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Tobago & Trinidad

 20 February to 1 March 2015

By Stephen Burch

Unlike some of my other recent long haul trips, this was not combined with any  business. It was also a very welcome return to the tropics after a 10 year absence.  Around this time of year, my wife and I have been in the habit of escaping the British winter to warmer climes. This year, having rather exhausted the Canaries, I fancied somewhere a bit more exotic with greater potential for photography and significantly increasing my life list!

During this trip we were "self propelled", having made all the arrangements ourselves, unlike most other birders we encountered who were either on tours or had had their arrangements taken care of by a travel company (MotMot Travel was a name often mentioned).  The ASA Wright Nature Centre on Trinidad was clearly a must and we arranged to spend 3 nights there, preceded by six nights on Tobago. Here we spent the first 3 nights in the south, followed by 3 at the Blue Waters Inn (BWI) in the north. BWI is clearly on the same birding "circuit" as ASA Wright, and the birders we came across there were either destined for ASA Wright or had come from there.

On Tobago we hired a car and travelled independently but on Trinidad we relied fully on the ASA Wright Centre for airport transfers and excursions. With hindsight, it might have been better to spend an extra night on Trinidad as 3 nights seemed a little short for ASA Wright.

We flew with BA from Gatwick to Tobago, stopping at Antigua en-route. The BA check-in at Gatwick was surprisingly slow but the flight departed on time. The overall flight time was about 11hrs and we arrived on-time or early. The time difference was only 4hrs. We returned from Trinidad also by BA, via St Lucia. On both BA flights the Premium Economy food was less than impressive, with the breakfast on the return leg particularly poor. For the inter-island travel, we used Caribbean Airlines which involves a short (25min) flight - fortunately although the plane was a relatively small turbo-prop, my wheeled hand luggage (containing all my optics) fitted OK in the overhead lockers (this can be an issue on small planes).

Car Hire
Tobago seems to lack the major car rental companies, and so we used Sheppy's which was well reviewed. We were collected by them at the airport (their driver was a little late arriving, so we were wondering what had happened) and taken a short way to their office/depot. They were very friendly and had a small collection of cars. The first one (a Nissan Tiida) was very cramped but fortunately we managed to upgrade to something a bit larger without too much problem.

See comments at the bottom of the page.

Maps and navigation
The freytag & berndt 1:125,000 map of both islands was just about adequate for Tobago, but the free one from Sheppy's was just as good, if not better!

On Tobago we also made considerable use of a third party map for my Garmin SatNav from GPS Travel Maps. Unlike the UUD Japan Garmin map, this downloaded and installed fine. As in Japan in 2013, in advance of my trip, I had set about using Google Maps to find out the GPS co-ordinates for all the locations I wanted to visit, which I give below. Hopefully others may find this info useful - I certainly did, although navigation on Tobago isn't too challenging - it is a small island with a limited number of roads. The road quality is variable though, with parts of the main north/south road between Scarborough and Speyside is very poor condition in places.  

It is also worth noting that they drive on the left and use US style electric plugs (2-pin mainly).

Birding information
For bird ID, we used "Birds of Trinidad & Tobago (second edition)" by Martyn Kenefick et al, which I can recommend. The illustrations were adequate and it covered all the birds we saw. For site information, I had the "A birdwatchers' guide to Trinidad & Tobago" by W L Murphy. This was of limited value as it was particularly dated for Tobago and of course on Trinidad we were using the services of ASA Wright. Several more recent on-line trip reports were probably more helpful for Tobago than this book.

The temperature in Trinidad & Tobago varies little throughout the year, and reached the low 30's C on sunny days. Late February is supposed to be firmly in the dry season, but we had a fair amount of rain, mainly on Trinidad! At least it was warm rain, although as this was the tropics it tended to come down very heavily for brief periods rather than being prolonged. Unfortunately often the conditions were quite dull, which didn't help the photography, especially in the rain forest. 

All the pics shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D Mk II with either the EF 400mm f5.6 or EF400mm/f4 DO (also often with a x1.4TC). I also took both the tripod and a monopod, both of which were useful at times. Unlike others, I did not have any flash equipment with me, and hence the rain forest was a challenging place for photography, especially on dull days.  All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 9 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website. For general shots, I used a point and shoot Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ35.

