Tour 2: In Search of the Amazonas

Daily Itinerary + Pricing

St.Vincent Parrot ( Amazona guildingii ) streaking across the valley below us (photo by Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands  )

St.Vincent Parrot (Amazona guildingii) streaking across the valley below us (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

Islands we will visit:  St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, (with optional extension to Trinidad)

Overview

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 each 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 amongst the myriad local species will be a host of North American migrants overwintering on the islands. For the optional second half of the trip our lodging will be the internationally renowned Asa Wright Lodge 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!

Tour Dates

 November 19th - 29th 2017: Please click here to read the trip report for this tour  

February 11th - 21st 2020: there are 4 places remaining on this trip. Please click here to contact us and express your interest

January 3rd - 13th 2021: we are now accepting bookings for this trip, please click here to contact us and express your interest

 

Daily Itinerary

Day 1

 ST. LUCIA

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St.Lucia Parrot (photo© Birding the Islands client John Dyson)

St.Lucia Parrot (photo© Birding the Islands client John Dyson)

From the moment the dark green silhouette of volcanic St.Lucia comes into view, you know you are in for something special. The view from our plane window confirms that towns and settlements are very much concentrated along the flat coastal areas, while the interior is defined by mountainous terrain, impractical for large scale development.  Such a topographical deterrent has been instrumental in preserving the extensive pristine habitat so essential for the multitude of bird species that thrive here.

We are collected by pre-arranged transport and en route to our hotel stop at the sprawling Aupicon Wetlands where yellowish stems of the sedge that dominate this largest marsh on the island are seemingly ablaze in the orange glow of a late afternoon tropical sun. The marsh is inhabited by a wide variety of wetland species and we enjoy stunningly close views of nesting Pied billed Grebes , Caribbean race of American Coot and Green Heron, but as we take up our vantage point atop a small hillock perfectly placed to the east of the main body of water, we are treated to a display of birdlife that sets the tone for what will be a wonderful birding experience through the islands - the return of hundreds of Cattle and Snowy Egrets, winging their way low over the water and into a roost in the centre of the wetland. These are soon joined by Great Egrets, Tricoloured Herons, and Little Blue Herons which each serve to further saturate species sightings already dominated by Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup and the entertaining Belted Kingfishers.

A wonderful warm up act indeed. However we now excitedly await an audience with the owner of the increasingly loud and boisterous owl-like calls emanating from the thinly leafed coastal woodland that frames this magnificent wetland. As the calls become louder it becomes easier to pinpoint the location of the species responsible and it is not long before the warm glow of the setting sun provides us with ample light in which to enjoy a memorable encounter with one of seven endemics we target on this stunning island - the St.Lucia Nightjar!

We stay at the peaceful and scenic Foxgrove Inn

We stay at the peaceful and scenic Foxgrove Inn

The idyllic Foxgrove Inn, a locally run, small hotel surrounded by forested hills and offering a stunning view of the spectacular Praslin Bay and the enchanting Frigate Islands Nature Reserve is our home for the next three nights and we arrive in time for a leisurely and welcome dip in the pool. We meet at the bar for a cocktail before dinner which will be enjoyed tonight, as every night, on the sweeping open-air verandah. The chef and local co-owner of the hotel is brilliant and having worked most of his life in fine-restaurants in Paris and London, has returned home to add what he learned in foreign lands to local cuisine. Prepare your tastebuds  for some delicious creole dishes.

Day 2

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Our vantage point high atop Moule a Chique will allow us stunning views of of the spectacular Red-billed Tropicbird (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

Our vantage point high atop Moule a Chique will allow us stunning views of of the spectacular Red-billed Tropicbird (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

A bold White-breasted Thrasher displaying in front of our group (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

A bold White-breasted Thrasher displaying in front of our group (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

As we leave Foxgrove behind, the early morning light begins to reveal the small, sleepy villages dotted along the island’s coastline. We pass each in turn, drawing ever closer to our first birding hotspot. Here in the dry coastal forests that dominate St.Lucia’s east coast we will have our best opportunity for an encounter with one of the rarest species likely to be seen on this trip - the near endemic White-breasted Thrasher. Flashes of white in the undergrowth combined with raucous rasping calls signal the arrival of a bird that makes it’s way through the dried vegetation of this land in large family flocks. Another who prefers this habitat is our second of the St.Lucian endemics - the intriguing St.Lucia Blackfinch - the males jet-black plumage a stark contrast to his pastel-pink legs and dull leaf litter amongst which he forages.

