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A Report from

Tobago: 2 – 15 Feb 2006,

Sue and Neil Jervis


This trip was booked primarily as a beach holiday with a little bird watching thrown in and apart from printing a checklist of Trinidad and Tobago and buying the Birds of the West Indies from the internet, our preparation was limited to packing the binoculars, insect repellent and a note book.  We booked the trip through Virgin Holidays and we stayed at the Turtle Beach Hotel in Tobago.  Much of the trip was spent on the beach, yet we achieved a number of excursions to some of the hot spots and managed a little birding each day.

Neil and Sue Jervis   Mons Belgium

Field guides used:

Birds of the West Indies – Raffaele, Wiley, Garrido, Keith, Raffaele;  Helm Field Guides   This book covers most of the west Indies but not Trinidad and Tobago.  As a result we had to buy a second guide during our trip.

Birds of Venezuela second edition Steven L.Hilty A good guide if a little heavy for use in the field.  This was bought at ASA Wright however it was obviously a pre proof edition as there were a number of pages missing.  (discovered after returning to Tobago).

Local Detail

Tobago is a small, beautiful, green island, inhabited by friendly people.  Eco tourism is big business and tour guides can be found at every hotel and on every beach.  (The constant pestering can be a pain at first but as you tan they tend to leave you alone expecting that you have done the tours).  Most offer a set of similar tours but the knowledge of each guide is variable.  A personal recommendation is probably the best way to find a guide.  We used Kelton Thomas of Thomas tours (mobile 687- 7967) and we found him to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable.  We could also recommend Peter Cox who gave weekly talks at the Turtle Beach Hotel about the Leatherback Turtle. 

Getting around

Although there is a reasonable bus service, petrol is very cheap and so taxi and hire car is the best way of getting round the island.  Booked through our Virgin Holidays representative car hire was $70 US per day all inclusive.  We hired a car for two days and that was sufficient for our needs.  Our trip to Trinidad and excursions in Tobago utilised the tour company transport.  Driving round the island is easy, however, the roads are bumpy, blind corners are frequent and there is a blanket 50kph (30mph) speed limit so a full tour round the island takes all day. 


There is a guide to the birding sites of Tobago however we did not have a copy.  That said, Kelton Thomas knew where to go and these sites seemed to be used by most of the birding tours we saw.  We visited the following:

Courland Bay area, near Plymouth

The Turtle Beach is the principle hotel in this area of the island and is located on a steeply shelving beach which is favoured as a nesting beach by the Leatherbacked Turtle (Feb to July).  The gardens of the hotel are not as productive as we had read in other trip reports.  However, opposite the hotel is a disused road through secondary growth wood and scrub, which climbs to a local authority work site and then drops down to the main road ½ mile to the south of the hotel.  This was very productive first thing in the morning and became a regular morning and evening stroll.  In addition there are freshwater pools just along the beach on both sides of the hotel.  In total we saw some 50 species around Courland bay.

Buccoo Marsh

Despite this being historically a great site it is scheduled for redevelopment and we found it disappointing.  Difficult to find, it is located between Grafton and the airport. Approaching from the airport keep a look out for the recording studios on the right, the entrance is located on the left in the middle of the next right hand bend,  through a metal 5 bar gate held closed by wire.  The site contains a couple of pools and a large area of secondary scrub.  It is rather boggy everywhere and insect repellent is a must.  We saw, Purple Gallinules, Jacanas, ducks, North American warblers and flycatchers.  However, the Mangrove Cuckoo reported to be resident eluded us.

Grafton Estate

Just off the main road between Crown Point and Plymouth this site was well worth visiting.  The original owner of the site started to feed the birds after Hurricane Flora in 1963 and after she died she left instructions that the feeding should continue.  The estate still feeds the birds, normally each day at 0800 and at 1630.  This attracts a large number of the more common doves, pigeons and Rufous-vented Chachalacas.  However, almost anything can be expected on the trail and we saw a number of hummingbirds and flycatchers. Entry is free during daylight hours but visitors are asked to make a donation our guide suggested we leave $20TT, which was a pound each. 

Main Ridge/Gilpin Trace

There are a number of trails in the rain forest.  The most popular is Gilpin Trace which is accessed off the main road between Roxburgh and the Caribbean coast road.  This is the best place to see the rain forest species, Kelton Thomas took us up there early before the main tours arrived and we saw most of the target species such as the White-tailed Sabrewing, Blue backed Manakin and the Collared Trogon.  Peter Cox uses another trail at the top of the ridge but it is difficult to find without a guide.  Guides are compulsory and the good guides such as Kelton and Peter know the birds calls which are essential as seeing the birds in the rain forest is not that easy.  If you want to take photos you will need very fast film. 

Little Tobago

We saw it over the bay but did not visit.  Red Billed tropic birds could be seen with binoculars.  Peter Cox does a rainforest / Little Tobago day trip which is a good  birding option but be warned the walk on Little Tobago is very steep.

