Trinidad and Tobago, the perfect combination of Caribbean and South American birding! Tobago probably separated from Trinidad and the mainland about 12,000 years ago, due to sea level rise after the last ice age. However recent studies suggest the possibility that Trinidad separated from the South American Mainland as recently as 1,500 years ago. Combine this with islands that host extensive wetlands, rainforest covered mountain ranges, savannahs, mudflats, dams, and the best; sewage ponds! It all adds up to fantastic birding.
Scarlet Ibis Eudocimus ruber © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
At last count Trinidad and Tobago had 468 bird species recorded. Recent additions include Black-tailed Godwit, Kelp Gull, Slaty Elaenia, Western Reef-heron and birds like Cerulean Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. The list is probably pushing up towards 500. Put all this in a country that speaks English (though at times you may not think so); has a low crime rate, and a people with a vibrant culture, which invented the Steelpan. Here birding is as far as your balcony, or as close as your nose as a hummer zooms past chasing an intrepid interloper while nearly going off with a piece of your nose.
Some highlights include male Oropendolas sticking their heads between their legs, rattling their wings and beaks, while giving a most peculiar song to impress the girls, and they do impress them. The females will build meter long nests (some can reach nearly 3 meters) for the most impressive male who may have a harem of up to 20 females!
Purple Honeycreeper Cyanerpes caeruleus © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Then there are Pepershrikes that are often heard but rarely seen, or Woodcreepers and Antbirds following trails of Army Ants. Manakins buzzing about, clearing their own dance spot in the forest floor, or sliding along a thin branch (they invented the moonwalk, not Michael Jackson); again all to impress the ladies. To top it off there are the showy birds like Scarlet Ibis, Red-Breasted Blackbirds, Turquoise Tanagers, Ruby Topaz, White-necked Jacobins, and Red-legged Honeycreepers.
Then there are the strange birds like the Bearded Bell Bird that can be heard miles away with its toll like call, or the Antshrikes ending their call with a sound like a windup siren that suddenly lost power. Though the ultimate in the strange category are the Devilbirds or Oilbirds that live like bats in caves going out at night to feed on fruit using echolocation to navigate through the dark forests.
Piping Guan Pipile pipile © Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Tips: Along with a Richard ffrench I would also carry a good guide to North American birds, and if you have space and money also the Guide To Venezuelan Birds is recommended. Bill Murphy’s Guide to Birding in Trinidad and Tobago also has lots of invaluable information. Before coming, check out the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club’s website and while there go to the Rare Bird Committee page and find the Bird Alert, it will give the current sightings.
Crime in Trinidad is mainly centred around the drug trade and cities. Hence, outside of this crime is relatively low, however, prevention is always the best way to go. Always be courteous and kind to people you meet they will respond in kind, making you much more of a friend rather than a target. Never flash fancy things around, yes you do have binoculars, scopes etc, but don’t flash money or show off your equipment. Ask locals which areas are safe and which are not.
Throughout the year there is great birding, in the Northern Winter there are the migrants from North America, in the Austral Winter there are the South American migrants. The best weather is found from January to May as this is the Dry Season, and the Wet Season is June to December. A large portion of the wet season is the hurricane season, which does blow in a few rare birds. Don’t worry Trinidad is below the main track of hurricanes, so usually it just gets the benefits of the birding.
For the best birding sites see the individual destination pages for the two islands.
Major Source: © Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™
Photo Source: © Naturalist Journeys