Following a packed breakfast enjoyed overlooking the now bustling fishing village of Dennery we journey across the island and into the heart of St. Lucia’s Northern Range. 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. The vehicle makes it’s way 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 an established track, 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.

The striking St.Lucia Oriole (photo Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

The striking St.Lucia Oriole (photo Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

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, overhanging tree limbs represent perfect vantage points for St.Lucia Pewees to launch attacks on winged insects, and an abundance of fruits ripening in the tropical sun prove an irresistible lure for opportunistic St.Lucia Orioles. These more obvious bird sightings mask the fact that sometimes on this trip we will need to be patient in order to spend time with a particular target species, but the results often tend to be very rewarding, as an encounter with one of the most secretive and reserved species on the island testifies - when a Bridled Quail Dove softly begins to call , and in so doing reveals his position.

There are few places on the planet that can match the remarkable beauty and incredible variety of the Caribbean, and as is the case with the other Lesser Antillean islands on this trip, St.Lucia's small size means that for a birder and nature enthusiast we are able to enjoy this beauty across a range of different habitats each day. Having begun our second day on the island exploring dry coastal forests, and following this up with encounters with the high elevation specialists such as Antillean Euphonias and orioles that frequent the moist montane forests and tropical forests of the north, we draw to a close a phenomenal day of birding by driving to the top of one of the highest points on St.Lucia, standing on an exposed plateau and being treated to numerous fly-bys by the stunning Red-billed Tropicbird. Brilliant, gleaming white bodies followed by long streamer-like tails whistling by at eye level - and with a backdrop of a deep, navy blue Atlantic stretching to the horizon- this is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip.

Day 3

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Rufous-throated Solitaire is one of the delights in Des Cartiers Rainforest (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

Rufous-throated Solitaire is one of the delights in Des Cartiers Rainforest (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

A brilliant Green-throated Carib perched on an alamanda bud  (photo©Bajan Birder client Sam Barone)

A brilliant Green-throated Carib perched on an alamanda bud (photo©Bajan Birder client Sam Barone)

This morning we venture into St.Lucia's rugged, volcanic interior. Here within the sprawling Des Cartiers Rainforest, we walk a well-maintained trail lined by towering tree ferns and with the scent of magnolias wafting upwards from the valley below. Green-throated Caribs and Antillean crested Hummingbirds flit over our heads and a close examination of fruiting trees on either side of the path reveals Scaly-naped Pigeons, opportunistic Pearly-eyed Thrashers and even the near endemic Grey Trembler seeking out morning sustenance. This is a land dominated by sound. The near incessant cacophony of chirps, cheeps and whistles of countless invertebrates is interspersed with the mesmeric and ethereal notes of the Rufous-throated Solitaire swinging on overhead llanas or the sharp, shrill, multi-noted call signalling the arrival of the island’s massive Myarchus - the Lesser Antillean Flycatcher.

But it is all of it a precursor to that most sought after of calls - that uttered as a flock of Amazonas breaks cover - abandoning their nightly roosts to make for favoured fruiting trees. The considerable distance from where they approach us allows plenty of time to hone in on their position and our lofty vantage point ensures superb views as these brilliantly coloured birds skim across the heavily forested valley below.

As midday approaches we begin our gradual descent out of the forested highlands, and down into the oldest town on the island -  Soufriere - where we enjoy lunch at a kabawé (local bar) and gaze out across pocketed hillside settlements at the sun-tipped peaks of the iconic Pitons. We venture into the shops and local stalls that line the coastline of this popular seaside town before making our way to a site renowned throughout the Caribbean. A 20 minute drive from Soufriere, sees us enter the only “drive-in” volcano in the world! Escorted by a guide, we explore the base of the crater where the very earth itself appears to come to life in the form of hissing springs and large bubbling mud-filled ponds. Despite the fact that this volcano is classed as dormant and is therefore completely safe, this is still an incredibly spine tingling experience and one not to be missed (although as with all tours on this trip you can of course choose not to partake)

