Trinidad & Tobago

The Asa Wright Nature Centre
and the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory

Present

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Hummingbirds and More!

December 6-15, 2018

with Sheri Williamson and Tom Wood

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin, a common hummingbird on Trinidad and Tobago

Avid birders and natural history fans alike have flocked to Trinidad’s Asa Wright Nature Centre for four decades, drawn by a magnetic combination of fascinating birds, talented naturalists, and a place that makes history in New World tropical studies. Many agree that the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago are the best introduction to New World tropical birding and ecology possible.

Join Sheri Williamson and Tom Wood, founders and directors of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, for this great adventure. You arrive to Trinidad’s PAX Guest House, not far from the airport with a fine, commanding view of the city. This is an historic property by a monastery and its feeders should be active with hummingbirds and more. Staying here for the first night allows us to accommodate all the flight options you have to get there.

Trinidad Motmots

Then it’s off to Tobago the following day after breakfast.  There is a a short and scenic inter-island flight, and we’re met by a local naturalist. Our lodgings are at the charming Cuffie River Nature Retreat, set in an intimate forest setting. Birding on the grounds is excellent, and you can relax in the pool or enjoy the birds from one of several verandahs and sitting areas.  While on Tobago, we hike Tobago’s Gilpin Trace trail and bird watch in the Main Forest Reserve, one of the oldest protected areas in the New World.

We then have five nights at the world-renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre, a 200-acre wildlife sanctuary in Trinidad’s rain forested Northern Range. Our SABO tour blends time at the Centre with a range of tours guided by island experts, sampling varied habitats, from lush forests to expansive mangrove swamps.  SABO has kept in touch with colleagues at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and all look forward to this reunion. The Centre’s mission, like SABO’s is for education and conservation so there is much to share.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

On Trinidad and Tobago, great views of birds abound. It’s almost as if the islands emanate a magical force, making many of these amazing species appear almost tame. Trinidad Motmot and Purple and Green Honeycreepers are among some 30 possible species to see even before breakfast, as they frenzy at the feeders on the Centre’s famed verandah. Over a dozen species of hummingbirds can be seen at arm’s length! Another incredible feature found on Centre grounds is Dunston Cave, the most accessible Oilbird colony on the planet.

The world-famous verandah at Asa Wright Nature Centre

Trinidad has the highest diversity of hummingbirds in the West Indian archipelago. Geologically a part of South America, Trinidad’s hummingbirds offer a glimpse into past ecological connections. In addition to observing their beauty and abundance, SABO leader Sheri Williamson enhances our experience with lectures on hummingbird behavior and ecology. In the field, we examine their relationships with plants and habitats.

So why travel with SABO? Not only will you travel with like-minded birders who support bird research and conservation, you also get the added bonus of Sheri Williamson’s and Tom Wood’s expertise, partnered with Asa Wright’s legendary local guides, making this a trip not to be missed.

Highlights

  • Spend time with Sheri Williamson and Tom Wood of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, two outstanding teachers and guides!
  • Enjoy local experts, local food and fun
  • Be dazzled by the jewel tones of tropical hummingbirds and other gems
  • Explore Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve, and Little Tobago Island two of Tobago’s most important birding areas
  • Tally up to 40 life birds before breakfast on Trinidad’s Asa Wright Nature Centre’s famed verandah
  • Explore the Centre trails and visit an incredible (an accessible) Oilbird cave
  • Traverse the Blanchisseuse Road in lush mountain forests of Trinidad’s Northern Range
  • Bird Nariva Swamp and Bush Bush Forest Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Enjoy birds en-mass, from Yerette’s frenzied hummers to Caroni’s Scarlet Ibis

ITINERARY

Thursday, December 6: Arrival in Port of Spain, Trinidad / Transfer to PAX GUEST HOUSE

Welcome to Trinidad!  Drivers from the Pax Guest House will meet your incoming flight. Its about a 20- minute drive to the hotel, so those arriving in time can have dinner, others should plan to eat on the plane or before their flight.

The PAX Guest House sits high on a hill above the city with marvelous views of the landscape and lights. In the morning you’ll awake to bells at the neighboring monastary and birds!

Accommodations at PAX Guest House (D)

Friday, December 7: Mid-Morning flight to Tobago / Cuffie River Nature Retreat

White-tailed Sabrewing, a Tobago specialty

Enjoy a morning walk on the grounds for some of your first tropical birds! The Verandah opens as breakfast is called and watch for our first jewel-toned hummingbirds!  After breakfast we pack our gear, and head to the airport for our short (25-minute) flight to Tobago.

