Trinidad & Tobago

March 26th - April 9th 2006

See photo page here

Blow-by-blow birding account

March 26th

With BST kicking in, it was a pretty early start from home, but we got to Heathrow in good time - only to find our flight was delayed! The promised one hour turned into two, but at least the flight went direct to Trinidad first, without going via St Lucia, so we arrived in Port of Spain at about 1700 local time. As we flew in over Caroni Swamp, Simon speculatively stared down and commented there might be some Scarlet Ibises flying in - and there were! Five unmistakable, if very distant carmine red blobs over the mangroves. A hell of a start…..

With bags collected & money changed, we got picked up by Jerry, our Asa Wright Centre driver, and headed for the hills. Within 50 minutes, we were there, settled into our clean, quite Spartan room, and shortly had a good feed at dinner. Afterwards, we joined an alarmingly loud group of Americans on a night walk back up the entrance track - rather good, actually! Three roosting Great Antshrikes, a roosting Blue-crowned Motmot, two tarantulas, various moths and other creepy thinks, two excellent Mountain Crabs (!) and best of all, a nice yellow Tree Boa.

As I write this, we are both knackered - it's horrible arriving somewhere in the dark and not being sure what's going on! But all will no doubt become clear in the morning.

March 27th

An awful night's sleep - overtired, and body clock broken - and exotic bird songs in the pre-dawn light dragging us up and onto the verandah, where we were quickly enjoying vast numbers of spectacular birds - various hummers (including White-necked Jacobin and Tufted Coquette), three species of Honeycreeper, several Tanagers, including Bay-headed and Turquoise, Oropendolas, Channel-billed Toucans and much more, such as Agoutis! The Asa Wright verandah was all it was promised to be - including the noisiness of the rather dude crowds of Americans! But it was bearable.

After an excellent breakfast, we joined five or six others, including one of Trinidad's top birders, Courtenay Rooks (?), who was guiding an English bloke - who turned out to be Simon Papps from Birdwatch magazine! We all trooped off into the forest on our complimentary Oilbird tour - and we were not disappointed. Well down into a deeply eroded ravine, we came across, Dunstan Cave, really more of a defile than a cave, and sure enough, we managed to get good views of perhaps a dozen of these utterly weird, rufoud brown nightjar/owl/parrots. Truly bizarre, with some weird calling into the bargain! Also down here we saw a Green Hermit and a poison dart frog, plus White Hawk overhead, Golden-headed (?) Manakin, Red-crowned Ant-tanager, White-flanked Antwren and a few other forest birds. Back near the Centre, we turned downhill, checking out a few spots for later, and picking up White-necked (?) Thrush on the way..

Back for a regroup and lunch (large once more - and a totally fluked encounter with Pete Coe from Portland!), and then after a short rest, we had a good talk with Courtenay about strategy, and booked our trips for the rest of the week, starting with Blanchisseuse Road tomorrow. Then once more into the field! We went back down the Discovery Trail, and quickly had great views of lekking White-bearded Manakins, all wing-snapping and fizzing flight, plus a really good grilling of a madly 'bonking' Bearded Bellbird. Simon was having some success with this new digiscoping lark, and enjoying and getting frustrated by it in equal measure!

We headed further on downhill, via an excellent migrant American Redstart, then turned left onto the Chaconia Trail, and back up to the Centre. We weren't seeing very many birds, but it was a poor time of day, and the main joy was working our very own Neotropical forest for the first time on our own. We truly are still very ignorant - but there's only one way to learn. We did catch up with Yellow Oriole, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Grayish Saltator and various other birds. Now pretty knackered, we took tea on the verandah, and gave it a last half hour along the entrance road - well worth it, with Common Black Hawk, Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Northern Waterthrush being the highlights - plus another Tree Boa, this one rather ominously in the bamboo over the Centre's outdoor swimming/plunge pool!

Now really knackered, we had our rum punch, stuffed our faces once again, finalised arrangements for the morning, and almost fell into our beds at not much after 2030. So much for a relaxing holiday!