This evening we take the short 30 minute flight across to neighbouring St.Vincent

ST.VINCENT

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A pair of St.Vincent Parrots winging their way passed us at eye level!   (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

A pair of St.Vincent Parrots winging their way passed us at eye level! (photo by Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

Grenada Flycatcher is found only on St.Vincent and Grenada (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

Grenada Flycatcher is found only on St.Vincent and Grenada (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

From the newly constructed Argyle International Airport that hugs the rolling coastline of St.Vincent, we make the short 20 minute drive to the spectacular Beachcombers Hotel - our home for the next 2 nights. After exiting the taxi we begin to explore the hotel's stunning grounds. Here we have a perfect introduction to a new range of species found in this southern corner of the Lesser Antillean chain.  The all-black race of Bananaquit dancing amongst the brilliant yellow Alamandas, the Spectacled Thrush gorging itself on Christmas Palm berries, cooing Eared Doves perched in mighty Tamarinds and the unmistakable call of a near endemic Myiarchus - the Grenada Flycatcher - flitting expertly from low-lying limbs to pluck insects out of mid-air.  

We are greeted at the reception of the locally run and family-owned Beachcombers Hotel

We are greeted at the reception of the locally run and family-owned Beachcombers Hotel

We enjoy dinner tonight while lounging by the pool, a delicious cocktail in hand, or sitting on the seaside balcony listening to the gentle lapping of the waves and watching the moored yachts bobbing on the surface of a placcid Caribbean Sea. This peaceful night is broken only by an occasional squawk as another Yellow-crowned Night Heron announces it’s arrival to hunt crabs on a moonlit reef.

Day 4

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We explore the lush hillsides of La Soufriere - last habitat of the critically endangered Whistling Warbler   (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

We explore the lush hillsides of La Soufriere - last habitat of the critically endangered Whistling Warbler (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

The morning is yours to enjoy a leisurely Caribbean-styled breakfast in the oceanside restaurant of our hotel, from where we enjoy sights of Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Royal Tern and even Brown Noddy skimming low over the glittering seas stretched out before us. Those up for an adventure can don their snorkels and descend the hotel staircase to the beach. From here we’ll venture into the glistening turquoise waters that typify St.Vincent’s western coastline in search of those species that make their home beneath the waves.

The Lesser Antillean Tanager is only found on St.Vincent and one other Caribbean island (photo courtesy SVG Ministry of Tourism)

The Lesser Antillean Tanager is only found on St.Vincent and one other Caribbean island (photo courtesy SVG Ministry of Tourism)

With packed snacks of plantain chips, tasty “vincy” mangoes and star fruit we leave the south and make our way along the rugged eastern coastline and rolling waves of the Atlantic into the verdant hillsides of the north of the island. At the start of the Soufriere Trail we are greeted by an abundance of brilliantly coloured St.Vincent Anoles - their vivid greens , yellows and blues perfectly mirroring the country’s flag. This is an ancient forest, which after centuries of growth in a rich volcanic soil has become home to some truly gargantuan trees. As we round every corner of the trail, another hidden wonder seems to be revealed. Lesser Antillean Tanagers gorging themselves on small figs, startled Ruddy Quail Doves flashing before us, scratchy throated Cocoa Thrushes and Lesser Antillean Bullfinch proving the perfect foil for the eloquent calls of the gem of the forest - the secretive Whistling Warbler. The dry river bed where we stop for lunch has been specifically chosen as the ferns and mistletoe which line it’s banks offer us the best opportunity to enjoy views of this much-coveted vocalist - and the skies overhead views of the local race of Common Black Hawk.