 

Our naturalist guide will greet you on Tobago and immediately you feel that relaxed Caribbean pace taking over. We enjoy a couple hours of birding en route, seeking out species at a variety of wetland habitats.

Lunch will be at Cuffie River Nature Retreat and this afternoon has ample time to explore locally and rest up from your travels.  We spend two nights in this birdy place, an intimate forest lodge where Tobago’s White-tailed Sabrewing, a near-endemic, comes to feed alongside Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, one of the most beautiful hummingbirds in the world.

This is the perfect place to start our journey, with a focus on hummingbirds and their role in Trinidad and Tobago’s avifauna.  Bird complexity increases on the Trinidad side, so it’s great that on simpler Tobago we first get to meet the players!

Accommodations at Cuffie River Nature Retreat (B,L,D)

Saturday, December 8:  Little Tobago Island / Gilpin Trace and Tobago’s Main Forest Ridge

We have an early start today; a full day of great birding awaits!  We drive to Speyside on the east end of Tobago. From the bay we travel by boat from the Blue Waters Inn dock to Little Tobago Island, one of this nation’s most important wildlife sanctuaries.

Upon landing we explore the dry forests of Little Tobago Island, looking for Chivi Vireo, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Pale-vented Pigeon.  Climb up to a lookout for a view of nesting cliffs above a grand expanse of ocean. Additionally, we explore the nesting grounds of Red-billed Tropicbird, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Brown Noddy, and Sooty and Bridled Terns.

The spectacular Red-billed Tropicbird

Return to a restaurant lunch at the Birdwatcher’s Restaurant in town, and then on the return drive, explore the mountains at Tobago’s premiere UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Main Ridge Forest Reserve. Established in 1776, the Reserve is one of the oldest legally-protected forest reserves in our hemisphere. Early on, its managers had the foresight to understand the connection of a healthy forest and a productive watershed for the island’s agricultural areas below.

This is an excellent place to see White-tailed Sabrewing in its nesting area, a stunning hummingbird thought to be lost, but rediscovered here after Hurricane Flora altered much of the island’s forest habitats in 1963. On a winding trail that descends into the forest, we also look for Blue-backed Manakin, Olivacous Woodcreeper, Yellow-legged Thrush, both Fuscous and Venezuelan Flycatchers, the elusive White-throated Spadebill, and Plain Antvireo. Common Black Hawk may soar above, the main avian predator here. Tobago has weathered several hurricanes over the years and it is interesting to note how this has sculpted the forests, evidenced here by numerous palms.

After our hike, we return to Cuffie River Nature Retreat for a relaxing evening.

Accommodations at Cuffie River Nature Retreat, Tobago (B,L,D)

Sunday, December 9: Birding at Cuffie River Nature Retreat / Hummingbird Observation 

After a big day yesterday, enjoy the morning with coffee and the birds at the lodge. After breakfast, join we pack up and head to the airport for the next exciting part of our tour – Trinidad!

Back in bustling Port of Spain, our guides from the Asa Wright Nature Centre await us. They readily navigate traffic, and soon we are back out in the country, in beautiful scenery of Trinidad’s Northern Range where we spend the next five nights at the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge. The original estate home serves as the common area for dining, relaxing, enjoying the “Birder’s Bar,” and bird viewing from the famed verandah.  We arrive in time for lunch, to settle into your cabins and stretch your legs on a walk.

Asa Wright Nature Centre is 1200 feet above sea level in Evergreen Seasonal Forest. Formerly the Springhill Estate, the grounds have returned to their wild roots from once extensive coffee, cocoa, and citrus plantations, though some of these plants are still maintained. However, natural second-growth festoons the abandoned plantation vegetation with vines and a host of epiphytes. The effect is one of being deep in a tropical rainforest.

Our only challenge for the last hours of daylight is to enjoy our first rum punch (or tea) while tallying up a host of amazing species at the Centre’s abundant feeders.  Dazzling hummingbirds, including the diminutive Tufted Coquette may put on a show.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Centre (B,L,D)

Monday, December 10:  Centre Tour / Birding from Verandah / Centre Trails in Search of Bearded Bellbird & More

Morning begins with the raucous noise of the Crested Oropendola, just one of many exotic sounds. Fresh-roasted Trinidadian coffee awaits on the verandah ― first-time visitors might see 40 life birds before breakfast!