I now describe the main sites and areas we visited, in approximate chronological order. To skip to Trinidad, click here.

Tobago (20 - 26 February)
After our long flight and tedious wait at Antigua, we arrived at the compact Tobago Airport late afternoon. After a bit of a wait for the luggage we were quickly through immigration and out on to the roadside outside the airport - no arrivals hall here! There was initially no sign of the Sheppy driver but she fortunately appeared very soon. After finally sorting out the hire car (see above) we found the traffic very heavy in the Crown Point area but we eventually cleared this and headed the short distance north to Black Rock and our hotel (which was poorly signed in the dark - but the GPS coords were spot on).

Le Grand Courlan Hotel and Black Rock Beach (GPS 11.201591,-60.785597)
The next morning we explored the hotel grounds and the beach below before breakfast. Even from our balcony the birding got off to a good start with Caribbean Martin and Short-tailed Swift. Birds in the grounds included Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Black-faced Grassquit, White-tipped Doves and the ubiquitous Bananaquit

On the beach, which was reached by exiting a gate at the bottom of the hotel grounds and crossing a road, I was delighted to find an obliging Yellow-crowned Night Heron - a bird that had until now eluded me in various visits to the USA. Offshore were fishing Royal Terns, Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds overhead. A good start!

Bananaquit Tropical Mockingbird
Bananaquit Tropical Mockingbird
Royal Tern Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Royal Tern (click to enlarge) Yellow Crowned Night Heron (click to enlarge)

Tobago Plantations (GPS 11.154687,-60.788218 )
The entrance to this site (formerly called the Hilton pools) is easy to find on the southern side of the main road between Crown Point and Scarborough and is signed (I think). This is the approach road to the tourist complex and associated golf course around the huge Magdalena hotel on the windward coast.

It is probably the best birding site in the south of the island, but was somewhat disappointing on our two visits. The setup here is to stop (even if not asked) at the security gate and pay a nominal sum for a birding permit for the grounds. During the week at least, this can then then be presented at the Admin building (at 11.147456,-60.788108) whereupon they should open a rusty gate for you, which allows you access to a further set of weedy pools (sewage ponds) - which can have extra birds. There is also an extensive boardwalk through dense mangroves accessed from 11.147232,-60.783347, which I've not seen mentioned in other trip reports, possibly because it is not exactly obvious! However we saw nothing along this walk although it was an interesting environment, and Newton George (who we met later - see below) recommends it!

Immediately on the right of the approach road, before the security gate, there are views of a large pool with Anhingas, Great Egret and Green Heron etc. Also Spotted Sandpiper. Newton George later mentioned that Belted Kingfisher are here but we had seen no sign of them. There is also a pool to the left, just past the security gate, but that didn't seem to have much else. Southern Lapwings were all over the place!

Turning right at the first roundabout and then right again leads to the Admin building and a more productive quieter area, with a heronry close by on the right - full of Cattle Egrets, some in breeding plumage, and Tri-coloured Herons. We saw our first Eared Doves by the road here. Further on past the Admin building to the right there was another pool that had a few White-winged Swallows over in the late afternoon sun of our first visit, and some squabbling Smooth-billed Anis in the surrounding bushes.

We also had a very brief view of a flock of Green-rumped Parrotlets in the golf course part of the resort, where it was difficult to stop and much busier with cars coming & going.

Southern Lapwing Smooth billed Ani
Southern Lapwing (click to enlarge) Smooth billed Ani
Green Heron Eared Dove
Green Heron Eared Dove

I returned on my own in the early morning of our last day in the south of the island and gained access to the weedy pools accessed through the locked gate - where you can drive around if you ask. This had some nice Least Grebes, Wattled Jacanas, a few waders (Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers) and more herons, including Great Blue and Little Blue (mainly immatures, that can be mistaken on a casual glance for Little Egrets as they are white!). However there was no sign of Masked Ducks or White-cheecked Pintails which I later learned from Newton George can sometimes be found here.

Least Grebe Little Blue Heron
Least Grebe (click to enlarge) Little Blue Heron (immature)
Cattle Egret Great Blue Heron
Cattle Egret (click to enlarge) Great Blue Heron (click to enlarge)

Grafton Estate (GPS 11.200291,-60.787531)
The entrance track to the Grafton Estate is signed off the road through Black Rock and was very close to our hotel. This drive-able track goes steeply uphill to a small parking area beside a derelict building to the right.

There is sign saying that the birds are fed daily at 10:00 and 16:00, but arriving at around 10 on a Sunday it was clear that there had been no feeding so far that day. There was evidence of some recent feeding - with a little liquid left in one of the feeders which are at the back of the derelict building. There were also several bird species hanging around in clear expectation of food! Most notable was the tame Trinidad Motmots. There were also large numbers of Rufous vented Chachalacas and a few tanagers - Blue-grey and Silver-lined. A family with a noisy toddler didn't exactly help though, but they eventually departed!

Trinidad Motmot Trinidad Motmot
Trinidad Motmots (click left to enlarge)

We then went for a pleasant walk up the main track through the estate which proved to be quite productive and a good introduction to some of the special forest species to be found on Tobago. The best was a splendid Rufous-tailed Jacamar right on the path, but we also managed to find an impressive Cocoa Woodcreeper, a Barred Antshrike and the perpetual motion White-fringed Antwren (2 pairs) that are not found on Trinidad. We also had a glimpse of something that was almost certainly a Scrub Greenlet and various flycatchers.

Rufous tailed Jacamar Rufous vented Chachalaca
Rufous tailed Jacamar (click to enlarge) Rufous vented Chachalaca (click to enlarge)

Adventure Farm (GPS 11.222952,-60.76564)
The roads around this site were a bit confusing, but having these co-ordinates in the SatNav made finding it very easy. The low key entrance can be recognised by closely separated small IN and OUT signs by the roadside which mark the entrance track which leads up to small parking areas below the house.

After paying a small fee, you are able to view a large number of feeders arranged along one side of the house. There are also two trails, the longer of which goes up a hill and is only open a few days of the week, in the morning. However the other shorter one which goes in a small loop through the grounds below the house is always open.

The feeders was of course where we started, to admire at close quarters the numerous hummingbirds of four different species - White-naped Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Copper-rumped Hummingbird and the startling Ruby Topaz (when it faces you!). Photo opportunities were however only moderate as the perches weren't especially convenient. Other birds included a brief Barred Antshrike, Grey-blue Tanagers, White-lined Tanagers, a Spectacled Thrush and a Red-crowned Woodpecker. It was here I made my first attempts at hummingbird in flight photography which worked out surprisingly well without any flash (but of course with masses of rejects!).

Black throated Mango
Black throated Mango (male) (click to enlarge) Black throated Mango (female) (click to enlarge)
White necked Jacobin White lined Tanager
White necked Jacobin (female) White lined Tanager (click to enlarge)

The trail through the garden at Adventure Farm also produced some good birds, most notably Northern Waterthrush and another White-fringed Antwren.

Other sites in southern Tobago
We didn't have much success at various other sites we tried in southern Tobago during our 3-night stay. The Bon Accord lagoons, as described in the Murphy site guide book (and various trip reports) no longer seem to exist, from the road at least. There was also no sign of the Buccoo Marsh site as far as I could see. The Pigeon Point area was thronged by tourists and the beach produced only a few White-winged Swallows, Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds. The Kilgwyn Swamp road was also unproductive - although contrary to one trip report, it is now possible simply to drive along the road through the mangroves to the sea. The only list addition here was a brief Brown Flycatcher at the back of the beach. Out to sea there was nothing!

Blue Waters Inn (GPS 11.307142,-60.529307 )
The drive north to Speyside via Scarborough was notable for its extreme slowness (about 2hrs!) and various obstacles including very poor stretches of road, incredibly slow drivers and even a funeral procession!  BWI was reached down a narrow approach road guarded by a security gate and was right by the sea. Distant Red-billed Tropicbirds were immediately visible through bins, over in the direction of Little Tobago. There was also a delightfully confiding flock of Turnstones pottering around from time to time. The beach was good for a quick swim on the first couple of days of our 3 day stay, but thereafter large quantities of unpleasant seaweed suddenly appeared covering the sand.

There were a few hummingbird feeders around but they tended to be in deep shade and didn't seem to be attracting anything very interesting. By now we had seen most of the common Tobago birds so didn't spend any of our limited time exploring the grounds which can be quite productive according to some other trip reports.

Rain forest excursion with Newton George
Well in advance I had booked this half day trip with Newton George, which was the undoubted highlight of our stay on Tobago and thoroughly recommended. Newton is a very good guide - better than some of those provided later for us by ASA Wright (more of which below).

This trip took place on our first full day at the BWI and involved an 06:00 departure, returning in time for lunch. We were with two other birding couples  in a minibus driven by Newton. Our first stop was a small marshy area not far from the BWI which had both Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Black-faced Grassquit, Grey-rumped Swifts over and a small flock of Blue-winged Teal. There were also a couple of rather grotty immature Yellow crowned Night Herons (not a patch on the adult on the Black Rock beach!).

The next stop was by a river which was a site for Common Potoo, roosting high up on a tree. Closer to hand was a Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and another White-fringed Antwren.

After that, we headed up into the mountains along the Roxborough to Bloody Bay Road. The conditions were now good with some sun after overnight and early morning rain and bird activity was high. Several Trinidad Motmots were seen, and a few Rufous-tailed Jacamars. One stop produced Broad-winged Hawk over and Streaked & Ochre-bellied Flycatchers. The next stop was more productive though with one of my top targets - a splendid Collared Trogon (not seen on all of Newton's trips apparently) which showed reasonably well. This was unfortunately the only trogon we saw on this entire trip (we dipped on all 3 on Trinidad). There was also a Plain-Ant Vireo and Grey Kingbird in this area, along with a Golden-olive Woodpecker.

We then drove past the Gilpin Trace entrance to a building with a view and some basic toilet facilities where we had a picnic breakfast provided by BWI. This stop was also notable for good views of another key target - an ace Blue-backed Manakin, briefly out the open (which I unfortunately managed to miss most of, being otherwise engaged) and a distant White-necked Thrush.

Collared Trogon Blue backed Manakin
Collared Trogon - what a bird! Back view of a Blue backed Manakin!
Shiny Cowbird Grey Kingbird
Shiny Cowbird Grey Kingbird

The Gilpin Trace footpath was slightly wet & muddy but no problem for my walking boots (certainly no need for wellies!). It went through dense rainforest which was good for a small number of bird species but almost impossible for flash-less photography. Probably the best bird was a White-tailed Sabrewing but it was quite distant and high up in the trees. It was difficult to get too excited about a Yellow Legged Thrush, which looked remarkably like our Blackbird! Persistent play-back and searching by Newton eventually produced Olivaceous Woodcreeper (which I had already seen in Brazil) and Stripe-breasted Spinetail which was a lifer. This was quite a thin total but about 2hrs of birding - Newton spent a lot of time saying that this & that can often be seen right by the path (e.g. Blue-backed Manakin lekking) but not today it seemed!

The return route was similar to the outward leg. Stopping again on the Roxborough to Bloody Bay road produced Venezuelan Flycatcher and we had good views from the coast road of a Green-rumped Parrotlet on roadside wires and a Red-crowned Woodpecker. Best of all, there were two impressive Great-black Hawks soaring over a nearby hill.

Hummingbird Gallery, Speyside (GPS 11.295149,-60.539113 )
Towards the end of the afternoon of the rain forest day we decided to visit Newton's Hummingbird Gallery which was only a short distance from the BWI on the top side of the village of Speyside at 3 Tophill street.

This had several feeders similar to Adventure Farm but the arrangements for photography were considerably better - Newton had even brought a dead tree down from the hills to create suitably photogenic perches! This site has regular White-tailed Sabrewing but in the breeding season they can be elusive - we only had brief visits from one, with views only on the feeders for a few seconds towards dusk. The day before it had apparently been considerably more obliging - but only after the visitors had departed! This happened to us as well - after its initial appearance at about 17:00 we waited until about 18:00, only to be called back by Newton from the bottom of his drive. We missed the Sabrewing briefly perched clear of the feeders and only had the briefest of feeder views.

Other birds here included the four hummers seen at Adventure Farm and various Tanagers, Barred Antshrike etc. I spent some time trying for more hummingbird flight shots and anything else that came in range of my lens!

White necked Jacobin Ruby Topaz
White necked Jacobin (click to enlarge) Ruby Topaz
Ruby Topaz
Ruby Topaz (click left to enlarge)
Barred Ant Shrike Copper Rumped Hummingbird
Barred Ant Shrike (click to enlarge) Copper Rumped Hummingbird (click to enlarge)
Palm Tanager Blue grey Tanager
Palm Tanager (click to enlarge) Blue grey Tanager (click to enlarge)

Little Tobago
We had also arranged for Newton George to take us to Little Tobago but it emerged he was more productively booked that day with a round the island tour for 6 or more clients. He did however arrange for someone else to take us. This consisted of the standard snorkeling tour group but with a modification for birders! The whole party was taken across to the island and walked the 15mins or so up to the viewpoint. We were then left there for about 1.5 hrs while the others snorkeled. They then returned to the island to collect us. The seas were quite rough for this trip and embarking and disembarking the small boat was a bit difficult in the heavy swell.

The viewpoint consists of a panoramic view down to the sea over sloping cliffs. When we arrived all the birds were very distant - Red-billed Tropicbirds, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Red-footed and Brown Boobies. During the next hour and a half, somewhat disappointingly the birds only approached us quite infrequently and there weren't as many tropicbirds as I was expecting to see. Also we were told this wasn't the right time of year for Audobon's Shearwaters in their nesting burrows, but this didn't accord with other trip reports I've seen. It is possible the guide simply couldn't be bothered to show us any, or didn't want to disturb them?

Other birds seen on the island and from the viewpoint were limited to a couple of Broad-winged Hawks over, a few Crested Oropendolas and a few Blue-Grey Tanagers. So a slightly disappointing visit, but I did get the odd photo:

Red-billed Tropicbird Red-billed Tropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbird (click left to enlarge)
Magnificent Frigatebird
Magnificent Frigatebird (click to enlarge)

Flagstaff Hill (GPS 11.329379,-60.53999 )
We visited this site towards the end of the afternoon of the Little Tobago day, and enjoyed our time there. The weather was reasonable with some sun, and this hill was a good viewpoint. A few interesting birds were around, most notably some Orange-winged Parrots, which occasionally came within range and allowed their photos to be taken. I'm quite pleased with the BIFs below, especially the parrot which was moving at high speed - the new AF system on the 7D Mk II may have helped here. There were also a couple of Yellow-headed Caracaras around - also coming quite close. The canopy below also had a few Blue-grey Tanagers and one Red-legged Honeycreeper.

Orange Winged Parrot Yellow headed Caracara
Orange Winged Parrot (click to enlarge) Yellow headed Caracara (click to enlarge)

Trinidad (26 February - 1 March)
We left the BWI immediately after a quick breakfast as we were somewhat concerned about the time needed for the drive to the airport given our northward experience. However in the relatively early morning the traffic wasn't as bad and it only took about 1.5hrs to reach the airport from the BWI, so we were quite early for our 11:10 departure, which was considerably delayed. On arrival at Trinidad we quickly connected with the ASA Wright driver and arrived at the Centre in time for a late lunch (I had arranged for them to keep us some).

ASA Wright Nature Centre
The veranda at ASA Wright is world famous as a relaxing place to watch a good selection of colourful birds and it did not disappoint, despite the weather which was often wet. From the veranda and immediate surrounds we enjoyed views of 10 species of hummingbird. In addition to the common four from Tobago we saw the amazing Tufted Coquette, White-chested Emerald, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Green Hermit and Long-billed Starthroat. A Little Hermit showed briefly at the top of the Discovery trail, nearby.  

Exotic tanagers and honeycreepers were also much in evidence, including Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Turquoise Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, White-lined Tanager and Bay-headed Tanager. Other birds on or around the feeders included Cocoa Thrush and the wonderfully named Violaceous Euphonia. Slightly more distant were a colony of nesting Crested Oropendolas, Channel-billed Toucan, Orange Winged Parrots, Yellow Oriole and Bearded Bellbird (which favoured the top of a distant tree, affording reasonable 'scope views - also briefly once closer). When the weather cleared (it did once!) raptors appeared over the valley below - Black Hawk Eagle, Common Black Hawk and White Hawk.

Photography was not quite as productive - the feeders and surrounding bushes were rather too distant and well below. After a while I found that the left end of the veranda was better with a small tree at eye level and nice & close. It sometimes held honeycreepers and tanagers, often sheltering from the torrential rain!

Complementary rum punch is served here in the early evening before dinner - very civilised!

Purple Honeycreeper Green Honeycreeper
Purple Honeycreeper  (click to enlarge) Green Honeycreeper  (click to enlarge)
Tufted Coquette White chested Emerald
Tufted Coquette  (click to enlarge) White chested Emerald  (click to enlarge)
Blue chinned Sapphire Violaceous Euphonia
Blue chinned Sapphire  (click to enlarge) Violaceous Euphonia  (click to enlarge)

There is a good network of trails around the ASA Wright Centre and a free map is available for self-guided walks which are encouraged (contrary to some reports). In our short stay we had little time for this, and our initial solo exploration of the Discovery Trial in the late afternoon of our first day was not productive. The next morning we did much better with a guide on the standard welcome tour that all new visitors get on their first morning. The best birds were 3+ very showy White Bearded Manakins performing well at their lek - out in the open and right by the path. The light was dreadful though needing ISO 6400!  We also had much poorer views of a single Golden-headed Manakin.  

White bearded Manakin White bearded Manakin
White bearded Manakin White bearded Manakin
White bearded Manakins
Golden headed Manakin Grey lined Hawk
Golden headed Manakin Grey lined Hawk

For stays of 3 nights or more at ASA Wright, a free guided tour to Dunstan cave is also included. These take place twice a week and ours was on our last morning in dull, sometimes wet conditions. En-route down to the caves the guide showed us a White-flanked Antwren, but the main interest of course was the Oilbirds in the cave. It was very dark, and quite wet under foot (I think I was in the middle of a small stream!) but the guide's torch provided sufficient illumination for some photos. Fortunately one bird was quite close and in the very limited time available I managed to get a reasonable photo - a tripod was essential for the long exposure needed.

Oilbird  (click to enlarge)

Caroni Swamp Tour
My main aim of the Trinidad leg of this trip was to see Scarlet Ibis, which can only be achieved by going to the Caroni Swamp. Well in advance I requested that ASA Wright run one of these tours on either of the two days we had available. This half day tour leaves after lunch, and generally takes in a couple of stops en-route to the swamp. We stopped first at some sewage work pools for a quick but productive stroll. Both Tyrants - Pied Water Tyrant & White headed Marsh Tyrant showed well, as did Yellow-hooded Blackbirds. There was also a Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Striated Heron and distant Osprey.

After that we were driven to the edge of the swamp where we looked in vain for Masked Cardinal, but we did pick up a few Saffron Finches. At around 16:00 we boarded a boat that was dedicated to our party only, with a bird expert boat-man as well as the ASA Wright guide. Note that many general tourist boats depart from the same place, at the same time, but almost certainly do not stop for the interesting birds to be seen in the swamp on the way to the Scarlet Ibis roost. We proceeded at a leisurely pace, and almost immediately had a very poor view of a Green-throated Mango, followed by many Little Blue Herons. Others notable birds in the dense mangroves included Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Bicoloured Conebill, Common Potoo and best of all a delightful pair of Tropical Screech Owls. Pygmy Kingfisher was also spotted by all. We also saw some bats, a snake and some crabs.

It wasn't until a little before 18:00 that we arrived at the Scarlet Ibis roost site, and by the then the light, which had been poor all day, was even worse! The boats stay well away from the roosting bushes but a few of the hundreds of Scarlet Ibis coming into roost flew somewhat closer to our boat. They were  a magnificent spectacle - made even better by a generous allowance of ASA Wright rum punch!

On the return in almost complete darkness, we briefly saw a Grey-naped Wood-Rail illuminated by the guide's torch.

Tropical Screech Owl Common Potoo
Tropical Screech Owl  (click to enlarge) Common Potoo
Scarlet Ibis Scarlet Ibis
Scarlet Ibis
Scarlet Ibis
Great Egret Great Egret
Great Egret going away - right photo is crop of the left one!

