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TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

19 April–3 May 2022

Situated just a few miles off the coast of Venezuela, these two islands provide an excellent introduction to Neotropical birding. We will spend time at the world-famous Asa Wright Nature Centre with its breeding Oilbirds, visit Grande Riviere to find the endemic Trinidad Piping-guan and take a boat to see Scarlet Ibises. On Tobago we will see the second endemic – Trinidad Motmot – and enjoy spectacular views of seabirds on Little Tobago Island.

Day 1 Flight from London Gatwick (touches down in St Lucia) to Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. During our transfer to the world-renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre, our base for the first six nights of the tour, we will pause as necessary to see any birds of interest visible from the road before arriving at the Centre at sunset to be greeted by the first of our daily complimentary rum punches.

Day 2 There is nowhere better for an introduction to Neotropical forest birds than the balcony at Asa Wright – sitting and sipping locally grown coffee is a wonderful cure for jet lag. We will spend all day birding from the balcony, walking the trails surrounding the lodge and perhaps also looking along the entrance track. Species likely to be encountered during the day include Black and Turkey Vultures, Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Ruddy Ground-dove, Orange-winged Parrot and Band-rumped and Grey-rumped Swifts. Hummingbirds may include Little Hermit, Blue-chinned Sapphire, White-chested Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat, Brown Violetear and Tufted Coquette, while Guianan Trogon, the endemic Trinidad Motmot, Channel-billed Toucan and Barred and Great Antshrikes could also be seen. We should also find a number of flycatchers including Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Tropical Pewee, Forest Elaenia and Ochre-bellied, Boat-billed and Piratic Flycatchers, while Golden-fronted Greenlet, House Wren, Tropical Mockingbird, Cocoa and Spectacled Thrushes, White-lined, Blue-grey, Palm, Silver-beaked, Bay-headed and Turquoise Tanagers, Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Bananaquit, Violaceous Euphonia, Crested Oropendola, Shiny Cowbird and Yellow Oriole may all put in an appearance – it will be hard to drag ourselves away to meals!

Day 3 We will take full advantage of the fact that many of us will still be on UK time by setting off from the Centre very early in the morning and driving to the most south-westerly point on Trinidad. We will arrive at dawn beside an extensive area of freshwater marsh and walk along a flat track on an embankment with a line of mangroves on one side and water meadows on the other to seek Pinnated Bittern, Striated, Cocoi, Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons, Snowy, Little and Great Egrets, Osprey, Long-winged Harrier, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo, Smooth-billed and Greater Anis, Short-tailed Swift, Yellow-chinned and Pale-breasted Spinetails, Black-crested Antshrike, Spotted Tody-flycatcher, Southern Beardless-tyrannulet, Masked Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, White-winged Swallow, Bicoloured Conebill, Blue-black Grassquit and Masked Cardinal. If we are extremely fortunate, we may also encounter Stripe-backed or Least Bittern, Little Cuckoo or even a Prothonotary Warbler. Following a traditional "roadside breakfast" we will head back north and then west to overlook the tidal mudflats of the Gulf of Paria. We will make several roadside stops to look for Mangrove Rail, Black-necked Stilt, Black-bellied, Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers, Short-billed Dowitcher, Whimbrel (hudsonicus), Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers, Laughing Gull and Royal, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns. Offshore we should see our first Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and Neotropic Cormorants. If time permits, we will briefly visit an ornate Hindu temple, where Saffron Finch is often found in the grounds, before taking lunch at a small restaurant nearby. We will start our return drive to Asa Wright mid-afternoon.

Day 4 Most of the day will be spent within the Centre’s grounds. Shortly after breakfast we will take a walk down the trail into Dunston Cave for a remarkably up-close view of an Oilbird colony. As we draw near, we will hear the guttural shrieks that give rise to their Amerindian name, Guajaro, or "he who moans and wails". The trail will provide us with a good chance of finding Green Hermit, Grey-throated Leaftosser, White-flanked Antwren, Red-crowned Ant-tanager and even the skulking Black-faced Anthrush. Whilst snakes are fairly common on the estate, they are typically elusive, but this trail gives us our best chance of seeing, from a safe distance, a Fer de Lance or, with extreme good fortune, a Bushmaster. Both are highly venomous but neither is overly aggressive. One of many highlights on this incredible day will be an audience with the Bearded Bellbird. This species is the emblem of the Centre and we will have heard several males calling on their territories from dawn. Although it may take us a while to find a song perch, it will be well worth the wait, for this magnificent bird’s impressive wattles and distinctive colouration make for a truly memorable encounter. Following lunch and an afternoon of local birding we will set off around tea-time and make the half-hour drive to an abandoned US airbase at Wallerfield. We will have brought dinner with us, and after tucking into our meals under the stars, will begin our quest for night birds. Regularly seen amongst the scrubby vegetation and grasslands of this area are Common Pauraque, White-tailed Nightjar and Tropical Screech-owl. If we are fortunate, we will also see hunting Barn Owl and perhaps even a Spectacled Owl. We will return to the Centre by 22:00.

