Trinidad & Tobago: Neotropic Birding & Scarlet Ibis - Birding Tour
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Trinidad and Tobago are lush, stunningly beautiful islands located off the north coast of South America. Blessed with a perfect climate and a unique blend of Amazonian and West Indian fauna and flora, this verdant two-island republic is universally acclaimed as the best place in the New World to first experience the splendor of tropical birds. Even persons with broad experience with Neotropical birds return to T&T because of the ease with which birds and other kinds of wildlife can be studied. Birds and butterflies resplendent in gaudy hues probe at arm’s length at nectar and fruit feeders. A profusion of brightly colored flowers adds intense color to the tropical vistas. The accommodations are excellent and birder-friendly. The food is sensational. Enjoying freshly picked fruit and locally grown coffee for breakfast is a luxurious experience. Regarding birds, a high percentage of the South American families are represented in T&T. Among the Neotropical groups we will look for are tinamous, jacanas, parrots and macaws, potoos, hummingbirds, trogons, motmots, jacamars, toucans, ovenbirds and woodcreepers, antbirds, antthrushes, cotingas, and manakins.
Length: 10 Days
Starting City: Port of Spain, Trinidad
Ending City: Port of Spain, Trinidad
Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Group size: 8 + 1 leader + local guide(s)
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Day 1: Arrival in Trinidad
Upon arrival in Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport, you will be transferred to a comfortable Port of Spain hotel, where we will be based for three nights.
Day 2: Northern Ranges
Today sees us on an excursion across the Northern Range. In the heights we’ll look for Speckled Tanager, Common Black Hawk, White Hawk, three species of trogons, and Blue-headed Parrot, along with species missed on previous days. We’ll be alert for foraging groups that usually include Golden-headed Manakin, Blue Dacnis, Yellow-breasted and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, Tropical Parula, and Long-billed Gnatwren, and for fruiting fig trees that attract thrushes and other fruit-eating species. At the end of the day we will return to our comfortable hotel in Port of Spain.
Day 3: Eastern Trinidad
After breakfast, we’ll drive to east, with White-bellied Antbird, Forest Elaenia, and Guianan Trogon among possible birds. Then, we will work our way towards Trinidad’s east coast and the Nariva Swamp, the largest freshwater herbaceous swamp in Trinidad. Along its edges are found palm ‘islands’, where the tall Moriche palm is common. Here, too, we’ll see a unique mangrove community composed primarily of stilt-rooted Rhizophora mangroves, which often reach heights of 80 feet. But first we’ll visit the Aripo Livestock Station, where target species will include Savanna Hawk, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, and Red-breasted Meadowlark. Arriving at the Atlantic coastal plain, we’ll have an opportunity to view Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans while you enjoy lunch on the beach. Beyond this point, Pinnated Bittern, Wattled Jacana, herons, and egrets populate the shallow marshes, with Limpkin seen from time to time. In the Nariva Swamp proper, we’ll explore the tall wild rice, rushes, hyacinth, and other aquatic vegetation for a variety of species. Nariva is a particularly productive spot for raptors. If we are very fortunate, we might see Red-bellied Macaw here too. At the end of the day we will return to our comfortable hotel in Port of Spain.
Day 4: West Coast to the north coast
This will be a day of contrasts as we examine many coastal habitats. Today’s journey will begin with the Gulf of Paria, which comprises Trinidad’s western boundary. Trinidad’s West Coast contains the most productive mudflats on either island. Target species include Neotropic Cormorant, Yellow-headed Caracara, Pearl Kite, Long-winged Harrier, nine species of herons and egrets, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, migrant shorebirds, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Green Kingfisher, Masked Cardinal, Black-crested Antshrike, Bicolored Conebill, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, and Greater Ani. The eastern Gulf of Paria is a magnet for rarities, and something unusual may turn up as well. In the afternoon, we’ll cross over the island to the eastern coast and follow it up into the northeastern tip of Trinidad, passing through Toco and ending in Grand Riviere at the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel. This picturesque beachfront property is home to nesting loggerhead turtles in the spring and summer months, and year-round is the best place to overnight when one’s next morning involves one of Trinidad’s most sought-after birds, the Trinidad Piping-Guan.
Day 5: Piping-Guan and northern Trinidad
At dawn we’ll drive a short distance to a fabulous treetop overlook where, with some luck, we’ll encounter several Trinidad Piping-Guans foraging in the canopy of the trees just off the balcony. After a morning on guan watch, we will bird another area of northern Trinidad before backtracking to our familiar Port of Spain hotel.
Day 6: Southern Tobago
Early this morning, we’ll catch a 20-minute flight to Tobago’s tiny Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson International Airport. We’ll spend the morning birding southern Tobago, the only flat part of the island, visiting several hotspots. Target species include Least Grebe, White-cheeked Pintail, Anhinga, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Mangrove Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Tropical and Gray Kingbirds, White-fringed Antwren, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Caribbean Martin, Spectacled Thrush, and Black-faced Grassquit. After enjoying lunch at the Grafton-Caledonia Bird Sanctuary, we’ll explore the grounds, looking especially for species found on Tobago but not on Trinidad — Rufous-vented Chachalaca, White-fringed Antwren, Blue-backed Manakin, and Scrub Greenlet. As evening approaches, we’ll head north to the secluded Cuffie River Nature Retreat, our home for the next two nights. Many people who have stayed at Cuffie River rate it as their all-time favorite lodge.
