Tour 1: The Perfect Combo
Daily Itinerary + Pricing
Islands we will visit:
Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Trinidad
The first leg of our tour sees us travel to three of the most spectacular islands in the Lesser Antillean chain in search of several endemics (including two island's critically endangered species of Amazona parrot) , and a host of indigenous regional Caribbean species - ranging from wonderfully vibrant orioles and enigmatic thrashers to delicate warblers and dazzling hummingbirds. The timing of the tour ensures that dotted amonst the myriad local species will be a host of North American migrants overwintering on the islands. For the entirety of the second half of the trip our lodging will be the internationally renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre on the island of Trinidad. In addition to exploring select trails which traverse the Centre's 1,500 acres of tropical rainforest, we will also use Asa Wright as a base from which to launch birding excursions to various other habitats across the north and west of the country, in search of a wondrous variety of South American species .
This truly is the perfect Caribbean, South American and North American birding combo!
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The Bajan Birder meets you as soon as you exit the Arrivals Hall of the Grantley Adams International Airport and escorts you to your hotel, located a mere ten minutes away along the scenic southern coastline of the island. The beauty of this coastline perfectly embodies the appeal which a life in the Caribbean holds for so many, and which has served to make the region one of the most coveted vacation destinations on the planet. Your beachfront hotel provides you with the perfect setting in which to begin to settle into our "Casually Caribbean" themed tour. After checking in you'll have the opportunity to relax on your balcony and gaze out across the glittering turquoise sea, or cross the road and enjoy a stroll along the white sand beaches before rendezvousing with the rest of the group in the dining hall for our Meet and Greet Dinner. With such local delicacies as pickled seacat, breadfruit coucou and flying fish awaiting our palates, the tone is set for what promises to be as equally delectable a journey for our tastebuds as the rich variety of colourful bird species will be for our eyes.
Our tropical adventure begins early the next morning on the very southern tip of the island at Chancery Lane Marsh. This oasis of thick sedge and aquatic vegetation is bordered by undulating sand dunes and the sparkling turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and a vast grassland savannah to the north. The edge of the wetland is punctuated by small groves of Button Mangrove and Australian Pine, where flitting amongst their branches, can be found such local gems as Barbados Bullfinch, Grey Kingbird, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Black-whiskered Vireo and Caribbean Elaenia. Suspended from these trees, thick mats of Wild Cucumber with bright red-tipped fruits prove an irresistible lure to the island's endemic race of brilliant green Anolis Lizard, and in the surrounding grasslands, blossoms of French Cotton and other plants attract butterflies such as Monarchs, Little Yellows, Cloudless Sulphurs and charming little Caribbean Blues. During our time here we also make sure to listen out for the tell-tale warning barks of Green Vervet sentries - which paradoxically serve to lead us to other members of their troop. As we make our way closer to the center of the wetland, we encounter mixed flocks of North American waders gorging themselves on the healthy population of fiddler crabs to be found buried in the wet clay substrate of the marsh, and are often greeted by the telltale rattle of highly territorial Belted Kingfishers intent on chasing newly arrived migrants from this prime fishing ground.
The Bajan Birder then takes advantage of the knowledge and experience gained over the course of 15 years of leading birding tours on the island, by guiding you to a number of secluded and little-known lily ponds in order to get unbelievably close views of the elusive Masked Duck, Caribbean Coot, secretive Sora and Wilson's Snipe. These lightly trafficked, peaceful sites are also favorites of Common and Purple Gallinule, along with Green Heron.
From these idyllic ponds we journey through the centre of the island en route to it's northernmost tip. Here, along a stretch of wave-battered clifftop synonymous with this wild coastline, male Grassland Yellow Finches in full breeding plumage erupt out of tussocks of thick grass and hover in midair, wings quivering in frenzied excitement as they perform a series of elaborate courtship displays - carefully choreographed for discerning females. Overhead, Caribbean Martins wheel and dance in the high wind, occasionally stooping into dives that see them skim low over the cactus atop which perch lively Antillean-crested Hummingbirds and Black-faced Grassquits. We explore a range of birding habitats in the north (including a reliable site for Southern Lapwing) before returning south along the eastern coast with its miles of rugged, windswept beaches, to our lunch stop - a quaint establishment frequented by locals, which promises to introduce us to some more sumptuous Barbadian specialties.
