Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Observations in Tobago, 13 - 27 November 2003,

Dr Ernest Garcia

In terms of biodiversity, Tobago is the poor relation of Trinidad. Its list of 220 or so species is about half of the figure for the sister island, a consequence no doubt of the smaller size of Tobago and its much greater separation from the South American mainland. Nevertheless, the island provides a worthwhile birding destination with a good variety of species and excellent opportunities to view them. The nesting seabirds proved particularly interesting.

My wife Joan and I spent a very pleasant and relaxing fortnight in Tobago during which I recorded 104 species, comprising the great majority of the regularly available avifauna. November falls towards the end of the wet season and indeed there were showers on most days. These were occasionally torrential but in the main they were short-lived and they did not interfere with our activities. November is outside the breeding season for most species although some seabirds were beginning to nest. Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies were absent altogether as were two of the six possible hummingbirds and a few other species. In compensation certain wintering North American species were common.

We stayed at the Coco Reef resort at Store Bay in the extreme west of the island, just north of the airport. This proved ideal for frequent visits to the main wetland sites and the Grafton bird sanctuary but if we were planning a trip again we would probably choose the Blue Waters Inn (  at Speyside, at the opposite extremity of Tobago, a quieter location and with ready access to the seabird islands and rainforest.

The principal sites visited are all well known. Running roughly west to east, they were.

Pigeon Point.

A sandy promontory of coconut palm "savanna" fringed by dense secondary forest and scrub. The site is private and there was a charge of $3US to enter. This was a good place for resting gulls, terns and a few waders, with seabirds offshore. The forest provided a good introduction to the landbirds.

Bon Accord wetlands.

These lie just north of Milford road and adjacent to Pigeon Point. They offered a range of habitats from mangroves fringing the Bon Accord lagoon, to freshwater marsh, drainage channels and four large ponds in the water treatment works. The marsh seems in danger of encroachment by nearby housing developments and is sure to disappear under villas unless it is actively safeguarded. This was an excellent site for waterbirds and waders especially.

Tobago Plantations lake (Tobago Hilton).

South of the Claude Noel highway at Lambeau. A relatively deep lake at the entrance to the complex attracted Anhingas and other waterfowl.

Grafton Bird Sanctuary.

Just inland from Stone Haven Bay on the Caribbean coast. The three rainforest trails were all worthwhile. The lower one (on the right as you arrive) is short but the other two are each good for a leisurely hour's walk and interconnect. We found Grafton the best site for White-fringed Antwrens. The birds are fed at the feeding station at the entrance at 0800 and 1600 hours daily, the feeders attracting hordes of Banaquits and many tanagers, hummingbirds and Chachalacas, among others.

Cuffie River Nature Retreat (

In the Runnemede Valley just inland from Castara on the Caribbean coast. A pleasant hotel with nature trails. Guided walks were available if required. The main attraction to us was the feeders which attracted all the available hummingbird species in some numbers and provided excellent views of both White-necked Jacobins and White-tailed Sabrewings.

Forest Reserve.

The extensive rain forests covering the central elevated core of the island are accessible by a network of tarmac and dirt roads, many of which we explored. Our greatest successes in the reserve came with the assistance of a local guide without whom we would have missed many species altogether. Our guide was Newton George who I cannot recommend too highly, not just for his undoubted expertise and local knowledge but also for his infectious enthusiasm for his business of showing Tobago's birds to visitors. He may be contacted via email; or see his website Newton escorted us along the best sectors of the Gilpin Trace (trail) and also led us into a variety of other paths which we would not have noticed by ourselves.

St Giles Islands.

These rocky islets just north of the mainland were seen to excellent effect by sailing there in a small boat from Charlotteville. Joan and I were the only passengers and were charged just $30US for a memorable couple of hours during which we motored in and out of the various islands and were able to see the seabird colonies at close quarters.

Speyside and Little Tobago Island.