Red-rumped Agouti

Our day starts with a guided tour of the Centre trails. We may find Guianan (Violaceous) Trogon, Channel-billed Toucan, Golden-olive and Chestnut Woodpeckers, White-bearded Manakin dancing at their lek, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and perhaps a mixed flock that includes Turquoise and Bay-headed Tanagers. We also hope to spot Golden-headed Manakin and noisy Bearded Bellbird ― many enjoy the challenge of spotting the Bellbird, as their distinctive “bonk!” echoes throughout the forest. Red-rumped Agouti spend time foraging forest fruits that have dropped beside the trail. Crested Oropendolas stream overhead and we keep watch for Orange-winged and Blue-headed Parrots, as well as raptors like Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, and White Hawk. The Centre’s resident naturalists share their wealth of knowledge

The afternoon we explore Centre trails or spend time on the verandah with Sheri and Tom learning to identify the hummingbirds. Photo opportunities abound!

Accommodations at Asa Wright Centre (B,L,D)

Tufted Coquette

 

Tuesday, December 11: Blanchisseuse Road / Trinidad’s Northern Range     

Just after breakfast we embark on a scenic, all-day excursion following a lush and winding mountain road that passes over the Northern Range towards the seaside fishing village of Blanchisseuse. The Northern Range is an eastern extension of Venezuela’s Coastal Cordillera, a range that connects to the Andes!

Blanchisseuse is the only road on the island that bisects the Northern Range before finally descending to the Caribbean coastline. We reach the highest elevation possible by motor vehicle, some 2,200 ft. Our day is spent birding quiet country roads and wide forest tracks, seeking species more easily found at this altitude. Although a day-long outing, we do not spend a long time driving. We make numerous roadside birding stops, never walking far from the vehicles. And there are always coolers with water and juice on board.

Channel-billed Toucan

BRASSO SECO LUNCH

Species we look for Short-tailed Hawk, Blue-headed Parrot, Lilac-tailed Parrotlet, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Collared and Green-backed Trogons, Golden-olive, Red-rumped, and Chestnut Woodpeckers, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Cocoa and Plain-Brown Woodcreepers, White-bellied Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Dusky-capped, Slaty-capped, Streaked, and Euler’s Flycatchers, Gray-breasted Martin, Rufous-breasted Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-necked Thrush, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Speckled and Hepatic Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, and Golden-crowned Warbler. Bright blooms of the forest canopy attract a number of nectar-feeding birds.

Along with rich birdlife, we also examine the fascinating world of leaf-cutter and army ants, and photograph orchids, elephant ear philodendron, ferns, mosses, and other tropical flora. Occasionally an Ornate Hawk-Eagle is seen soaring over and there is an outside chance of finding Trinidad’s most rare and sought endemic today ― Pawi or Trinidad Piping-Guan. Several Pawi reside in the high forests but we are lucky if we do find them.  In December, wintering American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush can be found intermingled with resident species.

Towards mid-afternoon we stop at the village of Morne le Croix. Here we take afternoon tea and cake whilst looking for additional species such as Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, and Yellow-rumped Cacique before a late afternoon drive back to the Centre.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Centre (B,L,D)

Wednesday, December 12: Nariva Swamp / East Coast of Trinidad

Immediately after breakfast, we leave the Centre and travel south down the Arima Valley before turning east. Great Kiskadee and Tropical Kingbird regularly perch on overhead utility wires, Carib Grackle abound, and Short-tailed Swift are the most common aerial feeder. Just below the foothills of the Northern Range lies the Aripo Agriculture Research Station which breeds a Water Buffalo/Brahma cross.

Wattled Jacana

This open countryside and rough pasture gives us new species including Cocoi Heron, Savannah Hawk, Gray-headed Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, and White-winged Swallow. White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Pied Water-Tyrant, and Yellow-chinned Spinetail rattle throatily from the grasses whilst Red-breasted Blackbird adds a splash of color. We can reliably find Grassland Yellow-Finch and possible Ruddy-breasted Seedeater.

Tropical Screech-Owls

We enjoy a picnic lunch on the beach at Manzanilla with views of Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Pelican, then drive through “coconut ally” where a million coconut palms line the road. We look for raptors sheltering from the midday sun ― Common Black-Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, and Savannah Hawk and maybe even Pearl Kite, Gray-lined Hawk, and Crested Caracara. Roadside mangroves house Plumbeous Kite, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-crested Antshrike, Silvered Antbird, and Brown-crested Flycatcher.

