Trinidad & Tobago
November 10– 19, 2010
Leader: Bill Murphy
Click here to view the species list
Click here to download the species list as a zipped MS-Word file
Click here to download the narrative as a zipped MS-Word file
Click here to view Martha's photos
Click here to view Merrill's photos
Ann & Dwight Chasar, Northfield, Ohio
Roz Chernesky, New York, NY
Anne & Bob Courtemanche, Hagerstown, MD
Merrill Lester, Hickory, NC
Craig Marken & Wanda Wynne, Tucson, AZ
Alice & Dennis Spriggs, Leesburg, VA
Martha Vandervoort, Reston, VA
November 11 Trinidad: Asa Wright Nature Centre
November 12 Trinidad: Aripo Livestock Station, Manzanilla Beach, Waller Field
November 13 Trinidad: Sudama Steps, Carli Bay, WaterlooNorthern Range
November 14 Trinidad: Northern Range
November 15 Trinidad: Oilbird Cave, Caroni Swamp
November 16 Tobago: Bon Accord & Hilton Ponds, Adventure Farm
November 17 Tobago: Cuffie River grounds
November 18 Tobago: Main Ridge Reserve (Gilpin Trace), Little Tobago Island
During this tour we found a grand total of 211 species of birds, including five "heard-only's," with extraordinarily good views of many and with sightings of at least six species unusual enough to merit submission of details to the Trinidad & Tobago Rare Bird Committee. I would like to thank all of the participants – Ann, Dwight, Roz, Anne, Bob, Merrill, Craig, Wanda, Alice, Dennis, and Martha – for helping to make this a very productive and enjoyable tour. I extend special thanks to Martyn Kenefick, author of the field guide we use, for coordinating the Trinidad segment of the trip. His input helped make this a truly memorable birding adventure. Special thanks go as well to Ivan LaRose, our excellent Trini maxi driver, lecturer, and friend, for the innumerable ways he added to the quality of our trip.
Tuesday, November 9 – Early Arrivals
This wonderful tropical birding adventure began one day early for three of us when I met Alice and Dennis at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. Their ride to the Asa Wright Nature Center had been prearranged, but I was already in Trinidad, visiting fellow researchers at the University of the West Indies, and couldn't resist the opportunity to greet them personally and to make sure that the Asa Wright driver recognized them quickly. Not to worry – my friend Ramdass was waiting to transport them, and his "search image" for arriving birders was well honed.
Wednesday, November 10 – Group Arrival
Today we officially started the tour. I met Roz early in the afternoon at Piarco airport. We visited a site that the airport staff considers the best place to enjoy authentic local cuisine. We enjoyed "doubles," the most popular fast food in Trinidad. "Doubles" are made from two pieces of flat fried bread (hence the name) filled with curried chickpeas and topped with spicy mango chutney and sometimes pepper sauce (see http://www.simplytrinicooking.com/2009/09/doubles.html ).
Bob, Anne, and Martha arrived around 3:30 p.m. Our irrepressibly cheerful driver in Trinidad, Ivan LaRose, transported us in his clean new maxitaxi, "God's Favour," to the Asa Wright Nature Centre, seven and one-half miles north of the town of Arima, about 45 minutes from the airport. The staff greeted us warmly, and Ivan delivered us to the upper parking area (car park), close to our bungalows. As darkness fell, as it does startlingly quickly in the tropics, we settled into our rooms to the accompaniment of the sounds of many species of birds we would soon come to know very well indeed.
Most events of note at Asa Wright happens in the main building, including some of the most sensational dining ever. Dinner at Asa Wright tonight included corn soup, crisp fried fish in Creole sauce, fried rice with onions and other vegetables, fresh egg noodles, a variety of steamed vegetables, chopped cabbage, fresh garden salad, and chocolate mousse for dessert.
After dinner, some of us joined resident naturalist Mukesh Ramdass on a night hike along the entrance drive. We found tarantulas, wind scorpions, and two female Great Antshrikes asleep in the bushes.
At around 10 p.m., the rest of the participants – Ann, Dwight, Merrill, Craig, and Wanda – arrived with Ivan. We greeted each other, and I provided brief instructions about the next morning's activities. Soon we were all asleep.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Thursday, November 11 - Grounds of the Asa Wright Nature Centre
As is typical during the rainy season, we had rain every day on this trip, but the rain seemed to fall at night or just when we were coming in for lunch or dinner, and it never rained enough to cancel our plans. Today the rain was torrential just before dawn, loud enough to wake us all up. It stopped before we left our rooms to head to the main house to stand on Asa Wright's world-famous veranda. By 6 a.m. almost all of us were already on the veranda enjoying the Bananaquits and watching the rabbit-like agoutis forage beneath the bird feeders.
The fruit feeders in front of and below the veranda attract honeycreepers, thrushes, and lots of hummingbirds. Four Trema trees – one to the left of the veranda, two in front, and one to the right –were covered with tiny ripe green berries that attracted a wide variety of species including Violaceous Euphonia and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. Sipping nectar from Lantana blossoms were hummingbirds including the tiny Tufted Coquette along with the ubiquitous Copper-rumped Hummingbird. Flocks of Orange-winged Parrots flew around screeching. Half a dozen Palm Tanagers that were nesting in the veranda rafters flew in and out of the open windows, often barely missing us in the process.