The Blue Waters Inn provided an excellent spot for lunch on a couple of occasions, with tropicbirds in view offshore throughout. We didn't actually bother with Little Tobago since we had already seen the principal species on offer there at the St Giles Islands but it is otherwise a worthwhile place to visit. The boat costs $19US from Speyside.

King's Bay River

The lower valley reaches and the path to the waterfall gave access to neglected farmland as well as forest. The former was our only site for Giant Cowbird.


The tourist guides say it all. We found everyone very friendly and welcoming everywhere, which made for a relaxing holiday. Getting about in our hired car was straightforward despite Tobago's notoriously twisty main roads. The island is less than 30 miles long but it took 1½ hours to travel the length of it along the southern, Atlantic coast road. The Caribbean coastal road has fewer hairpin bends but is also slow to drive. Poor signposting meant occasional arrivals at unexpected destinations from time to time. The vehicle itself was a 4WD Suzuki jeep which was useful on the rougher mountain tracks but 4WD is not otherwise essential.

I used the standard field guide (A guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago by Richard French). The second edition has recently (2003) been reprinted by A&C Black. The ffrench text is a decade out of date and the plates are poor but the book was useful nonetheless. I also had Sibley's North American bird guide which was helpful with winter visitors especially. The Venezuelan bird guide would be advisable for visitors including Trinidad in their itineraries. Malcolm Rymer's DVD/video "Birding Tobago" provided an excellent tutorial before our visit and is a useful souvenir of it; the footage and information are good but the delivery of the commentary does the work no favours and should be redone.

Systematic List of Species Recorded

Least Grebe                                          Poliocephalus dominicus

At least two adults and two well-grown young were on the ponds at the Bon Accord works.

Brown Pelican                                     Pelecanus occidentalis

Common on all coasts, in parties of up to 10.

Red-billed Tropicbird                         Phaethon aethereus

Late November sees the first returning breeding birds. Up to 10 were on and around the St Giles islands on Nov 19th and 10 over Goat Island, between Speyside and Little Tobago, on the same date.

Red-footed Booby                              Sula sula

Many hundreds were settled on shrubs on the St Giles islands and formed small rafts nearby, on Nov 19th. Two individuals were seen from a boat off the Caribbean coast near Castara Bay on Nov 17th.

Brown Booby                                      Sula leucogaster

Individuals were seen fishing inshore on most dates and 100+ were taking up residence on the St Giles rocks on Nov 19th.

American Darter                                  Anhinga anhinga

Ten were at the Hilton lake on Nov 23rd and up to 4 were present throughout at the Bon Accord ponds.

Magnificent Frigatebird                     Fregata magnificens

Ubiquitous and seen all around and over the island, including at Hillsborough Dam in the central mountains. Hundreds were on and over St Giles islands on Nov 19th, where some males were displaying their red gular pouches.

Little Blue Heron                                 Egretta caerulea

Often seen fishing in rivers in ones and twos. The maximum count was 6 at Bon Accord on Nov 19th.

Tricoloured Heron                              Egretta tricolor

Common at Bon Accord especially, where a roost formed each evening in trees in and behind the water treatment plant. The roost numbered 30 on Nov 25th. Occasional individuals were seen on rivers and lakesides elsewhere.

Snowy Egret                                        Egretta thula

Up to 10 at Bon Accord.

Great White Egret                                Egretta alba

One or two were at Bon Accord throughout.

Great Blue Heron                                Ardea herodias

One was at Bon Accord on Nov 19th and 24th and another at the Hilton lake on Nov 22nd.

Cattle Egret                                           Bubulcus ibis

Common with cattle all around the island in flocks of up to 10 but more often just in ones and twos. Two were with a few cows tethered on the roadside high in the forest reserve.

