Island Hopping: Trinidad & Tobago (Part 1)

A few weeks ago (December 2015), I was honoured to co-lead yet another trip with Eagle Eye Tours … this time, their annual adventure in Trinidad & Tobago! If you’re not familiar with this company, please check them out – they are a great Canadian company that offers amazing trips to many of the world’s best birding locations and I always enjoying working with them. They are also committed to being environmentally responsible and giving back to birds & conservation programs wherever they travel!

Trinidad & Tobago provides a great introduction to the birds of South America … it has a selection of almost every bird family found in mainland countries, but in a smaller and easier to navigate setting. In fact, we birded many habitats across much of the country while staying at just two locations … and we saw a LOT of awesome birds and other wildlife!

This funky-looking Tufted Coquette was just one of many awesome birds that we enjoyed during the 2015 Eagle Eye Tours trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

This funky-looking Tufted Coquette was just one of many awesome birds that we enjoyed during the 2015 Eagle Eye Tours trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

On the larger island of Trinidad, we stayed at the famous Asa Wright Nature Centre, where incredible birding was literally right at our doorstep! This centre and lodge was a pioneer in the world of ecotourism, and remains one of the best places for birding in the tropics. Whether relaxing on the veranda, walking the trails or taking a day-trip to nearby parts of the country, we encountered awesome birds,wildlife and scenery at every turn. Not to mention great people, delicious food and an endless supply of wonderful, locally grown coffee!

The view from the veranda at Asa Wright Nature Centre looks down over a lush valley in Trinidad's Northern Range. Lots of great birds and other wildlife in there!!

The view from the veranda at Asa Wright Nature Centre looks down over a lush valley in Trinidad’s Northern Range. Lots of great birds and other wildlife in there!!

A portion of the proceeds from this tour went to support the great work of both Bird Studies Canada (represented here by my friend & co-leader Jody Allair, centre) and the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Our group REALLY enjoyed their stay!

A portion of the proceeds from this tour went to support the great work of both Bird Studies Canada (represented here by my friend & co-leader Jody Allair, centre) and the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Our group REALLY enjoyed their stay!

Using the Asa Wright Nature Centre as our base, we explored a variety of habitats throughout northern and central Trinidad – mountain rainforests, grasslands, wetlands and even coastal swamps and fishing harbours. And during our “down time” we enjoyed the incredible birding available on the centre’s large estate – much of which remains wild and natural rainforest. The large veranda at the main house is alive with birds – dozens of hummingbirds, tanagers, orioles,  honeycreepers, oropendolas and many more beautiful species taking advantage of a rich offering of food!

Some of our best birding was done right from the veranda! Dozens of humming bird feeders and a buffet of fresh fruit brought an amazing variety of birds right to us.

Some of our best birding was done right from the veranda! Dozens of humming bird feeders and a buffet of fresh fruit brought an amazing variety of birds right to us. Here, some Bananaquits enjoy a juicy chunk of melon.

Plenty of other birds were spotted in the canopy surrounding the nature centre, including this beautiful Channel-billed Toucan.

Plenty of other birds were spotted in the canopy surrounding the nature centre, including this beautiful Channel-billed Toucan.

The estate offers lots of great birding right on site - property around the lodge, amazing trails, and even the road.

The estate offers lots of great birding right on site – property around the lodge, amazing trails, and even the road.

And it's not just birds. Trinidad has an incredible diversity of butterflies, including the large and beautiful Blue Morpho (known locally as the "Emperor").

And it’s not just birds. Trinidad has an incredible diversity of butterflies, including the large and beautiful Blue Morpho (known locally as the “Emperor”).

One of the most awe-inspiring birds found in the Northern Range is the Bearded Bellbird. Even more amazing than its wattled "beard" is its incredible call - something that has to be heard ot be believed. (Apologies for the poor photo - they are well concealed in the forest canopy and we were fortunate to have such great looks at this one!)

One of the most awe-inspiring birds found in the Northern Range is the Bearded Bellbird. Even more amazing than its wattled “beard” is its incredible call – something that has to be heard to be believed. (Apologies for the poor photo – they are well concealed in the forest canopy and we were fortunate to have such great looks at this one!)

