The flight was good and the stop at Antigua didn’t take long. Getting through passport control in Tobago was another matter. It took one and a half hours of standing in a queue that moved forward inch by inch towards the desk. We got through eventually and were met by Burt and his bus to take us to the Cuffie River Nature Retreat. The journey took fifty minutes and, as we neared our destination, we saw a few White-winged Nightjars flying in front of the bus. We had arrived later than expected so there was just time to unpack before dinner. Our rooms were lovely: open and airy.
Day 1: Wednesday 17 April
I slept badly, as I usually do on a first night anywhere, and not long after four in the morning the Chachalacas started their endless calling up and down the valley. They were soon joined by many other calls to produce a fascinating soundscape.
At about six, when it was getting light, the feeders were hung up and fruit was put out on the tables and perches for the birds to enjoy. The birds soon turned up and they included a Trinidad Motmot.
After breakfast, we all went for a walk along the road but then it started raining heavily and we had to make our way back to base to dry out. We watched the birds from the verandahs instead and saw a brilliant green female Red-legged Honeycreeper and then the gorgeous red flash of a Ruby-topaz Hummingbird.
After lunch, we watched some distant Orange-winged Parrots through Ashley’s scope. He had also spotted a falcon in a bare tree above the parrots that he was sure was a Plumbeous Kite despite there being only two documented previous sightings in Tobago.
Carol and I went for a walk and really enjoyed watching a Blue-black Grassquit hopping up and down in a bush, justifying its local name of ‘Johnny jump-up’. Then Carol spotted two rather large dark birds in a tree in the distance. When one flew off, we could clearly see its white rump; we were told they were Great Black Hawks.
Day 2: Thursday 18 April
There were no Chachalacas in the pre-dawn chorus this morning but that didn’t stop me waking up at four. It was raining heavily and at five I gave up and got up. The first bird I saw was the Trinidad Motmot in the tree opposite my balcony and it looked rather bedraggled in the rain. After a while a couple of Mockingbirds joined the Motmot and they also looked rather sorry for themselves. As dawn broke, I was briefly joined on my balcony by a Palm Tanager but it quickly took off again when it noticed me sitting there. By now it was gone six and fully light but the rain was so heavy I could hardly hear anything over the sound of it hammering down. The sky was very grey and there seemed no likelihood of it stopping.
Two rather surprising things happened while I was on our balcony. While Carol and I were sitting with our cups of coffee, there was a great crash as a huge tree fell down on the hill opposite and later, after breakfast, a White-necked Jacobin came and hovered less than two feet away. I could almost have touched it.
We were out all day in Burt’s bus with our guide, Desmond. Our first destination for the day was the Gilpin Trail in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. On the way, we stopped to look at Caribbean Martins nesting in drainage holes in a concrete bank and at a comfort break we had a rather good view of a Great Black Hawk.
The Gilpin Trail which took us through thick rain forest was muddy but manageable and, although it was difficult to see the birds, we could hear them calling all around us. We did have good views of a White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird and I managed to see a Stripe-breasted Spinetail and a little Rufus-breasted Hermit on the forest floor. I also just saw the tail end of a Collared Trogon. After the walk Burt made sure all our boots were clean before we were allowed back on the bus.
After the walk we went on to Speyside where we had a splendid lunch at Jemma’s before setting off for the boat trip to Little Tobago. The boat took us close to cliffs where we saw some Brown Noddy that had just arrived.
Once we’d been given an introductory talk about the island by Zee, the guide, we followed a trail up to a viewing platform. On the way he showed us a four-week-old baby Audubon’s Shearwater in a nest and we passed by a cabin where, through the open windows, we saw rows of bats hanging from its roof beams. From the viewing platform we had aerial views of Magnificent Frigatebirds and Tropicbirds circling below. There was a baby Tropicbird in a nest just next to the platform and we could also see a mixed colony of Brown and Red-footed Boobies while a couple of Crested Oropendolas flew by.
Getting back onto the boat from the landing stage for the journey back was difficult but we all managed it in the end. We passed some coral reefs on the way and, through the glass bottom of the boat, we saw manycolourful fish and just caught sight of a turtle.
It had been a long day and by the time we got back to base we were all shattered.
Day 3: Friday 19 April
Surprisingly, the Chachalacas didn’t wake us the next morning either, despite it being a glorious sunny day.