A returning St.Vincent Parrot selects a perch near to us for it’s roost  (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

A returning St.Vincent Parrot selects a perch near to us for it’s roost (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

St. Vincent is a land steeped in history, and from the time of her earliest residents the screeching calls of the mighty Amazona gulidingii have echoed across her mountainous terrain. Intense hunting pressures combined with the illegal pet trade meant that by the 1970's this birds calls had almost been permanently silenced. However thanks to a vigorous breeding program and the education of locals as to the importance and uniqueness of the island's national bird, the population of this magnificent species is now well on the way to recovery. Indeed the scale of this recovery is very much in evidence during our second day on the island, when we take a drive at dusk (one that requires us being ferried by SUV along a winding track - and crosses the same river SEVEN times at different locations) to a secret site known only to a handful of locals where this national bird can now be seen in numbers reminiscent of years gone by. We carefully select our spots atop a spectacular ridgeline where our gazes are soon drawn skyward to the raucous calls of wave upon wave of Amazonas winging their way overhead before settling in to roost. As the first to arrive select the most coveted perches deep within the sanctuary of the forest, those late to return must settle for more exposed limbs, and it is these latecomers who offer us an unparalleled opportunity to study these stunningly beautiful birds.

Our birding appetite well and truly satiated, we head back to our hotel where the menu offers the opportunity to experience some true Vincy cooking, ensuring (as always on this trip) that other hungers are also attended to!

Day 5

DOMINICA

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The near-endemic Blue-headed Hummingbird is known only to Dominica and Martinique  (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

The near-endemic Blue-headed Hummingbird is known only to Dominica and Martinique (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

At 7 a.m. we make the short 30 minute flight to Dominica - an island regarded by many as the "Nature Lover's Caribbean Island". 
Dominica is renowned for it's outstanding natural beauty. With it's innumerable waterfalls and a river for every day of the year coursing through her vast tracts of primary rainforest, she offers a snapshot into what many of the more developed islands of the region would have resembled in years gone by.

After pausing at a roadside stand to sample a selection of homemade tamarind and golden apple juices, our vehicle climbs high during this, our initial foray into the Northern Forest Reserve. We have not been travelling far before the mellifluous calls of an array of wondrous Lesser Antillean species gives us cause to pull off the dusty track to investigate. Upon doing so we are immediately met with a veritable barrage of sightings of near endemics and birds indigenous to the region. A Lesser Antillean Saltator, providing excellent views by perching conspicuously in the heart of a sparsely leafed mango and sinking its’s massive beak into the yellow flesh of the fruit; a fabulous Brown Trembler, always intent on theatrics, arriving on the scene to without hesitation lift its wings, cock its head and start to TREMBLE; and a pair of delicate Plumbeous Warblers whose excited trill calls greet their every leap along the creeping vines dangling tantalisingly close to our heads. 

The delightful little Antillean Euphonia is a joy to see   (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

The delightful little Antillean Euphonia is a joy to see (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

These species are wonderful, and as the vehicle meanders ever higher we are greeted by the cast of more brightly colored characters whose preference it is to inhabit even loftier climes. The radiant and near endemic Blue-headed Hummingbird darting back and forth from it’s perch behind a sheltered waterfall to feed on lantana , the delightful Antillean Euphonia delicately plucking the tiny fruit of a mistletoe, and the resplendent Red-legged Thrush seemingly determined to catch a glimpse of us as we make our way through one of the highest small holdings on the island. This is a wild and largely unspoiled land where the vast majority of the population is still rural and make their living from harvesting ground provisions such as dasheen and pineapple that grow rapidly in a rich volcanic soil.

After a wonderful morning of birding, we wind our way back down to the seaside town of Portsmouth, where the sight of Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds dancing over the crests of rolling waves provides an entertaining performance with which to enjoy our gargantuan rotis stuffed with everything from curried chicken and potato to saltfish and yam.

This evening we set off on a walk outside of our locally owned apartments to soak in the village life and seek out a nocturnal resident - the local race of Barn Owl.

Day 6

Pilot whales appear in large pods close to our boat (photo©Ryan Chenery)

Pilot whales appear in large pods close to our boat (photo©Ryan Chenery)

The waters surrounding these islands are amongst the most beautiful and idyllic in the world , and what better way to enjoy them than to set sail! Today we join an experienced captain and crew on a search for ocean giants!

An astonishing number of species of whale and dolphin have been sighted in Dominica’s waters. Huge pods of Short-finned Pilots are the most commonly seen, while other larger species such as Humpbacks and False Killers have also been spotted on previous Birding the Islands trips. There is even a strong possibility of an encounter with Dominica’s resident population of Sperm Whale! In addition to these behemoths a large number of dolphins are also drawn to the deep ocean chasms that surround this volcanic island and several species including Frasers, Spotted and Spinner Dolphins can regularly be seen in large pods off of Dominica’s stunning western coastline. In addition to our quest for marine mammals, we take advantage of our time out on the water to scan the seas for pelagics - from Audubon’s and Cory’s Shearwater to Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Brown Boobies and several species of tern.