Before dawn every morning, the Asa Wright staff prepared coffee and tea near the veranda for early risers. Breakfast was served at 7:30 a.m., which during our visit was 1½ hours after dawn. Today breakfast included three kinds of cereal, fresh slices of banana and watermelon, omelettes made to order, saltfish buljol (salt herring, peppers, onions, and tomatoes), fry bakes (fried bread) with jam/butter/marmalade, and assorted teas/coffee. Fresh cold fruit juice was available at every meal; today it was grapefruit.
After a comprehensive orientation briefing by your leader, we spent the morning strolling leisurely along the half-mile-long entrance drive, becoming acquainted or reacquainted with techniques for birding in a tropical rainforest.
From the lower car park near the guard's station, we walked to the upper lot, finding Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Tropical Mockingbird, seven species of hummingbirds near the upper cabins, and a cooperative Blue-headed Parrot, which Alice photographed. We also added a few species of flycatchers, including Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and Forest Elaenia.
We continued along the short Motmot Trail, picking all three species of hermit hummingbirds, which feed in the shade, close to the ground, and are generally dull in color; Trinidad Motmot; a close Golden-olive Woodpecker; a Plain-brown Woodcreeper; and lots of Bay-headed and Turquoise Tanagers. A soaring Zone-tailed Hawk was a nice addition, along with Turkey and Black Vultures. Along the way we became familiar with numerous tropical plants and blossoms.
We returned to the main building in time for lunch, which today consisted of crispy fried fish, vegetables, buttered provision (root vegetables), lentils, fresh garden salad, and cake for dessert.
We took a break after lunch until 2:30 p.m., at which time resident naturalist Harold Diaz led us on a leisurely hike down the Discovery Trail to enjoy Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins on their leks, a Bearded Bellbird in full view, and at least four gorgeous Collared Trogons. Along the trail we observed monkey ladder vine, wild nutmeg, chataigne (breadnut), and other varieties of trees, plants, and flowers.
Returning to the main building, we took another break, and then at dusk gathered in the main building to review the next day's itinerary and conduct our first daily tally rally of the birds seen.
Dinner this evening consisted of callaloo soup (see http://www.suite101.com/content/callaloo-and-crab-soup-a-caribbean-recipe-a96679 ), Creole pork chops, macaroni pie, fried plantain, beans with carrots and onions, chopped cucumber/cabbage/carrots, and homemade rolls and butter, with rum and banana pudding for dessert.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 72: Little Tinamou (heard only), Magnificent Frigatebird, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Common Black-Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (h), Gray-rumped Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Little Hermit, Green Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Long-billed Starthroat, White-tailed Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, Collared Trogon, Trinidad Motmot, Channel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker (h), Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Barred Antshrike, Plain Antvireo (h), Forest Elaenia, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Bright-rumped Attila (h), Bearded Bellbird, White-bearded Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren (h), Cocoa Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Grayish Saltator, Tropical Parula (h), American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola, Yellow Oriole, Violaceous Euphonia
Friday, November 12 - East Coast
Today we started with early morning birding and coffee on the veranda. Among the more interesting sightings were a fly-by Common Black-Hawk over the garden in front of the veranda and flocks of parrots, including both Orange winged and Blue-headed. We learned to differentiate the parrot species by the depth of their wingbeats, with those of the Orange-winged being restricted to horizontal or lower, whereas those of the Blue-headed are about as high above the horizontal as they are below.
The staff had an early breakfast ready for us at 6:45 a.m. -- assorted cereals, eggplant choka and sada roti (see http://tinyurl.com/6aa286), omelettes made to order, fresh fruit, bread with jam/marmalade/butter, and an assortment of coffee/teas/juice.
Ivan arrived with his maxi at 7 a.m. We boarded and drove down the Arima Valley, passing east of the town of Arima to the vicinity of the Aripo Livestock Station. Along the way we stopped to study a flock of Green-rumped Parrotlets. The livestock station yielded most of our target birds, including Trinidad's newest colonist, Grassland Yellow-Finch. We birded along the pitch (asphalt) road, up into the foothills of the Northern Range, and then completed a loop that took us back to the entrance.
Continuing east, we made a traditional bathroom and beverage stop at the Ponderosa Bar in the town of Valencia. For most people in our group, this was their first experience with a favorite soft drink in T&T, Angostura lemon-lime bitters ("LLB").
On our long drive to the East Coast, we saved time by bypassing traffic-congested Sangre Grande, the largest city in Eastern Trinidad. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Manzanilla Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. The packed lunch from Asa Wright consisted of rice pilaf with beef, chopped salad with homemade dressing, and spice cake for dessert. As on all outings, we carried cold water and fresh fruit juice with us in the maxi.
After lunch we drove slowly south through the Cocal, a spit of land that separates the ocean from the Nariva River, through millions of coconut palms. We spotted Limpkins, a flock of 30 southbound Common Terns, and raptors that included Savanna Hawk and Yellow-headed Caracara. No migrating shorebirds were concentration at the mouth of the Nariva River, so we continued on to the southern edge of the Nariva Swamp. Wild rice was head high, which made birding quite challenging. Among the highlights of our Nariva Swamp sojourn was observing an adult Peregrine Falcon flying over our maxi.
Late in the afternoon we returned to northern Trinidad, picking up a lone Yellow-rumped Cacique near Sangre Grande along the way. We stopped at the security station at Waller Field, a former American military base, where after a lengthy delay a guard escorted us to an area dominated by Moriche palms. We observed two Moriche specialists, Sulphury Flycatcher and Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, in good numbers above us. For the first time on any of my trips, we watched the swifts fly up into the hanging dead clusters of palm leaves, where they both roost and nest. We waited in vain for the hoped-for flock of Red-bellied Macaws.