March 28th

Up at dawn (no surprise there), and after a quick coffee on the verandah, out into the field. We wandered down the Discovery Trail once more, and again looped left across the Chaconia Trail, as we had done yesterday evening. But this time, among the (invisible) calling Little Tinamous, we also heard a vaguely familiar whistled call, and sure enough, a bit of patience turned up a superb Black-faced Antthrush, one of our big targets for the trip. Also new this morning was Rufous-breasted Wren, Orange-winged Parrot and a perched Double-toothed Kite. Pretty satisfied, we wolfed a huge breakfast, and got ready for our full day out on Blanchisseuse Road, with Ramdass and four other guests (Malcolm and Frances from Bath, and the amusingly named Bruce and Lee from the States - though Lee seemed to have no interest in birds at all, and certainly had no bins! Weird….).

We quickly started seeing good birds - particular highlights for us over the whole day (of stops, little walks, standings about and lazy chats) were Slaty-capped, Piratic and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Swallow Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Long-billed Gnatwren, Band-rumped, Grey-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts, Chivi Vireo, Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-breasted Hermit, several Rufous-tailed Jacamars, two Smerican Redstarts (one a nice male) and a Northern Waterthrush, and perhaps best of all, a singing and rather showy Striped Cuckoo. Sadly, we managed to dip Trinidad Euphonia and saw rather few raptors.

It did get pretty hot at times, but it was a good, varied day out, without the sense of being overwhelmed which we've sometimes experienced in South America before!

Back at base, we walked the last mile or so down the entrance track, picking up nice views of a pair of Great Antshrikes, a couple of Motmots, and several hummers au naturel. But we were pretty shattered for all this, and chilled out with a couple of rum punches on the porch, doing the log!

Guess what happened next? Yup - huge meal time again!

March 29th

Another early morning walk, this time up and down the entrance road, turned up another calling Black-faced Antthrush (we even photographed it!), eight Trogons of two species, plus new birds in the shape of Streaked and Yellow-olive Flycatchers. Plenty of bird activity! Over breakfast, we got gripped off in advance at the prospect of a trip to Nariva Swamp, and cracked - so much for our quiet day around the Centre tomorrow!

So at 0830, we met our driver Charan (Ramdass's brother) piled into the car (with four other British people in a maxi-taxi driven by Ramdass ahead of us), and made our way slowly down the hill, with various stops for Gray and White Hawks, Band-rumped Swift and a few other bits and pieces. The first proper stop was at the Aripo livestock station, where we scored several open country birds - Grassland Yellow-finch (not even on the Trinidad checklist, having recently colonised from Venezuela), Red-breasted Blackbird, Savannah Hawk and Southern Lapwing, plus some extras such as Least Sandpiper at point-blank range, Spotted Sandpiper, a distant Cocoi Heron, Carib Grackle, Pied Water-tyrant and White-headed Marsh-tyrant.

Onwards via stops for Plumbeous and Pearl Kites, and a bit of a snarl up at a small house fire in ?????Grande, and we reached the coast at Manzanilla by about 1230. We had lunch by the sea under the coconut palms, accompanied by Magnificent Frigatebirds overhead, Portuguese Men O'War stranded on the beach, and a 'Palm Mouse' which fell out of one of the trees! He was fine….. Another Pearl Kite flew through, harried by Grey-breasted Martins.

We drove onwards into a the Nariva Swamp area - it was a bit disappointing, to be honest, with very few accessible wet areas, and certainly no extensive wetlands as such. But in amongst the mangroves, we did manage to find the two specialist passerines - Black-crested Antshrike and Silvered Antbird (plus Anhinga and Northern Waterthrush), and a bit further on, in an open area of damp fields, we saw more Red-breasted Balckbirds, Wattled Jacanas and so on, plus Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-chinned & Pale-breasted Spinetails. A few Yellow-headed Caracaras also turned up. We decided to stay a bit longer at the swamp area, as the others were driving back through the good evening light to be back at Waller Field for dusk - but we are doing that trip tomorrow evening! So we stuck with another Asa Wright group who had a pretty genned up guide (David), and shortly found Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Masked Yellowthroat, White-tailed Goldenthroat and best of all a Pinnated Bittern, first in flight, then sat down in the grass, all upright and, well, Bittern-like!

We managed to dip Azure Gallinule, sadly, but did see a Red-bellied Macaw coming in to roost, along with a couple of Yellow-crowned Parrots. After sundowners by the sea, we headed back towards the hills. Charan was good company - he's a smallholder among other things, and was very knowledgeable about Trinidadian fruit and veg! Very tired but pretty satisfied, we had a quick shower, and just about made it into dinner in time for yet more face-stuffing. Groans before bedtime. Tomorrow we will stick around Asa Wright, and we will eat less!

