For years we wanted to visit the Asa Wright Nature Center on Trinidad, but it closed recently (although it might re-open later in 2022). However, that didn’t stop us, as in March we went on an “Ultimate” 12-day birding tour of Trinidad and Tobago with Naturalist Journeys / Caligo Ventures.
To skip this narrative and go straight to the photo galleries – trip photos, birds, and of course Buddy Bison! – click here. Click any photo below for a larger version.
Our trip started in Port of Spain, Trinidad, with an early arrival and stay at the Hyatt Regency perched on the edge of the Gulf of Paria. We enjoyed a pre-tour birding day with Lester Nanan en route to the group’s lodgings for several nights, Hacienda Jacana – a good thing as we saw a few birds better that first day than we did subsequently with the group later in the tour!
The group birding started in Trinidad, moved on to Tobago, and then finished in Trinidad before flying home. In Trinidad, with our guide Mahase, our birding locales included high into the Northern Range along Blanchisseuse Road, along the windy eastern shore at Manzanilla Beach and nearby Nariva Swamp, and a beach-front stay in Grande Riviere at the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel. Morning birding from Mt. Plaisir netted us the endemic Trinidad Piping-Guan! and other wonderful birds.
At Mt. Plaisir we were also fortunate to see several leatherback turtles come ashore under a full moon to lay eggs in the sand; it had been over 30 years since we enjoyed a similar experience with green sea turtles at Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica. It was truly a sight to see and there’s something so timeless about seeing the turtles materialize out of nowhere and emerge from the surf, laboriously dig a very deep hole, lay eggs, cover it up, and oh so slowly slip back into the ocean and vanish, not to return perhaps for years.
We returned to Port of Spain from Grande Riviere and caught the short-hop flight over to Tobago, where we were met by local guide Jason Radix. Well, not without a few hiccups, as half the group were on an earlier flight than our other half, and the first group was misinformed as to our arrival. But we all met up eventually.
On Tobago we first stayed at the lovely Cuffie River Nature Retreat, where we enjoyed birding from our balconies – including great looks at the endemic Trinidad Motmot – and a morning walk with the lodge’s expert guide, Desmond. We also spent one afternoon at the Adventure Farm, which bills itself as the Hummingbird Capital of the Americas, and it did not disappoint!
Leaving Cuffie River, we drove high into the historic Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the world’s oldest legally protected forest. (Scientific American once said that “the protection of Tobago’s forest was the first act in the modern environmental movement”.) Our next accommodations were at the Blue Waters Inn in Speyside (named by homesick Scots? We passed Culloden to get there!). Pretty certain we have never stayed *so* close to the water’s edge.
A feature of staying at Blue Waters is a tour on a glass bottom boat, but those weren’t running when we were there. We did however have an excellent half day of birding out on Little Tobago Island. Landing on the island was a bit exciting as the boat dock there had been destroyed by a hurricane only a few years earlier, so we went ashore one by one with a well-timed jump into the surf. Happily our guide Zee and boat captain got our various packs ashore rather than see us drop them all in the drink. On Little Tobago we walked a trail up to a lookout point where we had fantastic views of Red-billed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Brown and Red-footed Boobies.
We then returned to Trinidad for the last few days of the tour, staying at the historic Pax Guest House on the grounds of the St Benedict monastery. We revisited Blanchisseuse Rd, spent a morning birding the gardens at Yerettê (Home of the Hummingbird), and finished up our birding with a dusk boat ride in Caroni Swamp to see flocks of Scarlet Ibis (one of the national birds) come in to roost, while we enjoyed some rum punch.
Overall it was a great trip. We had a bit of unexpected excitement at the end when two of our tour companions tested positive for COVID-19 (Liza gave them two of her self-tests when one said she wasn’t feeling well). That moved up our own pre-flight tests a day, we were cleared to fly home, and we continued to test negative over the next 5 days. The two in question however wound up with their trip extended about a week before both were good to go.
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