Who knows what delights this 3 hour cruise holds in store for us. One thing for certain, the conversations at the dinner table will be buzzing tonight!

After our exhilarating cruise , we continue the maritime theme of the day with a creole lunch enjoyed on the shores of one of Dominica’s most scenic and unspoiled beaches. Take the time to indulge in a bit of beachcombing or should you prefer take a swim in the sparkling waters upon which we just sailed .

Day 7

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The mighty Imperial Parrot (Amazona imperialis) peering down on us (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

The mighty Imperial Parrot (Amazona imperialis) peering down on us (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

We wake early to board our transport bound for the highest peaks of spectacular Morne Diablotin. As our vehicle slowly winds its way up into the breathtakingly beautiful forest reserve, an already heightened sense of anticipation is further enhanced by the knowledge that somewhere in the surrounding hillsides and lush verdant valleys survive the last populations of the two remaining Amazona species we target on our travels through the islands.

Red-necked Parrot on Dominica (photo©Birding the Islands client Steve Kornfeld)

Red-necked Parrot on Dominica (photo©Birding the Islands client Steve Kornfeld)

After a short walk lined with buttress roots, we arrive at our lookout station. Here, with the contents of a well-stocked picnic basket laid out before us (including fresh world-famous Dominican coffee, salt fish, cucumber salad and banana bread) we settle down to begin our vigil across a pristine forested valley, punctuated by the crowns of towering emergents reaching for the heavens in a seemingly never-ending quest for the sun. Careful inspection of the many epiphyte-laden Balata trees which dominate this land eventually reveals the stunning emerald greens, radiant reds, and ocean blues of the Red-necked Parrot (or Jaco in the local tongue) feeding amongst them. These fruiting trees are a favourite with this smaller of the island’s two Amazonas and it is not long before we are catching regular glimpses of these gregarious and extravagant birds flitting amongst the treetops and darting between the neighbouring crowns of forest giants. Such wildly flamboyant and obvious displays could not however be in greater contrast to the more secretive and mysterious habits of the island’s other Amazona. For this species it will be much more a case of patiently waiting and listening for that oh-so-telltale metallic call that signals the arrival of an endemic now teetering so perilously close to extinction, that many conservation charities see it as their primary focus in the region. Only some 300 Imperial Parrots are thought to survive in the wild, so one can imagine the utter elation that grips our group upon hearing THE CALL. Creeping ever so silently through the forest, it can be possible to track the call to the very tree in which the bird is perched. It is truly wonderful to hear the unique and oddly unnatural sound emanating from the canopy directly over your head and resonating out across the valley floor below, however if you are to become one of the few people on the planet to see this bird in the wild - yet more patience must be employed to trace the call to the exact position amongst the interlocking limbs where the bird is perched. But when such patience is rewarded and those rich dark greens and the scaled bronze neck and head of this truly majestic bird are first seen, the elation and unbridled joy to be felt simply cannot be matched. This is the mighty Imperial Amazon - national bird of Dominica and undoubted star of our trip!

The largest of the hummingbirds in the Lesser Antilles - the Purple-throated Carib  (photo©Birding the Islands client Steve Kornfeld)

The largest of the hummingbirds in the Lesser Antilles - the Purple-throated Carib (photo©Birding the Islands client Steve Kornfeld)

We follow up our incredible time with two of the rarest species on the planet with a relaxing boat trip along one of the island’s most beautiful and pristine rivers. The hours while away and wildlife spotting for such species as Lesser Antillean Iguana, Red-rumped Agouti, Ringed Kingfisher, Lesser Antillean Pewee and Purple-throated Carib is only temporarily paused in order to dock at the famous Bush Bar for a taste of Dynamite Rum. Our river cruise culminates where the mouth of the river meets the Caribbean Sea - a fitting place to draw to a close our wonderful trip through the islands.