Day 5 After a leisurely breakfast we will set off from the Centre for a full day in the field, travelling south down the Arima Valley before making our way east. Just below the foothills of the Northern Range lies the impressive Aripo Savanna’s Scientific Reserve – the largest remaining natural savanna ecosystem on the island. This vast expanse of open grassland allows us the opportunity to seek out new species including Savanna Hawk, Grey-headed Kite, Fork-tailed Palm-swift, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Grey Kingbird and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. We will then drive to the Atlantic coast, taking lunch on the beach at Manzanilla, where we will have more than an outside chance of seeing Leach’s Storm-petrels on their northward migration, especially if there is a strong onshore wind. We will escape the heat of the early afternoon by driving slowly south through a million coconut palms looking for raptors also intent on sheltering from the midday sun. We should see Common Black Hawk and Yellow-headed Caracara and have a realistic chance of finding Pearl Kite, Grey-lined Hawk or even Crested Caracara. A brief stop near some roadside mangroves offers the possibility of American Pygmy Kingfisher and, a little further south, we will try a sometimes-reliable spot for the elusive Azure Gallinule. By mid-afternoon it will be time to retrace our steps westward before accessing a private site which holds a stand of Moriche Palm. Specialities of the area include Epaulet Oriole, Red-bellied Macaw and Sulphury Flycatcher. We will arrive back at the Centre in time for a quick shower before dinner.

Day 6 After breakfast and our now customary hot beverage enjoyed on the balcony overlooking the forested valley of Arima, we will spend the morning strolling the trails surrounding the Centre and tracking down any forest species which may have so far proved elusive. These may include Bat Falcon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Lineated Woodpecker, Yellow-olive Flycatcher and White-bearded and Golden-headed Manakins. After lunch we will board our bus for a ninety-minute drive south and then west towards the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary. En route we will pause at a reliable site for Red-breasted Meadowlark and visit two nearby ponds where targets include Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Wattled Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Ringed Kingfisher, Pied Water-tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, and Spectacled Caiman! Arriving at the information centre at Caroni Swamp, we will focus our attention on the roadside mangroves, which often hold Green-throated Mango, Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Straight-billed Woodcreeper. We will not linger long, however, as our boat departs at 16:00 to witness the roost of Trinidad’s national bird: the splendid Scarlet Ibis. Whilst navigating a series of channels, dependent upon the tide, we may find mangrove species not yet encountered. Most importantly, however, we will look for skulking Grey-cowled Wood-rail as well as roosting Common Potoo and, if we are extremely fortunate, Boat-billed Heron. Our skilled and experienced boatman will also keep more than one eye out for other nocturnal creatures such as Cook’s Tree Boa and Silky Anteater. Eventually we will moor up and sip our rum punches in the company of dozens of feeding American Flamingos and await the arrival of thousands of ibises (usually joined by slightly smaller numbers of egrets and herons) – all coming in to roost on a small island stand of mangroves. The boat will return to the jetty at dusk, leaving us to drive back for a late dinner on our last night at Asa Wright.

Day 7 After breakfast we must say goodbye to Asa Wright Nature Centre, but as we board our bus we will take comfort in the knowledge that we are about to travel along one of the most “bird famous” roadways in the entire Caribbean region – one that will take us high into the uppermost elevations of the Northern Range. The quiet Blanchisseuse Road winds its way north from Asa Wright and is renowned for providing excellent opportunities to view a host of species that favour higher altitudes. Targets during the first half of the day will include Tropical Parula, Golden-olive, Red-rumped and Chestnut Woodpeckers, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Cocoa and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, White-bellied Antbird, Rufous-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-necked Thrush, Speckled and Hepatic Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, American Redstart and Golden-crowned Warbler. We will have a hot packed picnic lunch with us and this will be enjoyed at a local chocolatier’s farm. A “return to the land” has had a positive effect on many members of these isolated communities, and during lunch, the farmer will proudly take us through the fascinating process involved in transforming the cacao pod into finished chocolate. Samples will, of course, be available! Following lunch, the birding continues with hoped-for encounters with such gems as Blue-headed Parrot, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Collared and Green-backed Trogons, Dusky-capped, Slaty-capped, Streaked and Euler’s Flycatchers, Grey-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow and Yellow-rumped Cacique. If we are fortunate we may find an early Swallow Tanager or even an Ornate Hawk-eagle. The Blanchisseuse Road snakes its way to the northeastern coastline of the island and here we will settle into our accommodation at Grande Riviere. After dinner we may even have the opportunity to see nesting Leatherback Turtles!

Day 8 All of our birding today will be on foot. We will leave our hotel while it is still dark and walk through the village and up into the forest. In the pre-dawn light we will have an excellent chance of seeing Short-tailed Nighthawks but our main focus will be on finding the extremely rare Trinidad Piping-guan. There is a small, stable population of this endemic species in the area and they are most active in the first few hours of daylight. During the course of the day, other target species will include Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, Chestnut-collared and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Silvered Antbird, Black-tailed Tityra, Greyish Saltator and Trinidad Euphonia. After dinner there will be another opportunity to view nesting turtles.

