26th June to 4th July 2014 - Tobago

A week after arriving in Trinidad, it was back to the airport to do the short flight across to Tobago.  The flight is only 17 minutes, which was a bit of a novelty.  The second week of the trip was to be spent here, with a view to it being a slightly calmer week with more time for touristy/relaxing things.

We met with our guide for the week, Peter Cox, to have a quick chat about the week and map out a basic plan.  A quick wander around Crown Point and a paddle in the sea, then it was to bed to wake up early the next morning and meet Peter.

The next morning we met the others and headed up into the forest.  We had heard the Trinidad Motmot was easier to see in Tobago, but we were still surprised to see one just sitting at the edge of the road and took the opportunity to get a great look and some photos.  Our first stop was in the small village of Moriah, where we saw a Ruby Topaz and also a nest with a baby Black-throated Mango.  Amazing!  We also had our first encounter with the other kind of Grassquit that lives on Tobago, the Black-faced Grassquit.

Carib Grackle

Rufous-tailed Jacamar
On to Castara, where we stopped at the edge of a river to see our first Green Heron.  As we were watching it, a pair of Red-crowned Woodpecker flew in and landed on a tree nearby, giving us a great view.

Red-crowned Woodpecker
The bulk of the day was spent on the Main Ridge in the rainforest.  Red-legged Honeycreeper are a lot more prolific in Tobago and we were seeing lots of them around.  Within 5 minutes of being in the rainforest we had come across the infmaous White-tailed Sabrewing and we were to have many more encounters with them throughout the week, an especially good one being a pair fighting a mere foot over Stuart's head.  Another Tobago species is the Blue-backed Manakin and we had a few glimpses of these lovely coloured birds.  We also were lucky enough to quickly add the Olivaceous Woodcreeper to our list, a species not present on Trinidad.  Heading out of the rainforest we had two more new species, a Great Black Hawk and a Venezuelan Flycatcher.

White-tailed Sabrewing

Yellow-legged Thrush
That evening Stuart and I did a little birding by ourselves in the Bon Accord area.  We added some species to our list here including Common Gallinule, White-cheeked Pintail, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Tricoloured Heron.  We spotted a couple of birds we didn't know and discovered from the book that they were both Fuscous Flycatcher and Brown-crested Flycatcher.  Stuart was disappointed as he was hoping to turn one of them into the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo, a bird that had been allocated at least half a day to find!  As we drove out of the area, I asked to stop to have a quick look at a bird I had spotted across the grassy area.  Upon looking through the binoculars I realised it had a long stripey tail and was suspiciously cuckoo like.  I yelled at Stuart to come over and look but the bird took off.  Luckily, it flew straight at us, then landed in the tree behind and it was indeed a very sweet Mangrove Cuckoo!  We also first noticed here that the Spectacled Thrush seemed to have larger eye rings than on Trinidad but I can't find any literature about it on the internet.  If anyone has any information, please let me know.

Mangrove Cuckoo

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
The Magdalena Grand was our first stop the next day, the old Hilton Hotel site.  This has many pools and is great for all sorts of herons and supposedly waders, although we didn't see any here!  Plenty of Green and Tricoloured Heron were always here, with the occasional Great White Egret and Little Blue Heron.  We also saw our only Black-crowned Night Heron here, a juvenile unexpectedly sitting on the side of a pool.  Behind the same pool I spotted a few large black birds I didn't think we'd seen before and upon further inspection, these turned out to be Giant Cowbird, a species we'd missed in Trinidad.  Another surprise was a large heron flying in, a Great Blue Heron.

White-cheeked Pintail

Smooth-billed Ani
Further round there were some overgrown pools where the Masked Duck had been seen.  Unfortunately they weren't here when we arrived and didn't show their masked faces at any part of the afternoon.  However, there were baby Cattle Egret chicks and Little Blue Heron chicks, so that made up for it.  We saw a small flock of Least Grebe and incredible views of a Ruby Topaz, with it coming down to 2 foot away.  We followed the call of a White-fringed Antwren for a good half an hour before it decided to give us a fleeting glimpse and then we were off to Buccoo Marsh.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Cattle Egret
Upon arriving at Buccoo Marsh, we promptly got lost and wandered in circles in very sticky mud for quite a while.  Eventually we got onto the right path and had great views of the very same bird we'd stalked for ages earlier, the White-fringed Antwren.  There was also another new bird for us, a Scrub Greenlet.  Although we had seen the Yellow-breasted Flycatcher on Trinidad, there were three in the Marsh playing around and taking absolutely no notice of us and they were an absolute delight to stop and watch.  Tiny little bright yellow things.