Of course, hummingbirds are huge part of any visit to the tropics, and there is no shortage here! White-chested Emeralds were among the most confiding at Asa Wright's very busy feeders.

Of course, hummingbirds are huge part of any visit to the tropics, and there is no shortage here! White-chested Emeralds were among the most confiding at Asa Wright’s very busy feeders.

Less common at feeders but fun to watch were the hermits, like this Green Hermit. Despite being larger than the other hummers, they were often bullied away from the food and fed with interesting strategies.

Less common at feeders but fun to watch were the hermits, like this Green Hermit. Despite being larger than the other hummers, they were often bullied away from the food and fed with interesting strategies.

Many wild mammals in Trinidad are secretive and rarely seen, but the Red-rumped Agouti has adapted well to human settlement and enjoyed the fresh fruit being offered to birds at the nature centre.

Many wild mammals in Trinidad are secretive and rarely seen, but the Red-rumped Agouti has adapted well to human settlement and enjoyed the fresh fruit being offered to birds at the nature centre.

While some birds are well camouflaged for life in the forest, others are brilliant. Violaceous Euphonia is certainly among the most colourful!

While some birds are well camouflaged for life in the forest, others are very colourful. Violaceous Euphonia is certainly among the most brilliant!

Some birds advertise themselves in much more elaborate ways than colour. Male White-bearded Mannikins perform very entertaining courtship dances at leks, and we got to enjoy the show on a couple occasions. This little fella has his beard puffed out (some might joke that I've been known to use a similar strategy!).

Some birds advertise themselves in much more entertaining ways than colour. Male White-bearded Mannikins perform elaborate courtship dances at leks, and we got to enjoy the show on a couple occasions. This little fella has his beard puffed out (some might joke that I’ve been known to use a similar strategy!).

Here, another White-bearded Mannikin poses during part of the performance, showing a little less of the beard.

Here, another White-bearded Mannikin poses during part of the performance, showing a little less of the beard.

Frogs were often heard but rarely seen on our hikes, but we were fortunate to find a chorus of Trinidad Stream (Yellow-throated) Frogs. These tiny but very noisy critters are endemic to Trinidad, making it an extra special treat to see!

Frogs were often heard but rarely seen on our hikes, but we were fortunate to find a chorus of Trinidad Stream (Yellow-throated) Frogs. These tiny but very noisy critters are endemic to Trinidad, making it an extra special treat to see!

Even more fortunate was this sighting of another endemic species - Urich's Litter Frog. These tiny frogs are nocturnal, and we found one sitting on a leaf during a night stroll.

Even more fortunate was this sighting of another endemic species – Urich’s Litter Frog. These tiny frogs are nocturnal, and we found one sitting on a leaf during a night stroll.

Tufted Coquettes are stunning, but somewhat scarce in Trinidad. One or maybe two pairs can be found at Asa Wright, and photographing them was one of my "goals" during our visit. It proved a little tougher than anticipated since they never visit feeders, are extremely fast and active, and can be a bit elusive. It took a few days to figure out the feeding patterns of this male, but it eventually paid off with some decent photo opportunities. I love this bird!

Tufted Coquettes are stunning, but somewhat scarce in Trinidad. One or maybe two pairs can be found at Asa Wright, and photographing them was one of my “goals” during our visit. It proved a little tougher than anticipated since they never visit feeders, are extremely fast and active, and can be a bit elusive. It took a few days to figure out the feeding patterns of this male, but it eventually paid off with some decent photo opportunities. I love this bird!

A friend of mine described the male Tufted Coquette as the "David Bowie of hummingbirds", and here you can see why.

A friend of mine described the male Tufted Coquette as the “David Bowie of hummingbirds”, and here you can see why. Check out that crazy costume!

There are lots of other beautiful creatures to be found, including this Variegated Gecko which occurs only in Trinidad and northern Venezuela.

There are lots of other beautiful creatures to be found, including this Variegated Gecko which occurs only in Trinidad and northern Venezuela.

One of the most special experiences we had was a trek to see the Oilbirds at Asa Wright. These almost mythical birds are the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating birds in the world, using a combination of echolocation (just like bats!) and specially adapted eyesight to navigate in the dark. They live in caves, and produce the most guttural, haunting sounds you can imagine. Visiting the cave is a surreal experience, to say the least!