Hilton Hotel settling ponds

The Hilton hotel and golf complex has its own sewage system and series of settling ponds.  Providing a reasonably large area of open fresh water, it often hosts one or two wetland specialities and rarities are frequent, we saw a Killdeer, a neotropic cormorant, Pied Grebes during a short visit plus Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons hunting over the site.  To access the site drive into the Hilton complex and view the large lake on the right of the road.  To reach the other ponds, go through the security gate and drive to the end of the road.  Take a right at the T junction and then park outside the gate on the left before the maintenance building and walk the three ponds.  The gate is sometimes closed, if it is, the security guards will normally give the key if you tell them you want to bird the area. 

Arnos Vale Hotel               

This hotel hosts an afternoon tea/ feed the birds deal, at 4 pm every day.  We saw Motmots, hummingbirds and the more common urban species.  This is a visit worth doing early during a stay.  Not only because you can get a good view of the hummingbirds and the more common species, which helps when you see them again in the field but also because any non birders in your party will get such good views that they will tolerate other trips to see these gems again.

Other Sites              

We did not visit the Hillsborough Dam, it is included in Peter Cox’s tour listing and did not find the Bon Accord lagoon.  Many of the beaches have streams running on to them and a small amount of wet land, so expect anything whilst driving on the coast roads.


Having travelled so far we did splash out on a trip to Trinidad.  Organised through the Virgin travel rep (this company also provides the Kuoni rep), the trip included a trip to ASA Wright and the Caroni swamp.  A Trinidad trip is sold by most tour operators and also the holiday companies.  Although the holiday companies include a shopping and town visit to the Port of Spain we arranged to omit this to give us more time birding.    We left Tobago at 0700 arrived at ASA Wright at 0900 and left at 3 pm to get to the Caroni swamp for the Red Ibis roost trip at 4pm.  ASA Wright is wonderful, although as a day visitor you are not allowed to walk their trails without a guide.  The guides do a short tour at 10:30 and 1:30 and day guests can wander along the access road which offers good views of the estate.  If we had planned better we would have booked an Asa Wright guide for half a day or done the trip with Peter Cox.  Although this excursion looks expensive ($200 US each) we still enjoyed our day and thought we got value for our money.

List of Birds seen. (If dates not stated seen often, abundance relates to our trip)



Least Grebe 

4 at Hilton 9/2 

Pied Billed Grebe

1 at Hilton 9/2

Brown Pelican

abundant on coast

Brown Booby

2 or three off shore at Courland bay 11/2

Neotropic Cormorant 

1 seen at Hilton Ponds 9/2 


1 Courland bay pools 4/2. 15+ Hilton ponds 9/2

Magnificent Frigate bird

35 in the air at once over Courland bay, seen daily,

Red-billed Tropic bird

Over Little Tobago 11/2

Great Blue Heron 

1 at Courland south lagoon 10/2

Great Egret

Number in the Caroni swamp 7/2.

Snowy Egret 

Large numbers Caroni swamp 7/2 10+ Buccoo marsh 8/2

Little Blue Heron 

Singles at Turtle Bay and Buccoo Marsh. 4/2, 8/2

Tricoloured Heron 

Hilton Ponds 9/2.

Green Heron

Hilton Ponds, Courland beach.  Quite common.

Cattle Egret

Common all over island.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

1 adult seen river Courland 5/2, 9/2

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Caroni swamp 7/2, 2 or 3 Turtle Beach creek and on beach most evenings

Red Ibis

Caroni Swamp 7/2

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

10+ at Buccoo Marsh same at Hilton Ponds 8-9 /2

White Hawk

Over Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Turkey Vulture

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Broad-winged Hawk

Over Main ridge 11/2, Adult and Immature Turtle Beach 14&15/2.

Common Black hawk

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2 Main ridge 11/2


1 Caroni swamp 7/2  2 over  Hilton Ponds 9/2

Peregrine Falcon

Caroni swamp 7/2 and over Hilton ponds 9/2

Yellow headed Caracara

Caroni swamp 7/2.

Rufus-vented Chachalaca

Common.  10 seen on road in front of Turtle beach hotel.  8 at Grafton Estate.

Common Gallinule 

5 Buccoo Marsh, 2 Hilton Ponds. 8/2, 9/2

Purple Gallinule 

1 at Buccoo Marsh 8/2

Wattled Jacana

1 at Buccoo Marsh 8/2

Southern Lapwing

20 at Hilton Ponds 9/2 , Englishman’s bay 11/2

Black-bellied Plover

Caroni Swamp 7/2

Semipalmated Plover

3 on beach Courland bay 6/2

Solitary Sandpiper 

Caroni swamp, Turtle beach lagoons 9&10/2

Greater Yellowlegs

2 at Courland bay 8/2

Spotted Sandpiper 

Turtle beach pools.


1 regular on beach In Courland bay.

Laughing Gull

Very common.

Common Tern 

Singles along Turtle Beach.

Royal Tern

2 or 3 frequently seen along Turtle Beach in afternoon.

Sandwich Tern 

Up to 4 seen on several occasions Turtle Beach.

