Sunday, 19 March 2017

TRINIDAD and TOBAGO 2017 (17-19 March)

Introduction. In early 2016 Peter van Scheepen sent Nick Preston and me a report on a trip to Guyana he had done with Dick Meijer. They were independent travelling Dutch birders we had met in Colombia in 2014. They and their wives had been taken around Guyana by Ron Allicock and had seen some mouthwatering birds. We decided to do something similar provided we could find at least two others to come with us. Four expressed an interest and in the event all came. Nick contacted Ron (ronallicock@gmail.com) to arrange a trip very similar to Peter and Dick's itinerary and after a few iterations it was fixed, we would start in Guyana on 20 March 2017. Looking at flights it soon became apparent that travelling to Georgetown via Trinidad was as convenient as any other route. It also raised the possibility of a stop over. I'd long wanted to see Red-billed Tropicbird which was guaranteed on Little Tobago and there were a few worthwhile specialities too including two endemics. I contacted long time friend and Trinidad resident Martyn Kenefick to find out the feasibility of a short visit that would allow a good chance of seeing most of them. Indications were positive and Martyn kindly offered to arrange everything and take us around, enlisting friend Graham White to help on Trinidad. Flight schedules made it more practical to stop over on the way out and we booked flights accordingly. This blog starts my take on the trip, Matt's (at http://seafordbirding.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/trinidad-tobago-18317.html) is a more timely one with better photos.

17 March 2017. Six of us (Nick Preston, Matt Eade, Nick Gardner, Paul Hopkins, Stuart Reeds and I) assembled at Gatwick for the 10:05 BA flight to Port of Spain. The flight was 20 minutes late departing but made up time, landing in St. Lucia slightly ahead of schedule at 14:25. We had hoped to disembark and perhaps see something from the terminal building but had to remain on board. One of the stewardesses allowed us to stand at the top of the entrance steps from where we saw Eared Dove, Grey Kingbird and Carib Grackle but we were soon spotted from below and told to go inside. We left after 90 minutes for the short (45 minute) flight on to Port of Spain. We were early arriving too but were confronted by a very long immigration queue which took over an hour to get through. Very diligent checking details of migrant workers seemed to be the main hold up although they wanted details of where we were staying and onward flights. Once through our bags were waiting for us, I declared some biscuits to customs and we met Martyn and Graham outside. They told us immigration queues had been over five hours long earlier in the week so we'd been fortunate. None of us were particularly hungry so we loaded up and headed for Grand Riviere on the north coast. It took about two hours on increasingly narrow and winding roads. We arrived at Mt Plaisir Estate at about 21:00, a pleasant guest house on the beach with a soothing soundtrack of breaking waves. A female Leatherback Turtle had come ashore and was in the process of laying its eggs on the beach nearby. It was something I had always wanted to see and we hurried over. Although of average size the turtle looked enormous close up. A fantastic start to the trip.

approaching St Lucia
Leatherback Turtle covering her eggs, note Matt's foot top left to give an indication of size
18 March 2017. I had a good night's sleep and Martyn woke us before dawn with the news that a turtle was leaving the beach. We hurried over although need not have rushed. She was making slow progress and for a minute or two seemed to deviate inland before perhaps smelling the sea and heading back towards it. She pulled herself up a slight rise and with the sea in view 10m away made renewed efforts to reach it, her relief at doing so evident. Job done for another year. We drove five minutes to a reliable Trinidad Piping Guan site arriving just after first light. We soon heard one calling and Matt saw it fly out of the back of a distant tree. Fortunately that was not it and we soon had reasonable views of two in a nearer tree, eventually seeing 11 or 12 including some excellent views. A female Tufted Coquette was feeding in flowering Vervain and further down the track highlights were White-bellied and Silvered Antbirds (the former a new bird for me) and male Golden-headed Manakin. At 09:30 we returned to Mt. Plaisir for a good breakfast and after slowly drove back towards Port of Spain making a few brief stops, including a wander around Galera Point, along the way. We arrived at Piarco Suites near the airport at 12:15 and dumped our bags. It would be our base for the remainder of our stay on Trinidad & Tobago. We headed out stopping for a 'double' which I passed on - Martyn had told me about Trinidad street food so I'd brought biscuits. We continued to Caroni rice fields which at this time of year were very dry with some being burnt. They were mostly birdless but part of one field had very tall, thick vegetation and from it Martyn heard Dickcissels calling. Seeing anything more than fleeting views was another matter as birds popped up and dived back into cover. I eventually had reasonable flight views but didn't see any perched although most of the others did. We continued on to Caroni Swamp, trying for Mangrove Rail along the entrance road but failing to elicit any response. Martyn and booked us onto a boat trip, something I was looking forward to since photos of Scarlet Ibis and roosting Potoos from a Trinidad slide show in the 1970s made a lasting impression. The Ibis were superb and we saw roosting Tropical Screech Owl, Silky Anteater (a ball of fur) and Trinidad Tree Boa (a ball of scales) but disappointingly potoos had not been seen for a week or so. We returned after dark, stopping in a fast food mall although the food was neither fast not particularly appetising - I should have stuck with biscuits.
Trinidad Piping Guan, a much wanted endemic although very similar to Blue-throated on the South American mainland, the main difference being its darker crest