March 30th

We took an early breakfast (0600) today, and then went off on our own onto the Asa Wright trails - first via the Bellbird Trail, where we very luckily found a Grey-throated Leaftosser nest in the bank right by the path. The bird flushed out, but quickly returned, giving decent views on the trail. A good start! We shortly found our third and fourth Black-faced Antthrushes in just three mornings, had a good look at a Golden-headed Manakin lek, and saw a decent if light variety of forest birds, including two new ones - Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Stripe-breasted Spinetail. We took a good 3½ hours to complete the whole Adventure Trail loop, taking our time, and via some steep sections!

Ambling back down the entrance road, we heard hot news of a roosting Common Potoo, and raced straight back to the spot just five minutes down the hill - sure enough, there it was, resembling a big fat stick! We were sadly less lucky with a recently sighted Porcupine, but we were pretty happy with our morning's haul.

After lunch, we had a swim in the pool by the waterfall (deeply refreshing!), and enjoyed our tea while watching the commoner birds from the verandah. Bizarrely, a male Golden-headed Manakin got stuck in the porch area, and I had to rescue it from marauding Palm Tanagers! A tiny bird in the hand, and released none the worse for his ordeal!

At 1630, we met up with Rudy, our driver for this evening's trip to Waller Field - we had a maxi-taxi to ourselves, and although two other full buses also made the trip, we managed to keep ourselves separate and at a certain distance! En route, we picked up a Merlin and flyover Lilac-winged (????) Parrotlet, and at the Field, the raptor count went up by another two with Peregrine and Osprey. But more important here were a series of very localised Trinidad birds - Ruby-topaz Hummingbird (a crippling male), a small roost of Red-bellied Macaws, Sulphury Flycatcher and best of all, a stunning Moriche Oriole, just before sunset.

We enjoyed a filling hot meal in the field (complete with rum punch), and settled down to enjoy some night birding. With fireflies buzzing about, our first target was Tropical Screech-owl, and we quickly got one responding to the tape. Within a few seconds, we managed to get a good look in the torch beam, and even to snatch a photograph. Pretty happy with that, we pressed on and drove about on the runways, finding many Pauraques and several White-tailed Nightjars, plus some very fed up Southern Lapwings! We didn't manage to find the Barn Owl at the abandoned control tower before we had to depart, alas, but it had been a very productive evening's trip.

We arrived home hardly late, but shattered! 2200 bedtime still not early enough….

March 31st

Simon had some trouble getting up this morning - such a late night last night! But we were on the verandah doing caffeine by shortly after 0600 in any event, and enjoying the truly spectacular morning fruit run on the feeders - it really is easy to get blasé about it after a few days, but it is truly amazing. A Streaked Xenops was new, as was a distant but convincing Ornate Hawk-eagle, and we saw no fewer than three Bearded Bellbirds from the verandah (unusually), including our first females.

Post breakfast, we headed off on our now favourite route, again via brief views of the Grey-throated Leaftosser, and on down to the Bellbird area, via crippling White-bearded Manakins. Here we found a controversial flycatcher - Julia's money was (retrospectively with the book) on White-throated Spadebill, but Simon was unconvinced. [However, later events on Tobago confirmed Julia's ID - it was a Spadebill!)

We got back in good time for elevenses, sat around photographing hummers and various other outrageous species near the house, and enjoyed another good lunch. With an afternoon snooze scheduled and duly taken, we were again out in the field at 1500ish, and scored once more with White-necked Thrush, a brilliant trio of Collared Trogons right by the house, and various other typical species. We are now approaching saturation point with the local birds, but that was part of the point of visitng T&T - now familiar Neotropical families, not too much stress, and a fair chance of really consolidating our knowledge.

After tea (yup, more food and drink), we wandered off along the Motmot Trail and up the entrance road, via Blue-crowned Motmot (appropriately), a male American Redstart and a smart nesting Yellow Oriole, attended by a Piratic Flycatcher. We finished up this, our laziest day, with a beautifully quiet sundown drink on the verandah (all noisy US guests out on an evening trip!), a superb curry, and a quiet night walk with Mukesh down the Discovery and Motmot Trails. We heard both Ferruginous Pygmy and Spectacled Owls, but sadly couldn't lure either of them into view. Nevertheless, it was an atmospheric little trundle, full of insects, bats, and even a roosting Grey-fronted Dove!

