Ruby Topaz, Scarlet Ibis, Purple Honeycreeper, & Tufted Coquette
Just the names of these birds hold so much promise for a birding trip to Trinidad & Tobago, but you have no idea HOW Ruby, Scarlet and Purple these and other birds can be until you see them in person. And I’d rightly visit for the Tufted Coquette alone!
The islands of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T to some) are located just off the northeast coast of South America and have become a popular vacation spot for nature lovers. Ocean breezes moderate the tropical, humid climate and the bird and mammal life is impressive for such a small land area. More than 460 birds, 55 reptiles, 25 amphibians, and 617 butterflies have been documented here.
My wife and I visited Trinidad & Tobago for the second time in December of 2012 (during the long dry season which extends from January through May). We had plenty of time to explore and watch birds and to sit back and relax. This is a place where one’s birding senses are overwhelmed 24/7 because birds are everywhere. I had ample time to take photos of the stunning birds and impressive forms of wildlife that live on these islands. Below is a gallery of some of my favorite eye-popping beauties.
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One of the more abundant birds on T&T, the Bananaquit is easily found at almost any feeder. Here seen feeding on an unattended banana from a guest’s lunch at Asa Wright Nature Center. © Christopher Ciccone
Often more difficult to see in other locations, I’ve enjoyed long, good looks at Barred Antshrike at Asa Wright Nature Center. © Christopher Ciccone
When the sun has dimmed and “the regulars” are no longer at the feeders, nighthawks can be seen circling over the main building feeding alongside the bats such as this one. Some bats find a quick energy drink at the hummingbird feeders until they are taken in for the night. © Christopher Ciccone
One of the more common hummingbirds (not just in T&T, but in my experience throughout Central America) the handsome White-necked Jacobin is a study in royal blue and glittering green. © Christopher Ciccone
Copper-rumped Hummingbird. Easily the most commonly observed hummingbird throughout the twin islands, these glittering jewels are never boring. When the light hits them just right, the colors are stunning. © Christopher Ciccone
They are big. They are loud. They build astounding and large pendulous nests in the trees right off the famous veranda at Asa Wright Nature Center. The Crested Oropendolas are always entertaining and popular among the visitors and guests. © Christopher Ciccone
One of the two manakin species that have display ‘leks’ on the grounds of the Asa Wright Nature Center, Golden-headed Manakin is always a target bird and a big treat to see © Christopher Ciccone
White-bearded Manakin is another manakin species that is easily found on the grounds of AWNC. The bird is always entertaining, but especially when dancing to attract a mate on the lek. © Christopher Ciccone
Anything but common looking, the Purple Honeycreepers are numerous and easily seen at incredibly close range at feeders throughout the islands. © Christopher Ciccone
Unlike many immature birds, the young male Purple Honeycreepers and far from plain and inconspicuous. © Christopher Ciccone
Birds are not the only animals hanging around the grounds of the lodge – the large Golden Tegu Lizards are encountered throughout the grounds. (Don’t worry, they will gladly scurry off and give you plenty of space). © Christopher Ciccone
A woodpecker found throughout Central America, I have seen many Golden-olive Woodpecker near Asa Wright. © Christopher Ciccone
Vioaceous Euphonia. Another bird common throughout Central America, but easily seen right from the veranda at Asa Wright. The birds provide nearly point-blank looks as they feed just a few feet away. © Christopher Ciccone
If memory serves, the Palm Tanager is the single most common bird I’ve seen in my travels south of the US. If seeing them at a feeder just a few feet away is not close enough, they can be studied while perching on the frames of artwork hanging in Asa’s open library area. You could also just put some food down on the rail next to you and soon you’ll be rubbing elbows with these guys. © Christopher Ciccone
Much less common, but with some patience, you’ll be able to spot the handsome crimson velvet-looking Silver-beaked Tanager. Even when skulking in the shadows, waiting out their turn at the feeders, the bright silver-white on the beak looks like a moving Christmas tree light. © Christopher Ciccone
This large, loud, name-saying flycatcher simply refuses to be missed. The Great Kiskadee might just be the first bird you hear. © Christopher Ciccone
Any trip to Trinidad must include a trip to Caroni Swamp where not only will you often catch up with cool birds like potoos and a variety of herons, but you are almost guaranteed to see hundreds if not thousands of Scarlet Ibis coming in to roost on any given evening. (On our second vacation, we tried an odd day trip to see what else might be found, and had a few ibis in the mangroves, but I would never miss an afternoon/evening trip!) © Christopher Ciccone
If you like hummingbirds (and who doesn’t!) then “Yerette” is a must while visiting Trinidad. A relatively new stop in the last few years, make sure to find a way to visit this homeowner’s yard that is lined with hummingbird feeders. The non-stop buzzing of hundreds of hummingbirds – including one of my favorites, the brilliant and stunning Ruby Topaz – can entertain for hours. © Christopher Ciccone
Another stunner seen and photographed at Yerette, the Long-billed Starthroat, certainly lives up to its name! © Christopher Ciccone
Did I mention that Yerette is one of the best places to see hummingbirds in Trinidad & Tobago? The lovely Blue-chinned Sapphire is just another of the possible 12 or more species that you will see in a short visit. © Christopher Ciccone
If you stay at Asa Wright for a minimum of 3 nights, you are eligible for a complimentary visit to what is probably one of the most accessible Oilbird caves that I am aware of. (And if you are lucky, you might hear them calling at night when they come out to feed, too!) © Christopher Ciccone
Without a doubt, one of my favorite birds that can be found on the grounds of Asa, is the tiny Tufted Coquette. This bird almost defies description. In my opinion, this single bird makes the trip worth it. (But if you don’t agree, there are plenty other amazing birds for you!) © Christopher Ciccone
Crossing over to Tobago, some birds are a little easier to see, some are harder, but this is one you won’t find in Trinidad. The White-tailed Sabrewing population suffered in Tobago after hurricane Flora in 1963, but is recovering nicely, and just one of the many attractions at the Cuffie River Lodge on Tobago. © Christopher Ciccone
A stunning hummingbird found on both Trinidad & Tobago, the Black-throated Mango is another one that easily seen visiting the feeders at Cuffie River Lodge. © Christopher Ciccone
Rufous-vented Chachalacas, while a little more difficult to see on Trinidad, are common visitors (often in groups) at feeders on Tobago. Having lunch at the Blue Waters Inn on Tobago, you will certainly get to know them up close and personal.
When visiting Tobago, make sure to arrange a trip to Little Tobago Island – a sanctuary island where some great seabirds can be seen like Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and the dynamic and graceful Red-billed Tropicbirds. © Christopher Ciccone
If you are lucky, you might also get to see one of the Tropicbirds up close as there are sometimes nests that the guides know of and will show you – as long as they are not often or much disturbed. © Christopher Ciccone
Motmots are large colorful birds of the neotropics and this twin island endemic is as beautiful as they get. With shades of green, orange, blue (they used to be called Blue-crowned Motmots before the species were split into several different species) a blood red eye, and long racket-shaped tail feathers, you would be hard-pressed to find a birder that isn’t thrilled to see these gorgeous Trinidadian Motmots (which in my experience are easier to see on Tobago). © Christopher Ciccone