One of the most special experiences we had was a trek to see the Oilbirds at Asa Wright. These almost mythical birds are the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating birds in the world, using a combination of echolocation (just like bats!) and specially adapted eyesight to navigate in the dark. They live in caves, and produce the most guttural, haunting sounds you can imagine. Visiting the cave is a surreal experience, to say the least! We were also fortunate enough to spot four flying over the the valley in search of food one evening.

Another colourful visitor to the Asa Wright property is the Yellow Oriole ... what a great looking bird.

Another colourful visitor to the Asa Wright property is the Yellow Oriole … what a great looking bird.

Equally colourful, though of a very different hue, is the Blue-gray Tanager. These beautiful birds were regular visitors to the veranda feeders, yet I somehow came away with out a single unobscured photo!

Equally colourful, though of a very different hue, is the Blue-gray Tanager. These beautiful birds were regular visitors to the veranda feeders, yet I somehow came away with out a single unobscured photo (but I do like this one!).

One of the more understated birds that frequent the fruit trays are White-lined Tanagers. They were, nevertheless, very entertaining!

One of the more understated birds that frequent the fruit trays are White-lined Tanagers. They were, nevertheless, very entertaining!

In addition to great bring, we also took opportunities to learn about the local culture and economy. Trinidad is well known for its cocoa, and here our group is learning first-hand how it is traditionally harvested and processed.

In addition to great birding, we also took opportunities to learn about the local culture and economy. Trinidad is well known for its cocoa, and here our group is learning first-hand how it is traditionally harvested and processed.

In addition to cocoa, you can often find coffee growing throughout the landscape. Nothing goes better with a day of birding at Asa Wright than a great cup of coffee that was grown, harvested and roasted right on site!

In addition to cocoa, you can often find coffee growing throughout the landscape. Nothing goes better with a day of birding at Asa Wright than a great cup of coffee that was grown, harvested and roasted right on site!

Among my favourite hummingbirds were the White-necked Jacobins ... very classy!

Among my favourite hummingbirds were the White-necked Jacobins … very classy!

We had no trouble spotting a few Golden Tegu Lizards. At nearly a metre long, the largest of these critters could appear a little menacing and I usually gave one the right-of-way if I met it on a path!

We had no trouble spotting a few Golden Tegu Lizards. At nearly a metre long, the largest of these critters could appear a little menacing and I usually gave one the right-of-way if I met it on a path!

Smaller, but still a little menacing, was the Trinidad Chevron Tarantula. We spotted several of these, including this large female during a night stroll. Another (apparently a male) was making itself at home in the main house of the Asa Wright lodge. I hardly ever sat down without checking for it first!

Smaller, but still a little menacing, was the Trinidad Chevron Tarantula. We spotted several of these, including this large female during a night stroll. Another (apparently a male) was making itself at home in the main house of the Asa Wright lodge. I hardly ever sat down without checking for it first!

As you can tell by now, night time can be just as exciting as daytime when looking for life in the tropics. We saw or heard five species of owl in Trinidad, including this cooperative Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

As you can tell by now, night time can be just as exciting as daytime when looking for life in the tropics. We saw or heard five species of owl in Trinidad, including this cooperative Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

Stay tuned for more photo highlights in Part 2 of our adventure in Trinidad & Tobago!

 Click here to read Part 2 of our adventure in Trinidad & Tobago!

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Codroy Valley – A New & Exciting Tour!

It’s the middle of winter & a storm is wailing outside … What better time to start planning for SPRING?!?! Here’s a fresh and exciting birding tour to help you get started! This tour is designed just as much for local Newfoundland birders as it is for visitors, and takes us to one of the richest and most beautiful birding locations our island has to offer! But register soon – spaces are limited!!

Codroy Valley & Central Newfoundland (June 1-7, 2016)

CodroyCollage2CodroyCollageNestled away in the southwest corner of Newfoundland, the Codroy Valley is easily one of the island’s most beautiful places. Being much closer to the Maritime provinces both geographically (it’s a mere 150 km from Cape Breton) and ecologically, it is also home to the province’s greatest diversity of landbirds. A number of species wander there regularly that are otherwise very uncommon or rare in the rest of Newfoundland, and a few have pushed the limits of their breeding range to include this small region of our island. There are many species that you can expect to find here but nowhere else in Newfoundland!