April 1st

Just an hour on the verandah this morning, but again productive - two Ornate Hawk-eagles distantly over the hills, a Crimson-crested Woodpecker, two Scaled Pigeons and (at last) a Black-tailed Tityra. We had our breakfast early (0700), and then hooked up with Ramdass one more time, for some high altitude morning birding on Blachisseuse Road. The first goodie was a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk. But we started properly at Andrew's Trace, which wasn't as good as we'd hoped - it looked like there'd been some forest clearance in the area. But we did find one new bird here - a pair of White-bellied Antbirds, calling loudly and eventually showing well on the forest floor.

Further up, we tried the Las Lapas Trace, which was better - several trogons here, plus Dusky- and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, Chestnut and Golden-olive Woodpeckers and numerous thrushes and commoner forest birds. Still further on, we found a good fruiting tree, which attracted a procession of birds - Squirrel Cuckoo, Speckled Tanager, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Euler's Flycatcher and Plain Ant-vireo, among others, plus a bonus low-flying Ornate Hawk-eagle.

We tried in vain for Trinidad Euphonia towards Brasso Seco, but we had had an all round good morning, and it was great to be back in time for another swim before lunch!

Post snoozes and showers, we ambled about on the trails a bit more, seeing much the same as on previous walks - we really are almost at saturation here! But it's great to feel so familiar with a place and its birds, to sense you've really done it justice. And we did see a Bellbird in a beautiful shaft of sunlight…. Back on the verandah, this afternoon's buffet menu included Double-toothed Kite, another Black-tailed Tityra, and perhaps best of all, a singing Rufous-browed Peppershrike right in the open, immediately in front of the verandah. A short wander in the (vain) hope of an owl was instead rewarded by two medium-sized mystery 'raptors' overhead in the half-darkness. Much head-scratching ensued, until the penny finally dropped - they were Oilbirds, heading off for a night's fruit-gathering!

April 2nd

Today was mostly a transit day, but we started off with a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours saying goodbye to the Asa Wright Centre - the highlights were a final glimpse of the nesting Leaftosser and a brief Black-tailed Tityra, but the main point was yet more exceptional views of lots of fantastic birds. It truly has been a remarkable week - 65 species from the verandah alone, and over 160 in total so far.

At 1030, we reluctantly loaded up, and were driven by Charan for the hour and a bit west to Pax Guest House, just north of ??????. It is a lot busier and less remote over here, but nevertheless, we have a stunning wooded hillside right behind the hotel, and lots of birds about, on first glance! Short-tailed Hawk, Yellow Oriole and numerous low swifts were the early highlights.

We (rather boldly) did the entire ridge trail this afternoon - it was a bit of a scramble in places, and there were several fallen trees and thick snags. And with the light failing, we got a bit worried past 1700 and still not at the highest point! But it was OK in the end, and the descent was quick, if very, very steep through pine plantations. Low down, right by the road, we had a party of mystery finches - the male jet black and yellow, with a white wing flash. What was it? Later investigation suggested Dark-backed Goldfinch - but that's not on the T&T list! A chat with Gerard (the Pax manager) revealed he too had seen them in recent weeks, and he'd come to the same conclusion! A self-found first for the country - wow! Luckily, I took some photographs….

Dinner was a delight - candlelit on the back verandah, even with music, and interesting company in the form of an émigré Northern Irish couple from Georgia, and a USGS seismologist and his wife from Colorado - he's over here to address a tsunami warning conference!

April 3rd

Today was going to be a long day in the field - so we got up at 0545 anyway and went birding along the foot of the steep ridge. Pretty good stuff to be seen, the best of which were our first Trinidad Euphonias, plus Long-billed Gnatwren, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and Tropical Parula.

Post breakfast, we hooked up with our driver, Pascal, who loves his (AC) car and all things material! Good driver, and nice and discreet when needed. Our first stop was the Trincity sewage ponds (yup, you have to visit the sewage farm wherever you are in the world!), and the birding was excellent. Highlights were Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, American Purple Gallinule, Least Grebe, Little Blue and Striated Herons, Snowy Egret, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Pale-breasted Spinetail, White-winged Swallow and the crucial Common Moorhen, thus keeping up our 100% record for the species on foreign trips.