As dusk fell and we were enjoying our rum punch and cake, we were treated to a splendid showing of nightjars. First, a Common Pauraque called: "Whee-errr!" Then another. Then to my great surprise came the call of a nearby Rufous Nightjar, its call very similar to that of a Chuck-will's-widow. As far as I know, this was the easternmost occurrence of the species. Finally, White-tailed Nightjars joined in the chorus with their high-pitched, thin "pu-weee!" Aided by the light of Ivan's headlights, through our binoculars we watched the Pauraques and White-tailed Nightjars repeatedly land and take off from the roadway near us.
What a sensational way to finish a long and enjoyable birding day! Ivan drove us back to Asa Wright, where dinner included split pea soup with freshly baked bread, baked lamb chops, creamy mashed potatoes, fried eggplant, black-eyed peas with carrots and potatoes, a chopped cabbage/carrot/tomato salad, homemade rolls and butter, and pawpaw (papaya) Bavarian. Afterwards we conducted our tally rally and went over plans for the next day.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 90: Little Tinamou (h), Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Striated Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Osprey, Gray Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Savanna Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Limpkin, Southern Lapwing, Wilson's Snipe, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Common Tern, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Smooth-billed Ani, Striped Cuckoo (h), Common Pauraque, Rufous Nightjar (h), White-tailed Nightjar, Gray-rumped Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, White-tailed Trogon (h), Trinidad Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar (h), Lineated Woodpecker, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Barred Antshrike, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher (h), Bran-colored Flycatcher, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Sulphury Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Bright-rumped Attila (h), Bearded Bellbird (h), Rufous-browed Peppershrike, White-winged Swallow, Gray-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren (h), Long-billed Gnatwren, Cocoa Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Blue-black Grassquit, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Yellow Oriole, Shiny Cowbird, Carib Grackle, Red-breasted Blackbird, Violaceous Euphonia
New for trip, 44; running total, 116
Saturday, November 13 - Southwest and West Coast
Early this morning, after a hushed breakfast designed to allow the occupants of the main house to continue sleeping, we left the Centre in Ivan's maxi and headed for the deep Southwest. Breakfast included bacon and eggs, several kinds of cereal, fresh fruit, freshly baked bread with butter/jam/marmalade, and assorted coffee/teas/juice.
The sun rose as we turned south near Port-of-Spain. We stopped in Gulf City, where your leader purchased fresh bananas and sour sop (custard apple) for the group. The key man at our destination, Sudama Steps, was the fellow with the key to the restroom!
The usual weekend throng of people congregated around the bridge over the South Oropuche River. A few fishermen sought cascadura, a small catfish, by casting nets into shallow ponds. As we strolled along a dirt track bordered by a vast freshwater marsh on one side and the mangrove-lined river on the other, we found plenty of good birds -- Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Masked Yellowthroat, Red-capped Cardinal, and Spotted Tody-Flycatcher in the nearby vegetation, and Osprey, an adult and a juvenile Peregrine Falcon hunting, and both morphs (light and dark) of Long-winged Harrier overhead. A diligent search for Pinnated Bittern turned up a single distant bird that stayed hidden to all but a few of us.
An impending shower urged us back to Ivan's maxi. We headed to the nearby village of Debe for a second breakfast of doubles and cold drinks, including many LLBs. From Debe we took the Southern Main Road north because traffic on the highway was stopped. Our lunch site later that afternoon would be a restaurant in Freeport. While Ivan drove us north, I took orders for lunch and called them in to the restaurant.
Our next birding spot was at Carli Bay, along the Gulf of Paria. Between rain showers we had best-ever views of Greater Anis side-by-side with Smooth-billed Anis, along with male and female Black-crested Antshrikes. This species sports the wildest punk hairdo of any bird species in Trinidad or Tobago. Here we also made our first of several attempts to call in the colorful endemic race of Clapper Rail. Although at least one pair was calling, they failed to walk into clear view and were glimpsed only fleetingly by one or two participants. We found a pair of a target species, Saffron Finch, feeding in close-cropped grass near the beach.
Ivan then drove us a few miles north to Orange Valley and the Temple in the Sea, a Hindu religious site. At this excellent shorebirding spot, a very long concrete jetty projects hundreds of yards into the Gulf of Paria. It is wide enough for Ivan to drive his maxi onto. We birded from the comfort of the maxi for a while, sorting through the myriad shorebirds on the mudflats. Among the many species present were sandpipers, plovers, Willet, Whimbrel, herons and egrets, Black Skimmer, and Laughing Gull. Just when we thought we had everything sorted out, a Peregrine Falcon dashed down the beach, flushing everything into the air. When the other birds landed, we had to sort through them all over again. We heard more Clapper Rails calling and tried to lure them into view, but none emerged from the mangroves.
Next it was on to Waterloo, another mudflat site. It was devoid of shorebirds because of the high tide, but we added another species to our list, distant Royal Terns perched atop pilings.
We reached the restaurant at 3 p.m. and enjoyed a late lunch. Everyone had roti, the East Indian equivalent of a burrito but five times larger. The choice of contents included chicken, duck, goat, conch, beef, shrimp, potato, or vegetable, with sides of curry, pumpkin, bodi (long beans), bhaji (spinach), and soma (soy). Cow heel soup was also available, but none of us chose to partake of that. Most of us washed down our rotis with more LLBs.
