Trinidad, October 2001
After an idle moment of flicking through holiday brochures, in a mad moment, and needing serious rest, somewhere hot and interesting, my bird watching friend and I found ourselves booked on a weeks holiday to the Asa Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad. With two weeks to fret about whether flying was going to be safer or more risky after the recent appalling terrorist events, we found ourselves filing on to the plane and away we went.
Safely there, we were met by a driver from the centre and driven into the northern range of mountains to about 1200 feet where the Asa Wright Nature Centre nestled amongst the rain forest. A former coffee, cocoa and citrus plantation, the centre is now dedicated to pure nature.
Bird feeders hang from the famous veranda where humming birds zip about from dawn to dusk - yes we were there at six o'clock every morning (rest you ask?!).
Early morning from the veranda
Down below the veranda, bird tables are freshly filled daily with fruit and home made bread.
Blue Crowned Motmot
Whilst we were sipping tea, coffee (grown on the estate), rum punch or simply chilled boiled water, birds of many varieties flitted from the forest to feed. Aguti (large guinea pig sort of animals) came to pick up crumbs and proceeded to create great amusement by burying their scraps in the soil under the tables. They feverishly dug small holes, popped the scraps in and then just as demented scraped the soil back. They must have dug up the scraps by mistake so many times.
A Boa constrictor was entwined on the branches of the shrubs behind the feeders for three days hoping for one of the many colourful birds to perch just too close.
The main house and veranda
Trails of varying degrees of difficulty, (none were more than easy for a fit walker), lead around the grounds through the forest festooned with bromeliads, orchids, air plants and all sorts of vines including the Monkey vine. It was wonderful being out amongst the echoing bird sounds, the cicadas, butterflies galore, including the Blue Morpho and the Owl Butterfly flopping along the forest paths.
There were strange creakings and clunkings as the breeze caught the trees and giant bamboos.
I spent quite a few hours wandering about spotting the Toucans, Bearded Bell Birds, Golden Manakins, Bearded Manakins at their lek, Trogons and the beautiful Ornate Hawk Eagles by their nest.
Leafcutter Ants carrying petals
Leaf cutter ants made trails to their nests, across the paths.
Crickets, tarantulas and crabs lurked in their burrows during the day.
Tarantula in burrow on side of driveway
The tarantulas especially liked using the open end of the metal tubular handrails for their homes!
Golden Tegu lizards soaked up the hot sun on the paths in the clearings near the main house and the chalets. Other smaller lizards would scurry away into the undergrowth. Mosquitoes, in some parts of the forest, would chomp merrily on any uncovered skin, making a grand game of dot to dot for those who had a wish for evening entertainment!
Oilbird in Dunstans Cave
Guides are on hand to give advise and identify the birds, give tours around the reserve. The most important trip for me was to go to Dunstans Cave on the reserve and see the Oilbirds. Trips are limited so as not to cause too much disturbance to these nocturnal birds who nest on ledges inside the entrance of the cave.
The trail to the cave wound through the forest and the guide pointed out various things to us including the Cocoa trees, land crabs in their burrows, and the Chaconia tree which is the national flower of Trinidad and Tobago.
We stopped at an information board that had good info on the Oilbirds.
The guide was keen that we knew plenty about them before going any further. We then went down some slippery steps to a small river that disappeared into rift in a large rock face that blocked the valley. The rock was not limestone but some sort of igneous or metamorphic rock. The guide led two of us at a time, a little way down the stream into the cave where the red eyes of the birds could be seen due to the torch light. They started looking suspicious, flapping on their nests and moving clumsily around. A couple of the birds decided to voice their opinion by screaming, snarling and chucking, which all in all sounded pretty much like the wailing and mourning that had been described to us. We retreated quickly so as not to disturb them more.
One evening after dinner, a guide took us up the driveway in search of creatures. We found sleeping birds, lizards, land crabs, tarantulas, crickets, flat worms etc.