Silvered Antbird, much darker below than one I'd seen in Ecuador
Guainan Trogon 





Mt Plaisir Estate, a very nice place to stay
turtle beach from our veranda
turtle tracks on the beach including detour
American Black Vulture. Not a species I am particularly fond of, especially as it is one of the main predators of baby turtles
young Coca Thrush
Peregrine at Galera Point
Black-crested Antshrike at Caroni Swamp





a narrow section of Caroni Swamp from the water
roosting Tropical Screech Owl
Ruschenberger's Tree Boa, one of two roosting above us in the same tree, I never saw either's head
mangroves, not my favourite habitat
it holds some nice birds though, like this American Pygmy Kingfisher


Straight-billed Woodcreeper
open water in Caroni Swamp
Scarlet Ibis flying to roost






roosting in the mangroves








Nick G and Matt enjoying the spectacle
Caribbean Flamingo
19 March 2017. A very early start for the 05:45 Caribbean Airlines flight to Tobago, none of the breakfast offerings at the airport appealed to me. Nice not to have to queue for bags or immigration on arrival. Martyn and Graham went off to collect pre-booked vehicles. Martyn had a seven seater for us, Graham deciding to come at a later stage (hoping to twitch White-tailed Tropicbird) a saloon car. We drove to Bon Accord where a long staying rarity in the form of a Grey Heron did little for us. The nearby mangroves were better with Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird, Barred Antshrike and White-fringed Antwren but only two of the group saw a Prothonotary Warbler. We continued on to Main Range stopping at a roadside hummingbird feeding station to see White-tailed Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped Hummingbird and Trinidad Motmot. We then walked along the Niplig and Gilpin trails seeing Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Blue-backed Manakin and Yellow-legged Thrush. A roadside stop to look for a roosting Common Potoo was looking like a dip until Nick spotted it out just as we were leaving, not a great view but it made up for not seeing one at Coroni Swamp. We drove on to Bluewaters where Martyn had booked a trip over to Little Tobago. Our boat was a little late and I scoped a few distant Red-billed Tropicbirds while waiting. We were soon ferried across and it was then a short climb up to the main viewpoint. There were lots of tropicbirds flying around although too fast for my camera to focus on them. All were Red-billed with there having been no sign of the White-tailed for a week or more. More distantly were Red-footed Boobies, both all-white and white-tailed morphs. The latter were creamy brown and looked superb. Our two hours on the island passed all too quickly and we were soon back on Tobago. Martyn drove us back to Scarborough as it was getting dark. We had fish and chips at the airport and flew back to Port of Spain. Martyn and Graham dropped us back at Piarco Suites and said goodbye, Martyn to drive to Ara Wright where he had a meeting the following morning. Our two day tour of Trinidad and Tobago had been excellent and we were very grateful to Martyn (and Graham) for arranging it and taking us around so ably.
Grey Heron at Bon Accord, a long-staying rarity but of only minimal interest to us
Anhinga
Green Heron
common on Tobago and rare in Trinidad while Striated Heron is the reverse
Night Heron
Southern Lapwing
White-tailed Sabrewing
showing its white under-tail

male White-necked Jacobin



female White-necked Jacobin
Trinidad Motmot
much richer underpart colouration than other 'blue-crowned' motmots



Golden-olive Woodpecker

out of focus and virtually hidden male Blue-backed Manakins
the Gilpin Trail
Rufous-tailed Jacobin

roosting Common Potoo
approaching Bluewaters and our first view of Little Tobago
Red-rumped Agouti
still hunted for bushmeat
familiar Turnstone with unfamiliar prey item




view from Little Tobago viewpoint
returning Red-billed Tropicbird






Red-billed Tropicbird nestling
this one was right by the viewpoint
white-tailed Red-footed Boobies




No comments:

Post a Comment