TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - APRIL/MAY 2018


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Published: May 15th 2018
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San Fernando HillSan Fernando HillSan Fernando Hill

Glorious views of the coastline
OUR EXTRA LONG FLIGHT TO TRINIDAD



They told us Trinidad and Tobago would be the perfect combination of Caribbean and South American birding - so we decided to head back to the Caribbean - the last time we had visited, just Tobago was in 2003. Well we had a ‘bit’ of a journey getting there but considering the amount of time we travel it is to be expected that things do not always go according to plan!



We had reached the runway at Gatwick when the Captain said they had developed a fault with one of their sensors which would unable them to fly through ‘clouds’ so he would have to return to the Airport Terminal for Engineers to fix it … … So back in a holding bay we sat on the plane and after about two hours we noticed the back door open and bottles of water appear - it was going to be a long haul. They issued us with water and just a couple of biscuits so we were getting rather hungry, breakfast was a long time ago. We sat and waited and even watched an entire film on board, that’s a first for us watching a whole film before we were in the air …. … - funnily enough it was entitled - ‘The Darkest Hour’!



Finally after about four and half hours on the tarmac, the Captain announced the ‘good news’ that they had fixed the problem but the ‘sting’ in the tail was that the crew would now go over their hours if they flew us on to Trinidad. We therefore had to wait to see if they could find another crew. They let us off the plane to get something to eat and stretch our legs whilst they got the plane ready again and issued us with a £10 voucher and a compensation form. We were at Gate 27 so it was a long walk back into the terminal to find food (funnily enough all the escalator walkways run the other way)). It was quite a rush to queue/buy/eat and then check in again ….. but at least we were flying that day and not the next.



We eventually took off but must admit I was slightly nervous that we might develop another problem, but everything went smoothly from then on.
One of many HummingbirdsOne of many HummingbirdsOne of many Hummingbirds

It was such a delight to watch these with their stunning colours.
We had to touch down in St Lucia to let off some passengers and the Captain said he would ensure that the turn around was much quicker than usual and this was achieved in 40 minutes which was good, he then said he would go as ‘fast as he could’ to the Port of Spain in Trinidad our destination … … … In fact it only took about 45 minutes - so he probably broke the speed record!



In the end we had spent around 18 hours on the plane except for the hour and half break to stretch our legs at Gatwick. We could have flown direct to Perth with the new direct flights now only taking 17 hours! We finally arrived in Trinidad really late, after midnight, exhausted and there were long queues at passport control but luckily our taxi was waiting for us when we did get though to take us up the mountain to our small guesthouse called Pax.





TRINIDAD & TOBAGO



Trinidad & Tobago are the most southern of the Caribbean islands. They have two main seasons, the Dry Season from January to May and the Rainy Season from June to December - we were visiting at the end of the dry season.



Caribs and Arawaks lived in the islands long before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1498. The original name for the island in the Arawak’s language was ‘Iëre' which meant ‘Land of the Hummingbird’ but Columbus renamed it ‘La Isla de la Trinidad’ (The Island of the Trinity) which has since been shortened to just Trinidad. During many turbulent historical times the islands changed hands between the Spanish, British, Dutch and French, eventually ending up in British hands in the seafaring days of the 18th century.



Its chequered history has left behind a legacy of ethnicity, religion, and culture with the majority of its population either African or East Indian but also a mix of many other nationalities. The islands finally gained their independence in 1962. Nowadays the Indian influences mixed with the rich African and European heritage makes you feel the islands vibrancy at every street corner; ‘Music, Dance, Food, Clothes, Architecture’ all mingling side by side and a symbol of a fascinating cultural melting pot … … This ethnic mix leads to a multitude of festivals throughout the year taking in so many different traditions all featuring the diverse ‘Music of the Caribbean’, everyone here likes to party even outside of carnival time! We had to learn a few new words here too as you will see from this blog, including Soca which means ‘local music of Trinidad & Tobago’.



We enjoyed the sound of the Steelband which originated in Trinidad. After the British colonial authority banned the beating of African drums, the working class turned the large drums that were used to store oil to replace them. Now this 20th century invention is the country’s national instrument. Such a jovial sound its gets your feet tapping whenever you hear it. The ‘mantra’ of the country seems to be to’ live life to the full’ with singing and dancing playing a huge part in everyday life or the other pastime of ‘liming’ (hanging out) and eating. ‘Liming’ simply translated means passing time and enjoying yourself, with company in whatever way you like - another new word.





A note to any visitors to the islands - be aware that wearing camouflage clothing is illegal for civilians, this includes pink or other coloured camouflage items as well, any clothes will be seized if found in your luggage at the airport.





TRINIDAD



Trinidad (it’s people are affectionally known as Trinis) is the larger and more populous of the two major islands collectively known as ‘Trinidad & Tobago’ with around 1.3 million inhabitants. It lies just seven miles off the northeastern coast of Venezuela and sits on the continental shelf of South America. Language on this trip was definitely not an issue as the official language is English although I must admit sometimes the strong local ‘accents’ proved hard to understand.



Oil, Natural Gas and vast Methanol plants has in the recent past made it one of the more prosperous island nations in the Caribbean although the islands are going through some tough economic times with the fall in gas prices around the world. Many people are unemployed and struggling and the wealth gap is increasing. At the same time many Venezuelans are fleeing their country due to political upheavals and shortages and looking for work in neighbouring countries, including T&T, to earn money to send back home to their families, enhancing the problem all around. Tourism is also down as we were to see on our visit as many guesthouses and hotels we stayed in were really quiet sometimes we were the only guests.



Driving around the island we were frequently held up in long traffic queues on the main highway - so many cars for such a small island and the majority of these were relatively modern vehicles, although many were abandoned on the verges in twisted rusting heaps. Everyone drives a car here there were very few motorbikes or cycles. Those without a car would wait for the local buses or thumb a lift from a passing motorist. Filling your petrol tank will cost a third of the UK but this has risen 40%!r(MISSING)ecently, much to the dismay of locals.





PAX GUESTHOUSE - MOUNT ST BENEDICT



Our first accommodation was Pax Guesthouse located on the slopes of the Northern Range of Trinidad, with an ornate tapestry of blue-green tropical rainforest dotted every now and then with the bright yellow Poui trees in full flower. During the second world war the guesthouse was a favourite meeting spot for American soldiers who sometimes treated visitors to live music during tea time. Remaining an important tradition the guesthouse still serves afternoon tea to residents and visitors using their own freshly baked bread and homemade jams and jellies.



We spent many hours sitting on the balcony overlooking the valley watching colourful hummingbirds feeding and fighting - they are very territorial and several times we had to ‘duck’ as they sped past very close to our heads. We spotted Copper-rumped Hummingbirds and White-necked Jacobins which seemed to have dominance over the rest and they often chased off the White-chested Emerald, Black-throated Mango and the even smaller Tufted Coquette. The male Tufted Coquette is a striking bird, it has a red head crest and a green back with a whitish rump band that is prominent in flight, the female lacks the crest and plumes. She lays two eggs in a small cup nest made of plant down and placed on a branch. They are the smallest resident bird in Trinidad at 6.6 cm - the smallest bird in the world is the Bee Hummingbird at 5-6 cm.



Another stunning hummingbird was the aptly named Ruby Topaz. All hummingbirds are extremely hard to identify as they look so different in different light conditions and of course whether they are male, female or juvenile. As well as Hummingbirds a variety of other birds dominated the balcony feeders and these were Palm Tanagers and Bananaquits which we were to see everywhere in Trinidad. One day we even also spotted a rare Green-backed Trogon deep in the valley below us. The terrace at Pax was used on location for the filming of Sir David Attenborough’s, Life Of Birds and you could see why. We also had spectacular sightings of many raptors including, Turkey and American Black Vultures, White, Zone-tailed, Grey and Short-tailed Hawks also frequently soared past against a backdrop of forested hillsides.



We also spotted Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee and Tropical Mockingbird as well as the noisy Crested Oropendola which stick their heads between their legs, rattling their wings and beaks, while giving a most peculiar song to impress any nearby lady bird … … The female will then build nests around a meter long (some can reach 3 meters long) for the most impressive male who may have a harem of up to
Mount St Benedict MonasteryMount St Benedict MonasteryMount St Benedict Monastery

Try their homemade Soursop Yoghurt ...
20 females! Yellow Orioles have similar nest although not quite as large hanging from the tallest trees. Sadly the one just outside our window on the top of a tall palm tree blew down in the winds with the mother and chick still inside. The mother survived the huge fall but sadly the young chick died and the mother then flew around the tree for a few days calling to her lost youngster.





MOUNT ST BENEDICT MONASTERY



The scenic Monastery is located just passed our guesthouse and people come from all over the country to visit the church built in the clouds and wonder at the effort that was made to build it. Some dedicated people walk up the hillside, following the ‘stations of the cross’ with the first one located at the bottom of the hill and the rest evenly spaced as you climb ever upwards along the steep switchback road. We did not try to attempt the hike as it was just too hot and lucky for us we were already near the top of the mountain so only had to walk a little further on to visit the monastery.



These days there are only a few monks living there and they sold several homemade products including honey and yoghurt to provide additional income. The yoghurt came in many flavours including; natural, almond, guava, passion fruit, pineapple, soursop, strawberry and vanilla. The soursop was truly remarkable and you could easily eat a large pot all to yourself! The founder of the product, Fr. Cuthbert van de Sande died last year but his product will live on for a very long time with locals and visitors purchasing the product in the little shop next to the monastery.



The views from our guesthouse and the monastery were amazing and you could see the busy city of the Port of Spain in the distance, planes arriving at the airport, Tunapuna the town at the bottom of the mountain, the hills of the central planes and you could even sometimes get a glimpse of Venezuela in the far distance.





TOURING AROUND TRINIDAD



One of reasons for our visit to Trinidad was to see some of its renowned birdlife so we hired a local guide, Darren Madoo who we would highly recommend to anyone interested in the birds of Trinidad as he was extremely knowledgable and very kind and courteous. Even though we had seen so many birds just sitting on the balcony at Pax you really do need a good guide and ‘wheels’ to get the best out of birding on the island. There are about 500 different birds in Trinidad and Tobago and we hoped to spot a few of these during our 3 weeks on the islands.



As mentioned above the main roads in Trinidad are busy with heavy traffic at most times of the day so it takes a long time to get anywhere. However once you got away from the main highway that crosses the island the roads are quieter but do become very narrow with big potholes - a bit like the roads currently in the UK after all the cold weather of the last winter!





EAST COAST AREAS



Driving towards the east coast of Trinidad, passing through the towns of Arima and Valencia we stopped at the entrance to the Aripo Agricultural Research Station, an area of open savannah and wet pastures where we spotted Red-breasted Blackbird and Southern Lapwing. Darren said that the most of this area was now off limits to ‘birders’ as the grasslands were home to grazing Buffalo. To be precise they were actually a mix breed known as Buffalypso - a combination of the Buffalo and Calypso. The Indian water buffalo was introduced to Trinidad as a ‘beast of burden’ on the sugar plantations and was a tough animal. It was less infected with the disease tuberculosis, so was chosen for selective breeding. After years of research the Buffalypso was developed in the early 1960s for beef production rather than as a workhorse on the plantations.



We continue our drive east, arriving at Manzallia Beach and sat and ate a pleasant picnic lunch as well as a little stretch along its long promenade. Darren said the beach was mainly used by locals and as it was midweek it was really quiet. Strong waves were rolling in along the broad curved bay definitely not suitable for a quick dip here … … There were a few sea birds including the Magnificent Frigatebird and plenty of Brown Pelican fishing off shore. After lunch we slowly drove south along the seven-mile beach of Cocos Bay lined with (so they say) a million coconut palms (there were many) searching for Raptors that shade themselves from the afternoon sun perched on the coconut palms. We saw the Common Black Hawk and Yellow-headed Caracara as well as a large Red-rumped Woodpecker making an extremely large whole in a dead palm tree.



Near the end of the road we entered the area known as Nariva Swamp which occupies a vast portion of the eastern coast of Trinidad. The swamp itself isn't much of a ‘swamp’ in the wet season, and a lot less at the end of the dry season when we visited - Darren said this was due to some ‘unregulated’ farming along the swamp lands. We noticed rows and rows of Watermelons growing in long lines all across the area, not sure if this was the problem. We enjoyed these large watermelons for breakfast every morning and they were truly delicious - conditions here were obviously ideal for growing this huge tasty melon. We spotted a few more birds including both Shiny and Giant Cowbirds and lots of Egrets including the Great White Egret.



It was a long drive to get here and a extremely long drive to get back to Pax passing through several towns and joining many queues of traffic. Even though the distances are not great to get any where it really does take a long time and most of that is sitting in the car. It was the end of the school day and the towns were full of little groups of children chilling on their way home it was lovely to see them in their different coloured uniforms, all very smart even in all the heat of the day and after a long day at school - we were struggling with the heat and dust sat in our air-conditioned vehicle, although Darren did often wind the windows down to spot a bird … ….





WEST COAST



Over the next couple of days we explored the West Coast of Trinidad. We stopped for lunch at San Fernando Hill which had great views of the island and the coastline. This lookout was named after the First People for whom it was a sacred site. You could see much heavy industry taking place on
Torch GingerTorch GingerTorch Ginger

Also known as ginger flower, red ginger lily, torch lily and wild ginger
the flat land below but also the outline of the southwest peninsular. It was a clear day and we could see the Port of Spain and in the distance we could see a haze which was the mountains of Venezuela.