In the afternoon we make our way to the internationally renowned Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary, to which we will be granted exclusive access. We are incredibly fortunate to be allowed unrestricted access into this RAMSAR-designated Wetland of International Importance, as the Sanctuary has been closed to the public since 2009. As we stroll along the boardwalk that meanders through the dense expanse of Red and White Mangroves, we are afforded incredible views of a host of indigenous species, including Green-throated Caribs, Carib Grackles, Bananaquits, Golden Warblers, Shiny Cowbirds and a selection of migrant North American passerines. We take advantage of prime locations on viewing platforms and of our ideal positions behind observation hides to enjoy unparalleled views of Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Black as well as Yellow-crowned Night Heron and Blue-winged Teal. Three species of egret also inhabit the mangroves, and owing to the absence of daily visitors for the last 8 years, the colony has gradually encroached towards the boardwalk, from where one can now get excellent views of nesting Little, Snowy, and Cattle Egret..
Dinner tonight will be at the buzzing local hotspot of Oistins Fishing Village where we will be spoiled for choice as we walk between rows of colourful shacks with each vendor boasting the freshest Lobster, Red Snapper, Flying Fish....and of course, the coldest beers in the village. As we sit back and enjoy our delicious grilled seafood meal, we are serenaded to the tunes of calypso and reggae courtesy of the live acts on stage.
After dinner we make our way back to the hotel by walking along the stunning open stretches of moonlit beaches that dominate this southern coast. At this point you have the option of continuing your leisurely stroll along the hotel beach or joining me on an exciting trip to the west coast of the island to meet up with volunteers from the Barbados Sea Turtle Project to help search for nesting marine turtles and possibly even assist with the release of hatchlings from B.S.T.P. protected nest sites.
For a list of our Top Twenty Species for Barbados please click here
In the morning we take the short 45 minute flight to the "Nature-lover's Caribbean Island". With it's innumerable waterfalls and a river for every day of the year coursing through it's vast tracts of primary rainforest Dominica is a nature-lover's dream. We spend the next two days birding throughout what is one of the least developed and hence most bio-diverse islands in the Caribbean, and one which provides a snapshot of what many of the more developed islands of the West Indies would have looked like in years gone by.
This island's ancient forests represent prime habitat for several endemic and indigenous regional species, and after being met by pre-arranged transport and taken to our hotel to freshen up, we spend today targeting such forest-dwellers as White-crowned Pigeon , Red-legged Thrush, Lesser Antillean Saltator, Red-breasted Grosbeak and Blue-headed Hummingbird and Plumbeous Warbler (two near-endemics - found on only one other island). These dense forests, peaceful mountain streams and surrounding river valleys also serve to attract a host of dazzling butterflies, from Zebras and Southern Dagger Tails to Clench's Hairstreaks and Polydamus Swallowtails.
After returning to the hotel and being treated to a selection of mouth-watering creole dishes from the Sunset Bay Club's dinner menu, we venture out to survey open fields close to the hotel, on a search for feeding Antillean Nighthawks, a host of bat species, and for what could prove to be an intriguing encounter with Dominica's variation on a well known bird - the island's resident dark race of Barn Owl.
