In the Caroni Swamp, flocks of brilliantly colored scarlet ibis
roost quietly in the mangroves, where they have returned at dusk
after feeding all day. When it’s not nesting season between
November and March so many ibises swarm to the trees as the sun
sets that they paint the sky a flaming red.
Over in the rainforest at Asa Wright Nature Centre, two
white-bearded male manakins dangle on a small twig pole in a “lek”
(courtship display ground). They wait for a female bird to signal
she’s ready for their attentions, then slide down the twig, like
firemen, to greet her.
Trinidad harbors many wonderful sights for birdwatchers. The
country boasts over 430 species of birds; the two islands of
Trinidad and Tobago rank among the top 10 countries in the world in
terms of the number of species per square mile. Clients can see
toucans, trogons, hummingbirds, motmots, honeycreepers, woodpeckers
and oilbirds. Trinidad is a mecca for birders and nature lovers,
who can view all these bird species and more in their natural
Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary
Perhaps the most popular bird sanctuary is the Caroni Swamp,
which attracts many non-birders too.
Tours depart from the swamp late in the afternoon. In a flat
open boat with bench seats for 20, we head out with Nanan’s Bird
Sanctuary Tours, the oldest company in the business. The mangrove
swamp is vast covering 40 square miles and as we motor quietly
along green canals, we pass by football-size termites’ nests, a boa
constrictor curled up in the roots of one mangrove tree and
colonies of white egrets flying from tree to tree.
After 20 minutes, our boat guide ties up to a clump of mangroves
beside other boats at the edge of an open lake area, and we wait
for the long-necked and long-beaked scarlet ibis to come. Some
18,000 to 20,000 ibises inhabit the swamp; about 3,000 to 4,000
from one colony alone live on the small island in the swamp lake
that we visit.
As we wait, our guide explained why the scarlet ibis is red.
“They eat small red crabs and shrimps. Eating the carotene turns
them red. When they’re born, they’re black, and it takes two to
three years to get their red color.
“They also need their freedom to keep their deep scarlet color,”
he added. “If kept in captivity, they turn pink.”
Soon, as twilight approaches, we see the magnificently colored
birds as they fly in and settle down in the trees in the island
beyond us. Because we’re visiting during nesting season, many are
nesting in other parts of the swamp, so the scene isn’t the awesome
spectacle it is during the winter months.
Asa Wright Nature Centre
Nestled in the rainforest, 1,200 feet up in the mountains, a
1906 estate house has been converted into the Asa Wright Nature
Centre for the more than 80,000 nature lovers and birdwatchers who
visit here each year. There’s even a lodge with a restaurant and 24
simple, pleasant rooms for serious birders who want to stay
overnight. But clients will have to book early for high season,
from mid-December to mid-May reservations are being made three to
four years in advance.
The conservation area covers 1,500 acres of dense foliage and is
criss-crossed with dirt trails. We stroll the “adventure trail”
with our Asa Wright guide Mukesh on a short morning tour. He stops
us every few feet to point out plants and creatures of interest.
Under a bench seat beside a red-and-gold “lobster claw” flower, he
shows us a tarantula spider. He also points out a six-inch-wide
trail made by leaf-cutting ants.
“It looks like a mini-highway plugged with traffic like little
trucks with windsurfers on them.”
But the best part of our tour is back at the centre, perched on
stools on the deck overlooking the balcony railings where bird
feeders hang from above and watch the hummingbirds buzz in and peck
on the feeders.
The most prized is the tufted coquette hummingbird, “which in
bright sunlight looks like a flying jewel,” said Mukesh. “People
come from all over the world to see it.”
Pax Guest House
Near top birding spots, including the Caroni Swamp, Pax Guest
House is a good accommodation choice for birdwatchers and nature
lovers. Built in 1916, it offers quaint colonial-style rooms with
antique furniture, some with air conditioning and private
Clients can also visit just for afternoon tea. For $4 per
person, Pax serves afternoon tea with cakes and sandwiches in their
dining room or in the garden. The delicious guava jelly is made by
the manager’s uncle, a monk at the adjacent Mt. St. Benedict
Room rates start at $105 per night and include taxes, breakfast
and candlelight buffet dinner.
Commission: 10 percent
Asa Wright Nature Centre
Nanan’s Bird Sanctuary Tours