Copyright © 2005-2017 Ray Plowman All Rights Reserved
Trinidad with its sister island Tobago is an island republic in the Caribbean just off the northeast coast of Venezuela. It's wealthy with an industrial petrochemical based economy and strong financial services but only a fledgling tourism industry. Independent travellers mainly visit Trinidad for birdwatching, wildlife or the annual Carnival. Tobago has sandier beaches, more tourist facilities and attracts European 'packaged' sun seeking and leisure travellers. We went to Trinidad in April 2015 for three weeks but with some concern about personal safety as high levels of theft and violent crime have been reported, although most is drugs or domestic related, tourists have been targeted.
We arrived in Trinidad early evening for an overnight stay in a hotel near Piarco airport before transferring to Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) the following morning. After our stay at AWNC we transferred to Mt Plaisir Estate Hotel at Grande Riviere on Trinidad's north east coast, the 90Km drive took around 2 Hr 30 minutes. From Grande Riviere we transferred to Piarco airport picked-up a rental car and then drove to our accommodation; the Gingerbread House in Port of Spain, our base for the next couple of weeks.
Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge is a former plantation, the Spring Hill Estate, which has now been partly reclaimed by secondary forest and operated as a non-profit making nature reserve. It's a stunning place to visit; either as a day visitor or staying full board at the Lodge. It's located in the northern mountain range's Arima valley and has excellent security making for an enjoyable stay, Asa wright webpage features nature and wildlife images.
Grande Riviere beach is where leatherback turtles come ashore to nest, Grande Riviere webpage features nesting turtles and other nature and wildlife images.
Our base in Port of Spain was the Ginger Bread House located on Carlos Street in Woodbrook. It's just a short walk to Ariapita Avenue where there are several reasonable restaurants such as the Hakka and a short drive to Movie Towne Mall for more restaurants, the shopping mall and ATMs. Woodbrook and Movie Towne Mall seemed safe enough, as a precaution we left valuables in our room and only carried small amount cash and one credit card when going to restaurants and stores. When touring, we avoided going to high risk tourist attractions listed on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website or mentioned in guide books. We also stayed out of the area bounded by Charlotte Street, Beetham Highway and Lady Young Road and the downtown area, Independence Avenue north to Queen's Park Savannah.
Staying in the capital was disappointing with high levels traffic congestion and noise; the rush hour starts early and goes on well past the end of the school runs. Driving in Trinidad is challenging; on the highway cars exceed the speed limit by significant margins, overtake on both sides of the carriageway, change lanes at high speed just to get ahead so accidents are frequent. In Port of Spain it's mostly traffic jams and in the country the traffic is slow as most drivers try to avoid potholes and will drive on the wrong side of the road to do so even if there is oncoming traffic.
We made several day trips to various places in Trinidad, some on more than one occasion and revisited AWNC a couple of times as a day visitor
This large mangrove wetland is on the west coast south of Port of Spain easily accessed by a car from a junction on the Uriah Butler Highway. Two tour operators; Nanan and Madoo run late afternoon boat tours into the swamp. We went on the Madoo tour that leaves from the Visitor Centre at 4.00pm returning at 6.30pm. The main highlight is the red ibises that flock in the evening to roost, although it wasn't the best time of year for this spectacle as few birds were returning to the swamp. The boat anchors a long way from the roost so a long lens with larger apertures are required just to get shots of the flocks; you can get much closer to individual birds at Orange Valley Mudflats and light is much better.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and stopped when a wildlife photo opportunity arose. The gallery features images of:
(a) A channel through the Caroni Swamp mangrove wetland; a flock of scarlet ibis flying to roost for the night; and great white and snowy egrets in the mudflats near the ibis' roost.
(b) Two species of tree-climbing crabs, a well camouflaged long-nosed bat, a Ruschenberger tree boa and a red-capped cardinal from the tanager family of birds.
After 4.00pm is not the best time to capture images in the tropics, especially in mangrove swamps where the light levels are particularly low. I photographed ten bird species including low quality images of a tropical screech owl, common potoo and plain-brown woodcreeper, which I've excluded.
Except for the red-capped cardinal, which features in the gallery above and the for mentioned low quality images all others appear in the Wildlife/Birds (Aves) section:
(a) Bitterns & Egrets webpage: little blue heron, great white egret and snowy egret;
(b) Herons webpage: yellow-crowned night heron;
(c) River Kingfisher webpage: American pygmy kingfisher;
(d) Pelicans, Ibis, Storks & their Allies webpage: scarlet ibis.
Waterloo and Orange Valley are on the west coast of Trinidad; from Port of Spain it's around 50Km, 50 mins outside the rush hour. Head south on the Uriah Butler and Sir Solomon Hochoy Highways to Chaguanus, then through Carapichaima, a series of predominately Indian populated villages, to Waterloo.
Siewdass Sadhu's Temple in the Sea is used for puja ceremonies, weddings and cremations. There are many discarded puja items and pray flags along the shoreline.
South on Waterloo Road is the village of Orange Valley, which has a causeway that just out into the Gulf of Paria; fishing boats anchor here. Park the car on the causeway and use the car as a hide to photograph birds on the extensive mud flats. There's a shrine with puja prayer flags and other items along the causeway shoreline.
Images in the gallery feature:
(a) Siewdass Sadhu's Temple in the Sea, discarded puja items and pray flags at Waterloo and Orange Valley causeway.
(b) Boats at Orange Valley causeway.
(c) Panoramic scenes and close-ups of the Orange Valley mudflats featuring: scarlet ibises, black skimmers, laughing gulls, brown pelicans, black vultures, a little egret and a fiddler crab.
I photographed eleven bird species at the mudflats; six of which I had only observed at this location. The gallery above features black vultures and a little egret; the only observation of this species in Trinidad. The Wildlife/Birds (Aves) section features images of nine of these bird species I photographed in Trinidad and little egrets from other geographical locations:
(a) Neotropic Non-Passerines webpage: webpage: smooth-billed ani and ruddy ground dove;
(b) Gulls and Allies webpage: a laughing gull and black skimmer;
(c) Bitterns & Egrets webpage: a little blue heron and snowy egret;
(d) Pelicans, Ibis, Storks & their Allies webpage: a scarlet ibis and brown pelican;
(e) Waders webpage: a ruddy turnstone.
La Vaga Estate is a commercial plant nursery with recreational facilities, which include lakes and signposted nature trails. It's situated in central Trinidad, on the Couva Main Road, which is just north of the Montserrat Hills about 50 Km drive from Port of Spain mostly on Uriah Butler Highway. You can tour the grounds and park inside, it's not busy on a weekday.
The photo gallery shows images of:
(a) A view of the lake and a picnic hut, Everglades palms and parking alongside.
(b) Images of two fruiting palm tree species that are native to Central America and Caribbean but probably not to Trinidad:
(i) Everglades palms have fan-shaped (palmate) leaves, clustered trunks each of which has leaf bases and dense matted fibres. The fruits are green ripening to orange and then black.
(ii) Royal palm species have pinnate (feather) leaves with single trunk, a glossy green crownshaft (upper trunk) and a grey lower leaf scared base. The fruits (drupes) are green ripening to red eaten by birds and bats.
(c) A giant ameiva lizard feeding on fruits that had fallen to the ground. At around 20 cm snout to vent it's not that big but does have a very long tail.
(d) A bananaquit building a nest in an Everglades palm from fibres that it stripped from the trunk.
I photographed twenty bird species at Le Vega; fifteen of which I had only observed at this location. All twenty species are featured in Wildlife/Birds (Aves) section:
(a) Neotropic Passerines webpage: a bananaquit, hooded oriole, white-headed marsh tyrant, blue-and-white swallow, giant cowbird, yellow-hooded blackbird, tropical mockingbird and great kiskadee;
(b) Herons webpage: green, striated and variant (striated x green) herons;
(c) Bitterns & Egrets webpage: little blue heron and cattle egret;
(d) Neotropic Non-Passerines webpage: ruddy ground dove;
(e) Pelicans, Ibis, Storks & their Allies webpage: an anhinga;
(f) Waders webpage: a wattled jacana
(g) Waterfowl, Rails and Coots webpage: a purple gallinule;
(h) River Kingfisher webpage: a ringed kingfisher.
Other than the places featured above we didn't find many others of interest or were photogenic or particularly safe to visit.
Chaguaramas Peninsula and Macqueripe Bay
Our first day trip from Port of Spain was west to Chaguaramas Peninsula and Macqueripe Bay. I had planned several walks but at the start of the first, a public safety notice put us off going; as a tourist carrying expensive camera equipment I felt I would be a target, so we just went to the small beach at the end of Tucker Valley Road, families go there to swim. The beach is small; the cliff slope behind the beach has been planted with shrubs and trees. I photographed a giant ameiva lizard and a spotted sandpiper in the area just behind the beach.
Mt St Benedict Monastery
There is a circular walk starting and finishing at St Benet's Hall. We started but gave up after an hour and returned as the trail was poorly maintained, not that scenic and not much wildlife to see.
A circular tour starting from Port of Spain along the North Coast Road to Maracas Bay and Blanchisseuse Bay; then south on the Blanchisseuse Road to Arima and back to Port of Spain. Apart from Maracas Bay I didn't find much else to inspire me to take photos. We stopped in several places on the Blanchisseuse Road but birds were too far away to photograph successfully.
Manzanilla Bay is around 65Km drive from Port of Spain, then it's a further 24Km to Point Radix, about two hours without stops. Take the Churchill Roosevelt Highway east from Port of Spain towards Valencia, about half distance, then south on the Eastern Main Road through Sangre Grande to Manzanilla Bay.
The east coast is a wild and windy coastline on the Atlantic. The 24 km drive from Manzanilla to Point Radix is along the Mayaro Road with the Nariva Swamp on one side and Cocos Bay, which is lined with coconut palms, on the other. Towards the south end of the Nariva Swamp is Bush Bush Reserve, an entry permit is required. Most wildlife was too far to be photographed and we didn't spot anything new.
AWNC: Asa Wright Nature Centre