We wake to a delicious breakfast overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful black volcanic sands of Batalie Bay. Despite the highlights of the first day, the second has the potential to be even more rewarding. Dominica is unique in the Lesser Antilles in that it is the only island with two endemic species of Amazona parrot, both of which are on the IUCN List of Threatened Species. With the sun still low in a pink tropical sky we arrive in the spectacular Morne Diablotin National Park in the north of the island. As we make our way along trails through the forest, we listen for the raspy high pitched squawk of the Jaco (local name for the Red-necked Parrot), which serves as an effective means of our honing in on the position of this inquisitive and highly gregarious bird. The morning continues with our venturing deeper into the park, (hopefully along the way spending time with such secretive species as Spectacled Thrush, House Wren and Ruddy Quail-Dove), but as we drive through sheltered valleys and up into tranquil montane and elfin forests, the changing landscape signals a shift in our focus; for here we enter the realm of the largest and rarest member of the Amazona genus. The total population of the truly magnificent and regal Sisserou or Imperial Parrot now numbers a mere 300 individuals, and to have the privilege of seeing one of the last of it's kind within such vast tracts of unspoiled forest is truly an experience to treasure.
At 2pm we join an experienced captain and crew on a search for ocean giants! An astonishing twenty two species of whale and dolphin have been sighted off of the coasts of Dominica, and we have ensured that your time on the island coincides with the start of many of these behemoths migration through the Lesser Antilles. On the trip, the crew use hydrophones in order to listen for the telltale clicks and whistles of these magnificent creatures, and hence are able to better hone in on their position. With a 90% success rate it certainly seems this is an approach which works very well indeed. Humpbacks, Short-finned Pilots and False Killers are generally amongst the species seen at this time of year, but the most reliable sightings tend to be of Dominica's resident population of mighty Sperm Whale - the largest toothed whale on the planet. These spectacular animals frequent and feed in the deep oceanic troughs to the west of the island, and use the placid waters of the Caribbean Sea as a calving ground. This promises to be a truly unforgettable wildlife encounter.
For a List of our Top Twenty Target Species for Dominica please click here and scroll down the page to Dominica
After our short 35 minute flight to Hewanorra International Airport the next morning, we have the opportunity to relax in our hotel before being collected and taken into the wilds of St.Lucia.
We begin our St.Lucian adventure by birding the Northern Range, in the shadow of the majestic 2,600 ft Pitons. Although we are in a mountainous region of the island, it will be the van's engine (not our own) which does most of the work on the day. We drive up a long steady incline to the quaint hilltop village of Bouton, where we are afforded a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. From here we set out on a leisurely stroll along a paved road, lined to one side with an extensive orchard, laden with tropical fruits of every imaginable shape and colour, and on the other with the magnificent swathe of rainforest which sprawls across the majority of St.Lucia's wild Northern Range.
Birding within an ecotone such as this promises to reveal a number of the island's indigenous and endemic species, and it is no exaggeration to state that birds will be all around us. Overhead, Lesser Antillean Swifts effortlessly manipulate the air currents, amongst the trees colourful St.Lucia Warblers peer underneath leaves in search of gorging caterpillars, countless tree blossums attract various species of hummingbirds, overhanging tree limbs represent perfect sites for St.Lucia Pewees to launch attacks on insects, and the huge variety of fruits ripening in the tropical sun prove an irresistible lure for opportunistic Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers.
The van loops around to meet us at the end of the road and we begin our descent out of the forested highlands, and down into the oldest town on the island - Soufriere - where we enjoy lunch at an acclaimed local hotspot. From here we make for the Aupicot Wetlands - a haven for overwintering North American shorebirds and resident West Indian and Black Bellied Whistling Ducks. Upon returning to our hotel, nestled on a forested hillside surrounded by banana plantations, we sit back, relax and enjoy a mouth-watering dinner in what is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants on the island - the large open windows of which funnel a delightful sea breeze through the restaurant and provide magnificent views of Praslin Bay and the enchanting Frigate Islands Nature Reserve. Definitely one of many "Ahhhh" moments to be had on this trip.