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Short-billed Dowitcher
We headed across to the island of Little Tobago on the Sunday, to try and get a few more species that were local to there.  On the boat across we saw Brown Booby and once landed, a Broad-winged Hawk.  On the way up to the viewpoint, we stopped off at an abandoned house and the boatman told us to go up and have a look in one of the rooms.  I did and there was an incredible number of bats roosting in there, which made me very happy!  One flew out just past my face and I nearly hyperventilated from excitement.  I think I may love bats a little too much.  From the viewpoint, we saw the incredible Red-billed Tropicbird almost straight away.  There were also Red-footed Booby, Sooty Tern and Bridled Tern and I watched a Scaly-naped Pigeon fly along the cliff. On the way back to the boat I spotted a bird I didn't recognise and the boatman had no idea what it was and got quite excited.  Once we got back to the mainland, it was IDed from the photos I had taken as a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, not particularly rare as they do come to the islands but it was very early apparently.

Red-billed Tropicbird

White-winged Swallow
A short trip to the Main Ridge again the next day gave us Plain Antvireo and the one we thought we would miss, the small White-throated Spadebill.  We had some more good looks at the Blue-backed Manakin and were lucky enough to see another Olivaceous Woodcreeper.  A quick pop in to Magdalena (as we had been doing every afternoon!) finally proved fruitful as one of the Masked Duck must have known it would be our last visit and was kindly out on one of the pools.

Least Grebe

Masked Duck
We also had a quick drop in at Bon Accord, where we found a Little Egret.

Little Egret
That night we joined Peter on a patrol of Stonehaven Beach to see if there were any turtles coming in to lay eggs.  We had heard that they had only seen one or two over the past few nights, mainly after midnight, so we didn't expect to see anything.  However, within half an hour of starting the patrol, we came across little movements in the sand and then we realised there were loads of them - leatherback hatchlings!  Unfortunately they were nearly all headed towards the street lights and the road, in the opposite direction to the sea.  We quickly started gathering them and taking them back to the sea.  We must have gathered about 60 in the end, with one even being found having made its way right up the embankment, across the road and down into a drainage channel!  It was an incredible experience and something I'd like to go back and help with again.  It was added to about twenty minutes later when we spotted a fully grown pregnant female lumbering up the beach, finding her spot, digging out the nest and then laying eggs.  An amazing night.

Goofiest grin ever
Trinidad and Tobago was an excellent introduction to world birding and with such a high concentration of birds, somewhere I'd definitely recommend.

23rd to 26th June 2014 - Trinidad Part 2

The second part of our stay in Trinidad was spent in the central West area of the country.  The next day we headed back up past Asa Wright to work our way up the Blanchieuesse Road.  The first stop produced a new bird immediately, the Black-tailed Tityra.  He was joined by a colourful cast of Turquoise Tanager and Violaceous Euphonia.  A little further up the road and we encountered our first Zone-tailed Hawk, flying with a Common Black Hawk. Ten Blue-headed Parrot flew over and a few hummingbirds suddenly decided to appear, including White-chested Emerald, Black-throated Mango and Rufous-breasted Hermit

Bird. I'm too sleepy to remember which.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Our next target, Golden-fronted Greenlet, was a little further along the road and although we could hear them, they didn't show for a while then put on a tremendous show in a tree right next to us.  We then sat for a brief lunch, where I saw a Chestnut Woodpecker briefly – the only sighting of the trip.  The place we sat in was surrounded by Cocoa Woodcreeper and Plain-brown Woodcreeper, making a lot of noise.  A Euler’s Flycatcher and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher added to the list with a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring in the distance as we headed home.

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

Yellow-headed Caracara
This stuff is amazing
Nariva Swamp was on the cards for the next day.  It was also getting hotter and hotter so it was a pretty uncomfortable trip in the minibus.  We took a walk through the vines into the swamp and had a look around but it was very quiet.  Whilst our guide went to chat to someone, we waited in the swamp and eventually a pair of Red-rumped Woodpecker arrived.  We watched them for a while then our guide returned to tell us he had negotiated a boat trip on a small boat through the swamp to the island in the middle.  Even though it was blazing sun, this sounded like a great idea so the three of us and the owner of the boat piled in and off we set.  Within seconds we had seen a Green Kingfisher and Ringed Kingfisher, with the previously elusive Striated Heron popping up seemingly every minute!  A Cocoi Heron flew in front of the boat and a Common Black Hawk was perched right beside the water.  We walked around the island to try and find some Macaws, but instead we attracted the attention of the local White-fronted Capuchin and Red Howler Monkey population.  These were the first monkey species I had ever seen in the wild and I was impressed with what a racket the Howlers could make.  The Capuchins have the most adorable faces but I bet they’re incredibly cheeky things. 


