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Trip report: eBird giveaway to Trinidad and Tobago

Dave and Debbie at Asa Wright

Last November we were able to offer a trip for one lucky eBirder to Trinidad and Tobago, thanks to the generous sponsorship by the Asa Wright Nature Centre, JetBlueCaligo Ventures, and the Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Board. David Fees was the lucky winner, and he wrote up a nice summary of the time there with his wife Debbie. Thanks to everyone who took part in the giveaway, and keep an eye out in the future for similar offers!

In early February my wife Debbie and I flew out of New York for a non-stop adventure to the two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago located just off the coast of South America. I had never been to the tropics and had never aspired to be an international birder. This trip changed that thinking.

Soon after arriving in Trinidad we headed to the Asa Wright Nature Centre located in the tropical rainforest of the Northern Mountain Range of Trinidad. What we didn’t know before the trip is that Asa Wright is an internationally acclaimed birding destination. Once we checked in and made our way to the veranda of the former coffee and citrus plantation’s estate house, we understood why this is such a special place. The veranda overlooks the Arima Valley, and even before we had a chance to witness the spectacle of birds attracted to the dozens of feeders below the veranda, a guide at the Centre showed us through his spotting scope a Channel-billed Toucan perched in the crown of a towering tree down the valley. The toucan was the first of fifty-seven life birds seen in two days at Asa Wright.

Once perched on a bar stool along the veranda’s railing, we were overwhelmed by the activity at the feeders. There were six species of tanagers in a variety of colors, honeycreepers, antshrikes, manakins, euphonias, the ubiquitous Bananaquit, and the stars of the show –nine species of hummingbirds. Thankfully I was carrying a good guide book, the Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad & Tobago by Martyn Kenefick, to help us sort out all of these new birds from a number of strange and unfamiliar genera.

We could have easily spent our entire time at Asa Wright there on the veranda, letting the birds come to us, but Asa Wright has a good network of trails, so off we went exploring. Once on the trails, we observed many forest birds including the Bearded Bellbird with its odd call that sounds convincingly like repeatedly hammering an anvil, the shy White-bellied Antbird, and other forest dwellers such as the White-flanked Antwren, Cocoa Thrush, Squirrel Cuckoo, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Forest Elaenia, Guianan and Collared Trogons, Trinidad Motmot, Long-billed Gnatwren, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, and Lineated and Red-rumped Woodpeckers.

On the second day we took a guided boat tour into the Caroni Swamp, famous for its evening roost of a thousand or more Scarlet Ibis. Lesser numbers of Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, and Snowy Egrets joined the ibis. On the way to the roosting site, we were treated to marsh dwellers such as the Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-headed Caracara, our tenth hummingbird species, the Green-breasted Mango, and Masked Cardinal. On the drive to and from the swamp, we saw a number of Smooth-billed Ani, a common species in Trinidad.

After our complimentary two-night stay at Asa Wright, we decided to add several days to our trip and also visit the island of Tobago. There we enjoyed a mix of adventure birding and some island relaxation enjoying the local culture and cuisine. On the first full day in Tobago we toured the Main Ridge montane rainforest. Some of the species seen on this trip not seen on Trinidad included the Great Black Hawk, Orange-winged Amazon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Blue-backed Manakin, Yellow-legged and White-necked Thrush, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Crested Oropendola, and the globally restricted White-tailed Sabrewing, a type of hummingbird.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar as seen on Tobago by Dave and Debbie

Looking for something a little different, the following day we caught a boat to Little Tobago Island off the east side of Tobago where Red-billed Tropicbirds nest by the hundreds, and Brown and Red-footed Booby nest there as well. This tour was coupled with an hour of snorkeling on one of the best coral reefs in Trinidad and Tobago.

Here are a few checklists of our time in Trinidad and Tobago.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Caroni Swamp

Main Ridge Forest Reserve – Tobago

We enjoyed our first taste of tropical birding and island life. Thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and to all the sponsors of the trip for a memorable experience.