An early start today is justified as it provides us with the best opportunity to see a bird which for many of us may well represent the highlight of our time on the island - the most beautiful and brightly colored of the Amazonas - the St.Lucia Parrot. In order to get the best views of the island's national bird we venture still further into St.Lucia's rugged , volcanic interior where within the spectacular Des Cartiers Rainforest the greatest number of sightings of this
spectacular species have been reported. As we negotiate the well-established trail network which runs through this forest, we are likely to also encounter among others, such gems as St. Lucia Black Finch, Forest Thrush, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, St.Lucia Oriole and even Rufous Nightjar. While making our way through this pristine site we may also be fortunate enough to come across other inhabitants of the forest such as Lesser Antillean Iguana, Tree Boa, and the island's endemic race of Anolis Lizard.
There are few places that I have been in the world that can match the remarkable beauty of the Caribbean, and as is the case with the other Lesser Antillean islands on this tour, St.Lucia's small size means that for a birder and nature enthusiast the range of different habitats that can be visited on one day is truly phenomenal. Having spent the first half of our sixth day exploring moist montane and tropical rainforests and gazing on high elevation specialists such as Antillean Euphonias, we then make a 20 minute drive to the dry woodlands of the east coast in order to search for those species that prefer a drier, low-lying habitat - including one of the rarest birds we are likely to see on the entire trip - the White-breasted Thrasher. And incredibly, we end the day relaxing on a rocky shoreline being treated to a magnificent aerial display by a resident colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds, and scanning the placid waters of the Caribbean sea for low flying Red-footed, Brown and Masked Booby.
For a List of our Top Twenty Target Species for St.Lucia please click here and scroll down the page to St.Lucia
Trinidad is truly fabulous - the only place where West Indies birds and animals overlap the ranges of Amazonian species. The island's proximity to South America, coupled with the fact that in the past it was physically a part of the landmass of the continent, helps explain the huge variety of South American species which can be seen here, and often nowhere else in the Caribbean. It is a very special island indeed, and every morning for the remainder of our tour we will be waking in one of it's most spectacular birding locales - the world renowned Asa Wright Nature Centre. Located in the heart of the Arima Valley in the Northern Range of the island, the Eco Lodge is perfectly nestled within bands of primary and secondary rainforest and hence ideally placed to attract a plethora of bird species.
Indeed such is the sheer variety of wondrous South American species residing in this vast protected valley that many birders might well be content to sleep in a hovel and eat nothing but bread and butter for the duration of their stay. But after experiencing the comfort of Asa Wright's cottages, the unbelievable peace and tranquility of the bungalows set amongst brilliantly blooming tropical gardens, and sampling the delectable tastes of the award-winning meals (all of which, plus tea/biscuits and rum punch, are provided on a daily basis) one will be left in no doubt as to the degree of "sacrifice" which will have to be made in order to enjoy the species on offer. A phenomenal four days await.
Upon arrival we store our bags in our rooms and embark on a tour of the Centre gardens. This provides us with the perfect opportunity to meet some of our new neighbours - scores of Crested Oropendolas, Squirrel Cuckoos, Violaceous Euphonias and Purple Honeycreepers.
After lunch we set out along the appropriately named Discovery Trail in search of other South American delights such as Channel-billed Toucans, Green-backed and Collared Trogons, Trinidad Motmots, Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins , antwrens, antshrikes, and a host of different species of brightly colored tanagers .
The hours while away and soon it is time to return to the Centre for dinner and (for those of us wishing to sample Trinidad's unquestionable drink of choice) a nightly offer of rum punch.
The next morning sees us step out of our cottages into tropical gardens awash with colours and floral fragrances of every imaginable description . As we make our way to the main lodge we will be buzzing with excitement, for we are about to enjoy breakfast in what surely is one of the most magical settings in which any birder can enjoy their morning cuppa.
Here, seated on Asa Wright's famous veranda, we are afforded astonishing views of as many as 12 different species of hummingbird, each seeking out the life giving nectar of the brightly-coloured flowers hanging all around us. Brilliant Tufted Coquettes, skittish Long-billed Starthroats, dazzling Ruby Topaz, pugnacious White-necked Jacobins and many others all hover almost within touching distance of our fingertips.
