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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Trinidad and Tobago

2006 Tour Narrative

A visit to a legendary birding spot steeped in history brings with it a sense of expectation and hope that time has not dulled the birding. One need not worry in visiting Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad. Our first morning on the famous verandah demonstrated that this indeed is an idyllic refuge for birders. Blue-crowned Motmots, Great Antshrikes, Chestnut Woodpeckers and other species that are frequently skulkers on the South American mainland demonstrated different behaviors here as they seemingly posed for identification study and photographs while enjoying the treats provided daily at the feeding stations. Hummingbirds including the bee-like Tufted Coquette made dawn-to-dusk forays to the feeders and surrounding flowers, at times hovering inches from those of us stationed at the forefront of the verandah. Images of choreographed flights of White-necked Jacobins whose rapid mid-air performances always eluded the camera shutter will stay with all of us. The trails on the lodge property never disappointed with sightings including a Common Potoo on a day-time perch, an elusive Bearded Bellbird sounding out his presence and Oilbirds perched along the rock walls of Dunston Cave.

Pulling ourselves away from the lodge’s birds and food was perhaps our most difficult task during our week at Asa Wright but more birds awaited further afield. A most confiding Trinidad Piping-Guan and an extremely rare Scaled Antpitta were only two of the many highlights during our day on the Blanchisseuse Road. Azure Gallinule, Pinnated Bittern, White-tailed Goldenthroat and many other species along the way made our two trips to Nariva Swamp most enjoyable. There is always a certain ambience that surrounds a picnic dinner at sunset and the one we enjoyed near the Moriche palms at Waller Field held its own enchantment with the arrival of Red-bellied Macaws, Sulphury Flycatchers and the twilight appearance of a Moriche Oriole at their nightly roosts. Our night birding afterward could not have been more successful with exceptional sightings of both Tropical Screech and Barn Owls, White-tailed Nightjars and Pauraques. Our visits to different sites on the island of Trinidad revealed the geographic diversity of this small island from the forested Northern Range, excellent shorebird mudflats at Waterloo and the mangrove swamps of Nariva and Caroni — all with a different selection of birdlife for our enjoyment.

Just as the name Asa Wright comes to mind when Trinidad is mentioned to a birder, so does the image of Scarlet Ibises when Caroni Swamp is discussed. The contrast of the rich red against the green of the mangroves and the celestial colors of the surrounding sky as the ibises flew singularly or in groups to their night-time roost produced an intensity of color that defies portrayal in words. The spectacle of ibises and egrets seeking nightly refuge in the surrounding mangroves denoted the importance of this sanctuary to the island’s birdlife and left us with luminescent visions of these striking birds.

Only a short flight from Trinidad, Tobago brought a new set of experiences and birds to our journey. Hummingbirds continued to be top performers as Ruby Topazes walked away with the gold following performances in the early morning sun and White-tailed Sabrewings were the stars during our walk in the Central Forest. Blue-backed Manakins on Tobago provided island rivalry with Trinidad’s White-bearded Manakins for best of the family. Rain may have dulled the afternoon display of frigatebirds and tropicbirds on Little Tobago but our close views of a Red-billed Tropicbird feeding a youngster on a nest more than compensated. Our visit to Grafton Estate provided another of those closer-than-close encounters with the birdlife of the island as Barred Antshrikes, Blue-crowned Motmots and Rufous-vented Chachalacas gathered around the feeding station at 4 p.m.

The importance of Tobago as a migrant trap was shown when we had opportunities to observe Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Yellow Warblers and other North American species while birding various wetland and mangrove areas on the island. And our sighting of an elusive Mangrove Cuckoo our final morning provided a superb finale to this visit to two islands that have a perfect mix of the Caribbean and South America with a diverse offering of birdlife.

Judy Davis

Updated: May 2006