My wife and I visited Trinidad and Tobago in October 2016. This was partly birding and partly chill out. We stayed initially at the famous Asa Wright Lodge in the Arima Valley for 4 nights, before moving to Anise Resort and Spa Hotel at Sans Souci (3 nights) in the north-east of Trinidad for some relaxation. We then flew over to Tobago for a further 5 nights staying at Blue Waters Inn where we met my brother and sister-in-law and utilising the services of local expert guide Newton George. More on that later.
The whole trip was organised through Motmot travel based in the UK and they were excellent. Friendly, reassuring and very approachable and certainly put my wife’s mind at rest when planning a visit to somewhere new.
ASA WRIGHT Oct. 23rd – Oct. 27th 2016
We were met at Port of Spain airport in Trinidad by Sharon, our driver from Asa Wright who transferred us to our new home for the next few days. The journey is about one to one and a quarter hours and the climb up to Asa Wright is a bit windy. We arrived just before dark but in time for our complimentary rum punch on the veranda, lovely, very civilised and this happens every evening. It was too dark to see any birds.
The accommodation at Asa Wright is clean, comfortable, not luxurious, but better than my wife expected which is a good start. We had no air-con in the room, just a ceiling fan but this was fine for sleeping. Although we were in the rainy season, we had no rain in our time at Asa Wright and it was very hot and sweaty. The staff are all very friendly, the guides very good, they change daily so chances are you will meet several if you are there for a few days. The food is very good, buffet style, home-made and there is something very traditional about it – the bell rings for each of the meals, breakfast, lunch and evening dinner. There is also afternoon tea, when some savoury snacks and cakes are presented on the veranda. Coffee/hot water and cold water is available all the time and there are soft drinks and snacks available at any time on the veranda if you wish to purchase them. There is ample food. It is a very sociable affair. You join other guests and eat together and the atmosphere around the place is very pleasant. It was not very busy when we were there but the numbers on the veranda are boosted by day visitors but they don’t usually arrive until after the best dawn period. We loved our time at Asa Wright. It is very relaxing, relatively easy birding and plenty of things to see. Highly recommended.
Birding at Asa Wright is brilliant. The morning spectacle from the veranda (which doesn’t change much through the day to be fair) is amazing – there are birds everywhere. A whole range of Hummingbird species, Honeycreepers (Green and Purple), occasional Toucans etc. I pick out some of the birds seen from the veranda below:
Zone-tailed Hawk – several seen from the veranda and around the trails
White Hawk – seen once from the veranda and higher up the valley behind the main house from one of the trails
Common Black Hawk – seen on a couple of occasions from the veranda
Double-toothed Kite – one perched distantly further down the valley, seen from the veranda
Black Hawk-Eagle – 2 soaring distantly down the valley with Black Vultures. Only seen on one day
Orange-winged Parrot – common from the veranda. Especially in the mornings, mostly flying over
Lilac-tailed Parrotlet – frustratingly had 3 of what must have been these flying over calling. UTVs!!
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – 1 seen from veranda on one day. Mobbed by all the local birds
Hummingbirds: - Little Hermit, Green Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed Starthroat, Blue-chinned Sapphire (the best!), Copper-rumped Hummingbird, White-chested Emerald and Tufted Coquette (no sign of a male!) – these were all present every day and easy to see. This was the wrong time for Ruby Topaz so we did not see one here. The views and photography opportunities for hummingbirds here are incredible. Very obliging.
Trogons – White-tailed, Violaceous were seen reasonably frequently from the veranda and trails and one Collared was seen briefly in flight from the veranda on one day
Channel-billed Toucan – seen distantly a couple of times from the veranda and one morning a pair obliged by landing much closer allowing good views
Band-tailed and Grey-rumped Swift - frequent
Forest Elaenia – seen on a couple of occasions in the “tremor” trees to the left of the veranda
Bearded Bellbird – male seen calling in bamboo, quite close to the veranda on one morning. The discovery trail is the best bet for these. Fantastic birds and one I really wanted to see
Blackpoll Warbler – one was present throughout our stay again in the Tremor trees from the veranda. Apparently scarce at Asa Wright
Purple Honeycreeper – not difficult to see and stunning!