Pale-vented Pigeon

Common in Turtle beach grounds in the morning.

Grey Fronted Dove

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Eared Dove

Common and widespread.

Ruddy Ground-Dove

Fairly common and widespread.

White-tipped Pigeon

Fairly common round the turtle beach hotel.

Green-rumped Parrotlet

Courland bay normally in small flocks3/2 and 12/2.

Orange-winged Parrot  

30+ seen at Gilpin trace also common at Grafton.

Smooth-billed Ani

Turtle beach hotel 5/2 and widespread.

Common Potoo

Asa Wright Trinidad and Caroni swamp 7/2

Short-tailed Swift 

Widespread and common.

Tufted Coquette

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

White Chested Emerald

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Blue-chinned Sapphire

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

White-necked Jacobin

Road in front of Turtle beach, Arnos Vale, ASA Wright

Green Throated Mango

Caroni swamp 7/2

Black-throated Mango

Asa Wright & Caroni swamp 7/2 Arnos Vale 12/2

Ruby-topaz Hummingbird

Road in front of Turtle beach, Arnos Vale, ASA Wright, widespread

White tailed Sabrewing  Hummingbird

Gilpin trace 14/2.

Copper-rumped Hummingbird

Arnos Vale etc. Road in front of Turtle beach, Arnos Vale, ASA Wright widespread

Rufous-breasted Hermit

Gilpin Trace 14/2

White-tailed Trogon

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Collard Trogon

Gilpin Trace 14/2

Green Kingfisher

Speyside near Blue Marlin hotel

Blue-crowned Motmot

Common.  Seen in hotel grounds, Grafton Asa Wright and Arnos vale.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar 

Widespread, Turtle beach, Grafton, Gilpin trace

Golden-olive Woodpecker

2 Gilpin Trace 14/2

Red-crowned Woodpecker 

Common and widespread.

Buff-throated Woodcreeper

Courland Bay area, 10/2

Stripe-breasted Spinetail 

Grafton Estate8/2, Gilpin Trace 14/2.

Barred Antshrike 

Widespread in small numbers.

White-fringed Antwren

Courland bay disused road 6/2 Grafton 8/2

Blue-backed Manakin 

Gilpin Trace 14/2 

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Boat Billed Flycatcher

 Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Tropical Kingbird

Grafton Estate Courland Bay roads common.

Gray Kingbird

Courland bay roads, Grafton estate quite common

Great Kiskadee

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Tropical Pewee

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Brown-crested Flycatcher 

Road in front of Turtle beach hotel 11/2

Fuscous Flycatcher

Gilpin Trace 14/2

Yellow-bellied Elaenia 

Speyside lookout 11/2, Grafton Estate 13/2.

Caribbean Martin 

Hilton Ponds 9/2 Over Plymouth 14/2.

Rufous-breasted Wren

1 Gilpin Trace 14/2

House Wren 


Tropical Mockingbird

Widespread and abundant.

Yellow-legged Thrush 

5 or 6 Gilpin Trace 14/2

Bare-eyed Thrush 

Widespread and common.

Cocoa Thrush

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

White-necked Thrush  

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2 Gilpin Trace  14/2

Plain Ant Vireo 

Gilpin trace 14/2

Scrub Greenlet

Heard often Grafton, Buccoo but only seen clearly Turtle beach road 15/2 


widespread and abundant

Northern Waterthrush

Courland Bay Pool 6/2

Yellow Warbler

Buccoo marsh 8/2 Turtle beach road 11/2

Prothonotary Warbler

Buccoo marsh 8/2

Green Honeycreeper

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Purple Honeycreeper

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Main Ridge road down to Roxburgh 11/2

Palm Tanager


Blue-gray Tanager 


Bay headed Tanager

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Turquoise Tanager

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Violaceous Euphonia

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Red Crowned Ant Tanager

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Silver beaked Tanager

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

White-lined Tanager 


Bi-coloured Conebill

Caroni swamp 7/2

Greyish Saltator

Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Black-faced Grassquit

Common and widespread especially around Turtle beach hotel.

Yellow-bellied Seedeater 

Flock seen at Fort James Plymouth 10/2

Blue-black Grassquit

Road in front of Turtle beach, Main ridge approach road.

Yellow Oriole 

2 or 3 Asa Wright Trinidad 7/2

Carib Grackle 

widespread and abundant

Giant Cowbird

Englishman’s bay 11/2

Shiny Cowbird 

Courland bay hotel grounds.

Crested Oropendola 

Common at high levels Main ridge and nests at ASA Wright. 7/2 11/2


An unidentified very speckled pigeon in the Turtle beach grounds. 13/2 (not identified by us or the other birders who saw it from any of the field guides we were able to study).

Other Wildlife seen:


Red squirrel at Turtle beach and Grafton Est
2 boas at Caroni swamp Trinidad

1 Caiman at Caroni swamp
various unknown bats at Hotel Asa Wright and in Grafton estate

Sue and Neil Jervis


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