After breakfast, Burt and Desmond took us to Magdalena Park. We stopped at a big lake at the park entrance to look at various herons and egrets, there was a Spectacled Cayman in the water showing just its snout. Ashley noticed a Least Tern fishing which was a rare sighting for Tobago. We looked at several interesting little wasp nests hanging from palm leaves and then got back on the bus to enter the park.
Later, we stopped to walk along boardwalks through a mangrove swamp and out to a bay. It was nicely shaded and so not too hot. We had great views of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron and, much to our surprise, we also came across a Whimbrel. Other birds seen included a Cocoa Woodcreeper and a pretty White-fringed Antwren.
Our final stop in the park was at a pond with lots of water lillies where there were also swamphens including Purple Gallinule, and Wattled Jacana.
After lunch we went to an Adventure Farm where feeders brought in hummingbirds to be seen from close range. The highlight was watching the gorgeous Ruby Topaz Hummingbird whilst eating homemade ice cream. Carol and I walked up a path marked ‘to Sunset Ridge’ where we saw a lovely female Barred Antshrike.
After returning to our Cuffie River base, Greg saw a huge cane toad out behind the hotel.
Day 4: Saturday 20 April
I had a fairly sleepless night and thought I heard an owl, but I definitely heard the Chachalaca at about half past four. It had poured for most of the night but it turned out to be another lovely day.
A new guide, William, came for us at ten and we set off for a walk to Highland Waterfall. We were told it was only a thirty minute walk but as we kept stopping to look at birds we didn’t get anywhere very fast. The going was difficult in places too, due to all the heavy rain, and some of the group decided to turn back. The rest of us carried on to reach the fall where there was a lovely pool in which we could swim, but only Lynn did so as the rest of us had left our towels and swimming costumes behind.
Interesting flowers were found along the way including some lovely Star of Bethlehem and White Turmeric. Some of the trees had yellow trumpet like flowers and others had a pink pear-like fruit that tasted bitter, though the Red-legged Honeycreeper liked them. On the way back from the waterfall, we watched a pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars digging a nest hole in a bank and a Common Potoo sitting perfectly still at the top of a broken bamboo trunk. It was a great morning.
We had lunch back at Cuffie River and in the afternoon, whilst Ashley gave a talk on how to photograph hummingbirds, Carol and I watched the birds from the verandahs. We had an early night as we were moving on to Trinidad first thing in the morning.
Day 5: Sunday 21 April
We had to leave for the airport at 4.30am so I woke up at three. The flight to Trinidad was very short and we were met by our local guide, Mahese, and driver, Charran, who took us to the Asa Wright Nature Centre where we would be staying for the rest of the trip. Our cabin was right at the back of the complex, at the top of a steep hill; the climb did help work off some of the excellent food we were served.
After unpacking, we went down to the terrace where we watched hummingbirds on the feeders (Ruby topaz, White-chested Emerald to name a few) and honeycreepers, (Purple, Green and Red-legged varieties). Other birds first seen here were Silver-beaked Tanagers and Violaceous Euphonias.
On the way back to our room we spotted our first male Tufted Coquette, a beautiful hummingbird, especially the male. Next to our cabin we saw a Crested Oropendola high up in a tree, there were several nests hanging nearby. We also kept hearing a strange, loud, high-pitched noise, which turned out to be Cicadas. This was a sound that accompanied us throughout our stay.
In the afternoon we were given a brief introduction to the centre by a staff member and then set off for a walk through the rainforest. It was hot and sticky but lots to see and hear. Sightings included Leaf-cutter Ants, a huge Cicada silhouetted on a tree trunk and we watched the cute White-bearded Manakin lek. The sounds that the males make as they buzz back and forth between perches displaying to females was amazing. Further into the forest, we could hear the strange sound of the Bearded Bellbirds and Ashley managed to find several of them perched high up in the trees. I recorded a video to capture their call but was unable to get any clear photos. On the way back we saw a swallowtail butterfly and a Channel-billed Toucan.
Day 6: Monday 22 April
I went down to the verandah for some much-needed coffee at 6 o’clock, when the feeders were put out. The birds soon followed and, after a while, even a male Tufted Coquette turned up, but didn’t stay long.
After breakfast Mahese took us down to the Dunston Oilbird caves to see the Oilbirds roosting and some sitting on their nests. It was a long steep walk down and we had to go into the cave to see them but it was worth it. Walking back, we saw a beautiful Morph Butterfly and, further on, we caught a glimpse of a White-bellied Antbird in the undergrowth. Some of us, that walked more slowly, had great views of a Plain-brown Woodcreeper.