Eventually we enter Nariva Swamp. Here, the Nariva River reaches the sea; freshwater environments are comprised of herbaceous swamp and swamp forest. This is the largest freshwater herbaceous swamp on the island. Along its edges are “palm islands,” of tall Moriche Palm. Here too we see a unique mangrove community, made up primarily of the stilt-rooted rhizophora mangrove, which often reaches 80 feet. We slowly drive the raised bund roads looking over freshwater marsh and watermelon fields. We hope for Pinnated Bittern, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Purple Gallinule, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird. We also search for the enchanting White-tailed Goldenthroat Hummingbird. Long-winged Harrier occasionally quarter the reeds and if we are lucky, both Yellow-crowned Parrot and Red-bellied Macaw fly in to roost. Close to here we walk into Bush Bush Forest Wildlife Sanctuary.

Bush Bush Forest is good for birding and a chance to see Red Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, as well as other mammals like Prehensile-tailed Porcupine. The forest is a raised area of sandy soil surrounded by wetlands, and site of much of the work of C. Brooke Worth, described so well in his book, A Naturalist in Trinidad. In 1999, a successful reintroduction effort to restore Blue and Yellow Macaws began here. Permits are required and hunting is not allowed ― it’s a good place to look for mammals. We walk into the site.

Plan for a late arrival back at the Centre we check the feeders for Tufted Coquette, and head straight to dinner.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Centre (B,L,D)

Thursday, December 13:  Marvelous Yerette Hummingbirds / Caroni Marsh

Enjoy early morning birding from the Verandah. We depart mid-morning after a leisurely breakfast for Caroni Swamp via Yerette, Trinidad’s “Home of the Hummingbird”. Yerette is the private home of Theo and Gloria Ferguson (and up to 1,000 hummingbirds!). It is birdwatching at its most relaxing. Thirteen of the Islands’ recorded 17 species of hummingbird have been seen here; eleven are found daily, and often twelve.  Here we can watch a hummingbird feeding frenzy mere feet away. We bring a picnic lunch to have a feeding frenzy while we do so.

Theo is a bird photographer par excellence and takes pride in inviting you to a professional, interpreted slideshow of Trinidad’s hummingbirds.

Caroni Swamp holds 6000 hectares of protected area, including National Park lands. Mainly mangroves, it holds a very specialized mangrove forest that contains several genera and species of mangroves, showing classic examples of plant adaptation in a unique brackish water community. This wild area is south of Port of Spain’s sprawl, but worlds away from the city’s congestion. We identify mangrove species from the road, which house Black-crested Antshrike, Pygmy and Green Kingfishers, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, and Masked Cardinal. Clean washrooms are at the National Park Information Facility.

Our boat departs and slowly navigates mangrove channels looking for Green-throated Mango, Greater Ani, Bicolored Conebill, Neotropical Cormorant, Anhinga, Striated Heron, White-cheeked Pintail, Large-billed Tern, Pied Water Tyrant, and Masked (Red-capped) Cardinal. We may even see roosting Tropical Screech-Owl, Common Potoo, Green, Ringed, and American Pygmy Kingfishers, and Boat-billed Heron. We keep a special eye out for Ruschenberger’s Tree Boa, roosting Silky Anteater, and Spectacled Caiman.

We then moor up, sip our rum punch and wait the star attraction: 100s, and sometimes 1000s of Scarlet Ibis, returning to their mangrove roosts at dusk. Tricolored and Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets pepper the wave of crimson.  This is truly one of the world’s most dramatic natural moments. We leave as light begins to wane and search for the mysterious-sounding Common Potoo and nocturnal Boat-billed Heron as we head back to shore.

Dinner is a bit late tonight, but well worth it.

Accommodations at Asa Wright Centre (B,L,D)

Friday, December 14: Dunston Cave / Afternoon trails at the Asa Wright Nature Centre / Optional Departure for those on the late-night United Flight

Today we have the full day at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. In the morning, we hike to Dunston Cave, a beautiful riparian grotto on Centre grounds and home to a breeding colony of Oilbirds. This is one of the most accessible Oilbird caves in the world. A walk along Guacharo Trail gets you there in around 45 minutes. The trail can be steep in places, but there are well-placed handrails along the way. To see the birds, you may need to get wet feet, though if they are in the front of the cave you do not, just a head’s up so you are prepared.

The Oilbird is the only fruit eating, nocturnal bird and it navigates the cave by echo location. It’s also much bigger than anyone expects (a wingspan of up to 42”). The cave floor is littered with germinating palm seedlings, which the Oilbirds swallow entirely, and, after the pericarp is digested, they regurgitate the seeds. Oilbirds are important to the seed dispersal of a number of tropical trees.

We return for lunch, and then have the afternoon set for guide’s choice of trails, or walking the grounds. People may want to visit the coffee growing area, and the Centre’s driveway is a leisurely place to bird and explore.

Because the United flight is currently just after midnight returning to the states, some of our group may be leaving this evening.  We’ve kept your room so you can freshen up and stay through dinner, then you’ll be taken to the airport for your flight. Those on other airlines can leave tomorrow at their convenience.

Saturday, December 15: Departures from Port of Spain

This morning we say our goodbyes as we depart on flights home.  Our guides can return you to the airport for all flights, but keep in mind you need to be there 2.5 hours ahead and its roughly an hour from the Centre, so best if flights are after 11 AM when possible.

This itinerary subject to change to due to weather, road condition, access, and other real-world factors. The order of the trips may also change. Should a location or region become unviable, we make every effort to visit an equivalent location or region.

PLAN AHEAD!
Protect yourself with Travel Insurance, available through our operator for the tour, www.caligo.com. Offset your Carbon Footprint on any of the online programs, with a receipt we refund you up to $50.

TO REGISTER

Please contact Caligo Ventures at info@caligo.com, or by calling 800.426.7781. They will know space availability, and will provide you with registration forms on behalf of SABO. The deposit is $300, and the balance of payment is due 60 days ahead of departure.

COST OF THE JOURNEY
Cost of the tour from Piarco International Airport (POS), Trinidad, is $2995, based on double occupancy, $3295 SGL single occupancy.  The tour price is based on a group of 7 or more persons with two SABO hosts. With fewer than 7, a small group surcharge may apply and one SABO host will accompany.  (Bring your friends!) With fewer than 4, we can run the tour with local guides if participants wish to do so.

This cost includes all accommodations, meals as specified in the itinerary (all but one lunch and one dinner), professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses.

Tour cost does not include: round-trip transportation from your home city to Port of Spain/Piarco Int. Airport, optional activities, lodge and guide gratuities, or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone charges, maid gratuities, or beverages from the bar. Group Size: Minimum of 4 persons, maximum of 12.

TRAVEL INFORMATION
Plan to arrive on December 6 (or before at additional cost) at a time convenient for you; Centre staff meet all flights. You may depart the tour at a time convenient for you on either the evening of December 14 or the anytime, December 15. Inter-island flights are included. International airfare is not included in the tour price.

YOUR CELEBRITY HOSTS: Tom Wood and Sheri Williamson

The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the birds of southeastern Arizona, their habitats and the diversity of species that share those habitats through research, monitoring and public education.

SABO offers a variety of resources for the birding and naturalist communities and opportunities for residents and visitors to connect with the birds and other wildlife of southeastern Arizona. They also serve as regional advocates for science-based management of birds and their habitats and responsible, low-impact economic development. These activities are supported by members and donors, people like you who value wildlife and wild places. Participation in this tour will benefit the work of SABO.

HOW TO REGISTER

Please contact Caligo Ventures for registration on behalf of SABO for this special tour. There is a Caligo Ventures registration form online you can complete, or you can request one for the office. The deposit is $300 per person to hold your space. Final payment will be due 60 days prior to departure. info@caligo / 800.426.7781.

Thank you for supporting the non-profit Asa Wright Nature Centre though your visit!

Photo Credits:
White-necked Jacobin, Sheri L. Williamson; Trinidad Motmot, Tom Wood; Asa Wright Nature Centre Verandah, Peg Abbott (PA); White-tailed Sabrewing, Sheri Williamson; Rufous-tailed Jacamar, PA; Red-billed Tropicbird flying, PA; dock for the boat to Little Tobago, group birding, Centre guide teaching, Verandah view, PA; Red-rumped Agouti, Tom Wood; Tufted Coquette, Mukesh Ramdass; Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Tom Wood; Scarlet Ibis in clouds, Scarlet Ibis flying, PA; Oilbird, Janice Petko.