Turquoise Tanager – was really pleased but saw these on a couple of occasions well from the veranda as well as on some other trails. Much much better bird than I expected them to be. Very smart
Silver-beaked Tanager – seen fairly frequently. Not too many stunning males though, only a few
Yellow Oriole – seen once from the veranda coming into feeders but only briefly
OILBIRDS – we did the Oilbird trip down to Dunstan Cave – it is well worth it. You get good views of the Oilbirds not for a huge amount of time, but the sounds that they make are truly weird. There were probably 15 birds that we could see
Oilbird Trail – I only birded this once but it was good. Notable birds were Silvered Antbird, right near the Oilbird cave entrance, Olive-sided and Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Antshrike and a bathing Bright-rumped Attila
Discovery trail – this is a very productive trail and easy birding. Bay-headed Tanager, White-bearded and Golden-headed Manakins are common and easy to see on this trail and I also saw White-necked Thrush , Black-faced Antthrush on a couple of occasions near the Golden-headed Manakin lek/Jacarunda trail (I also heard/saw them on the entrance road). I also came across male and female White-bellied Antbirds in the same area, on separate occasions. Both afforded good views. Cocoa Woodcreeper I bumped into in several locations
Entrance road – again pretty good early morning birding although can be bereft of birds then suddenly you hit a group – classic Neotropical birding. This track produced Rufous-breasted Hermit, Streaked Flycatcher, White-shouldered Tanager, Tropical Parula, Northern Waterthrush, White-necked Thrush, Golden-crowned Warbler and Golden-fronted Greenlet
The only excursion we did was to Yerette Hummingbird garden and Caroni Swamp. Yerette is about a 90 minute drive and is an amazing garden with huge numbers of hummingbirds present. We had all the species commonly seen at Asa Wright plus Rufous-breasted Hermit, Black-throated and Green-throated Mango, Brown Violet-ear and a fleeting view of a male Ruby Topaz that flashed in the sun the colours of the head/throat and tail, before departing. Excellent. We also got brilliant close views of a male Tufted Coquette here – superb. A most wanted bird. Heard but did not see Trinidad Euphonia here too. Asa Wright had packed up a lunch for us and it was huge, hot and tasty – we thought we would get a sandwich. Not a bit of it. Chicken, rice, sweet and sour sauce, veg, salad….you name it we had it. Lovely. This is a wonderful relaxing garden that is also very suitable for non-birders, the sheer number of hummers is amazing. I felt a bit guilty but rather than stay and listen to the talk I asked if our driver could take me round the swamp/rice fields near Caroni ahead of our boat trip through the mangroves. He agreed and we made our apologies and left without having the whole show….but I wanted to see birds, not see other peoples pictures of them!
The water treatment works near the rice fields at Caroni produced 2 Pied Water Tyrant, American Golden Plover, Southern Lapwing but no Yellow-hooded Blackbirds and the ricefields themselves produced Osprey, Long-winged Harrier, Yellow-hooded Blackbirds (tricky to see in the long vegetation) and Common Waxbill. We then headed to the Mangrove to get ready for our trip out into the swamp for the Scarlet Ibis spectacle. We arrived early so our driver took us down the track to the information centre. On the way we saw White-winged Swallow, Saffron Finch, some stunning Scarlet Ibis, feeding in the Mangrove at close range and a real wanted bird, male and female Black-crested Antshrike. The trip out on the boat in the mangroves started with a look around some of the side channels – I told the guide I was a birder and they look harder for birds for you. We saw Common Waxbill, Solitary and Common Sandpiper, several Scarlet Ibis, flying overhead and feeding in the mangroves, Tricoloured, Little Blue and Yellow-crowned Night Heron. A smart Straight-billed Woodcreeper and brief views of Masked (Red-capped) Cardinal. The guide also picked out a couple of Cooks Tree Boa and a rather splendid tiny Silky Anteater all curled up asleep in a ball – hardly bigger than a tennis ball. The actual event of the Ibis coming into roost is spectacular and there are hundreds along with Egrets and large numbers of Tricoloured Heron. It is definitely a worthwhile event.