Red Howler

We returned to dry land and were kindly given some fresh mangoes by the boatman.  We headed a little further round into the swamp, passing our guide’s nephew who was taking round an American father and son and had just given up on searching for their target bird, the Pinnated Bittern.  Apparently they’d been looking all afternoon but there was no sign so they were headed back to Asa Wright.  We left them heading the other way and rounded a corner, for me to see a long neck sticking out of the ditch.  PINNATED BITTERN!  Roodal frantically called his nephew, who turned around and bombed it back.  We could see them turning the corner and clearly the bird did too, as he took off and flew into the fields!  Luckily they saw him and followed to where they could see him landed.  We carried on further and I saw an odd looking bird, which the other two dismissed as something common.  I made them have a proper look and it turned out to be a Limpkin, a bird I had really wanted to see so I was very pleased with that.  After he posed for a bit then wandered off into a bush, we finished the day with sightings of plenty of Red-bellied Macaw flying and a low soaring Savanna Hawk.

Pinnated Bittern

Pinnated Bittern

Hahahaha Bittern are so silly!
On the final day we had hoped to find the Moriche Oriole and a couple of other species that live in the same area, but the site is on a conference park and the prime minister was kindly visiting that day, meaning the area was on high security alert and we weren’t allowed in.  Nonetheless, we had a lovely day in the surrounding Aripo Savannah.  At Cumuto, whilst it was very quiet, we had great views of a perched Striped Cuckoo and Plumbeous Kite.  In another part of the Savannah, we stopped, got out the car and a pair of very very loud Masked Yellowthroat came to investigate, brilliant little birds.  We finally saw a pair of Boat-billed Flycatcher after we’d spent the whole holiday investigating every Kiskadee we had seen and our final new bird on Trinidad was a tiny Southern Beardless Tyrranulet which (annoyingly, given I hadn’t taken my camera) perched a metre from my face and seemed to be trying to make friends.  I wanted to take him home but apparently that’s not allowed or something. 

Lulu the cat

Striped Cuckoo

Plumbeous Kite

Southern Lapwing

19th to 22nd June 2014 - Trinidad Part 1

At the beginning of the trip I was planning on two blog posts, one on the week in Trinidad and one on the week in Tobago.  It quickly became apparent that this wasn't going to work as we were seeing tonnes of birds and taking just as many pictures!  This first post will be on the 4 days spent at the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad.  It is a glorious place to stay, sitting on the verandah before breakfast each morning watching the hummingbirds drinking nectar and in the evenings, having a beer and recapping the wonderful day we'd just had.

White-necked Jacobin

Crested Oropoendola


Crested Oropendola

Crested Oropendola
After landing in Piarco Airport and navigating the roads up to Asa Wright, we had about 45 minutes of daylight left to do our first bit of birdwatching.  This was my first birding holiday out of Europe and it was an amazing experience to be seeing all these new birds.  I had been worried about identifying remembering he species but was amazed with the speed we were picking up not only the species but also the calls.  I suspect their bright colours may help somewhat!  The first evening we saw a total of 15 species, then had a delightful meal.  The species were all species we would frequently see over the next two weeks (but nonetheless wonderful) so I won't go into detail except a special mention to the amazing Squirrel Cuckoo which quickly became a favourite.

Yellow Oriole

Barred Antshrike

White-shouldered Tanager

Golden-headed Manakin

White-bearded Manakin
The next morning we had our orientation walk, something Asa Wright offer for people staying at the centre.  A guide took us down the main trail, showing us the highlights, including the adorable White-bearded Manakin, the branch sliding Golden-headed Manakin and the impossibly loud Bearded Bellbird.  At the Golden-headed Manakin lek there was also a pair of White-shouldered Tanager which excited the guides as apparently the hadn't been seen for a few weeks.  We passed a White-necked Thrush in a well camouflaged nest about 4 foot up a tree barely a metre from the path.  On returning to the centre, we were lucky enough to see a perched Double-toothed Kite and a Brown Violetear, which would visit the centre a few more times during our stay.  It was also the first time we saw Blue Dacnis, firstly a female that proved a conundrum for the people in the verandah until we scouring the Helm guide we had brought along, then the gorgeous male popped up to confirm the ID.  The centre was also inundated with Honeycreeper, the more common Green and Purple along with a Red-legged seen later in the week.  Today was also the first time I saw a Barred Antshrike - my favourite bird of the trip.  What a darling!