This tour will lead us through the Codroy Valley’s lush forests, sandy beaches, and rich estuaries – all while the beautiful Long Range Mountains loom in the distance. Our visit also coincides with the region’s Feather & Folk Nature Festival, and we will include time in our schedule to take in some of the social and educational events.

Starting and ending in St. John’s, we will spend some time in beautiful central Newfoundland to enjoy local birds and break up our travel. If time and weather allow, we will also visit nearby Stephenville Crossing to seek out its unique habitats and bounty of birds.

Highlights:

  • Leisurely birding in some of Newfoundland’s most scenic locations.
  • A variety of settings that include forests, wetlands, and seaside habitats.
  • An opportunity to enjoy Newfoundland’s richest diversity of songbirds, many of which have just arrived and provide a tremendous morning chorus.
  • Several of the provinces “species at risk”, including the endangered Piping Plover and some of the island’s last remaining Bobolink.
  • A number of “Codroy Valley specialties” – uncommon birds that might include several colourful warblers, vireos, and flycatchers among others.
  • Opportunities to meet local birders and participate in Feather & Folk Nature Festival events.

* A typical day will include an early morning start. Birding will be at a leisurely pace and may require short walks (up to several kilometers) that will be done very slowly. A more arduous, uphill hike may be offered as an optional outing.
* Weather is generally nice but cool in early June (especially in the mornings), so participants should pack accordingly … layering works. Waterproof coat and boots are advisable. We may continue to go birding outside in light showers, but plan for alternative birding or activities in more challenging weather.
* Each evening, a list of the birds and other wildlife encountered will be reviewed and discussed.
* Accommodations will include shared two-bedroom cabins in Codroy Valley (4 nights) and double-occupancy hotel rooms in central Newfoundland (2 nights). * See single occupancy supplement below regarding one-bedroom cabins and private hotel rooms.

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 Itinerary at a Glance:

Day 1 (June 1): Our tour begins at noon as we depart St. John’s and head west across the TransCanada Highway, arriving in central Newfoundland for the evening. We will make some brief birding stops along the way and/or take an evening bird stroll.    Overnight: Central Newfoundland (exact location TBD).

Day 2 (June 2): After a morning of birding in central Newfoundland’s rich forests, we continue west to our destination in beautiful Codroy Valley. Weather depending, we will make some birding stops along the way, including Stephenville Crossing to look for local specialties.    Overnight: Codroy Valley

Days 3-5 (June 3-5): We will spend three full days exploring one of Newfoundland’s best birding regions. Mornings will usually focus on the rich variety of songbirds that occur in the area, while other outings will take us to other great locations for strolls on the beach, coastal seawatches and a variety of wetland habitats. Afternoon breaks and opportunities to participate in festival events will be included in the schedule. Optional outings may be offered on nice evenings.    Overnight: Codroy Valley

Day 6 (June 6): After a final morning birding the Codroy Valley, we head east for another evening in central Newfoundland. We will make birding stops along the way.    Overnight: Central Newfoundland (exact location TBD)

Day 7 (June 7): After a morning birding in central Newfoundland, we will head back to St. John’s for a mid-afternoon arrival.

Price
$1395 /person; $2250/couple (taxes included)
Single occupancy supplement (private hotel room and one-bedroom cabin): $350

Includes:

  • 6 nights accommodations (4 nights at cabin in Codroy Valley; 2 nights at hotel in central Newfoundland)
  • 6 breakfasts and 6 lunches (may include picnic lunches)
  • Transportation throughout the tour, starting and ending in St. John’s (we can make alternate arrangements if you require pick-up at another point between).
  • Expert guiding services

Does not include:

  • Evening meals (you may choose to dine separately or as a group; cabins in Codroy Valley will include kitchenette and BBQ if desired).
  • Items of a personal nature

Contact Bird⋅The⋅Rock for more information or to REGISTER FOR THIS TOUR now!