In the afternoon, we started off by looking at some roosting Miller’s Long Tongue bats and then Ashley led us for an easy walk along the driveway. He had been told there were a pair of Guianan Trogons in the area and he soon spotted the female perched in a tree. Then we noticed a tail sticking out of a termite nest in the trunk of the same tree and it was the male digging it out. When he flew off, we had a great view of him. We also saw some interesting wasp nests and flowers, and a small black Trinidad poison Frog.
Day 7: Tuesday 23 April
I woke early as usual and decided to see what was round the back of our cabin. To my delight, there was a male Tufted Coquette preening in a bush very close by. I sat and watched him until it was time to go down for breakfast.
Afterwards, Carol and I had a quick look round the centre and watched a Tegu lizard below the verandah. We also saw a Bananaquit in its nest before we went off for a walk along the drive. We hadn’t walked far before we spotted some different looking tanagers in a tree. They turned out to be Turquoise Tanagers, the first that we had seen.
After a detour down a side road, we met some other people from our group out exploring too. They told us there was a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in a nest box further along the main drive. We didn’t see it but we did see a hummingbird nest with a beak sticking out. We also saw a rather ragged Sulphur Butterfly and more Trinidad poison Frogs.
The Caroni Swamp
On the way to the Caroni Swamp National Park, we stopped at some lakes where we saw Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, Pied Water Tyrants, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and various egrets. There was also a hawk on the telephone wires. It was very hot, 34°C
Near to the boat we were to board, we had great views of Masked Cardinals and there was also a Tropical Screech Owl roosting in a tree, though it was not easy to see.
The boat took us up the Blue River, through the mangrove swamp. There were lots of Little Blue Herons to see and a Green Kingfisher flew by. We also saw a Straight-billed Woodcreeper. As we made our way deeper into the reserve, we saw the head of a Spectacled Caiman sticking up out of the water ahead and there was a Crooked Tree Boa snake curled up on a branch above our heads. We also saw a sleeping Silky Anteater, a Boat-billed Heron and some Proboscis bats.
We came to an open area of water where we saw several American Flamingos. We continued to the Observation Point where we moored up to wait for the main event: the Scarlet Ibis coming in to roost. As we were sipping our rum punch, large flocks of them started to fly into the trees on the shore opposite us, soon the hillside was covered in red dots. The colour of these birds is so red that it’s almost unreal and the camera cannot do it justice. We didn’t start the journey back to the coach until it was almost dark.
Day 8: Wednesday 24 April
This was a quiet day spent around the centre. We had a walk into the forest along a single file path that was quite rough in places. Not far down the path was an area known for being a place for a Golden-headed Manakin lek. They were there but not easy to spot. Further down the path was the White-bearded Manakin lek. They were more numerous and easier to see. The Bearded Bellbirds were also calling and Ashley managed to find a couple for us.
In the afternoon, Carol and I walked down the Motmot trail at the back of our cabin. We spent a long time trying to see an elusive little bird that was calling and moving about deep in the bushes. We eventually managed to see it and took a photo and recorded its call for the centre guide to identify. It was an Euler’s Flycatcher: a nice find.
We also walked down the drive looking at the frogs on the way and seeing two Orange-winged Parrots in a tall tree in the distance on the way back.
There was another option to join a night walk, to look for tarantulas and other creepy crawlies, with one of the guides from Asa Wright. We saw a snake, some tarantulas and quite a few crabs in their holes. The guide also found us a stick-insect, lots of Harvestmen, Short-tailed Scorpions and various crickets. There was a beautiful moth on the wall outside our room when we got back. It was probably an Imperial Moth.
Day 9: Thursday 25 April
Aripo Savannah and Lowland Arena Forest
We set off early for our trip to the Aripo Savannah, making the usual birdwatching stops on the way. We had a view over a gully with Oropendola nests hanging in the trees, great views of a White-striped Hawk and also saw a little Rufus-breasted Wren. There were some bitter gourd with flowers and fruit along the roadside, and some plants with pretty blue flowers that I was told were water grass.
As we entered the Aripo area, I noticed we had a car following us. It turned out that it was a guard that the centre provided for trips to this area where there had been some danger to their guests in the past.
It was hot. The temperature reached 34°C again and I tried to stay in any shade I could find. There was plenty to see though: Green-rumped Parrotlets, Black Vultures, Crested Karakara, Blue Dachnis (I only saw the female) and a Yellow Oriole. There were also some lovely butterflies flittering about. Unfortunately, our guide was unable to get a permit to enter the Agricultural Station but, through the fence, we saw a Red-fronted blackbird (aka Red-breasted Meadow Lark), a White-headed Marsh Tyrant and a Savanna Hawk.
