Trinidad Feb 23—Mar 01, 2009

Posted by Bob Sundstrom

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Bob Sundstrom

Bob Sundstrom has led VENT tours since 1989 to many destinations throughout North America, as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Turkey, Iceland,...

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A tropical winter week on Trinidad, just off the coast of South America, is an ideal entree to tropical birding in the Americas. Our tour allows for five full days of exploring and birding on Trinidad which, for an island its size, has a high diversity of bird life. All six nights lodging and meals are at the famed Asa Wright Nature Centre. A few daily highlights from our February 2009 trip help capture the magic of this tour:

February 24: Our group assembled on the legendary AWNC veranda in early morning. In those early moments, a Short-tailed Nighthawk coursed back and forth at close range. After sunrise a diversity of birds began to visit the feeders. Among the earliest were a pair of Blue-crowned Motmots, then both Cocoa and Bare-eyed thrushes. Red-rumped agoutis walked in to sample bread crumbs on the ground. The earliest morning hummingbirds included a Rufous-breasted Hermit, then a Black-throated Mango, plus a White-chested Emerald and a Copper-rumped Hummingbird. Soon someone announced a fancy male Tufted Coquette, which drew all onlookers to one end of the veranda. An elegant male White-necked Jacobin hovered, then perched, at a feeder within arm's-length of birders sipping their coffee. Fresh fruit on the feeding stands attracted wing-flashing White-lined Tanagers, noisy Great Kiskadees, Gray-fronted Doves, and a male Silver-beaked Tanager with feathers the texture of velvet. Soon numbers of boldly-colored Purple Honeycreepers and Green Honeycreepers jostled with Bananaquits for space on the nectar feeders and fruit platforms, and all gave way when large Crested Oropendolas approached the banquet. Parrots, swifts, and a pair of White Hawks flew farther out. 

After breakfast, we walked the Centre entrance road, scoping a pair of Red-rumped Woodpeckers and both Bay-headed and Turquoise tanagers. A bit farther along the road we found a massive boa constrictor, soon the very slow moving object of all cameras in the group. Later that day, we walked a forest trail to find the Bearded Bellbirds we had heard from the veranda. One male bellbird perched in the open about 30 feet up in the canopy, calling with ear-splitting volume and showing off its long, rubbery black wattles. The walk revealed some other fine birds—a handsome Chestnut Woodpecker, a Collared Trogon, and darting, whirring White-bearded Manakins.
 
February 25: We left the Centre by van to search for birds at higher elevation. A pair of White-tailed Trogons were seen excavating a nest in a huge termite nest. A Speckled Tanager—a higher elevation specialty whose colors seem to shift from green to blue to gold—posed long enough for all to view it in the scope. At our picnic lunch spot, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle soared close overhead. Throughout the day, immense Blue Morpho butterflies winged along the roadside. The last stop of the afternoon was a marvel: As we scoped Yellow-rumped Caciques at a nest colony, and then turned the scope on a pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars and a quartet of Blue-headed Parrots, toucans began calling. Before long, a Channel-billed Toucan flew to a nearby treetop and sat in plain view where we scoped its rich yellow, red, and blue tones, and its immense black bill.
 
February 27: In the lowlands, White-headed Marsh-Tyrants, Pied Water-Tyrants, and Grassland Yellow-Finches perched near the road. Wattled Jacanas flashed their yellow wings, a Yellow-hooded Blackbird male perched close at hand, and male Red-breasted Blackbirds showed crimson breasts and epaulets. A huge Cocoi Heron shared an open pasture with stately Southern Lapwings, as lovely Savannah Hawks flew by. Late that afternoon, we stopped in a grove of Moriche palms. As the sun dropped toward the horizon, flocks of Red-bellied Macaws screeched into the palm trees where we viewed them at close range, before they disappeared into their night roost in the palms.

February 28: The last full day of the tour. After breakfast, we walked down to the Oilbird cave on the AWNC grounds. A few steps into the cave were all that was needed to get splendid views of the unique Oilbirds, as dozens of adults perched on nests, some shrieking wildly. We also stopped at a display site for Golden-headed Manakins, where a couple of male birds "danced" in fancy slides along slender branches.

The tour finale came aboard our boat tour of the Caroni estuary mangroves. Leaving the dock late afternoon, we paused for a perched Green-throated Mango, a Red-capped Cardinal, Green and American Pygmy kingfishers, several Cook's tree boas, a cinnamon-furred silky anteater, and a Common Potoo. Well before sunset we had tied up to the mangrove edge where, rum punch in hand, we watched flock after flock of Scarlet Ibises wing across the estuary to perch on a small mangrove island. As the sun dropped lower, the crimson of the ibis flocks grew richer and deeper. The ibises were joined by hundreds of Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets. The Scarlet Ibis flocks grew in size as the sun dipped, some numbering in the hundreds, and the night-roost islet was soon heavily flecked with the reds, whites, and blues of thousands of wading birds. A colorful finish to a wonderful tropical tour.