We tore ourselves away from the excellent photography, and moved on to Caroni rice fields, in what proved to be the hottest part of the day - it later clouded up a bit and cooled down considerably. Along a wet ditch, we found stacks of waders - both Yellowlegs, Least, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plover. We had a brief flying Limpkin in the damp fields, and a distant pair of Grey Kingbirds, but the highlight was probably a flock of over 100 (mostly male) Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Onwards for an extended lunchtime session over low tide at Waterloo beach, where there were simply masses of birds to look at - including two lifers for both Simon and Julia, and yet three lifers in total! Willet was new for both of us, but Black Skimmer was a 'get back' for Simon, and Tricoloured Heron similarly for Julia! Also on the mud were lots of Laughing Gulls, Royal and Large-billed Terns, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Brown Pelicans, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers, Turnstones, Grey Plovers and even a couple of very distant Yellow-crowned Night-herons - very distant indeed! Overhead, Magnificent Frigatebirds appeared from time to time. A really good and relaxing spot to spend two or three hours.

From here, it was on to Caroni Swamp for our long-anticipated boat trip! Unfortunately, there was a slight delay, but happily we hooked up with old friends from Asa Wright (they even gave us some of their rum punch!), and had a great outing. The mangroves produced two excellent non-bird sightings (a sleeping Silky Anteater and an equally motionless Cook's Tree Boa), but the birds were also excellent - Red-capped Cardinal, Greater Ani, two Ringed Kingfishers, Common Potoo, at least six Bicoloured Conebills, a pair of Black-crested Antshrikes, Green-throated Mango, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart - all in half an hour! But the real show was down at the big mangrove island in the middle of the swamp, where, right on cue, at least 200 Scarlet Ibises came in to roost - incredible, astonishingly red birds, showing up almost luminous against the dark green of the mangroves. Awesome stuff. Also here were Yellow-crowned Night-herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, Tricoloured and Little Blue Herons, and even one Great Blue Heron. A brilliant evening outing.

Tired but very happy, we hit the buffet dinner with maximum effect.

April 4th

Today we had a lie-in! With rather few target birds left in the area, and being very tired indeed, we stayed in bed until after 0700! Shock, crisis….

But by 0800, we were off up the hill - another sighting of the (female) Dark-backed Goldfinch, then an hour in the shady forest on the Old Donkey Trail - Ochre-bellied and Euler's Flycatchers, Violaceous Trogon, Long-billed Gnatwren, Rufous-breasted Hermit and Golden-crowned Warbler. But we were soon sapped, and retreated (via a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl roosting by the church) for a (fruitless) search for swifts from the verandah - good excuse for a cold drink, eh?

After lunch and a siesta, we trogged off up the hill once again - and proceeded to add our 200th species to the trip list - two male White-shouldered Tanagers! Also up here were some Tropical Parulas and various now familiar forest edge species. Simon even gathered enough courage to climb the 25m aluminium fire tower - gulp!

No sign of the target hummer (Long-billed Starthroat) by dusk, alas…..

April 5th

….and equally, no sign of it on our dawn patrol, although we did find Tropical Parula, Trinidad Euphonia, Long-billed Gnatwren and the other usual suspects, plus a Grey Hawk from the verandah.

But at about 1000, we said our farewells to Oda, Gerard and our briefly-met new pals at Pax, and Pascal drove us down to the airport, for an incredibly quick check-in and an even briefer 25 minute flight over the water to Tobago, where we were met by Andy, a very talkative and amusing driver from Speyside, who'd lived in New Jersey for 26 years - it showed! We whizzed across the 31 miles to Speyside, via a very few birds en route (we'll get them all later!), and checked in at the very plush and delightful Blue Waters Inn. All very Hemingways and beach fronty! And with Rufous-vented Chachalaca in the gardens, Spotted Sandpiper on the beach and Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown & Red-footed Boobies offshore, who's complaining?!

We went for a brief dip in the sea - and Simon's snorkel promptly failed at the first attempt. The clearing valve blew out and was lost - useless. Some recompense came in the form of a turtle sp. (maybe Hawksbill? It was thought later more probably Green) swimming about in the bay and raising its head from time to time.

We took a walk over to the village of Speyside, did a spot of shopping, and watched an English prep school football team playing the locals. All very relaxing and laid back!

Dinner was great - a light pasta meal in the bar and some evil Speyside Mudslides with Rob and Michelle, whom we seem to be following about! It would appear that we're sharing a rainforest trip with them on Friday, and we may well share a boat trip to Little Tobago Island tomorrow, too!