After lunch we headed to the Mudflats which are exposed at low tide to see birds feeding on the exposed mud including; Laughing Gull, Pelican, Heron and Tern. We were really disappointed with this area, yes we did see great flocks of seabirds but the area was littered with rubbish much of it plastics, we even saw old TVs right next to where many birds were coming in to feed before the tide returned. Further south along the coast we came to Waterloo (Temple in the Sea) - a Hindu temple built on a platform on the shoreline. Forbidden by colonial officials to build a Hindu temple on land it was built out in the Gulf of Paria instead. Siewdass Sadhu laboured for 25 years to built it because he missed the temples of his home in India, sadly constant sea erosion and human intervention prevented him from completing it before his death. In 1994 the government finished the job for him to correspond with the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the island’s first Indian immigrants. We visited when the tide was out but it would have been quite impressive if the tide was in to see this ’floating’ temple in the sea surrounded by seabirds and its shoreline scattered with broken Hindu murtis.





We then travel further south to the Point a Pierre Wildfowl Trust - 26 hectares of magnificent wetland habitat, slightly bizarrely set within a large Petrochemical Complex. The trust was formed in 1966 and is the centre for many conservation projects, it has a main lagoon, which we strolled around with Darren and spotted; Back-bellied and Whistling Ducks, Anhingas and Green Herons - they have had some success with returning both Macaws and the Scarlet Ibis to the wild and we got a close up view of these amazing coloured birds. There was a small museum which had several feeding tables outside and we spotted; Saffron Finch, Yellow-hooded Blackbird and the Red-capped Cardinal as well as several imported parading Peacocks trying to impress a female. We hiked into the rainforest and did not see but heard a couple of Caiman splash into the water as we passed whilst over overhead we spotted the usual Frigatebirds but also a couple of Osprey.



Cricket is more in evidence than Football in Trinidad and Darren pointed out to us the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium, named after one of the island’s greatest cricketers. On the side of the Stadium it listed his highest scores the most notable being 501 - I think he must have just given up once he had achieved this magic number but hey, what do I know about cricket!





One of our most memorable trips was to the Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary a few miles south of Port of Spain. The roosting lagoon is reached only by guided, flat-bottomed boat. Lucky for us our guide, Darren was also one of only two local families that take people out to see the colony of Scarlet Ibis. We were also fortunate as our boat only held us and seven others whilst other boats were full to the brim with people packed like ‘sardines in a can’. We were joined by an American family who lived in Trinidad and Stephen & Helen who lived in Aldershot, UK. Stephen came from Trinidad and was visiting his parents with Helen. They had both been to Caroni several times before and were looking forward to another visit.



As we set off the evening light shone brightly between the trees with brilliant reflections on to the ink black water and the giant roots of the Mangrove trees. Darren had to make a sharp three point turn at one point as the waters was to low for the boat but quickly found another channel and straight away he spotted a Boat-billed Heron resting tangled amongst the mangroves. He had amazing sharp eyes as how he spotted it I do not know as it took us ages to find it even after he shone his light on it for us to locate, but we did manage to get a half decent photograph.



A little further on and we got a total surprise when Darren spotted a Silky Anteater fast asleep in the lower branches of the mangroves - so close we could have touched it but it was curled up tight into a little ball which at first we thought was a
Scarlet IbisScarlet IbisScarlet Ibis

Flying in to roost at Caroni Swamp
large fruit. We never expected to ever see one so were really pleased with this sighting.



Before long the narrow channel ended and we arrived at a large lake and were again really surprised to spot several large flocks of American Flamingos. Darren said that they were now becoming a common sight and he believes that some of them were now permanent residents at Coroni.



We moored up close to an inlet and waited for the ‘highlight’ of the cruise and before long we saw this red glow approach the island opposite us - bright red formations set against a backdrop of a pale evening sky what an awesome sight it was. They flew in formation and landed amongst the greenery surrounding the island. Every now and then a very white Egret would arrive and settle in amongst the Scarlet Ibis to roost for the night. We really enjoyed this cruise it was a big highlight for us and back at the dock we said goodbye to Stephen & Helen who were also going to several of our next destinations so we would meet up with them again - it is after all only
Scarlet IbisScarlet IbisScarlet Ibis

Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary
a small island . ……



The next day we visited Arena Forest and on the way we saw Yellow-rumped Caciques nesting above a little stall selling a variety of fruits and vegetables - there was always plenty of these roadsides stalls selling fresh goods or ‘street food’. At traffic lights on the main highways someone would be walking amongst the lanes of traffic selling their goods - quite a risky job with vehicles speeding passed them. It was hiking along Arena Forest where we spotted our first Channel-billed Toucan and what an amazing bird to see, we were so lucky as it was quite close right in the tree in front of us. We had initially stopped to check out a couple of Guianan Trogons when we heard the distinctive call of the Toucan nearby. - sadly it started to rain heavy and he flew off but we did get a brilliant view.





One day we drove up towards our next destination the Asa Wright Nature Reserve along part of the narrow winding Blanchisseuese Road, as far as Las Lapas where we stopped to admire the view and could see a small village further down the valley - funnily enough we bumped into Stephen & Helen along the road and stopped for a quick chat. The highest point on this road where it passes from the leeward to the windward sides of the island is about 2,000 feet above sea level and is known for high elevation birds but we did not see much on this visit.



Before we left Pax Guesthouse we were hoping to have one day of rest but Darren insisted on joining us for a morning’s hike. We climbed up behind the monastery to a fire tower on the top of the hill. It was quite a feat to get there in the heat and so I decided not to climb the tower, but Paul and Darren disappeared up the steps whilst I waited in the cooling shade below … It was along this route that we had spotted a colourful Rufous-tailed Jacamar.





Finally it was time for us to move on but we will miss the peace and tranquility of Pax, the cooling breeze high up on the mountain. The serene singing from the monks and the tranquil clanging of the bells above us whilst we chilled on the balcony watching the hummingbirds - yet another delightful memory stored. We would like to thank our host Oda who was most gracious and we will miss our nightly ‘Rum Punch’ served by the lovely Angela it definitely came with a punch …. …







ASA WRIGHT NATURE CENTRE



Our next destination was the Asa Wright Nature Centre, situated in the Arima Valley, perched in the middle of the mountains of the Northern Range.



In 1947 this area of forested land in the Arima and Aripo valley was a working coffee, cocoa and citrus plantation owned by Dr Newcombe Wright and his wife Asa. On his death his wife sold the land on condition that it remained a conservation area. A non profit trust was set up in 1967 by a group of naturalists and bird-watchers and it was one of the first nature centres to be established in the Caribbean. Named in their memory and now known as Asa Wright it is a natural history destination for students of tropical ecology and is of particular interest to birdwatchers.
Asa Wright Nature CentreAsa Wright Nature CentreAsa Wright Nature Centre

We saw so many birds here it was impossible to count




It was a narrow steep winding potholed road to get to the centre but so worth the effort. As we approached the entrance along the Blanchisseuese road we stopped to watch a group of farmers harvest Christophene from their vines strung out along the hillsides and place them into large sacks on the roadside. It is one of the most widely used vegetable in the Caribbean, each country having their favourite recipe. Also called Cho-Cho or Chayote, it is a rough skinned, pear shaped vegetable. We tried some several times and they have a ‘marrow’ like flavour. We were told that a farmer had bought these hillsides when sugar and cocoa crops failed and now these gourds grow well on the vines on these shady and cool mountain slopes.



At Asa Wright we had a large room set in the gardens overlooking the forest. In the main building there was a verandah with hanging bird feeders as well as bird tables set out in the flowering gardens below - beyond the garden various trails took you through acres of secondary forest to view the many different variety of birds and other wildlife that live
Bearded BellbirdBearded BellbirdBearded Bellbird

Loved its black beard (wattles)
in this high elevation area. It had to be the most easy relaxed wildlife watching in the world … … Quite noisy in the mornings though as we awoke to the ear-piercing chorus of Orange-winged Parrots before the first chink of light at about 0530 hours …



To list all the birds we saw at Asa is impossible but we had notched up about 100 different species in our bird check list since we had arrived in Trinidad but there were many more that we could not identify. Our Helm Field Guide, entitled Birds of Trinidad & Tobago written by Martyn Kenefick, Robin Restall and Floyd Hayes proved useful but it was sometimes hard to identify similar looking birds as we are no experts. Relatives of our Pax bird guide, Darren are mentioned in the acknowledgment section of the book - he came from a family of bird guides so no wonder he was a great spotter as he had started at a very young age.



One of the birds easy to recognise and that stood out for us was the Bearded Bellbird - a really loud striking bird with a brown head, white underparts and at its throat long black wattles up to several inches long - hence its name. You could follow its location easily as it made a loud sound like the striking of a metal hammer on an anvil. They are heard more than they are seen but we were lucky to spot them on several occasions sitting high up in the forest canopy calling to each other.



There were many trails at Asa including; The Driveway, The Bellbird Trail, Mot Mot Trail, Bamboo Valley Trail, Jacaranda Trail and the Chaconia Trail named after the National Flower which has bright red bracts when it blooms.



We followed the Discovery Trail a few times which was the most popular and started in the Herb & Butterfly gardens. Along the path we spotted Coffee, Citrus and many Heliconias growing along the forest edge as well as the beautiful flowering Torch Ginger which is such a showy addition to the tropical landscape. This plant is known by many different names including ginger flower, red ginger lily, torch lily, wild ginger and many more. Further down into the rainforest itself we headed to a Golden-headed Manakin lek where up to 10 males regularly try to attract the attention of their drab olive mates. These small birds were very hard to photograph as they jumped from tree to tree but what an astounding yellow head that stood out amongst the greenery. A little further down into the rainforest and much easier to spot was the White-bearded Manakin as the males made a snapping sound by flicking their secondaries and were often perched on the ground and on the lower branches of the trees close to the trail.



We had to take a guided tour to Dunston Cave along a steep track to see the secretive night-flying Oilbird on their day roosts. This fascinating cave deep in the undergrowth gave us the chance to observe their nesting colony and view the birds tucked up on tiny ledges in the darkness, their huge eyes glowing red in the light from our torches. The Oilbird is a nocturnal fruit-eating bird which uses echolocation to enable them to navigate in the absolute darkness of the caves and flying in the dark forest before returning to their rocky ledge high up in the top of the cave. Their young spend 110 days in the nest, growing outrageously fat on a rich diet and a serious lack of exercise - a bit like us humans if we eat too much … … we enjoyed the hike but the birds were hard to spot and photograph in the pitch black even with the help of a torch. On the way back much easier to spot were several small Bats fast asleep hanging on to the underside of large leaves near the forest floor.



Another bird that we really wanted to spot at Asa was the male Tufted Croquette, we had seen many females birds at Pax so we were delighted when we spotted several males in the grounds. Again these are very hard to photograph as they are so small and flit from flower to flower before you can focus your camera lens but what a stunning bird to see … ….



There was nothing not to like at Asa Wright and we would highly recommend it to anyone who visits this country. All of the bird guides were extremely knowledgable and helpful giving directions to the various different birds, particularly Barry and Elizabeth. Barry was not feeling well as he had caught Dengi Fever but still made the effort to come to work and guide us. We usually did find most of the birds we went searching for, with or without the guides - although the Collared Trogon proved to be impossible to find - we could hear it calling but it never showed a glimpse. Luckily we did spot a couple of Guianan Trogons, formerly known as the Violaceous and they posed nicely on the lower branch of a tree along the main track and did not move on when we approached - they were preparing to nest and guarding ‘their’ tree.



We had not seen many mammals in Trinidad but everyday at Asa we spotted the little Agouti as well as many Tegu Lizards which would stroll nonchalantly around gorging on any fruit falling off the bird feeding tables.



Food at Asa was served buffet style and was quite good but some of it was rather ‘fiery’. For Trinis a meal is not complete without one essential condiment, Pepper Sauce, hot peppers famous for their tongue searing heat. At breakfast one morning one lady thought it was jam and put it on her toast - oh my … … …



It was a long bumpy journey to our next destination and for the first time we had company as we were joined by five members of a ‘Motmot’ birding tour group who were also travelling to the same hotel - we kept running into the same people as we toured around the island. Elaine & David from Nottingham were great company. We even met several people from Hampshire and a pleasant lady called Amanda who lived in Olivers Battery, Winchester a few miles from us and she knew several people in our village too - its such a small world.





MOUNT PLASIR ESTATE HOTEL - GRANDE RIVIERE



Our last stop in Trinidad was at the Mount Plasir Hotel in the tiny village of Grande Riviere on the north coast of Trinidad, situated between Toco and Matelot on the mouth of two rivers. It is one of the most remote settlements in T&T accessible via a single paved road with runs from Toco in the west and separated from the rest of the island by the hills of
Paul's usual photoPaul's usual photoPaul's usual photo

Yes he found another dog ... ...
the Northern Range. It really is the ‘end of the road’, for there is no connection between and Matelot and Blanchisseusse except for a very long hiking trail … …

This area was originally settled by immigrants from Tobago and Venezuela who cultivated Cocoa. After the collapse of the cocoa industry in the 1920s the area went into steep decline with the population dropping by half and has never really recovered in numbers, although tourism has increased the inhabitants to about about 400 people.



Our hotel was owned by a pleasant Italian chap, Piero Guerrini’s who was once a renowned photographer for major magazines but gave it all up when he fell in love with this small village in Trinidad. He bought a rundown boarding house which belonged to the old cocoa plantation house on the Mount Plasir Estate (hence the name he chose for his hotel) and basically rebuilt it not expecting it to develop into the small rustic hotel it is today. Around the area there are still several old sheds used to store the cocoa but the real beauty of the place is the beach on which it sits and where female giant Leatherback Turtles come out of the sea directly in front of the hotel’s veranda to nest. Grand Riviera is one of the densest Leatherback Turtle nesting beaches in the world and this small rustic hotel works hand in hand with the villagers, as featured in David Attenborough’s recent BBC Planet Earth programme.