For a list of the Top 10 species that we will be targeting in Dominica, please click here and then scroll down through the list of islands to Dominica.

  

Day 8




For those of us heading home at the end of the Lesser Antilles leg of our travels, you have the choice of flying back to St.Lucia this morning , from where you’ll return home (or if more convenient flying directly home from Dominica).

For those continuing our travels further south along the island chain - Trinidad awaits…

TRINIDAD

One of the rarest birds on the planet - the Trinidad Piping Guan (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

One of the rarest birds on the planet - the Trinidad Piping Guan (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

This Guianan Trogon is one of three species of trogon we target in Trinidad (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

This Guianan Trogon is one of three species of trogon we target in Trinidad (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

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. 

Black-throated Mango (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

Black-throated Mango (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

Upon arrival we are escorted to our cottages nestled within the very heart of the forest and following a siesta make our way to Asa Wrights unquestionable focal point - it's mythical verandah overlooking a rainforest that appears to stretch to the horizon. Here we spend the remainder of the afternoon. It may seem as though it would be difficult to stay on a verandah when there is a sweeping expanse of rainforest before you, but wait until you set foot on this verandah! There are visitors who stay at the lodge for a week and never leave this place. This truly is one of the most spectacular tropical wilderness experiences in the western hemisphere, if not the world. It is no exaggeration to state that here breathtakingly beautiful birds are quite literally at your fingertips. A mind boggling 13 species of hummingbird, each seeking out the life giving nectar of the brightly-coloured flowers and feeders dangling from the rooftops flip, zip and dance all around us. Skittish Long-billed Starthroats, dazzling Black-throated Mangos, pugnacious White-necked Jacobins and many others greet us at our every turn. Vibrant Yellow Orioles, hypnotic Purple Honeycreepers and splendid Violaceous Euphonias add to the swirling melee of tropical colours on show. Choose an elegant mahogany chair, sit back and soak it all in, we have all afternoon. As the shadows lengthen, afternoon tea, complete with selection of cake and brownies, will be brought to you and at 6 o'clock why not gravitate towards the bar for a complimentary rum punch to enjoy while watching the sun set on what truly will prove to be a day in paradise. 

Day 9

The spectacular Tufted Coquette (photo Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

The spectacular Tufted Coquette (photo Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

As we wake to a morning chorus of varied and wonderful birdsong we rendezvous at a reliable site for witnessing the aerial displays of male Tufted Coquettes. In a land of hummingbirds, this species is hard to beat. Elegant orange eartufts, punctuated by deepest green spherical orbs, a perky, fiery crest and a plucky demeanour that only fuels his popularity amongst his adoring public make this an encounter to savour.  

The radiant Silver-beaked Tanager is one of many tangara we encounter at Asa Wright (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

The radiant Silver-beaked Tanager is one of many tangara we encounter at Asa Wright (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

After an extensive and delicious buffet breakfast we set out along the appropriately named Discovery Trail in search of such South American delights as Channel-billed Toucans, Green-backed, Guianan and Collared Trogons, endemic Trinidad Motmots, Golden-headed and White-bearded Manakins , antwrens, antshrikes,  and a host of different species of brightly colored tanagers .  

Hours of blissful birding while away, but as the trails all interconnect and surround the Lodge, we are never far from home, and can opt to head back to the peace and tranquillity of the verandah, or our cottages at any time. This being said, we all want to ensure that we are present and accounted for when it's time to  take the half hour walk down to Dunston Cave.

On our way we are sure to keep a lookout for two of the the most abundant and popular non-bird species at the Lodge - the Red-rumped Agouti and impressive Golden Tegu Lizard.

The remarkable Oilbird (photo Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

The remarkable Oilbird (photo Keith Clarkson -Birding the Islands )

However once at the entrance to the cave , the noise emanating from it's interior ensures we rapidly shift our focus back to birds, in preparation for an encounter with one of the most bizarre avian species you will encounter on the entire trip. The primary reason why the World Wildlife Fund made a large contribution to the establishment of the Asa Wright Centre in the 1960's was in order to protect one of the most accessible colonies of Oilbirds in the region, and we are about to come face to face with it. I won't go into too much detail as to the spectacle that awaits us, only to say that it is a truly unforgettable sight.