Day 7: Tobago, Main Ridge Reserve and Little Tobago Island
Today’s birding begins with a drive to at an elevation of almost 2,000 feet to explore one of the world’s most beautiful rainforests. The Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve is the oldest wildlife sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. We’ll stop at promising locations in the cool mountain heights while scanning the area for target birds including Great Black Hawk, Orange-winged Parrot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Trogon, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Venezuelan Flycatcher, Yellow-legged Thrush, Blue-backed Manakin, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Rufous-breasted Hermit hummingbird. We’ll explore primeval Gilpin Trace, which rambles through a deep, narrow, pristine ravine. Gilpin Trace is home to the endangered White-tailed Sabrewing hummingbird. After enjoying a packed lunch in the heights, we’ll drop to sea level and catch a glass-bottomed boat in Speyside. We’ll travel two miles across Batteaux Bay, observing along the way a magnificent coral reef that hosts the world’s largest brain coral, locally called “Einstein.” Passing cactus-festooned islets, we’ll arrive at uninhabited, starfish-shaped Little Tobago Island. Also called Bird-of-Paradise or Ingram’s Island, Little Tobago is a protected nature reserve. Because of the lack of fresh water, no permanent settlements have ever been established here. The climax semi-deciduous dry forest that we’ll explore appears the same now as it did to the first human visitors millennia ago. Our visit to Little Tobago Island is certain to be a highlight of the trip. Here we’ll seek endemic Tobago races of Blue-gray Tanager and Bananaquit, larger and brighter than those found in Trinidad, and the recently colonized Scaly-naped Pigeon. We’ll peer into tunnels under Anthurium root masses looking for nesting Audubon’s Shearwaters and view Red-billed Tropicbird and Brown and Red-footed Boobies before returning to Cuffie River.
Day 8: Cuffie River Nature Retreat to Trinidad
Our last full day will be a relaxing one. Of course there will be birding, but some people may choose to do some optional snorkeling or sightseeing trips. The Cuffie River Trail has birds like Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blue-backed Manakin, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Collared Trogon, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and White-fringed Antwren, and the hummingbird feeders in front of the lodge often host the rare White-tailed Sabrewing hummingbird. After enjoying lunch at Cuffie River, we’ll have the afternoon free for more birding, splashing in the magnificent elevated swimming pool, hiking the trails, or relaxing on the veranda. After lunch, in the afternoon, we’ll return via a 20-minute flight to Trinidad, where we spend two more nights in a hotel in Port of Spain.
Day 9: Yerette and Caroni Swamp
In the morning we will visit the best feeders in the country for hummingbirds, where up to 13 species can be present, including Ruby-Topaz, Blue-chinned Sapphire, and Copper-rumped Hummingbird, among others. After lunch we’ll head to Caroni National Park. The Caroni Basin is a very specialized habitat that hosts three species of mangroves, which show classic examples of plant adaptations in this unique brackish community. We’ll use a stable, flat-bottomed boat for our exploration of this area. Possiblities include all regularly occurring herons and egrets, Scarlet Ibis, Limpkin, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, a wide variety of raptors and shorebirds, Mangrove and Little Cuckoos, Common Potoo, Green Kingfisher, Green-throated Mango, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-crested Antshrike, Masked Cardinal, and Bicolored Conebill. We may also find Spectacled Caiman, Green Iguana, and Silky Anteater. In the channels we’ll look for the curious Four-eyed Fish (Anableps). The highlight of the day, if not the trip, will be the spectacular evening flight of Scarlet Ibis returning to their roosts in the mangroves. This is truly one of Trinidad’s most famous natural moments. We’ll spend a final night at our Port of Spain hotel.
Day 10: Departure
The tour ends this morning with transfers to Trinidad’s Piarco International Airport. There is no birding planned for today.
PACE: Moderate; some days are quite relaxed. This is fairly laid back trip and makes an excellent introduction to Neotropical birding. 6:00-6:30am starts are typical. On a few days there will be some downtime after lunch to relax.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Most of the birding is from roads and easy trails. A few trails have some steeper sections,– a walking stick can help. Most days on average with involve between 1 to 3 miles (1.6-4.8 km) of walking.
CLIMATE: Warm to hot. A bit of rain can be expected, but it usually comes in short downpours that don’t interfere too much with the birding.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent; all have private bathrooms, hot water, and 24h electricity. Wi-fi is usually available in all the hotels, though it may only be available in public areas, and is sometimes very slow.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a Birding Tour, and seeing the birds will take priority over getting photos. We do encourage photography on our tours, but the tour leader will not allow photographers to move in front of the group for a photo, or use flash, until everyone has had a good look at the bird. All of our guides are also amateur photographers, so they are happy to help you out within these limitations. This is generally a good trip for bird photography. Coastal and wetland areas like Caroni Swamp are great for photographing waterbirds.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, EU, South Africa, among many others. Visitors from Australia and New Zealand must pay for a visa waiver on arrival, which currently costs about US$60, subject to change. Visas are required for citizens of most countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 10; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive at a late hour) to breakfast on day 11 (if you have an early flight, you may have to leave the hotel before breakfast service begins); safe drinking water; reoundtrip flight between the island of Trinidad and the island of Tobago; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 10; airport transfers on days 1, 8, 10, and 11 (depending on the hotel, these transfers may be via a hotel shuttle); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 10; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters if you require their services; international flights; passport/visa/visa waver fees; excess luggage charges; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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