The hotel had a small restaurant overlooking the beach and the food used local ingredients as much as possible and we must say was truly delicious. We had a large first floor room with a balcony that stretched out over the beach with great views and a refreshing cooling breeze. It was a pleasant place to sit, watch and listen to the waves and at night spot these massive Leatherback Turtles haul themselves up the beach to nest in the deep dry sand. Weighing up to 700 kg and measuring over 3 feet across by up to 7 feet long they have undergone few evolutionary changes in their 150 million year history - they are true giants of the dinosaur age … …



They are named for the texture of their carapace which is more like skin than a shell and they actually bleed if cut unlike other sea turtles - The sand on the beach where they nest was churned up so much every day it was like a battlefield with huge tractor tyre tracks heading back into the sea and large craters left where they had buried their eggs. Sadly large clumps of eggs were strewn across the sand where the nesting turtle had disturbed a previously dug nest. Similar to the Olive Ridley mass nesting Arribadas at Ostional, Costa Rica which we had witnessed last year. However the locals here are not allowed to harvest the eggs like they do in Ostional.



We have been very fortunate on our travels around the world to see all the other main species of sea turtles including the Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Flatback as well as Kemp’s Ridley and Olive Ridley but have never seen the largest of them all - the Leatherback. We were not disappointed as on our first day we watched them swim along the shore line, bobbing their heads up to breathe but they did not come out of the water until after dark. They usually started to arrive as we were eating dinner and
Leatherback at Grand RiviereLeatherback at Grand RiviereLeatherback at Grand Riviere

Just a few yards from our room - awesome
you could just make out their large outline on the beach - they looked liked giant boulders. Nesting females return to the shores on which they were born each year, assiduously digging heir nests, before laying their eggs and camouflaging the area before returning to the sea. Unlike nesting Olive Ridley turtles they did not seem to ‘pat’ down the area before returning to sea, probably the weight of their bodies was enough to seal the nest … … With her job done she heads off and about six to eight weeks later the hatchlings emerge and if they are lucky scamper through the sand to the shoreline, sadly all alone and extremely vulnerable and many do not make it … … The females that do survive to maturity will make the long trek back to begin the cycle once again, whereas the male turtle once he makes it to the ocean as a hatchling he will never come to dry land again.



When we first spotted a turtle we were astounded at the size of these ocean giants. We stood in awe and watched this massive six foot turtle lay her eggs right below our balcony
HatchlingHatchlingHatchling

This one wandered into the restaurant and we released him as the sun went down ... ...
what an awesome sight, being able to view from our high advantage point above the beach. You cannot imagine how big they are, but as mentioned above they can grow up to 7 feet long - it just takes your breathe away … …



As it was only just into May we thought we were too early to see any hatchlings as they usually appear from June onwards. So we were surprised when we were heading back to our room one evening to see several hatchlings heading away from the sea towards the hotel restaurant. Behind the restaurant on the beach a guide was picking up many more ‘strays’ and putting them into a large bucket - it was like he was collecting eggs but these were the live young newly, emerged from their sandy nest.





We helped gather the strays we could find and returned many down to the sea ourselves. What a truly humbling experience, one youngster just did not want to go into the sea and kept turning around and heading back inland but finally with a little bit of encouragement (a gentle push) he made it through the waves. Perhaps it was the lights in the restaurant that was attracting them, even though all the lights in the rooms and restaurant are dimmed for their protection.



The beach is closed every evening between 1800 hours until 0600 hours the next day to protect the turtles but you can still see the them with a local guide. The informative guided tour only cost £9 and this money goes towards their protection so well worth it. You are also able to loan a small red light torch to guide you, which was very useful as mentioned above the beach is very churned up with large holes where a nest has been dug and you could also easy trip over a nesting turtle or a hatchling.



Our tour guide was a lady and she said she was the only female guide in the village and really enjoyed her work. She gave us a detailed introduction into the life of these huge creatures and the efforts being made to protect them here in the village of Grande Riviere. The turtles were all measured and records kept by other rangers guarding the beach. We watched several turtles haul themselves out of the sea, make a nest, lay their eggs, get measured and return to the sea - it was indeed a wonderful experience.



The next day I visited a small conservation office behind our hotel where research is going on to protect all the turtles in Trinidadian waters. By the office was a small wooden shed which used to be a Cocoa bean drying house. In the huge tanks were Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles of varying size and age - it was great to be able to see them all together and notice the different shells of each species. Some were being fed on lettuce whilst others had tasty shrimps to sample - they would all be returned to the sea some tagged for further research. Our guide told us that many local schoolchildren visited the centre and are learning more about the various different types of species that swim around their islands and the protection of these vulnerable turtles.



The guide said that growing up in her village and in the islands eating turtle meat was considered quite normal and they didn't think about the importance of conservation or protecting the turtle - it was just ‘food’ to them. It was part of their lives and if they saw a young hatchling struggling on the beach or wandering inland they would have just ignored it. Hundreds would have perished and at the same time their parents were being killed and served up for dinner pushing the turtles into serious decline.



Happily now the whole village is working together to preserve this beautiful creature for future generation to enjoy. Schools are educated children from an early age not to eat the meat and to look after the species. During the peak season when hundreds emerge from their sandy nests the village children will be out to collect them and return them to the sea instead of just ignoring them or eating them for supper.



As stated by David Attenborough in his recent Blue Planet series, ‘this small community at Grande Riviere is reversing the fortune of the giant leatherback turtles. Their numbers have dropped dramatically, by up to 90 percent in some parts of the world, but here, volunteers are risking their lives to get turtle poachers to put down their weapons and instead protect the beach where these magnificent creatures nest. Through these valiant efforts, theirs is now one of the densest leatherback nesting beaches in the world.’




We really enjoyed staying in this area, one day we watched two fishermen swim in from their fishing boat with a large catch of Mahi Mahi. They bartered with the hotel chef who selected the six largest - it was going to be a fish supper for us. They wanted T$250 for the six and the Chef said she would have to pay T$300 at a local market just for one of them … … The fishermen then wandered along the shore to sell their remaining catch. They had been one of four boats bouncing about in the bay over the previous three days. Later we watched the men swim back through the rough sea and clamber on board their boat being dragged up the side by colleagues - one fell back into the water before managing to haul himself out. We watched as the fishermen in the four boats shared out the small amount of money they had got - a really hard life. The next morning they had gone - moved on to fish again alongside yet another isolated village.



We spent our days strolling along the shoreline or the river behind the beach. We ventured into the village but there was not much to see just a couple of small stores usually with people ‘liming’ outside…. Our waitress told us that she had to get the bus and travel for two hours each way along the winding road to the nearest large store to get all the supplies she needed and she did this twice a month. She had to book 2 seats one to put her supplies on when she did the return trip! The local stores did not sell fresh foods and they had to rely on individual farmers selling fruit and veggies etc.