Double-toothed Kite

Black-throated Mango

Purple Honeycreeper

Great Kisskadee

Silver-beaked Tanager

We made a rather last minute trip to go night birding that evening and left slightly earlier to have an hour or so at Aripo Livestock Station first.  Our guide was Dave Ramlal, an excellent and highly recommended guide.  Here we saw our only Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Grassland Yellow Finch, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Wilson's Snipe, Red-breasted Blackbird and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater for the trip all lovely birds.  The night portion of the trip found us a Common Potoo, something I had been worried about missing as well as plenty of Common Pauraque and White-tailed Nightjar.

Brown Violetear

Look at the colour on the throat!

Purple Honeycreeper

Yellow-hooded Blackbird

Tropical Screech Owl

The centre has a great visible (and audible) population of Crested Oropendola, a bird I later found out is classified as a pest!  They have cool hanging nests in the tree across from the verandah and often perch in tall trees by the centre.

Pinnated Bittern

Wilson's Snipe

Awful photo, but Common Potoo!

Gladiator Frog (I think!)

Tufted Coquette

The next morning we got up early to see the elusive Tufted Coquette.  I really need to practice with my camera as I found it impossible to get a photo of the tiny hummingbird but I suggest you google it as it's a super cool looking bird.  We saw our first Channel-billed Toucan from the verandah then it was out for a long day with Dave at Wallerfield, Waterloo and Carli Bay with an evening trip to the infamous Caroni Swamp.

Barred Antshrike <3

Wallerfield was the first brief stop for a species I really was hoping to see.  It wasn't at the nesting site, but we soon saw one perched happily at the top of a tree around the corner, along with plenty of Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture circling in the sky.  The species was a Pearl Kite, a gorgeous tiny raptor.

Pearl Kite

Waterloo is by the sea and there were some waders, plenty of Laughing Gull and Brown Pelican and a Yellow-headed Caracara being mobbed by a Tropical Mockingbird.  The flock of waders included Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper and a lone Ruddy Turnstone.  A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was present and the ridiculously amazing Magnificent Frigatebird were above.  Further down the road there were stunning Saffron Finch which were great to watch.

Snowy Egret

Saffron Finch

Carli Bay is a little along the coast and presented a great place to have lunch, complete with a kitten and puppy.  A Rufous-browed Peppershrike kindly appeared during lunch and after we had a small bug filled walk to spot Bi-coloured Conebill.



Straight-billed Woodcreeper

Black-crested Antshrike

The afternoon and evening were reserved for a boat trip in Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis come in to roost.  It wasn't the prime season but there were still a few hundred coming in over the time we were there and it was a lovely spectacle.  A couple of other amazing birds we saw whilst there were Green-throated Mango, Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-crested Antshrike, Red-capped Cardinal and our second and third Tropical Screech Owl of the trip.

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis
It was another early morning the next day.  This was a big trip, a trip to hopefully see one of the two endemics, the Trinidad Piping Guan.  If we didn't manage to catch up with it today, it was a 3am start the next morning to go to Grand Riviere where they were more frequently seen.  We headed up to Mornebleu with Dave's dad Roodal, it was a great spot.  We had some great close up views of species such as Scaled Pigeon, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Collared Trogan and Squirrel Cuckoo before Roodal spotted a lone Piping Guan just a small distance away from us.  We had an awe-inspiring time watching it before it flew off.  Two minutes later and it appeared again to perch on a tree right next to the path.  I rather felt like it wanted a closer look at us!  It's a massive bird and so incredibly prehistoric looking.  A must see.

Collared Trogan

Trinidad Piping Guan

Trinidad Piping Guan

Speckled Tanager

Great Antshrike
Back to Asa Wright for breakfast and a trip to the Oilbird cave.  This is a world famous Oilbird cave and it's fantastic.  The Oilbird have the creepiest call and are very sweet looking. It was then a last look out from the verandah before heading south to our accommodation for the rest of the week at Ajoupa Pottery.  On the way we popped into Yerette, a hummingbird paradise where we saw two hummingbirds we hadn't caught up with yet, the Ruby Topaz and Long-billed Starthroat as well as getting extremely close views of all the other common species.



Golden-olive Woodpecker

Blue-chinned Sapphire (I think?!)

Purple Honeycreeper

Red-legged Honeycreeper


Ruby Topaz

Ruby Topaz