Birdwatching in Trinidad
Trinidad has long been known for its vibrant Caribbean icons; it's the birthplace of calypso and the steel pan. Both live large as the musical backdrop for Trinidad's bombastic and popular Carnival. But the island's vibrant bird life toots almost as loudly, and has been attracting visitors for ages. Early Amerindian groups inhabited Trinidad some 5,000 years ago and dubbed the island "Iere," thought to mean "Land of the Hummingbird." Today's bird lovers can spot hundreds of species, many related to South American birds (the coast of Venezuela is less than ten miles away) in a lush tropical environment of mountain forests, mangrove swamps, and the central plains.
A 30-minute drive south of Port of Spain will bring you to the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary, home of the national bird, the scarlet ibis. The bird, a wading fowl resembling a heron, has a long beak and wears blood red plumage in the wild. The bird sanctuary, part lagoon and part swamp, is most active at sunset, when the hundreds of scarlet ibises and other water birds come home to roost. Locals boat tour operators line the banks, waiting to take out photographers and birders.
Birders will want to visit and maybe even bed down at the Asa Wright Nature Center Lodge. Set in the hills of the Arima Valley about 90 minutes east of Port of Spain, the small lodge is a haven for nature lovers. The isolated center is home to hundreds of bird species, and trails weave throughout the property. One trail accesses Dunston Cave, home of a colony of the nocturnal oilbird called the guacharo. Amerindian groups prized the bird for its fat (thus the name); in turn, it gave the Amerindians oil for lamps and fires.
Set off on your own armed with a good field guide to Trinidad's bird population. Local hotels and B&Bs run in the $50-$150 range. Or, join a tour group specializing in birding. Tours include as many as ten days of expert-guided excursions into the countryside, plus lodging and meals starting at about $2000.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication