My wife and I took a six-day birding trip to Trinidad and Tobago from March 15-21, 2014. The trip included four days based at the Asa Wright Nature Center in northern Trinidad and two days in Speyside, Tobago, at the northeast tip of the island. Species lists are given below. We coordinated the lodging and guided birding through Caligo Ventures, and everything went smoothly. All told, we identified 160 species (with 88 lifers for me). Apparently a number of 'our' North American migrants had already left; while other migrants, such as Brown Noddy, had not yet arrived. It was still a good time to come here, as there was little rain and with Carnival over, cheaper travel costs and less crowds.
A red-eye flight from Houston to Port of Spain put us on the ground just at dawn, and a guide was waiting for us at the airport. We went directly to a variety of back roads near the Aripo livestock station and surrounding savannah, an area east of the airport and south of the northern ridge. We spent about four hours birding with 32 species seen.
We then spent the afternoon at Asa Wright, which is the premier birding/eco-lodge in the country. The fame is well deserved, as there are extensive trails for hiking in addition to a garden beneath the veranda which is teeming with a variety of birds attracted to the feeders. Over the course of four days, we struck out on our own a number of times and also went about on the grounds with various guides. They usually keep the verandah staffed with a keen-eyed guide and a scope, so various distant canopy dwellers could be seen from the comfort of the building. With hummingbird feeders hanging from the eaves, you will get quickly accustomed to the White-necked Jacobins, Purple Honeycreepers, and Palm Tanagers, amongst others, feeding within arm's length. Of particular interest is the hike down to a nearby cave where Oilbirds can be seen nesting.
We also took a few guided tours throughout the island, all based from Asa Wright; we took three of these trips. The first was a 'Night Birding' tour in the Aripo area, which was a unique and worthwhile experience, with various nightjars seen on or near the road. The intensity of the eye-shine generated by a Common Potoo is rather amazing to behold! Our guide was able to call some birds in, and with the aid of a spotlight, we were able to see, for example, a White-tailed Nightjar land and sit a meter from our feet.
The second outing was to the Nariva area on the east coast of Trinidad, which netted us a nice pair of uncommon Moriche (or Epaulet) Orioles.
The third outing took us to two sites: The first was Yerette, which is a private home in the northern foothills where the owner has created a wonderland of feeders and flowers so as to attract hundreds of hummingbirds. This was a great site for us to see four of the more elusive species that we did not find at Asa Wright, including Long-billed Starthroat and Little Hermit. The tour then moved to Caroni swamp on the west side of the island, where a boat trip took us through the mangroves and culminated in the spectacle of seeing thousands of Scarlet Ibis come in to roost at sunset on a small island.
After completing our time in Trinidad, there was a twenty minute flight to Tobago; then we were picked up by another professional birding guide who took us to a number of hotspots while on route across the island to Speyside. We would take a tour with the same guide the following day through the Tobago rainforest. In both cases, the birding was superb, especially because the focus was on specific Tobago specialties that our guide knew we had not seen on Trinidad, such as White-tailed Sabrewing.
Our birding wrapped up with a short boat trip out to Little Tobago island, where a hike to an overlook provided looks at several seabird species. Red-billed Tropicbirds were seen on nests at close range.
This was a very good trip overall, with no problems other than a few minor annoyances. If you go, be prepared for heat, sun, and rain. The mosquitos were not really that bad, though we did use DEET, primarily because we had no interest in picking up chiggers; other birders reported being bitten by them. The lodging at Asa Wright is very basic and consists of duplex units - with very thin walls: expect to hear your neighbors. Luckily they will almost certainly be serious birders, early to bed and rise. We met many new bird-watching friends there; most are from the UK.
The food at Asa Wright was acceptable; some days were better than others. You pretty much eat what they give you, which is nothing like the local, Indian-based cuisine, unfortunately. One big drawback to this trip for us was that, due to the birding-based lodging, we did not have much chance to sample the local 'street' food, which has a strong Indian basis. You can get great roti from the locals, but it was never served at Asa wright or the other hotels we were at.
However, every evening at Asa, the hosts serve a complimentary rum punch; after several of these you may find your ability to identify birds to be significantly impaired. Or maybe improved, depending on how you look at it. You've been warned.
If long, winding mountain roads give you motion sickness, then bring medication for it. The road to Asa Wright, which you will travel many times if you take the various birding tours, is a dizzying experience of continual turns and potholes. The same goes for virtually all the roads in Tobago that we were on, except the roads were in better condition there. The 15-minute boat trip to Little Tobago was also a bit rough and nausea-inducing.
As opposed to other guided trips we have taken, I was a bit surprised that little attention was paid to keeping guests hydrated when out on hikes and walks. During our first morning, we were not given anything to drink, though our guide has his own water. We were not even asked about food or coffee until after we'd left the airport and the options were very limited at best. So be sure to bring your own water supply and munchies.
If you wish to change your birding itinerary as you go along, you should have no problems finding guides. A number of individuals offered reasonable rates, and every guide we had was very good. Or you can let Caligo arrange trips. We did a little of both. Six days was a bit on the low side, I think eight days would be about perfect, as it would give you time to hit a few other sites, such as Blanchisseuse Road.
Aripo Livestock Station, Savannah, and adjacent areas
(feral) Rock Pigeon
Grassland Yellow Finch
Tropical Screech Owl
Pearl Kite (building nest)
Fork-tailed Palm Swift
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Asa Wright Nature Center
Little Tinamou (heard only)
Plain Brown Woodcreeper
Yellow-hooded Blackbird (en route)
White-winged Swallow (en route)
Nariva and East Coast
Black-bellied whistling Duck
Tobago Rainforest Reserve
Speyside and Little Tobago
Red-billed Tropicbird (seen on nests)
nest (and egg) of Audobon's Shearwater; bird not seen