After breakfast we are collected from the Centre and driven in air-conditioned comfort to the vast expanse of wilderness that is the 1,788 hectare Aripo Savannah. This impressive area of open grassland and cemented clays makes for an astonishing change from our first two days spent in the lush forests of Asa Wright, and as the habitat differs, so too do the birds.
In the grassland, we look for Red-breasted Meadowlarks and the very local Grassland Yellow-Finches. In the skies overhead dozens of Black and Turkey Vultures soar effortlessly on tropical thermals, and a few long-legged Savannah Hawks as well as over-wintering Merlins and Peregrine Falcons are likely to be present, while all around us Tropical Kingbirds and Great Kiskadees make the most of the abundance of insects irresistibly drawn to the hides of scores of grazing "buffalypso" (local name for the water buffalo x cattle hybrid). These central grasslands are also home to other mammalian species such as Red-brocket Deer, Armadillo and Prehensile-tailed Porcupine, while at the edge of the savannah, minuscule Green-rumped Parrotlets and Red-bellied Macaws jostle and squawk in groves of 100 foot Moriche palms.
Tonight, dinner is followed by an optional exploratory night walk in search of several species of owls and nightjars as well as a host of tree frogs and other nocturnal wildlife whose croaks, grunts and whistles all serve to add to the cacophony of calls so characteristic of evenings in the tropics.
We wake to enjoy a stroll along the reserve's northern ridge, affording us fabulous views of the surrounding valleys. Thanks to our lofty viewpoint, we are soon enjoying an early morning encounter with Rough-winged Swallows and Gray-breasted Martins, as well as hundreds of White-collared, Band-rumped, and Short-tailed Swifts. Over the years it has also become increasingly possible to connect with one of Trinidad's two endemics - the secretive Trinidad Piping-Guan from this location.
After returning to Asa Wright Lodge we take our packed lunches and make for Nariva Swamp. Located near Trinidad's east coast, this largest freshwater swamp on the island (and RAMSAR designated Wetland of International Importance) is well worth the hour-long drive. The swamp boasts a variety of diverse vegetation types, with huge areas of tropical forest, palm forest, mangrove, and marshland. We journey to those areas most likely to yield the greatest number of sightings. Amongst others, we visit a phenomenal site for Blue and Yellow as well as Red-bellied Macaws and have the opportunity to see over 20 species of heron and bittern, as well as 3 species of whistling ducks and an abundance of overwintering shorebirds. We enjoy good views of Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Striped Cuckoo and stay constantly on the lookout for a number of other species including Pied Water-Tyrant and White-headed Marsh-Tyrant. We will even have the potential for sightings of Red Howler Monkeys and the extremely rare West Indian Manatee!
When we return to Asa Wright, and after enjoying a well earned cup of tea and sampling from the daily selection of cakes and biscuits, we make our way down to Dunston Cave, all the while on the lookout for Red-rumped Agoutis and other mammals. At the cave we discover firsthand the primary reason that the World Wildlife Fund made a large contribution to the establishment of the Centre in the 1960's . It was in order to protect the large, accessible colony of Oilbirds to be found in this gargantuan cave. I won't go into too much detail on the spectacle that awaits us, only to say that it is an unforgettable sight.
After another morning waking to the wondrous sights and sounds of bellbirds, pewees and, oropendolas we journey into the Arena Forest along well worn trails, in the hopes of getting views of some truly astonishing species - from the hauntingly beautiful White Hawk, majestic Ornate Hawk Eagle and impressively coiffed Crimson-crested Woodpecker, to the much coveted Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Gray-headed Kite and Euler's Flycatcher. When we eventually break cover, our eyes shift skyward in the hope of getting glimpses of those effortless manipulators of the air currents - Swallow-tailed Kites and Bat Falcons. After such a morning we will be in need of an equally impressive afternoon if we are to finish our tour on a high. Fortunately in the north west of the island, Trinidad has just such a location.