Then it was back to Asa Wright, passing en route the world's tallest statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman (see http://tinyurl.com/2ffosa5). As we passed through Arima, Ivan pulled up alongside a pan yard and treated us to a detailed lecture about the history and methodology of the famous Trinidad steel drums.
For dinner tonight we had dhal (pea) soup, a second kind of roti, buss-up-shut: flat sheets of the soft bread wrapper (the roti) into which we spooned geera chicken, curried pumpkin, and a stew of potatoes, long beans, and chickpeas (aloo, bodi, and channa). For dessert, from my sour sop purchase at Gulf City earlier in the day the kitchen staff had prepared a pitcher of sour sop juice and sliced sour sop fruit.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 75: Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Pinnated Bittern, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Striated Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Scarlet Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Osprey, Gray-headed Kite, Long-winged Harrier, Gray Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, Clapper Rail, Common Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Short-billed Dowitcher, Whimbrel, Solitary Sandpiper, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Western Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Orange-winged Parrot, Greater Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, Striped Cuckoo (h), White-tailed Nightjar, Short-tailed Swift, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Pied Water-Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, White-winged Swallow, Gray-breasted Martin, Cocoa Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Bicolored Conebill, Saffron Finch, Blue-black Grassquit, Red-capped Cardinal, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Masked Yellowthroat, Crested Oropendola, Yellow Oriole, Shiny Cowbird, Yellow-hooded Blackbird
New for trip, 34; running total, 150
Sunday, November 14 - Northern Range
Again today we were treated to a torrential downpour just before dawn. By the time we left our bungalows, however, one could hardly have guessed that there had been rain recently.
Because we were heading up into the Northern Range this morning and wanted to be there for the morning chorus of birds, we had an early breakfast that included several kinds of cereal, omelettes made to order, pancakes, sausage, sliced fresh watermelon and pineapple, freshly baked bread with jam/marmalade/butter, and assorted teas/coffee.
We drove without stopping until we reached the highest point along Blanchisseuse Road, the Textel site atop Morne Bleu. This site is normally deserted save for a guard or two, but today at least a dozen cars were parked at the summit. We had inadvertently joined a field trip of the Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalist Club (TTFNC), the oldest natural history society in the Western Hemisphere. Also present was Courtenay Rooks, an excellent resident naturalist and son of a former president of the TTFNC. Courtenay was escorting a trio of Irish birders, two of whom I had met at the Cliffs of Moher in 2003 on Ireland's west coast. Birders share a small world!
Insects played a part in our morning's activities, too. Various large moths were wallpapered against the structures, having been attracted during the night to the only bright light for miles. Birds such as Dusky-capped and Hepatic Flycatchers and Tropical Pewee were wrestling with large hawkmoths, whose brown-and-pink bodies were easy to recognize. I struggled to hold a 7-inch grasshopper steady for the photographers while the insect tried successfully to nail me with the stout spines on its hind femora.
Because of all of those sharp eyes looking for birds, the Textel site became our best birding destination of the entire trip. Our group saw scores of species, not in overwhelming numbers nor without considerable work, but it was great fun finding and identifying them. At one point I got down on my knees to persuade a White-bellied Antbird to show itself. Among our exceptional sightings were point-blank looks at Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Hepatic Tanager, and your leader's first Rose-breasted Grosbeak for T&T. A shower caught us while we were on the back side of the site, so for about 20 minutes we huddled under umbrellas and ponchos while a pair of Rufous-breasted Wrens played hide and seek in the nearby bushes.
Having stayed at the Textel site for several hours longer than ever before on any of my tours, we skipped hiking along Las Lapis Trace and drove directly to Paria Junction for a picnic lunch. We shared the bus shelter with a local entrepreneur selling beautiful anthuriums. We offered him some of our hamburger-filled shepherd's pie, fresh tossed salad with homemade dressing, cake, and cold fruit juice.
The weekend traffic on Blanchisseuse Road was a bit heavy, so we headed east on the less travelled road to Brasso Seco and birded on foot for awhile. We intercepted a few mixed-species flocks along the way. Late in the afternoon we returned to Paria Junction, headed north on Blanchisseuse Road, and ended our birding day at the hamlet of Morne La Croix. A welcome bathroom break gave Dennis an opportunity to purchase a bottle of five-finger (star fruit) wine, which he shared that night at dinner with all who wanted to sample it.
Our Sunday night dinner included cubed Creole beef, steamed okra and pumpkin, seasoned rice, and a fresh garden salad.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 81: Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Gray-headed Kite, Common Black-Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Scaled Pigeon, Gray-fronted Dove, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Gray-rumped Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Little Hermit, Green Hermit, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Long-billed Starthroat, White-tailed Trogon (h), Violaceous Trogon, Collared Trogon, Trinidad Motmot, Channel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Barred Antshrike, White-flanked Antwren, White-bellied Antbird, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet (h), Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Great Kiskadee, Streaked Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bearded Bellbird (h), White-bearded Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Black-whiskered Vireo, Golden-fronted Greenlet, White-winged Swallow, Gray-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren (h), Long-billed Gnatwren (h), Cocoa Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Hepatic Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Tropical Parula, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Golden-crowned Warbler, Crested Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Carib Grackle, Violaceous Euphonia
New for trip, 14; running total, 164
Monday, November 15 - Oilbird Cave and Caroni Swamp
As usual, we enjoyed early morning birding from the veranda while drinking coffee that had been grown and roasted on the premises. Breakfast was steamed spinach, which in Trinidad is much more like turnip greens than our spinach, along with three kinds of cereal, omelettes made to order, homemade baked bread, fried bread, and fresh fruit juice.
After breakfast we assembled below the veranda with resident naturalist Caleb Walker, who briefed us about our impending hike to the Oilbird cave and then led us down the Discovery Trail to the Guacharo Trail, which leads to Dunstan's Cave. The half-mile walk was not particularly strenuous, except for the last segment, which consists of concrete stairs descending to a crevice in which the Oilbirds nest. Some parts of the trail were slippery, but well appointed handrails were available and were put to good use.
The grotto in which the Oilbirds nest is deep, dark, and strange, and filled with the sound of rushing water from the Dunstan River. On the vertical cliff face just outside the crevice was an empty Chestnut-collared Swift nest. In groups of three the group entered the cave with Caleb and admired, by the light of his flashlight, the weird Oilbirds. Some were resting on ledges with others and some were alone on their nests. Caleb estimated that we saw a dozen of the 170 individuals currently in the colony; Martha counted 15.
After viewing the Oilbirds, each of us returned at our leisure to the main house. Some of us continued to bird, following various trails and eventually ending up on the entrance road.
For lunch we enjoyed lamb stew, spinach rice, corn fritters, stewed lentils, and a green salad, topped off with a yellow-and-red cake with a rum-and-pineapple sauce.
Ivan arrived with his maxi just after lunch to take us on our last foray in Trinidad. A brief stop at the Trincity sewage ponds yielded nothing of interest. We met Barry Ramdass, a local naturalist, who had scouted the area before our arrival, also turning up nothing of interest.
We drove west on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway and then took the Southern Main Road through the fields of the Caroni Rice Project. Traffic was heavy and birding was light, but when we finally stopped at a spot where we could look out over vast flooded fields of rice, we were able to spot a few waterbirds and long-legged waders. Through the scopes we could make out a distant Peregrine Falcon perched on a power pylon.
Next we drove a short distance to the Caroni interpretive center to use their fine washrooms and to make another futile effort to lure Clapper Rails into view. Ivan then drove us to the Madoo boat dock, where we boarded a wide-bottomed boat outfitted with bench seats for about 25 people. Shawn Madoo, our Caroni Swamp bird guide and boatman, quickly picked out a male Red-capped Cardinal in the mangroves near us at the boat dock, a terrific start to our trip.
As we motored west along the canal known as Blue River Drain Number 9, we spotted a family group of Greater Anis, along with Bicolored Conebills, Northern Waterthrushes, and lots of egrets and herons, especially Little Blue Herons. Shawn steered the boat up a cathedral-like tributary around which rose innumerable roots of red mangrove. Excitedly, he pointed out three Rufous-necked Wood-Rails, a mangrove specialist almost never seen by birders in Trinidad. We also observed our only Green-throated Mango hummingbird of the trip and a perched Merlin. As we neared our destination, an isolated mangrove hummock (island), Scarlet Ibis begin appearing overhead in numbers. Shawn anchored the boat a considerable distance from the hummock so as not to disturb the roosting birds, which besides the ibis hosted at least five species of herons and egrets. It was quite a spectacle to enjoy while we sipped our rum punch and enjoyed our spice cake.
Our return voyage in the dark was uneventful until we disembarked from the boat, at which time the dock collapsed, wetting some members of our group to the knees. One of Shawn's boat team suffered some cracked ribs, but otherwise no one was injured.
Back at Asa Wright, we enjoyed dinner, which tonight included creamed potato soup with freshly baked rolls, grilled chicken breast, buttered spaghetti, stewed red beans, and corn on the cob, with chocolate mousse for dessert.
We then stayed at the dinner table while we did our tally rally and went over the details for the next day.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 106: Little Tinamou (h), Anhinga, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Striated Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Scarlet Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Osprey, Gray-headed Kite, Long-winged Harrier, White Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Limpkin, Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Rock Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, Eared Dove, Gray-fronted Dove, Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-winged Parrot, Greater Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, Mottled Owl (h), Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (h), Oilbird, Common Potoo, Gray-rumped Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Little Hermit, Green Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Green-throated Mango, Tufted Coquette, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Long-billed Starthroat, Violaceous Trogon (h), Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Trinidad Motmot, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper (h), Great Antshrike, Black-crested Antshrike (h), Barred Antshrike, Plain Antvireo (h), Forest Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Bright-rumped Attila (h), Bearded Bellbird (h), White-bearded Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Golden-fronted Greenlet, White-winged Swallow, Gray-breasted Martin, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren (h), Long-billed Gnatwren, Cocoa Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Bicolored Conebill, Red-capped Cardinal, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola, Carib Grackle, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Violaceous Euphonia
New for trip, 14; running total, 178
Tuesday, November 16 - Southern Tobago
Today we sadly bid farewell to the Asa Wright Nature Center after a 5:30 a.m. breakfast of assorted cereals, sliced watermelon and bananas, corned beef hash, fried potatoes, and scrambled eggs. Ivan arrived with his maxi at 5:45 a.m., and we were all aboard and ready to go by 6 a.m.
Upon reaching Piarco International Airport, we unloaded our luggage, bade farewell to Ivan, and proceeded to the Tobago Express counter. We were processed through quickly, in part because the Caribbean Airlines staff recognized me and realized that we had been through this routine many times before. Our 20-minute flight took us over the northwest tip of Trinidad and across Galleon's Passage to Tobago's Crown Point International Airport.
After retrieving our luggage, we met our Tobago maxi driver, Roger James. While he loaded the luggage onto the maxi, the rest of us made use of the washrooms, and I bought bottled water for everyone.
Our first birding stop was at the Bon Accord sewage ponds. I was surprised to find the gate locked but pleased to find a large breach in the chain link fence around the corner. Lofty cumulous clouds provided a welcome relief from the strong sunlight. We birded the ponds and the mangroves north of the ponds, observing a juvenile Peregrine Falcon flying overhead, the only soaring bird that was not a Magnificent Frigatebird. We noted the absence of vultures in Tobago, in contrast to Trinidad, where clouds of Black Vultures are usually visible.
The margins of the ponds yielded Anhinga, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Green Heron, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, and a lone flying White-rumped Sandpiper. A single Pied-billed Grebe and several swimming Least Grebes were feeding in the nearest pond. I tentatively identified a featureless whistling-duck as a juvenile Fulvous Whistling-Duck; later in the morning we would see a flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks that included several young that were identical to this bird, which turned out to be another Black-bellied.
The most exciting birds, however, were two stray female ducks from North America: a female Blue-winged Teal that I tentatively identified as a Northern Pintail and a female Aythya that I tentatively identified as a Ring-necked Duck. How wrong I can be with immature female ducks! The pintail, upon inspection of the photos that Dennis took and which I circulated among experts in the U.S., turned out to be a Blue-winged Teal. The final identification of the female Aythya was far more difficult and exciting -- one of the few records of Lesser Scaup for Tobago. The mangroves yielded good views of Brown-crested Flycatcher, Scrub Greenlet, White-fringed Antwren, and Barred Antshrike.
We headed east, stopping at a local grocery store, Penny Savers, which provided an opportunity to purchase drinks, snacks, bottles of rum, and souvenirs. Next we birded at the Tobago Plantations, where I obtained a key to the gate that allows access to a series of somewhat overgrown sewage ponds. We also made use of the washrooms.
Our morning birding excitement peaked when a raptor soared into view low over the vegetation, its wings held upward in a V like a Turkey Vulture. We were excited because vultures do not occur on Tobago. Its identity became clear when we saw the bird's yellow beak and legs and its long, gray-and-white barred tail – an adult Zone-tailed Hawk. A quick look at Kenefick et al. showed that only one other Zone-tailed Hawk had ever been seen in Tobago. Interestingly, that bird also had been seen in eastern Tobago. Several members of our group photographed the hawk as we watched it hunt stealthily through the trees and over the vegetation. At one point it folded its wings and made a 45° dive into a treetop, emerging with leaves in its talons.
We watched until the hawk was out of sight, and then hiked all the way to the back of the farthest pond. The most common bird was Green Heron, but our "best bird" was an unseen member of the rail family. A single loud note from a bird hidden in the dense aquatic vegetation perfectly matched my recorded call of Yellow-breasted Crake. As expected from this extremely secretive species, playback elicited no response from the bird.
Continuing to the farthest pond, we found a dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks lined up on a concrete dike that bisects it. Among the adults were several young birds that matched the bird we had seen at the Bon Accord ponds, so we deleted my tentatively identified Fulvous Whistling-Duck from our list. A concerted effort to locate a flock of extremely cryptic Masked Ducks on one of the ponds was unsuccessful; we later learned that none had been seen there for several months. What we did find there was a 5-foot-long spectacled caiman that might have explained the lack of ducks.
We had a wonderful lunch of local cuisine in the airport's air-conditioned restaurant. Afterwards, our driver suggested that we swing by a house in Bon Accord to see some birds. From two small sheds in the backyard, the owner began bringing out his captive raptors, which included a Harris's Hawk, two Great Black Hawks, and two Barn Owls. This was not our kind of birding, and seeing the captive birds was depressing, so we left and headed toward our original destination, Adventure Farm. While we were en route, our driver's friend phoned and explained to me that all of the raptors had been rehabilitated, with some having been imported from other countries, and that all of them eventually were allowed to fly free in Tobago. He told me that a Zone-tailed Hawk had been released several years ago and that it was still being seen regularly in the Tobago Plantations, so we scratched Zone-tailed Hawk from our trip list. [At my first possible opportunity, I notified my fellow members of the Trinidad & Tobago Rare Birds Committee about this unfortunate situation.]
Our time at Adventure Farm was an absolute delight, as always. In frenzied flight among the half dozen hummingbird feeders were all but one of the "gettable" Tobago species: Rufous-breasted Hermit, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, the first two Ruby-Topaz Hummingbirds of the season, Black-throated Mango, and White-necked Jacobin. So many hummingbirds were present that it was difficult to point out individuals. Also present were all four species of Tobago doves, Trinidad Motmot, male and female Barred Antshrike, male and female White-lined Tanager, male and female Shiny Cowbird, a zillion Bananaquits, and many more species.
We had seen nearly all of the species normally found in Tobago's Lowlands, so after we'd satisfied our craving for hummingbirds we called it a day and drove to the Cuffie River Nature Retreat near Runnemede. Our hostess, Regina Dumas, greeted us and assigned rooms. I think it's safe to say that everyone I have ever taken to Cuffie River has been utterly enchanted with this lodge, especially its open architecture and the close proximity of the rooms to the meeting/dining areas. Cuffie River is one of the most remote lodges in the Caribbean, located in a rugged part of Tobago at the end of a two-mile entrance road. White-tailed Nightjars and Common Potoos can be heard vocalizing after dark each night, and the vanishingly rare White-tailed Sabrewing often can be found at the hummingbird feeders.
Before dinner, we gathered to conduct our tally rally and to go over the details of our itinerary for the next day. For dinner we had callaloo soup, chicken baked in salsa sauce, sweet potato pie, stewed pigeon peas, and mixed vegetables with ginger. Dessert was homemade ice cream.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 64: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Blue-winged Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Lesser Scaup, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-breasted Crake (h), Common Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wattled Jacana, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, White-tipped Dove, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Orange-winged Parrot, Smooth-billed Ani, White-tailed Nightjar, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Violaceous Trogon, Trinidad Motmot, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Cocoa Woodcreeper (h), Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher (h), Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, Barn Swallow, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Black-faced Grassquit, Shiny Cowbird, Carib Grackle
New for trip, 20; running total, 198
Wednesday, November 17 - Grounds of the Cuffie River Nature Retreat
Following heavy rains during the night, today dawned breezy with scuttling clouds cresting the ridges around us. Tobago is much more laid back than is Trinidad, and I do not think anyone was out birding before first light. For some reason, Tropical Mockingbirds, not Rufous-vented Chachalacas, served as our alarm clocks today. We watched Copper-rumped Hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobins, and Rufous-breasted Hermits vie for spots on the hummingbird feeders, along with at least two male and one female White-tailed Sabrewing, the rarest of all regularly occurring hummingbirds in Trinidad or Tobago. Overhead flew Orange-winged Parrots, the only large parrot species in Tobago, along with Short-tailed and Gray-rumped Swifts.
For breakfast we had rice crispies, granola, scrambled and fried eggs, bacon, fresh homemade bread with marmalade, and several kinds of fresh fruit juice.
This morning our resident naturalist, Desmond Wright, led us on a 1-1/2 mile hike along the entrance drive and on an old donkey trail through rolling, bamboo-covered hills. Desmond is an excellent birder and a real joy to be with. He demonstrated his knowledge of every bird species to be seen in that area, identifying and pointing out a high percentage of Tobago's birds, including our first Rufous-tailed Jacamars.
For some of us, however, the highlight was not birds but a real-life adventure involving a tarantula and a wasp. Desmond called our attention to a tarantula tumbling down the face of a road cut. It scrambled along the shoulder, pursued by a 2-inch-long metallic blue wasp with flexible bright orange antennae -- a "tarantula hawk." The wasp pursued the tarantula, causing it to rise into attack mode, at which time the wasp stung the tarantula in the abdomen and then retreated. The tarantula, now lying on its back, ceased all movement in less than a minute. The wasp made a series of walking and flying hops from the tarantula up the embankment to an area where she had probably already prepared a hole in which to bury the tarantula. After approximately 10 minutes, the wasp returned to the tarantula, grabbed it with its mandibles, and pulled it, walking backwards, to the side of the road and up the nearly vertical embankment until it was lost to sight under the vegetation.
During our walk Desmond provided us with a lot of information about various aspects of Tobago and its culture. During our walk we had periodic showers, so the birding was a bit slower than usual, but we still saw lots of birds. Hear Desmond remarking on a Fuscous Flycatcher.
For lunch we enjoyed cream of onion soup, pastelles, steamed cornmeal pies wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with seasoned meat and chopped vegetables, cole slaw, and grapefruit ice cream for dessert. A torrential downpour began just after lunch. Since we had a couple of hours to kill before our afternoon bird walk, most of us used the time to catch up on our sleep.
Late in the afternoon, most of the group birded along a trail across from the lodge entrance. This trail ascends somewhat steeply for about 500 feet and then levels off. Once we caught our breath where the trail leveled out, we had good birding. We had better views of many birds we had already seen, including Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-backed Manakin, Orange-winged Parrot, Black-faced Grassquit, and Venezuelan Flycatcher.
Earlier in the trip, I had plotted the dates on which the space station would be visible from Tobago, which has phenomenally black night skies (see http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/ for sightings in your area). After dark we gathered around the elevated swimming pool to watch it to pass overhead. Precisely on schedule, the brightly shining object rose rapidly from the northwest at 6:39 p.m., passed overhead for about four minutes, and set in the southeast. It was surprisingly bright, much brighter than Jupiter, which was visible near the moon throughout our tour.
For dinner we enjoyed corn chowder with a pepper kick, red snapper in white sauce with fresh homegrown herbs, eggplant au gratin, lentil fritters, pink beans and rice, and tossed salad, with homemade ice cream for dessert. Here, let me have Regina describe it to you!
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 46: Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Great Egret, Great Black-Hawk, Merlin, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, White-tipped Dove, Orange-winged Parrot, Common Potoo (h), White-tailed Nightjar, Gray-rumped Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-tailed Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Trinidad Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper (h), Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Fuscous Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher (h), Tropical Kingbird, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Blue-backed Manakin, Scrub Greenlet, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Spectacled Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Black-faced Grassquit, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola
New for trip, 6; running total, 204
Thursday, November 18 - Main Ridge Reserve and Little Tobago Island
Another night with plenty of rain, but the morning broke with fresh breezes and high cumulous clouds. For breakfast we enjoyed a mélange of bacon, sausages, and ham cooked with onions and tomatoes, scrambled eggs, granola, fresh homemade bread with marmalade, and several kinds of fresh fruit juice
We left Cuffie River early today because we had a lot of ground to cover. Roger drove us northeast along the Caribbean coastline to the town of Parlatuvier, stopping twice for photo opportunities of the sweet little coastal towns below, and then turned east on the Roxborough-Parlatuvier Road until we reached Gilpin Trace at an elevation of 1,500 feet.