We spotted a few birds including an Osprey catch a very large fish just off shore. Hopping around the sand between the river and the sea were lots of tiny Frogs and one day we spotted a large Mongoose cross the road and disappear on the other side. Eating dinner at night, a few Bats of varying sizes would fly around us before disappearing to hunt for food. So much nature all around the area how lucky are we.



As mentioned earlier most of the hotels we stayed in were really quiet and some nights we were the only guests. However all changed if it was the weekend as on a Saturday night it was fully booked with a few tourists but also many locals who had come to see the Turtles. We met up again with Stephen & Helen and also met Margaret & Lori from the USA who moved into the room next to us. Margaret was working in Trinidad and Lori was visiting her and we had quite a few pleasant chats with them both. Margaret told us that once when she came before she was lucky enough to watch a whole nest of hatchlings emerge (hopefully she will send me the video she made of this amazing experience). Margaret I have added you to receive our blogs and hope you enjoy reading of our adventures - do look us up if you ever come to the UK it would be great to have another long chat with you.



We enjoyed our stay at Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel and must say that the owner Piero was very lucky to have such excellent and caring staff, particularly, Alicia, Lydia, Christelle and Loretta. We had been very fortunate to see so many massive Leatherbacks arriving during the night and very lucky to see them in the day as well when you could really appreciate the magnitude of these huge creatures. Although the greatest numbers come ashore at night, especially during the full moon if you are lucky you will spot them in the early hours so do go and help towards protecting them.



On our last morning at Grande Riviere there were three ‘giants’ just outside our room and the last one did not leave until well after seven. We watch it slowly drag itself back into the ocean and quickly disappear under the waves - a few minutes later it would raise up and take a breathe before disappearing once again — what an awesome sight … ….



We had breakfast and enjoyed our last homemade Coconut bake (must find a recipe for this delicious bread). We said goodbye to the staff and set off with Christopher the hotel’s driver - what a character he was a real Trini!. He liked music, horse & dog racing and driving fast - very fast … … He did say to tell him if he was going ‘too fast’ for us though and mentioned that his wife thought he ‘drove to slow’ she would drive much faster - impossible we thought!! His musical taste was good though and we all laughed when the Beatles song, ‘Long & Winding Road’ blasted out of his CD - because that is what the road was nearly all the way to the airport - luckily for us he was fast but also a very careful and skilled driver.





GOODBYE TO TRINIDAD



We really enjoyed our first taste of Trinidad with its vibrant mix of inhabitants. Everywhere you travelled there were exotically colourful houses in an abundance of shades, bright orange, striking green, yellow, pink, white, purple and red as well as some very sad looking shacks but everywhere we went we were greeted with lots of happy faces. As as well as the bright houses the colourful Hibiscus, Bougainville & Frangipani also blended seamlessly into the landscape. Whilst the stunning Poui trees stood out tall in the forests and along the roadsides. These trees flower very briefly in April and May before the rainy season downpours sweep across the islands and ruin its bright pink or yellow blooms. Thus indicating an end to the dry season and a reminder of the transition of yet another season on the islands.



We particularly enjoyed our days with Darren, our local bird guide, everyday life taking place in the small towns and countryside, the landscape, the forests and the variety of birds and wildlife particularly of course the massive Leatherback Turtle. Yes it rained, by the bucket load actually but this did not dampen our spirits - island life was pure magic. Hopefully we may return one day but now we need to catch our flight to the sister island of Tobago for another week of Caribbean life.





HELLO TOBAGO



Tobago is a very small island known as the gentle and tranquil half of the nation state of Trinidad and Tobago, with unspoilt sandy bays and clear sea it also boasts coral reefs and first class diving sites but we had
SpeysideSpeysideSpeyside

Over looking Blue Waters Inn
come mainly to chill and see a few of the islands birds that do not inhabit its island neighbour. Only 25 miles long by 7 miles wide you would think it would be easy to get around but there you would be wrong as it takes an age to travel along its winding roads - nearly all of its houses being built into hillsides on stilts.



It is believed that Tobago separated from Trinidad and the mainland about 12,000 years ago, due to sea level rise after the last ice age, whilst Trinidad separated from the South American mainland as recently as 1,500 years ago.



Like its sister island it had a turbulent history with the island changing hands between the Dutch, English and French 31 times before the British established a plantation culture, with sugar, cotton and indigo estates worked by African slaves. After emancipation in 1834 the free slaves deserted the plantations and the economy collapsed and in 1899 the island was made a ‘ward’ of Trinidad and the land was turned over to agricultural production. Today tourism is the mainstay of the island and you could see why with its inland rainforest surrounded by little coves and beaches and a truly relaxed way of life.



Unlike our UK to Trinidad flight our Caribbean Airways flight was on time, in fact it left 15 minutes early and 20 minutes later we were landing in Tobago! Our luggage came off quickly too - an excellent service, not though from our next accommodation as the Blue Waters Inn forgot to send a driver for us so we sat outside the airport and waited and waited. We were approached by a local man who wanted us to go with him - but we had a bad experience the last time we were in Tobago in 2003 when someone with a knife had tried to break into our room at Arnos Vale - so we were a little concerned. He was a nice guy, although he did want us to use his taxi and as we had already paid for a transfer we did not want to pay twice! He disappeared into a small Visitor Centre opposite the airport and a while later came out and beckoned Paul over. He had got the VC to call our hotel who told him that we did not have a transfer booked so we could use him! Paul got them to call the hotel again and spoke directly to them and they finally apologised for the ‘delay’ and said they would arrange a taxi for us.



A long ‘island time’ later we met Roger another local taxi guy. We piled into his car and off we went - it was a pleasant journey but did take quite a while even though the island is small it does not have any straight roads along the winding Atlantic coast ensuring very slow progress. Roger said that we would cross a bridge and then would be in another village and sure enough thats what we did - you could tell that a few Brits had once been here as we passed through villages called Pembroke, Goodwood, Glamorgan and Argyle. Roger also had to stop to fill up the tank (petrol also cheap here as in Trinidad) and often stopped to chat or wave to many of his relatives and friends along the way - everyone knows everyone here. Nearing our hotel at Speyside he stopped outside a house and pointed up to the veranda where his retired father-in-law sat who wanted to wave to us …. but finally at last we arrived at Blue Waters Inn.





BLUE WATERS INN - SPEYSIDE



Blue Waters is nestled in a scenic location in a small bay backed by tall tree covered cliffs with golden sand and with the islands of Little Tobago and Goat just off shore. A couple of strides from our room and we were on the golden sandy beach where glass bottom tour boats bobbed on the sea.



We saw our first colourful Trinidad Motmot here and the much larger and extremely noisy turkey like Rufous-vented Chachalaca which were quite tame and would swoop down close to the restaurant. This species is one of the national birds of Trinidad and Tobago and is featured on the country's coat of arms along with the Scarlet Ibis, the Ibis representing Trinidad and the Chachalaca, Tobago. The latter is also called the Cocrico (Rufus Tailed Guan) and is the only game bird on the island and also sometimes called the Tobago Pheasant.