On the way to the Arena Forest Reserve where we had lunch, we saw a Black-throated Mango in its nest, somehow balanced on some hanging cables. We made a final stop to look at a lovely Yellow-rumped Casique in a tree.
I was struck by all the rubbish everywhere along the road side. Apparently there are frequent refuse collections but people still fly-tip and throw their rubbish out of their car windows.
Back at the centre I felt more human after a cold shower. We went down to the verandah where we stayed until dinner watching the lovely hummingbirds and an agouti snooping around the feeders.
Day 10: Friday 26 April
We set off for the Waterloo area immediately after breakfast. Our first stop was at some little pools near the Caroni swamps. Again I was struck by all the rubbish around but we did see some good birds including Least Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, White-cheeked Pintails and Greater Yellowlegs.
We then continued on to Waterloo to see the Temple in the Sea followed by a brief stop at the Brickfield Fishing Centre where we saw a lovely Large-billed Tern.
The Temple in the Sea is a Hindu pilgrimage site in Waterloo, Trinidad. It was built by Sewdass Sadhu, an immigrant who came to Trinidad and Tobago from India.
We continued on to Orange Valley, another good birding spot by the sea. There we were met by some Black Vultures on the path. All but one flew off as soon as they saw us but one was reluctant to leave his bit of dead fish and refused to move until we were right next to him. The mud flats were covered in birds including Laughing Gulls, Western Sandpipers, Brown Pelicans and even a couple of Scarlet Ibis. We also watched some Black Skimmers flying low over the water and a small shoal of Four-eyed fish swimming between the boats. These have eyes raised above the top of their head and divided into two different parts, so that they can see above and below the water surface at the same time.
On the way back to the busses, we searched the swampy woods beside the road and we heard, and then eventually found, a Clapper Rail, saw a Streaky-headed Woodcreeper and caught a glimpse of a Yellow-chinned Spinetail.
We drove on to Carli Bay where we had lunch whilst watching some bright yellow Saffron Finches. There were lots more Pelicans here too. On the way back to Asa Wright, we stopped by a golf course where we had great views of a White-headed Marsh Tyrant and a Spectacled Cayman, which was rather close.
As we walked back to our cabin after dinner there were many different creepy-crawlies on the walls including a Praying Mantis and a stick insect; it was our own private night walk.
Day 11: Saturday 27 April
After breakfast, Lynn, Carol and I set off to find the bird-hide to which we had seen signposts on previous walks up the drive, stopping to admire the Trogons on the way. It was a single-file path up to it but it wasn’t too far and the views over the valley as we got higher were very good. It was quiet initially but then we had some great views of Bay-headed Tanagers and a female Silver-beaked Tanager. On the way back we spotted a channel-billed Toucan high up in a tree in the distance.
Seven of us went on this optional extra trip which required a long but quite interesting drive across the mountains to the sea. When we arrived, we first walked down a beautiful beach looking for some Scarlet Macaws that had been reported. We didn’t see them but had great views of a pair of Ringed Kingfishers. On the way back along the beach, two Scarlet Macaws landed in a palm tree near us. They were gorgeous and we spent a long time admiring them.
After supper, it was time to watch for the turtles. They took a long time coming but, after a few false starts, one crawled right up onto the beach and started making a hole in which to lay her eggs. We watched the whole process until she had finished laying and started covering them up. It was a great experience and worth waiting for. On the way back, our guide pointed out a Common Pauraque, a nightjar species, on the road. We did not get back until gone midnight.
Day 12: Sunday 28 April
This was our last morning at Asa Wright and we couldn’t leave without a final look at the White-bearded Manakin lek so, after breakfast, Shirley, Carol and I set off down the path. As usual, they were easy to find and we spent a happy hour just watching them. On the way back, we came across an interesting looking spider. It had decorated its web with a white cross and was sitting right in the middle. Each time I moved to try to see the front of the spider, it moved to the opposite side. Having looked it up, I think it’s a Silver Argiope spider, similar to the St Andrew’s Cross spider found in Australia.
Thanks to Ashley Grove and Wendy Palmer-Grove from Experience Nature, for organizing this lovely holiday. The accommodation was good, the food was very tasty, my fellow travellers great company and the guides were very knowledgeable.