Green Heron                                         Butorides virescens

Frequently seen in ones and twos at wetlands, especially at Bon Accord, where there were 6 on Nov 19th, and by the Hilton lake.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron          Nyctanassa violacea

Widespread and easily seen, especially at Bon Accord where at least 6 were present throughout, often hunting crabs in the swamps. Up to six flew over the sea past the hotel each sunset, presumably to nocturnal feeding grounds.

Black-crowned Night Heron            Nycticorax nycticorax

Present but much less obvious than the previous species. One was seen at a daytime roost by a coastal river. At least six emerged just after sunset at Bon Accord on Nov 23rd.

Black-bellied Whistling-duck           Dendrocygna autumnalis

Present throughout at Bon Accord. The maximum count there was 40, which included several pairs with half-grown or well grown young. A family party of 7 was in a damp hollow near the Hilton lake on Nov 24th.

White-cheeked Pintail                        Anas bahamensis

A few were present throughout at Bon Accord. The maximum count was 7 on Nov 24th.

Great Black Hawk                               Buteogallus urubitinga

Single birds or pairs were seen on several occasions in and over the Forest Reserve. Two were high over Cuffie River on Nov 23rd.

Broad-winged Hawk                          Buteo platypterus

Single birds or pairs were seen on several occasions in and over the Forest Reserve and near Speyside.

Osprey                                                   Pandion haliaetus

Wintering birds were frequently seen, including two together at Pigeon Point and at Charlotteville. Birds were seen fishing at the Hilton Lake and offshore at the Buccoo reef.

Yellow-headed Caracara                   Milvago chimachima

At least two frequented the Bon Accord/Pigeon Point area throughout.

Merlin                                                     Falco columbarius

Single birds were noted on several dates especially in the coconut palm "savanna" in the south but also over the Forest Reserve, where one was seen perched eating a woodpecker.

[Peregrine                                             Falco peregrinus]

Occurs in winter and on passage. Several large falcons seen briefly were probably this but the identifications could not be confirmed.

Rufous-vented Chachalaca             Ortalis ruficauda

Common in forested habitats everywhere in flocks of up to 10. Regular at the feeders at Grafton and Cuffie River. Also noted at Bon Accord and at least three were in fruiting trees by the hotel at dawn on several dates.

Common Moorhen                             Gallinula chloropus

Up to 4 present throughout at Bon Accord. One at the Hilton lake.

Wattled Jacana                                    Jacana jacana

At least 5 at Bon Accord throughout.

Grey Plover                                           Pluvialis squatarola

One was on the hotel breakwater on Nov 14th.

Semipalmated Plover                         Charadrius semipalmatus

Up to three frequented the hotel breakwater on various dates. Three were on the beach at Mt Irvine Bay on Nov 17 th. One was at Buccoo Bay on Nov 24th.

Southern Lapwing                              Vanellus chilensis

Up to 30 were present throughout at Bon Accord. A pair frequented grass verges at 300m on the Main Ridge in the Forest Reserve.

Whimbrel                                               Numenius phaeopus

Up to 4 were present throughout at Bon Accord, often frequenting the tarmac road across the marsh.

Greater Yellowlegs                             Tringa melanoleuca

At least 3 were present throughout at Bon Accord.

Lesser Yellowlegs                              Tringa flavipes

At least 6 were present throughout at Bon Accord.

Spotted Sandpiper                             Tringa macularia

At least 2 were present throughout at Bon Accord. Individuals were also seen off the hotel breakwater and in a culvert in the Botanic Gardens in Scarborough. Ones and twos were also present around the coast, generally near river mouths.

Ruddy Turnstone                               Arenaria interpres

A flock of up to 25 was at the Blue Waters Inn. Five were on the shore at Pigeon Point and one at Buccoo Bay.

Sanderling                                            Calidris alba

A flock of 30 was on the shore at Pigeon Point. Four were at Buccoo Bay.

White-rumped Sandpiper                 Calidris fuscicollis

Up to 8 were present throughout at Bon Accord.