On the shoreline a group of Ruddy Turnstones would waddle around looking for
Red-billed TropicbirdRed-billed TropicbirdRed-billed Tropicbird

Female on nest - edge of the cliffside
titbits amongst the washed up seaweed or what a guest had left behind! The Bananaquits (also known as Sugarbirds) here were quite tame and would sit on the wooden fence outside our room. We also spotted a Yellow-crowned Night Heron fishing along the shoreline. Inland we spotted White-tailed Dove, Tropical Mockingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Elaenias as well as Hummingbirds.



We hiked up to the top of the road which overlooked the village of Speyside several times. One morning we hike along the track called Starwood Trace where we saw a Rufous-tailed Jacamar and were rewarded for the uphill hike with great views across to Goat and Little Tobago Islands. Eating lunch one day the barman pointed out a Manta Ray in the bay which we were really surprised to see so close to the shoreline. We had hoped to snorkel but it did not look that inviting and the sky was quite overcast at times during our stay.



This was the most luxurious hotel we had stayed in on this visit but definitely not our favourite we much preferred the ambience and rustic feel at the Grande Riviere but it was good to chill for a few days, soak up the atmosphere and write up this now very long blog. The highlight of our stay though was a trip to Little Tobago Island which we could see from our room.





LITTLE TOBAGO ISLAND



We took a boat trip to Little Tobago Island passing the rugged peaks of Goat Island on the way - some say that Goat Island is the former home and retreat of Ian Fleming, the author and creator of James Bond but this is still not certain but the house that sits between the small islands definitely looks like it could have come out of one of his novels….. As we passed by the house the sea became very rough but we were in safe hands with our captain and bird guide, Randy.



Little Tobago Island is one of the most important seabird sanctuaries in the Caribbean, also known as Bird of Paradise Island it is only one and half miles off the coast from our hotel at Speyside. The star shaped mountainous island is home to more than 50 species of birds who live there all alone and at least 30 of them nest there. In the latter half of the 18th century it was a cotton plantation of some importance, outdoing the rest of Tobago in its yield per acre which is amazing considering its small size. Sugar cane cultivation was attempted around the turn of the century when the cotton industry collapsed, but the island was eventually abandoned as it proved unsuitable. In 1909 the island was purchased by Sir William Ingram who introduced a colony of Birds of Paradise. These birds were imported from New Guinea where a thriving plume trade threatened them with extinction - somewhere on our list to visit … .… After his death it came under control of the Government on condition that it be maintained as a bird sanctuary. Sadly a number of factors, including the hurricane of 1963, caused the Birds of Paradise to become extinct on the island but it now remains a sanctuary for many native species. including a few very ‘free range’ chickens left behind.



As our boat crossed over we watched large Brown Boobies flying through the channel between Goat Island. Once landed on a small jetty disturbing the Laughing Gulls we set off alone with Randy whilst the three other tourist on the boat went snorkelling. Within minutes of climbing Randy soon had us peering down a hollow root where an adult Audubon's Shearwater was sleeping and a little further on a little chick was sat on the nest. We hiked up the steep trail and spotted various smaller birds as well as Scaly Pigeon - Randy was delighted to see these but we were more keen to see the other birds - we have plenty of Wood Pigeons in our garden at home!!



Half way up a steep track we came to a newly built building which Randy said was supposed to be a Museum but it had been a long time in the making …. Inside instead of any artefacts it was home to a large colony of Bats.



Further on we came to the top of the hill and crossed the island to a viewpoint where we watched hundreds of Red-billed Tropicbirds sailing to and fro, trying to land, some being attacked by Magnificent Frigatebirds. We marvelled at a mother sat on her nest whilst a few feet away on the cliff edge was a young chick waiting for its mother to return with its breakfast. We manage to spot more Brown Boobies but at quite a distance and were delighted to also see the bird we had come to see the Red-footed Booby, again at a distance but you could really see their lovely red feet on the cliff face. We had seen the Blue-footed Booby but had missed seeing the red one so were delighted that we managed to see them here. Although not such a close up view as we had of the Blue Boobies on the Galapagos Islands as you had to walk around the birds once you landed on the island as they were not afraid of humans at all.



As we watched this aerial display of birds all of a sudden Randy spotted a White-tailed Tropicbird which swooped right past us and we watch this amazing bird soar through the skies, Randy said it was one of the only pair on the island living amongst its ‘red’ cousins … …



We also saw a few forest birds including Red-eyed Vireo (a subspecies known as Chivi Vireo), Trinidad Motmot, Brown-crested Flycatcher and a couple of Rufous-breasted Hermits. As we headed back to the boat Randy spotted a White-tailed Nightjar - definitely did not expect to see one of these. It was well hidden in the bush but we did get quite a good view.



On the return boat trip we peered through its glass bottom as Randy called out the names of the colourful fish, sponges and hard corals. Back at Blue Water Inn over the next couple of days we watched as the golden sandy beach gradually become covered in seaweed - so thick you could not see the sand. Apparently this has been happening all around the island and some hotels have cleaned it up only to take away lots of precious sand with it, so here it is left alone to disappear naturally.



During out stay at Blue Water we lost all connections with the outside world when a tree brought down a power line. The hotel had to rely on manual billing etc and there was no internet, no phones, no tv and the power kept dimming as well! The staff who mainly lived in Speyside said the whole village was without internet and other communications for two days. The internet returned the night before we left so we were able to pick up messages again before we moved on to our last destination on this trip, Cuffie River Nature Retreat.





CUFFIE RIVER NATURE RETREAT



Our driver was on time and even though it was not far to the retreat it took an hour and a half on the winding island roads. We passed through the towns of Mason Hall and Moriah, our driver said that their Prime Minister came from the latter. We then climbed along a narrow road to the retreat which was situated at the end of this road with nothing else for miles around - true escapism.



The Retreat is on the edge of Tobago's rainforest, surrounded by wild heliconias, huge bamboo groves and ancient forest in the remote and idyllic Runnemede valley. Remote yet offering modern comforts enhanced with an old world ambience. We were greeted by Regina Dumas the owner and soon tucked into a homemade lunch cooked by Yvonne to perfection. Regina was the perfect host and told us we were the only
Trinidad MotmotTrinidad MotmotTrinidad Motmot

From our balcony at Cuffie River
guests apart from a couple from Switzerland arriving later. She showed us to our rustic large room with two double beds and large bathroom. The room opened to a balcony overlooking the forest and an array of bird feeding tables and we were soon spotting the birds coming down to feed. There were many delightful cosy rooms and areas to sit and rest in comfort with rocking chairs on the patio and cushions everywhere. Every corner of the retreat is designed to enjoy nature and the outside world from every angle in comfort. There was a small library and reading room and outside a swimming pool raised on first floor level so you could swim and watch the birds and the stunning landscape all around you - although on our first ‘dip’ we were bombarded with Swifts getting their fill of the water as well …. …



At breakfast and lunch time, Yvonne would produce a special menu using local ingredients and cooked to perfection and in the evening Carolyn would take over with the same culinary skills. Their cooking skills were second to none and reflected the unique, multi-ethnic nature of Tobago. Luckily we were here
Desmond - brilliant bird guideDesmond - brilliant bird guideDesmond - brilliant bird guide

Hacking out a path for us to find the Blue-backed Manakin
for only three days or we would be putting on weight like the Oilbirds at Asa Wright!! We tried lots of different flavours and were surprised that we actually liked Goat Curry and Callaloo Soup a popular Caribbean dish originating in West Africa. Basically a green soup made from dasheen leaves, ochre and coconut milk. The main ingredient a leaf vegetable is known by a variety of names including Amaranth, Callaloo, Taro or Dasheen.