WINGS 2016: Winter Birds in Newfoundland

Winter is a fun and special time to go birding in Newfoundland – which is why a group of WINGS tour participants brave the cold weather to visit here every January. This year, four birders (one from Maryland and three friends from California) made the voyage north to explore our rugged island! And I had the pleasure of sharing the wonderful birds & beautiful scenery of the eastern Avalon Peninsula with them. (This is my third year leading this adventure – and it always a great time! Follow these links to read blog posts about the 2014 and 2015 tours.)

WINGS tour participants scan for seabirds at wintery St. Vincent's beach on January 15.

WINGS tour participants scan for seabirds at wintery St. Vincent’s beach on January 15.

The tour is based out of St. John’s – one of the oldest cities in North America and located at its easternmost reaches. A variety of interesting and exciting species can be found around St. John’s during winter, and this year did not disappoint. Among the nine species of gulls found were Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and European Mew (Common) Gulls. Rare anywhere else on the continent, we enjoyed dozens of Tufted Ducks, several Eurasian Wigeon and two beautiful Eurasian (Common) Teal amid an array of the more expected North American waterfowl.

Traveling outside the city on several occasions, we enjoyed more exciting birds and stunning coastal scenery. Dovekie is always a key target during this tour and were present in excellent numbers, including a few cooperative birds that lingered just metres away. We also encountered Black-legged Kittiwakes during strong onshore winds – a species not often seen from shore in winter. Purple Sandpipers and Great Cormorants put in an excellent showing, posing on the coastal rocks. Boreal Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks gave us amazing looks, as did at least two Northern Goshawks and a very surprised Willow Ptarmigan. It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and a wonderful setting!

We wpent a lot of time along the Avalon's rugged but beautiful coast during the week - lots of birds and stunning scenery!

We spent a lot of time along the Avalon’s rugged but beautiful coast during the week – lots of birds and stunning scenery!

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with closer looks as they fed close by.

Dovekie were no trouble to find this year, which is not always the case! We saw dozens most days, often flying past but sometimes obliging us with great looks as they fed close by.

This photo, from last year's WINGS tours, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

This photo, from last year’s WINGS tour, shows just how cooperative Dovekie can be. We enjoyed several like this during the week.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year's tour - we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

Purple Sandpipers were also stars of this year’s tour – we found three flocks of 50+ birds, all of which provided excellent views.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams and rivers.

When not seaside, we enjoyed some beautiful walks in the local boreal forest and along streams & rivers.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and provided to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

White-winged Crossbills have been arriving on the Avalon this month, and proved to be a crowd-pleaser for our participants.

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The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

The classy looking Tufted Duck is another popular bird for visitors, and we saw more than 40 this past week!

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John's. Maybe one day they will be "split" into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

This drake Eurasian Green-winged (aka Common) Teal was one of two drakes hanging out along a sheltered brook in St. John’s. Maybe one day they will be “split” into separate species, as some authorities currently consider them.

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow's Goldeneye spotted among a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard's Bay (CBN).

Another uncommon duck (though of North American origins) was this drake Barrow’s Goldeneye spotted amid a flock of Common Goldeneye in Spaniard’s Bay (CBN).

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Lovely day for a picnic 😉

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

We also enjoyed several sightings of three species of seal, including this group of Harp Seals.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John's.

Gulls are an integral part of the tour, and we spent some time studying the various flocks around St. John’s.

This photo includes four of the most common species seen around the city - Herring, "Kumlien's" Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls.

This photo includes four of the most numerous gull species seen around the city – Herring, “Kumlien’s” Iceland, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed (1w, front centre) Gulls. All in all, we found nine species and several interesting hybrids to enjoy!

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John's, although we did manage o find some at other locations.

Black-headed Gulls have suddenly become less abundant following the closure of a large sewer outflow in St. John’s, although we had no trouble finding some at other locations.

We also relocated an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South - it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

We also rediscovered an adult Common (European Mew) Gull at a sewer outfall in Conception Bay South – it had been missing from its regular haunts in the city for several days.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

While Great Cormorants are far more abundant here during winter, we also managed to find a couple Double-crested Cormorants lingering around the region.

It was a wonderful week full of great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I'm already looking forward to next year's WINGS Tour!

It was a wonderful week filled with great birds, interesting weather, beautiful scenery and (most importantly) a fantastic group of people. I’m already looking forward to next year’s WINGS Tour!