Lesser Black-backed Gull                Larus fuscus

A first winter individual was seen daily from Nov 14th to 17th. It frequented Milford and Store Bays and the western shores of Pigeon Point, where it was often to be seen sitting on boats. This Palearctic species is locally rare and a description has been submitted to the T&T Rarities committee.

Laughing Gull                                      Larus atricilla

Only noted off the hotel and at Pigeon Point, where up to 20 birds were present throughout, often perched on the fishing boats. Small groups were sometimes seen flying west far offshore from the hotel at dusk, perhaps flying to roost.

Black-headed Gull                              Larus ridibundus

A first winter individual was at Bon Accord on Nov 21st at 1655. This Palearctic species is locally rare and a description has been submitted to the T&T Rarities committee.

Royal Tern                                            Sterna maxima

Common offshore around all coasts and often perched on boats and buoys west of Pigeon Point. The maximum count was 40 on Nov 14th. Roosting westward movements were visible from the hotel at dusk involving tens of birds.

Sandwich Tern                                    Sterna sandvicensis

Up to 4 were present throughout off the hotel and Pigeon Point. Most sightings were of yellow-billed individuals but one black-billed bird was noted.

Pale-vented Pigeon                            Columba cayennensis

Widespread but relatively uncommon, usually encountered singly. Birds were seen at Scarborough Botanic Gardens, Grafton, Bon Accord and at Kings Bay (4).

Eared Dove                                           Zenaida auriculata

Common in the western lowlands. One or two pairs inhabited the hotel grounds. Also noted at Cuffie River.

Ruddy Ground Dove                          Columbina talpacoti

Common in the western lowlands and small flocks were seen performing roosting movements over the airport at dusk. A succession of small flocks arrived to roost in dense shrubs at Bon Accord each evening.

White-tipped Dove                              Leptotila verreauxi

One or two pairs inhabited the hotel grounds. Very common at Grafton and also noted at Cuffie River. Common generally in lowland habitats.

Green-rumped Parrotlet                    Forpus passerinus

Two were at Grafton on Nov 25th and five were at Bon Accord on the same day.

Orange-winged Amazon Parrot      Amazona amazonica

Very common in and over areas of primary or secondary rainforest. It seemed especially abundant in the north of the island where flocks of up to 30 were seen near Charlotteville and Speyside.

Smooth-billed Ani                               Crotophaga ani

Common and widespread throughout, generally in open habitats, including forest fringes, and farmland. Invariably seen in small family groups.

Grey-rumped Swift                             Chaetura cinereiventris

Two were over the Main Ridge forests on Nov 16th. At least 15 were with 10 Short-tailed Swifts at Cuffie River on Nov 23rd and gave good views as they flew below a bridge to drink in the river.

Short-tailed Swift                                Chaetura brachyura

Widespread and common throughout the lowlands, in flocks of up to 20.

Rufous-breasted Hermit                   Glaucis hirsuta

Noted in ones and twos in the hotel garden, at Grafton, Cuffie River and on forest fringes on the Main Ridge.

White-tailed Sabrewing                     Campylopterus ensipennis

At least two were seen on separate territories along the Gilpin Trace. At least two were at feeders at Cuffie River on Nov 23rd, where they spent much time chasing each other.

White-necked Jacobin                       Florisuga mellivora

At least 4 were at feeders at Cuffie River on Nov 23rd.

Copper-rumped Hummingbird        Amazilia tobaci

By far the most abundant and widespread hummingbird, seen throughout the island especially in gardens, open habitats and forest fringes. Common at feeders; those at Cuffie River on Nov 23rd attracted up to 15 birds at a time although there were probably considerably more individuals involved.

[Two other common Tobago hummingbirds, the Black-throated Mango Anthracothorax nigricollis and the Ruby-topaz Hummingbird Chrysolampis mosquitus, were not seen. They are apparently largely or entirely absent from the island between September and December, a period of nectar shortage]

Collared Trogon                                  Trogon collaris

A male gave good views on the Gilpin Trace.