On our first day Regina arranged for us to meet up with Desmond Wright a resident naturalist. He won Employee of the Year in All of Trinidad & Tobago in 1999 and repeated that accolade in 2002 for Tobago. He had a vast knowledge of the flora, fauna and birdlife of the islands. Not so well known as Newton George is in the islands but just as knowledgable and a great guide whom we would thoroughly recommend. His knowledge of bird calls was astounding and he had impeccable hearing being able to locate birds hidden deep in the forest.



We set off early morning along the lane and started spotting birds straight away - sitting on a nest right on
Desmond & PaulDesmond & PaulDesmond & Paul

Heading back to Cuffie River
the roadside was a White-tailed Nightjar but by the time I found it - it had flown - they are so well camouflaged. It had left behind though a little egg all alone on the edge of the road …. no nest just the egg! A little further on we spotted another one only for this one to disappear before I could even focus with my lens - this one left behind two little eggs. Further on another one flew off but this time we spotted a little chick - again so camouflaged it took us ages to spot it but it did not move off so we could get a photograph. We also had a great treat when two Rufous-tailed Jacamar flew on to the tall bamboo canes that were abundant here - brought in to support the sugar cane in bygone days and now a part of the secondary forests here. We headed further along the lane and took a grass track into the forest walking along beside the gently flowing Cuffie River.



We spotted more birds including lots of Flycatchers and also we saw large land Crabs crawling out of their dark holes, Demond said the rain brought them out in abundance. Further into the forest we came across a Common Potoo again so hard to spot this one was sat on top of a broken bamboo cane and looked as though he was part of the cane itself. We headed further and higher into the forest and started to hear something we had wanted to see a Blue-backed Manakin. We did not get a glimpse as we walked across several stone bridges now being taken over by the jungle. Desmond said they were built many years ago to transport the cane by donkey down from the hillsides. We were getting tired now and the humidity was really high as we had just had a few quick sharp shower but Desmond said if we climbed the next hill we would definitely see the allusive Manakin — well sure enough we spotted two males right at the top and also at the top of the tallest trees but you could see their bright red head and blue back - awesome and of course hear their unique sounds. We had now seen all three Manakins that reside in Trinidad and Tobago - two in Trinidad and
Hiking around Cuffie RiverHiking around Cuffie RiverHiking around Cuffie River

This bridge was built to transport sugar cane down from the hillsides - now returning to the jungle.
the one in Tobago. Not quite so awesome though was the two snakes we spotted one being a Coral Snake and we were not sure what the other one was but kept clear of both … …



On the way back to the Retreat we tried again to spot the female White-tailed Nightjar but just as we got close all three of the ones we had seen on the way up also flew off amongst the bamboo before we could get a shot or indeed even focus the camera.



We spent several days enjoying the tranquility of the retreat, swimming in the first floor pool open to sky and with flowers and trees at eye level watching the birds feeding their young in their nests. The Crested Oropendola with their long nest hanging from the tallest branches and the Rufous-tailed Jacamar nesting in a hole in the bank, one of only four birds that nest in a bank here, the others being, Audubon's Shearwater , Trinidad Motmot and I cannot for the life of me remember the other one - someone reading this blog will so please let me know … …



We hiked along the lane several more times and spotted for ourselves the White-tailed Nightjar sat on her nest on the edge of the road and this time managed to get a photograph before she flew off. We thought again what a silly place to lay her egg, but of course the only traffic or indeed people on the road would be heading to our Retreat as the road ends there and the forest takes over once again. We hiked a little way into the forest to try and spot the Common Pootoo as well and although we knew where to look it took us half an hour to find him and he was sat on exactly the same broken bamboo trunk as before - what great camouflage!



We really enjoyed our time at the Cuffie River Retreat there were no worries about security because of its remote location - it is the only place where we could leave our doors wide open at night or indeed in the day, letting the pleasant breeze cool the room - it was so refreshing in more ways than one! The only people we saw were the staff and
After our hike at Cuffie RiverAfter our hike at Cuffie RiverAfter our hike at Cuffie River

Yvonne called them budbuds ....
the couple from Switzerland - the quiet was blissful and we were feeling really relaxed just want we needed before our return home. Yes we had some rain but usually a heavy downpour for about 10 minutes then brilliant warm sunshine, then a while later more rain - not the cold drizzle we get back home . …… The rain was a true godsend to Regina as the Retreat only used rain water, or if there was not a large enough supply they would pump their water supply from the river flowing below.



Out of all the places we have stayed on Trinidad and Tobago this indeed was our favourite place and one we will always remember. We sat on our balcony watching the birds the day before our flight when Yvonne went out to a vehicle that had just arrived - its rare to see any vehicles here and Regina the owner was out. Yvonne shouted up to us, ‘you are going tomorrow afternoon aren’t you’, and we said yes - she laughed and said your transfer has arrived a day early then … … We asked her if he had come all the way from the airport but she said no he just lived in the village a few miles away … …. hope he turns up again tomorrow or maybe not!





At dinner each evening we sat with the couple from Switzerland, speaking slowly in English as they spoke mainly French not German which would have been easier for us. We did have a lot of laughs though and a few scares particularly when a large German Cockroach flew through the open dining room window which was as big as a large Hummingbird … …. It was indeed a great place to end our adventure, but now it was time to head back to the UK and plan our next trip - we are not sure where yet, we will just have to wait and see but hopefully we will see you there.





👣Paul & Sheila - the Silvernomads


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15th May 2018

Trinidad and Tobago
What a wonderful blog with some lovely photographs, Who needs David Attenborough? Well done to you both. You must have 1000s of photographs and photo albums.
20th May 2018

Thanks
Hi Warwick - thanks for you nice comments - how lucky are we to be able to see such wonderful things ....
17th May 2018
Bats on Little Tobago Island

I like those
I like bats. Good photo you got there. /Ake
20th May 2018
Bats on Little Tobago Island

Thanks Ake
These little creatures were utterly amazing when we opened the door to their home some flew out only to fly back in again moments later ... ...
18th May 2018
Heading back to Tobago

Walking on water
I do not know if you can walk further than the end of this walkway...but I do know you have a real skill with the bird pics. Sensational.
20th May 2018
Heading back to Tobago

Thank you
Thanks for your kind comments Dave - I just love taking photographs of birds - not so good with the larger animals though, need more practice!

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