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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Trinidad and Tobago

with Trinidad Piping Guan

2018 Narrative

Our brand new tour to Trinidad and Tobago got off to a good start this year, with a week of superb birding, excellent food and accommodations, and fine companionship making for a great team of travelers.  On Trinidad, with our wonderful local guide Roodal Ramlal, we took leisurely day-trips from our base at the world-class lodge at Asa Wright Nature Center.  Staying at the lodge meant that even “downtime” meant the possibility of thrilling birding, either around the grounds, or simply from the veranda of the main house, where the bird feeders are a constant hotspot of fervent activity.  After five nights at Asa Wright, we took the short plane ride over to Tobago to stay at Cuffie River Nature Retreat, a beautiful, open-air lodge with exceptional meals, and excellent birding on the grounds.  From Cuffie we took excursions to Gilpin Trace, the world’s oldest rainforest preserve, and to Little Tobago Island.  In contrast to the jungle-like atmosphere of much of Trinidad, Tobago offers a contrast, with a more laid-back, Caribbean air.

Asa Wright quickly felt like home to us, and we spent much of our first full day there just observing the birdlife in the immediate area.  Awaking to the gong of the Bearded Bellbird, we looked out from the veranda and tallied an impressive list, including Ornate Hawk-Eagle, White Hawk, Squirrel Cuckoo, seven species of tanagers, honeycreepers, two kinds of manakins, a dozen species of hummingbirds including the impossibly bejeweled Tufted Coquette.  After a tasty lunch we took an excursion to Aripo Savannah, spotting Savanna Hawks, and eating our packed dinner in the field while listening to the plaintive song of the Little Tinamou, and the nightbirds starting up, including Common Pauraque and Mottle Owl.  Nearby we found another goatsucker, the White-tailed Nightjar. 

The next day after breakfast and a look out off the veranda, where the bellbirds and several Channel-billed Toucans as well as a Bat Falcon could be seen, we set out for Narita Swamp on the east side of the island.  It proved to be an incredibly wonderful day of birding, exposing the swamp from various vantage points, as well as the nearby coastline.  Pinnate Bittern poised among the rushes, Cocoi Heron stood out in a shallow bay, Rufous Crab-Hawk was found loafing at midday in a palm tree near a favorite creek, Black-crested Antshrike was new, as were two kinds of spinetails, Pied water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, and Bicolored Conebill.

Another day was devoted to the higher elevations on the Blanchisseuse Road.  All morning sifting through flurries of birds, while Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls tooted, Collared Trogon (our third species of trogon) singing, Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Blue-headed Parrots, Black-faced Antthrush, White-winged Beard, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and a number of North American warblers were all highlights of a bird-filled excursion through beautiful habitat. 

On our fourth full day at Asa we booked a walk with one of the resident guides here to visit the famous Oilbird cave, a mild hike through the rainforest from the lodge.  So we set out after breakfast to look for this most extraordinary bird species, at perhaps the most accessible site in the world.  We had spectacular views of the bizarre and magnificent birds where they perched at the mouth of the big dark cave.  Back at Asa for lunch, and then our excursion to Caroni Swamp.  We stopped along the way to view a Pearl Kite nest, then got on a boat ride through the mangroves of Caroni, full of Spotted Sandpipers and Northern Waterthrushes, as well as Boat-billed Herons, American Pygmy-Kingfishers, Red-capped Cardinals, and out into the wide lake whose islands host an enormous roost of wading birds.  We reached the spot just as the sun was sinking, and the birds were coming in to roost now quite suddenly, by the hundreds.  Thousands in total of Scarlet Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons.  Anchored in the calm water, drinking rum punch, watching these brilliant birds lit up by the late rays of the sun: a truly majestic scene. 

On our last morning at Asa we just took it easy and enjoyed for one last time the very visible birdlife here.  Then we transferred to Tobago by plane, and our new lodgings at the fabulous Cuffie River Nature Retreat.  This is a luxurious, open-air lodge surrounded by great habitat, and it didn’t take us long to discover a new hummingbird species, the White-tailed Sabrewing, visiting the feeders here, along with the stunning Ruby Topaz. 

The next day was spent at Cuffie, where we had a guided walking tour of the area given by the animated local guide Desmond.  We learned a lot and saw many birds, including the Blue-backed Manakin, and other species found on Tobago but not Trinidad. 

Now with Jason as our local guide, our final full day on Tobago was spent at Gilpin Trace, a magnificent rainforest preserved since 1776.  Here we found Great Black Hawk, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, and many others.  In the afternoon we made our way over to Blue Waters Hotel where we got a boat ride over to Little Tobago Island, just off the coast.  We disembarked at the island and took a walk over to the other side to view an incredible spectacle: flurries of Red-billed Tropicbirds coursing over their cliff-side nests, and Brown and Red-footed Boobies in big numbers.  This little island is also a great place to see the endemic Trinidad Motmot.  We returned to Cuffie for a delicious final dinner.  The next day we took flights out of Tobago to Trinidad and beyond.

I hope you all love Trinidad and Tobago as much as I do!  Thanks for a great first tour!

—Evan Obercian

Updated: October 2019