Tonight, dinner is followed by an optional exploratory night walk in search of 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.

 

Day 10

Great Antshrikes can be reliably seen at Asa Wright (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

Great Antshrikes can be reliably seen at Asa Wright (photo Keith Clarkson - Birding the Islands)

The call of the Bearded Bellbird echoes across the Arima Valley (photo©Birding the Islands client Steve Kornfeld)

The call of the Bearded Bellbird echoes across the Arima Valley (photo©Birding the Islands client Steve Kornfeld)

After another morning waking to the wondrous calls of territorial Bearded Bellbirds and soft coos of Scaled Pigeon ,we make our way by slow moving van along the winding, forest-lined Blanchisseuse Road, 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 other more secretive forest dwellers like Streaked Xenops, Euler's Flycatcher, and the most coveted of all - the critically endangered Trinidad Piping Guan. 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 travelling 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 rigours and stresses of the modern world.

We should get terrific views of Red-capped Cardinals (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

We should get terrific views of Red-capped Cardinals (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

Unsurprisingly, the tranquillity 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 numerous herons, with possibly the most common being Little Blues and Tricoloureds, and the most secretive - Boat-billed Herons.  Wattled Jacanas walk delicately across lilies, Red-capped Cardinals flit frantically from one mangrove branch 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 occasionally 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 dozens of these resplendent birds, shifting and contorting in one rhythmic mass overhead, each individual negotiating the best approach to its preferred roost before nightfall.

Scarlet Ibis appear in their thousands around our tethered boat as they return to mangroves to roost  (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

Scarlet Ibis appear in their thousands around our tethered boat as they return to mangroves to roost (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

Sitting, safely nestled within the extraordinary beauty and tranquillity of the Caroni Swamp, we watch as wave upon wave of ibis slowly transform the dark greens of 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 10 Target Species on Trinidad please click here and then scroll down through the list of islands to Trinidad

Day 11

The dazzling Ruby-topaz Hummingbird is one of many visitors to our balcony  (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

The dazzling Ruby-topaz Hummingbird is one of many visitors to our balcony (photo©Birding the Islands client Beatrice Henricot)

Our final morning on Trinidad begins as all others have done - waking to the brilliant colours and astounding variety of calls of the plethora of species to be seen from the balcony of the Asa Wright Lodge. Male Crested Oropendolas dangling upside down in a frenzied display for females, Barred Antshrikes laughing hysterically from within the powderpuff tree, the steady repetitive call of the pair of Channel-billed Toucans perched high in a towering forest giant and the daily visit from Orange-winged Parrots and Blue-headed Parrots once again giving us cause to spring for the binoculars. This is a truly special place, and the sense of wonder and awe we first felt stepping onto this balcony 4 days ago has certainly not diminished. As our flight is not until midday, we take the opportunity to visit a few of our favourite haunts on the property before making for the airport.

Flight back to St.Lucia and homeward journey.

Thank you for Birding the Islands with us!

The Bajan Birder

 

Pricing

Tour Dates:

2020

February 11th - 21st 2020

2021

January 3rd - 13th 2021


Number of species that will possibly be seen on this tour: 376

Number of endemics and near-endemics likely to be seen on this tour: 28

Number of species indigenous to the Lesser Antillean and South American region likely to be seen: 211

Number in Group: 10 clients + The Bajan Birder ( + additional leader if group is at maximum number of clients)

Tour Price:

In Search of the Amazonas (excluding optional extension to Trinidad) US$ 3,375 per person (based on Double Room Occupancy Rates and full complement of 10 clients) (Single Supplement: $370)

In Search of the Amazonas(including extension to Trinidad) US$ 4,875 per person (based on Double Room Occupancy Rates and full complement of 10 clients) (Single Supplement: $565)

Included in Price: All flights between islands and internal ferry charges between islands, local taxes, airport departure taxes, all accommodations, pre-arranged food and drinks (non alcoholic), transport to and from destinations on the islands, park admission fees, local guides fees, hotel and restaurant service charges

Not Included in Price: Your flights to and from St. Lucia, 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 relatively level. Any light to moderate ascents are conducted at a slow, steady pace with plenty of opportunities to rest along the way.