Some days we had trips out from the centre in a micro bus. Our guide/driver, Rudal, was an expert birder. He knew exactly where to find the birds. If they did not show up immediately he would call them. Sure enough they would appear!
Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis. This was a half day trip.
First we stopped at a sewage treatment works (as everyone does on holiday!)
We saw Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Jacanas, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Striated Heron and Caymans, to name a few.
We drove on to Caroni Swamp to catch the boat. It was a pleasant trip through the Mangroves.
We saw a Boa Constrictor curled up in the branches. There were plenty of Herons of different sorts. Waders were running around on the edges of the swamp. Crabs took up most of the muddy sand flats that were exposed still in the rising tide. One or two Scarlet Ibis stalked around on the mud. We were waiting for dusk when hundreds of Scarlet Ibis would be flying in to roost. We had a very pleasant wait, drinking Rum Punch that had been packed for us. As the light began to fade the Scarlet Ibis started to fly across. They were not roosting any where near us as they are heavily protected and are not to be disturbed, but it was still a very pleasant experience. We floated back through the mangroves at last light.
We had a long drive to the south-east of the island stopping at Manzanilla bay for lunch.
The centre had provided us with a superb lunch. Tuna pasta bake (hot!), salad and a lovely dressing and fruit. We had a lovely paddle and then drove on slowly looking for Red Howler Monkeys and of course birds. Rudal, who had telescopic vision spotted a monkey in the trees in the distance. We could just pick it out in the telescope!
We saw loads of Savanna Hawks perched on the coconut palms. Various birds on the wires - Pearl Kites, Tropical Kingbird, the Great Kiskadee or was it the Boat Billed Flycatcher!
We drove on through to open farmland and swampy areas.
Farm workers house
Saw Red-breasted Blackbird and Bitterns, Azure Gallinule and the Striped Cuckoo.
On the way back, we stopped at the Waller Field Airbase (disused), driving through loads of Black Vultures, covering the tracks and runways.
We were here to see the Red-bellied Macaws come in to roost. We of course had our Rum punch!
This was a drive north from the centre, over the mountains to the north coast. We stopped frequently on the side of the road to bird watch. Rudal called in the Collared Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and there were various birds of prey circling. The scenery was very beautiful. The road wound round the heavily forested mountains right down to the sea.
The waves were large and it was evident that although it was a scorching day we would not be swimming as there was an undertow. We stuck to paddling and looking at the Brown Pelicans diving off shore, whilst Rudal set out the lunch table. Yet again another superb lunch.
I chucked my chicken to a mangy, skinny dog, that was looking extremely sad. When we had finished we drove slowly back along the same road that we had come on.
Our cake stop
We stopped for drinks and cake beside the road, in beautiful scenery, at a small hamlet. We watched the Blue-headed Parrots, the Orange-winged Parrots and the Gray Hawk.
One evening Rudals son, Dave took us to Waller Field Airbase to find Nightjars, Potoos, and Pauraque. Also we were hoping to see the Tropical Screech Owl. After another superb meal, laid out for us on a table in a shed at a Cattle Research station, we drove to the airfield just as it was getting dark. The fireflies were fantastic,- dancing in large groups over the verges. Dave drove around the tracks into the middle of nowhere. We got out and listened. He called the owls. Nothing. We drove on to another part. Out we got again and Dave started calling. The Owls called back. With a large light rigged up to the car battery, he scanned the scrub....Nothing. We drove on, car headlights beaming on the warm tarmac of the runway, picking out absolutely loads of White-tailed Nightjars.
Dave also spotted the Potoos and Pauraque. He could tell the difference by the size of their red-eye from the light. We saw a large toad too. At the end of the evening we had a final scan round for the owls. We walked around an old concrete ruin, looking in the shrubby scrub....Nothing. As we started to drive away, they were spotted.....two Tropical screech Owls, just near to where Dave had been looking.
Tropical Screech Owl
We were thrilled!
Here is a link to and article I wrote for my Caving Club Journal:- The Oilbird Caves of Trinidad
My friend went to Waterloo, on the west coast, whilst I was on the Aripo Cave trip. She loved it - good birds, crabs on the beach, Hindu temples and rice paddies, but as it is down on the plains it was too hot!
List of Birds we saw
|Least Grebe||Brown Pelican||Magnificent Frigatebird||Great Egret|
|Little Egret||Snowy Egret||Little Blue Heron||Tricoloured Heron|
|Striated Heron||Cattle Egret||Black-crowned NightHeron||Least Bittern|
|Pinnated Bittern||Scarlet Ibis||Black Vulture||Turkey Vulture|
|Pearl Kite||Gray-headed Kite||Short-tailed Hawk||Gray Hawk|
|White Hawk||Savanna Hawk||Common Black Hawk||Ornate Hawk-Eagle|
|Long-winged Harrier||Osprey||Yellow-headed Caracara||Limpkin|
|Common Moorhen||Purple Gallinule||Azure Gallinule||Wattled Jacana|
|Southern Lapwing||Common Ringed Plover||Semipalmated Plover||Collared Plover|
|Wilson's Plover||Ruddy turnstone||Lesser Yellowlegs||Greater Yellowlegs|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Willet||Least Sandpiper||White-rumped Sandpiper|
|Pectoral Sandpiper||Semipalmated Sandpiper||Stilt Sandpiper||Whimbrel|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Black-necked Stilt||Laughing Gull||Large-billed Tern|
|Common Tern||Yellow-billed Tern||Black Skimmer||Scaled Pigeon|
|Eared dove||Common Ground-Dove||Ruddy Ground-Dove||Gray-fronted Dove|
|Red-bellied Macaw||Green-rumped Parrotlet||Lilac-tailed Parrotlet||Blue-headed Parrot|
|Orange-winged Parrot||Squirrel Cuckoo||Smooth-billed Ani||Striped Cuckoo|
|Tropical Screech-Owl||Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl||Oilbird||Common Potoo|
|Pauraque||White-tailed Nightjar||White-collared Swift||Band-rumped Swift|
|Fork-tailed Palm-Swift||Green Hermit||White-necked Jacobin||Tufted Coquette|
|Blue-tailed Emerald||White-chested Emerald||Copper-rumped Hummingbird||Long-billed Starthroat|
|White-tailed Trogon||Collared Trogon||Blue-crowned Motmot||Rufous-tailed Jacamar|
|Channel-billed Toucan||Golden-olive Woodpecker||Chestnut Woodpecker||Plain-brown Woodcreeper|
|Cocoa Woodceeper||Yelow-chinned Spinetail||Gray-throated Leaftosser||Black-crested Antshrike|
|Barred Antshrike||White-flanked Antwren||Bearded Bellbird||Golden-headed Manakin|
|White-bearded Manakin||Pied Water-Tyrant||White-headed Marsh-Tyrant||Tropical Kingbird|
|Sulphury Flycatcher||Boat-billed Flycatcher||Great Kiskadee||Tropical Pewee|
|Euler's Flycatcher||Yellow-breasted Flycatcher||Ochre-bellied Flycatcher||White-winged Becard|
|White-winged Swallow||Gray-breasted Martin||Barn Swallow||Rufous-breasted Wren|
|House Wren||Tropical Mockingbird||Cocoa Thrush||Bare-eyed Thrush|
|White-necked Thrush||Golden-fronted Greenlet||Shiny Cowbird||Crested Oropendola|
|Carib Grackle||Yellow-hooded Blackbird||Yellow Oriole||Red-breasted Blackbird|
|Tropical Parula||Yellow Warbler||American Redstart||Golden-crowned Warbler|
|Bananaquit||Purple Honeycreeper||Green Honeycreeper||Violaceous Euphonia|
|Turquoise Tanager||Bay-headed Tanager||Blue-gray Tanager||Palm Tanager|
|Silver-beaked Tanager||White-lined Tanager||Grayish Saltator||Blue-black Grassquit|
Not bad for a week!
Any questions? Email me:- firstname.lastname@example.org