My reliable supplier of rubber boots (wellies), Junior Thomas, had followed us in his car from Parlatuvier with boots to fit everyone. Scant rain fell during today's visit, but the occasionally deep mud was ample evidence that plenty had fallen recently. This was the wet season after all.
During the morning we walked slowly through a deep, narrow gorge, finding Tobago specialties such as Yellow-legged Thrush, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, and Blue-backed Manakin. We came upon a White-necked Thrush on the trail struggling with what at first appeared to be a worm but upon closer inspection turned out to be a long, thin snake. The thrush preceded us down the trail, staying almost out of sight and then flying ahead of us as we approached. At one point I showed the group a nest of this species that had been active the previous spring.
During our hike we met several licensed Tobago tour guides, including my friends Peter Cox and William Trimm. Usually such meetings result in exchanges of information about the location of special birds along the trail, but since we had located all of our target birds already, we needed no assistance. We walked as far as the Silver-and-Gold waterfall, and then enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the maxi, where we returned our boots to Junior Thomas, paying him the princely sum of US$4 per person.
From Gilpin Trace we rode to our lunch spot in Speyside, making one stop en route, at the Speyside overlook. At Jemma's Seaview Restaurant, built as a tree house, we enjoyed a fine open-air lunch of Creole-style kingfish, stir-fried vegetables, breadfruit casserole, sweet potato pie, and other dishes served family style and all washed down with plenty of ice cold LLBs. A flock of about 20 Ruddy Turnstones milled about on the nearby beach, while Carib Grackles and Bananaquits landed on adjacent tables to steal leftovers.
The finale of our tour was an exploration of Little Tobago Island. At the Blue Waters Inn we boarded Wordsworth Frank's glass-bottomed boat, and our boatmen motored us two miles across Tyrell's Bay. We pulled up alongside the concrete pier on Little Tobago Island, took our time getting safely off the boat and onto the pier, and walked the short distance to shore. Once we had assembled above the noise of the breaking waves, our guide, Zelonie ("Zee") gave an interesting lecture on the island"s history and ecology. He covered Sir William Ingram"s efforts to preserve the Greater Bird-of-Paradise by introducing the species to Little Tobago Island and the life history of the giant Anthurium hookeri plants growing both on the ground and in the trees. He then led us up the many steps to the new warden's house at the center of the island, examining along the way burrows made by Audubon's Shearwaters, the incredibly bright Tobago race of Blue-gray Tanager, Tourist Tree (like Gumbo Limbo) and other wonders. Also arriving at about the same time as we did was local naturalist Newton George, guiding our three Irish birding friends.
Overhead soared Magnificent Frigatebirds, while from the first of two overlooks we had reasonably good views of Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, and Red-footed Booby (both light and dark morphs). Zee led some of our group on a challenging trail that on previous visits had yielded nests of various species of seabirds. This time was no different, and they were able to photograph Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies at very close range. Meanwhile, the rest of us proceeded to the second lookout, where we had extended views of hundreds of graceful Red-billed Tropicbirds in flight over the sea before us and of both Brown and Red-footed Boobies on their nests on nearby rock pinnacles. Magnificent Frigatebirds were pirating fish from the tropicbirds and boobies, diving down on them from far above, forcing them to disgorge fish they had caught. In the case of Red-billed Tropicbirds, this meant seizing them by their elongated tail streamers and shaking them until the tropicbirds disgorged their fish.
Returning to the glass-bottomed boat, we headed back to Tobago, pausing to view, though the glass bottom, the sensational coral reefs that lie between little Tobago and Tobago proper. Zee pointed out a gigantic brain coral, locally known as "Einstein." He also pointed out fish such as Black Durgon, Damselfish, Creole and Yellowhead Wrasse, Sergeant Major, Stoplight Parrotfish, French Angelfish, and Blue Tng.
Back at the Blue Waters Inn dock, we thanked our boatmen, reboarded the maxi, and returned to Cuffie River by way of the Windward Road, dropping south almost to the capital city of Scarborough before heading across the island, through the ridgetop town of Moriah, and north to Cuffie River. By so doing we completed a circumferential tour of this glorious island.
Our week-early Thanksgiving dinner started with pumpkin soup, which Roz described as, "Phenomenal, the best of all the wonderful soups we've already had." The soup was followed by roast turkey, fried plantain, white potatoes, and corn pie, with coconut ice cream for dessert.
Those participants fortunate to have flights leaving after 10 a.m. the following morning spent another splendid night at this luxurious place, embarking for Trinidad and their homeward flights the next morning following a "from the menu" breakfast. After dinner, the rest of us left with Roger for the Tobago airport and our evening flight to Trinidad, where we stayed at Sadila House B&B in preparation for an early morning departure back to the United States.
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for this day, click here.
Number of bird species seen, 59: Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Red-footed Booby, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Green Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Black-Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing Gull, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Orange-winged Parrot, Smooth-billed Ani, Gray-rumped Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-tailed Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped Hummingbird, Collared Trogon, Trinidad Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Fuscous Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Blue-backed Manakin, Red-eyed Vireo, Scrub Greenlet, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren, Yellow-legged Thrush, Spectacled Thrush, White-necked Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, White-lined Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Black-faced Grassquit, Northern Waterthrush, Crested Oropendola, Giant Cowbird
New for trip, 7; final total, 211
It was a great trip. Everyone enjoyed the vast diversity of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in T&T. Once you visit, you never forget the place.
As they say in Trinidad & Tobago,
To view Dennis Sprigg's pictures for the following day, click here.