Belted Kingfisher                                Ceryle alcyon

One was at the Blue Waters Inn on Nov 19th and other at Bon Accord on Nov 24th.

Blue-crowned Motmot                       Momotus momota

Widespread in or near all areas of primary and secondary forest. Usually seen singly or in pairs but three were together at Grafton on Nov 25th.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar                      Galbula ruficauda

Common throughout in open areas in primary and secondary forest. Usually found singly.

Red-crowned Woodpecker              Melanerpes rubricapillus

Very common and seen in all habitats including mangroves, coconut palms, gardens and forest. Two were on a wooden electricity pole near the airport. A regular at nectar feeders at Grafton, where up to 4 were present at once.

Golden-olive Woodpecker                Piculus rubiginosus

Individuals were seen on two occasions in the Forest Reserve.

[The third resident woodpecker, the Red-rumped Woodpecker Veniliornis kirkii was looked for but not located]

Plain-brown Woodcreeper               Dendrocincla fuliginosa

One was seen in the Forest Reserve.

Olivaceous Woodcreeper                 Sittasomus griseicapillus

One was seen in the Forest Reserve.

Cocoa Woodcreeper                          Xiphorhynchus susurrans

One was seen in the Forest Reserve. Two were seen on separate dates at Grafton.

Stripe-breasted Spinetail                  Synallaxis cinnamomea

One was seen in the Forest Reserve.

Barred Antshrike                                 Thamnophilus doliatus

Widespread and common in a range of dense habitats from mangroves to secondary growth and forest edges. Often in pairs or groups of up to 4.

Plain Antvireo                                      Dysithamnus mentalis

Several were seen in the Forest Reserve.

White-fringed Antwren                      Formicivora grisea

Only located at Grafton where 4 were located on each of two visits (but none on a third occasion).

Blue-backed Manakin                        Chiroxiphia pareola

Several small groups of displaying males, and a few females, were seen along the Gilpin Trace. A male was also seen at Grafton.

Fuscous Flycatcher                           Cnemotriccus fuscatus

Several were seen along forest edges in the Forest Reserve.

Streaked Flycatcher                           Myiodynastes maculatus

Individuals were seen on two occasions in the Forest Reserve.

Tropical Kingbird                                Tyrannus melancholicus

Widespread and common throughout the island in a wide habitat range from forest fringes to telephone wires in villages. Usually in pairs.

Grey Kingbird                                      Tyrannus dominicensis

Widespread throughout the island but less common than the previous species and generally seen in the lowlands. Usually in pairs.

Brown-crested Flycatcher                Myiarchus tyrannulus

Individuals were seen at Pigeon Point and Bon Accord.

Venezuelan Flycatcher                     Myirarchus venezuelensis

Two individuals were seen in the Forest Reserve and one at Grafton.

White-throated Spadebill                  Platyrinchus mystaceus

One was seen in the Forest Reserve.

Yellow-breasted Flycatcher             Tolmomyias flaviventris

Noted at Bon Accord and Grafton and on forest fringes on the Main Ridge. Seen singly.

Ochre-bellied Flycatcher                   Mionectes oleaginea

One was seen in the Forest Reserve.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia                        Elaenia flavogaster

Widespread and seen singly or in pairs in the hotel garden, at Bon Accord, Pigeon Point, Crown Point,Grafton, Cuffie River and King's Bay River.

White-winged Swallow                      Tachycineta albiventer

Two were seen at Pirates' Bay, Charlotteville on Nov 19th and two at Buccoo Bay on Nov 24th, flying up and down low over the sea in both cases. The species is not listed for Tobago by ffrench (1991) but local birders confirmed its occurrence now.

Caribbean Martin                                Progne domicensis

Three were over the hotel on Nov 15th and one was seen on roadside wires near Roxborough on Nov 16th. The species is common at other times of year.

Barn Swallow                                       Hirundo rustica

Three juveniles were at Bon Accord at dusk on Nov 24th.