Nariva Swamp Tour
Taking in the Nariva swamp on the east coast involves a full day tour, plenty of driving and emerging briefly from the minibus for brief stops. Only at a couple of places could we stretch our legs a little. Nevertheless it was reasonably productive but not in the same "must do" category as the Caroni Swamp.

At the start of this tour we stopped a few times along the Arima Valley which produced some good raptors - Grey-lined Hawk, White Hawk as well as Blue Dacnis. The first main site is the Aripo agricultural research station which had a nesting Pearl Kite near the entrance and Green-rumped Parrotlets as well. The specialities here were both Tyrants again, Grassland Yellow Finch and the impressive Red-breasted Blackbird. Raptors comprised numerous Black Vultures and a Savannah Hawk or two.

Pied Water Tyrant White headed Marsh Tyrant
Pied Water Tyrant White headed Marsh Tyrant
Black Vulture Savannah Hawk
Close up Black Vulture Distant Savannah Hawk
Tropical Kingbird
Tropical Kingbird

Reaching the Nariva Swamp then required a further hour or more of driving, interrupted briefly by a stop for Yellow-rumped Caciques. The swamp area itself was initially somewhat disappointing with only Black-bellied Whistling Duck although a bushy area produced a nice Black-crested Ant Shrike. The next area of swamp was better with crippling views of Pineated Bittern, a brief glimpse of a White-tailed Goldenthroat and a Striped Cuckoo, in considerable heat. At the end of the afternoon we went on a short walk looking for Red-Bellied Macaws which duly appeared although I was too slow to get onto the two that came close enough for photographs. There was also a confiding Solitary Sandpiper on a muddy pool along the path, although I didn't have very long to photograph it. All in all, this was a pleasant spot to end the day and drink another ration of rum punch!

Pineated Bittern Solitary Sandpiper
Pineated Bittern close up Solitary Sandpiper

Accommodation Details

Place Comment
Stanhill Court Hotel, nr Gatwick We needed a hotel for the night before our departure and this place had reasonable reviews. However I cannot recommend this place at all! We arrived reasonably late to find the reception area open but deserted. After a few minutes we noticed a sign saying we needed to phone to raise somebody, who then duly appeared and appeared to note our taxi time for the next day. There was no lift and no help with our bags up a very long flight of stairs to the first floor. The breakfast the next morning was adequate but not worth the additional £11 each (I had thought it was included). When the taxi failed to arrive it was clear that the receptionist hadn't booked it the previous night. So we had about a half hour delay, which is not good for the nerves before a long flight!
Hotel Le Grand Courlan, Black Rock, Tobago
Situated in the south of the island on the leeward coast this large sprawling hotel occupied a slope down to the nice beach below (across a minor road). Our sea-view room was at the top, up one floor from the reception/arrival area (no lift). The room was fine with a balcony and distant sea-view but the place as a whole was very quiet - almost deserted! The one dinner we had there was poor (slow service and mediocre food) but lunch one day was better and breakfast OK. For the other 2 nights we went to the excellent nearby Sea Horse restaurant (down on the road behind the beach - reached to the right through the exit gate at the bottom of the hotel grounds - but note this is locked at night, so we had to get the restaurant to phone security at the adjacent Grafton Beach hotel to let us back in after our meal!).
Blue Waters Inn, Speyside, Tobago
Nice situation right by the sea, outside of Speyside and down a private track (with manned security gate). Room was fine and the food OK - better the first night when we able to have a la carte than the other two when there was only a buffet (more guests). Quite expensive. There were a few hummingbird feeders around (but largely in shade and not apparently attracting much) and a nice party of tame Turnstones. Distant Red-billed Tropicbirds towards Little Tobago and convenient for Little Tobago and Newton George trips. Has its own generator - which was a definite advantage when the whole island suffered a prolonged power cut!
ASA Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad
A great place and a real institution! The veranda is justifiably famous for relaxed birding! We were fortunate to have a room close to the main building and did not find the party wall too thin, as reported by some others (maybe we just had quiet neighbours!). Food generally better than expected given other reports - especially the late lunch we had on our arrival which was very tasty. Definitely recommended - wished we had stayed longer than 3 nights, although it is expensive.

© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 


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