White-tailed Goldenthroat hummingbird. We’ll also spend a day in famous Caroni Swamp, where small boats take us into the heart of the spectacular mangrove forests. Snaking through narrow watercourses among the mangroves, we’ll look for Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Silvered Antbird, Black-crested Antshrike, and kingfishers, among others. We may even spot a sleeping Silky Anteater coiled up on a branch along the way. As evening sets in, we’ll be in place to witness one of Trinidad’s famous natural spectacles: the flight of Scarlet Ibis, herons, and egrets, thousands strong, coming to roost in the mangroves of Caroni.
We’ll also make at least one excursion for nightbirds, departing the lodge with a hot dinner and spending several hours in search of nightjars and owls, including Tropical Screech-Owl and Spectacled Owl. And we’ll be sure to devote one full day to simply enjoying Asa Wright and the immediate environs. On this day we’ll take a guided hike to Dunston Cave, a narrow, dimly lit defile that is the location of one of the most accessible colonies of Oilbirds anywhere. With the use of flashlights, we’ll take quick but often stunning views of this incredible bird. Nights at Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Day 6: We’ll depart Asa Wright after breakfast and head to the northern coast of the island at Grand Riviere to search for the endemic Trinidad Piping Guan (known locally as Pawi). We’ll make a few birding stops along the way but upon arrival at Grand Riviere our main focus for the afternoon will be searching for the guan in the wild nutmeg trees that provide their preferred food. The birding is excellent here and the afternoon may reveal sixty or more species. Having hopefully found the Pawi, we will check into our hotel in time for dinner. Night in Grand Riviere.
Day 7: This morning we will have a second chance of viewing the Piping Guan, especially if we did not see it on the previous afternoon. After lunch we will depart for the 2-hour ride to the airport and our short flight to Tobago, where we’ll be met by our local guide and transfer to our lodgings at Cuffie River Nature Retreat. We’ll again find ourselves living in the midst of excellent habitat, and our new home offers chances for Ruby Topaz, Trinidad Motmot, and Common Potoo, among a host of others. Night at Cuffie River Nature Retreat.
Days 8–9: From our base at Cuffie we’ll explore the island paradise of Tobago. We’ll spend a morning birding the Gilpin Trace, a magnificent piece of forest that has been protected since 1776(!). Here we may encounter, among others, Plain Antvireo, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-legged Thrush, and the near-endemic White-tailed Sabrewing. Elsewhere we’ll be in search of other species not found on Trinidad, including Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Striped Owl, White-fringed Antwren, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and Scrub Greenlet.
On one of our days on Tobago we’ll take a short boat ride out to Little Tobago Island. Here the spectacular tropical scenery is enhanced by a great show of nesting seabirds. Red-billed Tropicbirds, Brown and Red-footed Boobies, and Magnificent Frigatebirds whirl about, and we may even spot an Audubon’s Shearwater out over the sea. Nights at Cuffie River Nature Retreat.
Day 10: The tour concludes in Trinidad with mid-morning flights from Tobago’s Crown Point Airport to Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport.
Updated: 17 November 2020