April 6th

We made our standard early start, and climbed the unnecessarily steep hill out of Blue Waters Inn, and then along the all but deserted Starwood Road trail, just opposite the cannon. The trail wound back north along the hillside, above the hotel - great views across the bay and along the coast. The birds were pretty good too - Scrub Greenlet, Black-faced Grassquit and White-fringed Antwren were all new birds, plus we saw a Merlin, several Ruby-topaz Hummingbirds, Rufous-tailed Jacamars and Barred Antshrikes. Easy and pleasant birding, really!

Back down around the hotel, we saw and heard lots of Rufous-vented Chachalacas, plus several Blue-crowned Motmots, and the little area by the bridge (near Speyside village) turned up Chivi Vireo, Green Heron, nesting Yellow-bellied Elaenias and a few brief Caribbean Martins.

After all this lot, we felt completely justified in taking a latish breakfast, and then fooling about on the beach and around the hotel for the hot part of the day. Simon was involved in protracted 'negotiations' (actually, chaos) with the Top Ranking boat people - to cut a long story short, they messed us about something chronic, and we eventually went out to Little Tobago Island with about 8 UK birders, Rob and Michelle, and four assorted civilians (who went snorkelling for part of the time).

The crossing was fractionally bumpy in a flat-bottomed boat, and getting off at the far end was a bit dicey, but we all managed OK. The climb up the island was steep and very hot, but we pressed on and reached the viewing platform after maybe 10 minutes. A roosting White-tailed Nightjar right by the path was a nice surprise, but we were really here for the seabirds - and we were not disappointed!

The rocky bay below was alive with Red-billed Tropicbirds - we estimated well over 200 of them, occasionally under attack from Magnificent Frigatebirds. Also milling about were several Brown Boobies and lots of Laughing Gulls, and a pair of Red-footed Boobies were raising young on the cliffs too. It was a truly awesome sight - real top "10 birding experiences" stuff!

We were able to visit a few Tropicbird nests right up close too - mostly young, still quite downy young, but one full adult at point blank range too. We (slightly hesitantly) also ticked Audobon's Shearwater, on the strength of a downy chick in its burrow!

Rather sunburned, but totally happy, we climbed back down the steps, and returned home for a swim in the sea and a well-earned shower. We walked over to Speyside for dinner tonight, and had a good solid home-cooked meal in the Tree House restaurant. They have the world's most deadly hot sauce…..

April 7th

Even earlier today, and after the now expected chaos (this time over the lack of the promised packed breakfast), we got into Newton George's van at 0600, with Rob, Michelle, and a couple from Colorado (Anne and Jim).

After a couple of stops en route (Caribbean Martin), we turned off the mian road, and up into the Main Ridge rainforest reserve. It was all very manicured on the roadside verges, really, with neatly trimmed verges most of the way, but this did mean that visibility was good for birding!

Our first proper stop in the forest produced Grey Kingbird, Ruby-topaz, Red-crowned Woodpecker and Chivi Vireo, and further up, we were seeing jacamars, motmots, and other typical forest edge species. But it was Gilpin Trace which produced our main target species - we quickly connected with Blue-backed Manakin (superb males and a nesting female), and several excellent White-tailed Sabrewings (plus a Rufous-breasted Hermit nest building). Also in the woods we saw White-throated Spadebill, Fuscous Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Plain Anti-vireo, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-legged Thrush, American Redstart and all the common forest species.

Next up, we had a bonus detour, to a site off the far side of the main forest road, about a mile's up and down hike into the forest. Newton was feeling confident, and sure enough, at the end of the rainbow, there was the crock of gold - a pair of roosting Striped Owls high up in the canopy. Fantastic views of a very secretive and rarely seen species - almost like a large Short/Long-eared Owl hybrid!

Via more motmots, trogons and flycatchers, we made our way back to the van in ever increasing heat - but we weren't done yet! Newton succeeded in whistling in a territorial Venezuelan Flycatcher, and further down, another Chivi Vireo showed up, along with a Barred Antshrike.

Near Roxborough, we had a pair of Green-rumped Parrotlets at the nest, and right back at the Speyside river, we finally connected with the Yellow-crowned Night-heron, roosting in his favoured tree, plus a Gray Kingbird and a Spotted Sandpiper.

Hot, hot, hot! So we cooled down with a lazy lunch, a snooze and even a double kayak on the sea - where we even managed to twitch the turtle which clearly lives in the bay. We think it's a Hawksbill - but who cares? It's a turtle! Far more satisfying that going to see one on a laying beach, we reckon.

We took full advantage of the manager's cocktail hour (ahem), and enjoyed the bats coming in to the sugar feeders. End of term feeling, anyone?

April 8th

Simon had a rather bad night - a nasty feverish spell, with full on shivering and then fiery heat. But he woke up functional, if not fantastic, and the day went ahead as planned.

We wandered along to the bridge a bit later than usual (by about 0700), and were rewarded with nesting Grey Kingbird, Green Heron and Yellow-crowned Night-heron, and best of all, a Green Kingfisher on the wires. Newton picked us up as planned at 0710, and drove us up the very steep hill to Murchison Road, opposite the lookout spot over Speyside. Nice trick! We spent the next couple of hours birding the trail - no luck with one of our targets (Red-rumped Woodpecker), but we scored almost immediately with the other, a pair of White-winged Becards. Among a decent selection of the commoner birds along here, we also found ourselves a significantly rare Tobago migrant, a cracking male Scarlet Tanager. Another write-in!

By now it was getting very hot, and we trogged down the hill and back for a late breakfast. We were both pretty tired and not 100%, so we took three or four hours out - snoozing, sorting out pictures and showering more than once!

At 1430, as (finally) arranged, Smitty the boatman turned up with his twin outboard boat, and we set off for St Giles' Island, just round the north-east tip of Tobago from Speyside. The sea was fairly flat, but still sufficiently entertaining close to shore and where there were currents to keep the easr and stomach busy! No disasters, thank goodness…

St Giles' was truly awesome. From some distance away, we were surrounded by seabirds, and we could see clouds of birds over the island itself. On close approach, the sight was simply amazing - 3000+ Magnificent Frigatebirds, at one point almost all in flight together, hundreds of Red-footed and Brown Boobies, scores of Red-billed Tropicbirds and Laughing Gulls, and the stars of the show, about a dozen Masked Boobies, a recent colonist of T&T, on one of the further islets beyond the main island. We even saw an Iguana on the rocks for good measure. Pretty overwhelmed, but totally happy, we returned after about 2½ hours, hot but not burned this time - we'd covered right up!

The evening was spent munching and drinking, and we had a very early night!

April 9th/10th

A much better sleep - and a longer one, too! We took a last walk along Starwood Road - few birds, but lovely views of Bateaux Bay and Speyside. Back at the hotel, a Yellow-crowned Night-heron joined us for breakfast, giving crippling point blank views on the beach right below the restaurant.

We dallied about, enjoying our final morning at Blue Waters Inn, and then caught our lift with Andy at 1100, heading for the airport via a few last birding stops. The first was a pretty critical one, tipped off by Newton the day before, at Smith's Island along the south coast. Sure enough, a quick scan produced some 25 or so Sooty Terns flapping about the island - distant views, but eminently identifiable! Sadly, there were neither the hundreds of birds apparently present yesterday, nor any of the reported Brown Noddies. Clearly, we'd just got the timings a bit wrong on these pelagic seabirds.

Further on, at Lowlands, the Hilton Ponds turned up several Anhingas, both Osprey and Peregrine, assorted herons and a small group of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. The final stop, at the Bon Accord sewage ponds, was hot and hard work (and the gate was locked), but we still managed to rack up three new species (Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal and erythrogaster Barn Swallow), plus a few Whimbrels and a Spotted Sandpiper.

But the time had finally come - we checked in very early at 1400, flew quickly over to Trinidad, and then kicked our heels around the airport for a couple of hours. he final birds were a few Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, a Ringed Kingfisher, two Yellow-headed Caracaras, another Osprey and Peregrine, and finally yet more Barn Swallows - clearly, spring migration was hotting up!

By lucky chance, we managed to get ourselves the emergency exit seats for the flight home, which made the 10½ hour trip via St Lucia considerably more bearable. We both managed to get about 3 hours' sleep, and after landing at 1000 local time, we quickly picked up the car, and were home, pretty tired but functional, by around 1230.

What a great trip - 228 species, with 71 ticks for Julia and 65 for Simon, hot sunshine the whole time, great places to stay and some proper relaxation in amongst the hurly-burly of a military style birding hunt. Most people start their Neotropical birding in T&T - but we thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with the families and many new species after the hardcore end of Peru and Brasil. It worked well!

Simon Woolley

April 2006