Day 9 We can spend the early part of the morning back up in the hills, having one last try for any Trinidad forest birds missed earlier in the tour. We will leave late-morning for Piarco Airport and the very short inter-island flight to Tobago. Once there, our drive will take us the length of the windward coast, arriving at Blue Waters Inn close to the village of Speyside in the late afternoon for a three-night stay.

Day 10 Tobago is very different from Trinidad geologically, culturally and ornithologically. The distance between the two islands is only 25 miles, resulting in considerable species overlap, and there are fewer species here, but there are a number which either occur only on Tobago or are far easier to see here. Pre-breakfast birding close to our hotel should produce Broad-winged Hawk, Green Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Caribbean Martin and Black-faced Grassquit. The remainder of the day will be spent in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, which has been protected rainforest since 1765. We will initially walk along a narrow trail through pristine forest where our main quest will be the very localised White-tailed Sabrewing. This species is found in only two places in the world: here and in the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela. Other key species in the area include Venezuelan Flycatcher, Plain Antvireo, Blue-backed Manakin, Yellow-legged Thrush, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Chivi Vireo and Giant Cowbird. Both Trinidad Motmot and Rufous-tailed Jacamar are much easier seen here than in Trinidad and the reserve will allow us another opportunity to see Collared Trogon. All the while we will need to keep a look aloft for a soaring Great Black Hawk. A late-afternoon return will give us the chance to have a swim before dinner.

Day 11 This morning will be devoted to catching up with any open and dry scrub species not already found in Trinidad. These may include White-fringed Antwren and Scrub Greenlet. After lunch we will board a glass-bottomed boat for the twenty-minute ride to Little Tobago Island. Here, the forested seabird cliffs will be teeming with Red-billed Tropicbirds, whilst closer to the water’s edge, both Red-footed and Brown Boobies will be nesting. There is always a chance of a daytime-roosting White-tailed Nightjar or an accessible nesting Audubon’s Shearwater. Our return boat will pause over the world’s largest living Grooved Brain Coral together with two superb coral reefs, where, in the course of a few minutes, it is quite possible to see over thirty species of tropical fish and have a good chance of coming across a Hawksbill Turtle.

Day 12 As we travel from Blue Waters towards our accommodation in the south of the island, we will take time to re-visit the spectacular Main Ridge rainforest – this time exploring a few different trails, where there will be the chance to see some species, such as the difficult Olivaceous Woodcreeper or White-throated Spadebill, which may have eluded us earlier. We will arrive in the early afternoon at Adventure Eco Villas – where the "adventure" is to sit in deck-chairs, perhaps sipping home-made fruit juices, watching an array of hummingbirds coming in to the sugar-water feeders right in front of us. At any one time we could be looking at one or all of the following: Black-throated Mango, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin and Copper-rumped Hummingbird. We will end the day with a delicious local dinner at the Eco Villas.

Day 13 We will begin our penultimate day of the trip by making a short drive to nearby Pigeon Point, where a couple of always-reliable sewage ponds should provide us with excellent views of a number of species not previously seen on the trip. These include Least Grebe, Anhinga, Black-crowned Night-heron, Green and Great Blue Herons, White-cheeked Pintail, Black-bellied Whistling-duck and Red-crowned Woodpecker, while White-tipped Doves will be ever-present. Another private wetland site in the area could also produce Masked Duck, Belted Kingfisher and Mangrove Cuckoo in addition to a number of more common wetland species. We will wind down the day’s birding with a visit to an extensive area of dry lowland forest where birds are fed daily. Our visit will coincide with the afternoon feed and we can expect literally hundreds of Rufous-vented Chachalacas, Pale-vented Pigeons and Eared Doves all around us. We should also still be finding new species such as Yellow-breasted and Fuscous Flycatchers.

Day 14 We will enjoy a leisurely breakfast at our villas and some selective local birding before checking out of our accommodation around midday and making the short, half-hour hop across to Trinidad. At Trinidad Piarco International Airport, we will make the most of our remaining time by engaging in a spot of airport birding, which could very well yield Grassland Yellow-finch, Southern Lapwing and several others. No visit to the twin-island state of Trinidad and Tobago would be complete without sampling some delicious roadside doubles, and you will be treated to a “true Trini send-off” by tucking into these local specialities, enjoyed outdoors in the late afternoon tropical breeze.

Day 15 Morning arrival back at London Gatwick airport.

General Information The pace of the tour is generally relaxed, with only a basic degree of fitness required to cope with one or two steep forest trails. In the Tropics, birds are most lively in the first few hours of daylight, so the tour is geared towards early starts, normally leaving at 06:00–06:30. We will bird until lunchtime, when lunch will be taken either back at the accommodation or in picnic form and a break will usually be taken when it is hot and humid and bird activity is low. We will then birdwatch again from mid/late afternoon. There will be opportunities to take time off to shop, sightsee or relax as required. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Please note that, even in the dry season, rain showers can be expected. We should see in excess of 200 species during the tour.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader.

Bearded Bellbird

Bearded Bellbird

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