Rufous-breasted Wren                      Thryothorus rutilus

A pair was seen in the Forest Reserve.

House Wren                                         Troglodytes aedon

Widespread in bushy habitats and seen on the airport perimeter fence, at the hotel, at Grafton, Cuffie River and on forest edges. Encountered singly or in pairs.

Tropical Mockingbird                         Mimus gilvus

Very common in gardens, farmland and open habitats generally.

Yellow-legged Thrush                       Platycichla flavipes

Three individuals were seen in the Forest Reserve.

Bare-eyed Thrush                               Turdus nudigenis

Widespread and common in gardens and also seen in mangroves and secondary forest and scrub. Birds at the hotel were very tame and sought scraps at meal times.

White-necked Thrush                        Turdus albicollis

Three individuals were seen in the Forest Reserve.

Chivi Vireo                                            Vireo chivi

Individuals were seen in the Forest Reserve and in coastal scrub near Castara.

Scrub Greenlet                                    Hylophilus flavipes

Identified in the Forest Reserve (3) and at Grafton and Bon Accord. Seen singly.

Blue-black Grassquit                         Volatinia jacarina

Common in grassy habitats. Males were often seen displaying.

Black-faced Grassquit                       Tiaris bicolor

Common in grassy habitats, including the hotel lawns. Generally in pairs.

Yellow Warbler                                     Dendroica petechia

Noted in ones and twos in the hotel gardens, at Crown Point and Bon Accord.

Blackpoll Warbler                               Dendroica striata

Single birds were seen in the Forest Reserve and at the hotel, and two at Bon Accord.

American Redstart                              Setophaga ruticilla

One was seen in the forest canopy on the Gilpin Trace.

Northern Waterthrush                       Seiurus noveboracensis

Common along roadsides in the Forest Reserve and also noted in coastal mangroves, at Grafton and in the hotel garden, generally singly or in loose groups of up to 3.

Bananaquit                                           Coereba flaveola

Ubiquitous and seen in all habitats. Very probably the most numerous landbird on the island. Gatherings of up to 100 formed on the feeders at Grafton. Birds at the hotel were often seen sipping from neglected sugary drinks and some patrolled the beach in search of these. One was taking granular white sugar from our table at Blue Waters Inn, feeding confidently no more than 50cm away. During our stay a pair built a nest on the naff chandelier in the centre of the dining room at the Coco Reef.

White-lined Tanager                           Tachyphonus rufus

Common on forest edges and in open habitats. Usually seen in pairs.

Blue-grey Tanager                              Thraupis episcopus

Abundant in most habitats and a regular at nectar feeders.

Palm Tanager                                       Thraupis palmarum

Common in most habitats and a regular at nectar feeders.

Violaceous Euphonia                        Euphonia violacea

A male was watched eating mistletoe berries in the Forest reserve.

Red-legged Honeycreeper               Cyanerpes cyaneus

Four were seen in the Forest reserve, two of them feeding on mistletoe berries. At least one was a male in eclipse plumage, still distinguishable from females by the brilliant red legs.

Crested Oropendola                          Psarocolius decumanus

Widespread in open habitats and forest edges. Usually encountered in groups of up to 6.

Carib Grackle                                       Quiscalus lugubris

Abundant in the lowlands. Flocks of 20+ were seen flying to roost at Bon Accord and around the airport. The hotel restaurants were host to half a dozen very tame individuals which raided the tables at breakfast and lunchtimes, perching confidently on the tables and stealing unguarded food.

Shiny Cowbird                                     Molothrus bonariensis

One was seen at Currie River. A pre-roost gathering of 20+ was by the airport at Crown Point on Nov 26th.

Giant Cowbird                                      Scaphidura oryzivora

Three were on tree tops fringing abandoned farmland on the lower King's Bay river on Nov 22nd.

© Dr EFJ Garcia 2003

Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?