Night walks – Back at Asa Wright most nights they do a night walk, down the main entrance road so easy going. These are fun and did produce some interesting sightings – Scorpions, Whip Scorpion, Firefly, Oppossum, Cooks Tree Boa and one other unidentified small snake. What we wanted to see though was Trinidad Chevroned Tarantula and we were not disappointed. On the first walk we saw a small one but on the second occasion we mentioned we wanted to see a big one and they took us down to the Clear pool – one sits on the building there – some 5 inches across and a larger one lives in the end of the handrail and can be coaxed out with a bit of grass being flicked across the end of the handrail. We also saw a foraging Oilbird down here. If you have a decent spotlight, take it. I found the snakes and Opossum with my torch which is excellent, a Led Lenser M7R. It is small, rechargeable and has a very powerful focused beam. Excellent for looking for nocturnal species.
Anise Spa Resort and Hotel – Oct. 27th – Oct. 30th 2016
This place is amazing. It is about two and a quarter hours from Asa Wright being in the far north-east of Trinidad. The welcome was amazing, nice and friendly, a cold towel and fruit punch. Turns out we were the only guests for that night. This place gets excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and it deserves them. This was a chill out part of the holiday….with some birding fitted in…obviously. It is relatively small (11 rooms), all very smart, different and very clean and comfortable. It has a lovely infinity swimming pool and you can get spa treatments if you book 24 hours ahead (my wife had a pedicure which she said was amazing). The staff are fantastic, cannot praise Donna and Margaret enough – they are excellent and the food is like fine dining. It fulfilled all of the wishes we had in being a relaxing chill out place. During our 3 nights here I did some birding from the pool terrace just looking up at the forested hills with bins and scope. It produced some nice birds over the few days. Grey-lined Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Pale-vented Pigeon, Yellow Oriole, Little Hermit, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Grey Kingbird, Short-tailed Swift. Over the sea Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans were common.
I cracked and did add an additional trip to see Trinidad Piping Guan. I asked at the hotel and they organised for Neville who works there to take me to Grand Riviere about 20 mins away to meet local guide Nicholas. I should have asked the price because it was expensive T&T$975 for a mornings birding but the birding was good. We saw several Trinidad Piping Guan, White Hawk, Grey-lined Hawk, Grey-headed Kite (2), Scaled Pigeon (unfortunately only in flight), Lineated Woodpecker, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Golden-fronted Greenlet. Tried to find some Lilac-tailed Parrotlets at the Turtle Information centre in Grand Rivier – they apparently are frequent in the tall trees there, although at no specific time of day. Worth a look though. The information centre has some tiny Leatherback Turtles and some Hawksbill Turtles. They allow them to grow a bit before releasing them.
Tobago, Blue Waters Inn Oct. 30th – Nov 4th 2016
On 30th October we transferred to Blue Waters Inn at Speyside in north-east Tobago where met my wife’s sister and her husband for our final 5 nights. It was great to see them. Blue Waters is literally right on the beach and is geared up for divers. The waters are full of Brain Corals, and we saw some sharks distantly a Hawksbill Turtle and some divers saw Lionfish and Eagle Rays.
The accommodation is roomy, air conditioned and clean. The food is excellent. We were on a meal plan which meant we got breakfast – all you can eat buffet and a cooked option and dinner – 3 course and very good food. The only thing that lets Blue Waters down is the attitude of the staff – they are a little terse, not entirely convincing that they are there to help and look after you. This was a minor issue and we had heard this before going so be prepared.