The knowledge that we are heading there is enough to make birders the world over green with envy. For our final phase of the tour we will be traveling to none other than the internationally-renowned Caroni Swamp (in 2015 renamed the Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary)
We hire a comfortable flat-bottomed boat and begin our journey. To delve deep into the very heart of an established mangrove-dominated habitat in this manner is akin to being transported into a prehistoric ecosystem where everything appears to have been frozen in time. Mangroves have been on the planet for 250 million years and with their pattern of intricate aerial roots and interlaced overhead branches, the trees themselves almost appear to be shielding us in a protective embrace from the rigors and stresses of the modern world.
Unsurprisingly, the tranquility and sanctitude of such a place attracts an astonishing variety of birds and other wildlife; and dusk is the best time to see them. We encounter herons of every possible description - the probing pencil-thin necks of Little Blues looking positively dainty when seen in close proximity to their heavy set counterparts - the Boat-billed Herons . Wattled Jacanas walk delicately across lilies, Pied Water Tyrants flit frantically from one bank of a tributary to another and roosting Tropical Screech-Owls patiently await the setting of the sun. In the skies above Short-tailed Hawks, Osprey and Yellow-headed Caracara effortlessly soar. However the swamp's inhabitants are by no means restricted to birds alone. It's banks are an ideal basking site for Spectacled Caiman, the mangroves' branches offer prime hunting for Cook's Tree Boa, and although Silky Anteaters and Crab-eating Raccoons share the Screech-Owls' fondness for nocturnal foraging, they can often be seen during the day, securely curled up in the mangrove's embrace.
As the sun dips further in the sky, long-legged waders begin to fly in low over the water from the surrounding marsh; Cattle, Great, and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, and sometimes even a few Glossy Ibis arrive and serve to decorate the emerald-colored mangrove islands. But all of this serves as a precursor to the arrival of the Scarlet Ibis, and our bearing witness to a truly unforgettable sight. As we sit in our boat enjoying our rum punches and biscuits, the sky slowly begins to be patterned by the first few bright-red arrivals making their way towards us out of the east. But ones and twos soon give way to flocks of hundreds of these resplendent birds, shifting and contorting in one rhythmic mass overhead, each individual negotiating the best approach to its preferred roost before nightfall.
Sitting, safely nestled within the extraordinary beauty and tranquility of the Caroni Swamp, we watch as wave after wave of ibis slowly transform the verdant mangroves into soft hues of subtle pinks and vibrant reds, and it is here that we draw to a close our remarkable journey through the islands.
For a List of our Top Twenty Target Species on Trinidad please click here and then scroll down through the list of islands to Trinidad
Flight back to Barbados and homeward journey.
The Bajan Birder
Tour Dates: November 19th - November 29th 2017 September 28th - October 7th 2018
Number of Species that will possibly be seen on this tour: 376
Number of Endemics likely to be seen on this tour: 27
Number of species indigenous to the Lesser Antillean and South American region likely to be seen: 211
Number in Group: 10-12 clients + The Bajan Birder and Co-leader Keith Clarkson
Tour Price: US$ 3,819 GB£ 2,940 per person (based on Double Room Occupancy Rates and full complement of 12 clients) (Single Supplement i.e. if you would prefer to have a single room there is an additional charge of US$239)
Included in Price: All flights between islands and internal ferry charges between islands, local taxes, airport departure taxes, all accommodation, pre-arranged food+drinks (non alcoholic), transport to and from destinations on the islands, park admission fees, guiding fees, hotel and restaurant service charge
Not Included in Price: Your flight to Barbados and return flight home from Barbados (if you are flying from the UK, Thomas Cook's flights from Manchester for the dates in 2017 are from £446) ; extra charges incurred for overweight or additional pieces of luggage on international or internal flights; travel insurance; laundering services; alcoholic beverages (with the exception of complimentary rum punch at Asa Wright Nature Centre)
Terrain and Pace: We cover a diverse range of terrain on this trip, however there are no steep ascents and trails are primarily well maintained and even underfoot. Any light to moderate ascents are conducted at a slow, steady pace with plenty of opportunities to rest along the way.