Looking out towards Little Tobago, Frigatebirds and Pelicans are common as are distant Brown Boobies and Red-billed Tropicbirds. Rufous-vented Chachalacas sit outside your room and wake you in the morning. Behind the hotel is a track that you can walk, just outside the entrance gates and over our stay this produced: Peregrine (3 birds present), Blue-crowned Motmot (seen on Trinidad but commoner here on Tobago), White-fringed Antwren, Fuscous Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Black-faced Grassquit, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Scrub Greenlet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and numerous Barred Antshrike. We had organised through Motmot travel 3 trips – Little Tobago, a round island birding trip with Newton George and the main forest ridge/Gilpin Trace also with Newton. All of these trips are pretty easy going but the round island trip produced a lot of birds but not many really significant ones and was pretty hot but you do get to see the whole of Tobago – well the outside of it.
Little Tobago – a short boat ride from Blue Waters produced excellent views of Brown Booby, more distant views of Red-footed Booby, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Belted Kingfisher and unbelievable views of Red-billed Tropicbird, on the nest and flying around the island at close range. A tip – take the afternoon trip as large numbers of Tropicbird gather around the island in the afternoon – so there would have been much more of a spectacle than our morning trip. Nevertheless it is an amazing trip. We also saw a Trap-door spiders nest/trap …but no spider and some large land Hermit crabs. We did some snorkelling on the way back too. Tropicbird is one of the reasons for going and they did not disappoint. We did not see White-tailed Nightjar which are often found on the path/roosting alongside it.
Round island trip with Newton George – Newton really knows his stuff and the island and this trip produced a lot of birds as you visit different wetland and woodland habitats. Notable sightings included loads of Herons and Egrets including Great Blue, Least Grebe, American Purple Gallinule, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral, White-rumped, Western and Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Solitary Sandpiper, Royal Tern and Laughing Gull. Mangrove Cuckoo showed very well and we got excellent views of Common Potoo in the mangroves near Tobago Plantation not far from the airport on Tobago where we also saw some Spectacled Caiman. We also saw Giant Cowbird as we returned on the Caribbean side of the island. Lunch on this trip was at Pigeon Point which is the classic Caribbean beach that everyone will have in their mind – azure blue seas, white sand and palm trees. We did not find any Masked Duck and Newton commented that the pools need clearing out a bit as too overgrown. The only new bird I got on this trip was the Dowitcher so if you have travelled in Latin America and are not too worried about the trip list, this trip may not be necessary.
Main ridge/Gilpin Trace – this trip, again with Newton George was excellent and produced some good birds. Great Black Hawk, White-tailed Sabrewing – we saw them in the forest but got point blank views in Newton’s garden at the end of the day, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Olivaecous Woodcreeper, Collared Trogon, Stripe-breasted Spinetail (really tricky to see on the forest floor), Blue-backed Manakin (wow!), Rufous-breasted Wren (excellent views), Yellow-legged Thrush and Red-legged Honeycreeper – the only ones of the trip. We also saw a Horseshoe type bat and a Tent Bat in the forest.
White-tailed Nightjar was still missing for me and on the day around the island I mentioned this to Newton and he said he would be able to sort that. The same evening as our forest trip Newton picked me and Paul, my brother-in-law up and drove us just a couple of miles away from Blue Waters – it was amazing – we saw about 15 White-tailed Nightjar, sitting on the road, flying around in our torch beams etc – it was amazing. Occasionally Newton also bumps into Striped Owl when doing this evening trip. We weren’t that lucky but it was amazing. Really impressive. Newton charged T&T$100 each for this additional unplanned evening trip. Newton loved my torch so much, the next day, he came round to the hotel and bought it off me. I have just received my new one, having ordered it immediately that Newton had left with mine!
So that was that. Excellent trip. Easy birding. My wife really enjoyed Asa Wright and especially Anise and Blue Water was a good combination of birding and chill out – the sea here is lovely and warm and very refreshing against the real heat. We only got rain on the mornings at Anise for an hour or so but it was a fair downpour so we were lucky there.