Asa Wright Nature Centre: Where the birding is only surpassed by the staff.
By guest blogger Kimberly Vetter
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am a casual birder. I enjoy adding new finds to my life list and I don’t mind going the extra mile to do so as long as I have a guide to help me – OK hold my hand – along the way.
That guide is usually my husband, an avid birder and ornithologist, unless we end up in a place where he is unfamiliar with the birds himself, which is exactly where we found ourselves this October when we took a trip coordinated by Caligo Ventures to bird the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad.
Nestled in the mountains of the Northern Range of Trinidad, Asa Wright Nature Centre is a world-class natural history destination that boasts an extremely diverse wildlife palate, including a colony of the famed Oilbirds.
The more than 1,000-acre nature reserve started as a cacao and coffee plantation, owned by Asa Gudmundsdottir Wright of Iceland and her British husband Henry Newcombe Wright. In 1967, Asa Wright, a nature lover and by then a widow, sold the plantation to a conservation buyer with the assistance of several Audubon chapters. The plantation was then transformed into a nature sanctuary.
Today, the sanctuary is overseen by a 24-member board of directors and is funded by revenue, a trust and donations. Daily operations of the center, including nature tours, are handled by a hospitable and knowledgeable staff of managers, cooks, support staff and YES nature guides, who ended up helping me greatly.
Prior to my visit to the nature centre, I went through my husband’s field guide to Trinidad and pointed out my target birds: Bearded Bellbird, Purple Honeycreeper, Tufted Coquette and the Blue-gray Tanager. Believe it or not, I checked off a good chunk of my wish list during my first morning at the centre while having coffee before breakfast on the expansive verandah of what used to be the Wright’s home.
Looking clear down the Arima Valley, the view from the second-story verandah is spectacular. Directly in front of me, hanging from bird feeders were White-necked Jacobin, Copper-rumped Hummingbird and the White-chested Emerald. Just below the verandah were more feeders filled with Spectacled Thrush, White-lined Tanager, Barred Antshrike and Bananaquits by the dozen. Nearby trees were packed with more of the same along with Yellow Oriole and Crested Oropendola. The skyline was dotted with the occasional raptor and distant foliage was speckled with surprises such as Orange-winged Parrot and the awesome Bearded Bellbird.
All the while, Barry Ramdass, the first of many guides my husband and I would have the pleasure of encountering during our trip, was pointing out the birds and other wildlife, calling in others and telling us interesting tidbits about their behaviors, personalities and histories. That afternoon, Barry took us on a walk down Discovery Trail, a trail that housed many more of my must-see birds, including Golden-headed Manakin and White-bearded Manakin (WOW!). After feasting on an authentic Trinidad meal, one of the centre’s new guides, Randell Duberry, led us on a night hike where we saw scorpions, tarantulas, stream frogs, tree rats and bats.
The following day, Caleb Walker took us down to the Oilbird cave where we got great looks at the only nocturnal fruit-eating bird in the world. On our way back to the Main House, Caleb spotted the Trinidad Motmot, Black Hawk-Eagle and the Streaked Xenops (Can you say tick, tick, tick?!).
That evening, Ann Sealey, the Director of Asa Wright, arranged a trip with Roodal, a long-time Trinidad field guide, to Caroni Swamp to see the country’s shockingly beautiful national bird, the Scarlet Ibis. After several stops along the way to add new birds to our list (Long-winged Harrier, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Grayish Saltator, and Wattled Jacana to name a few), we landed in a boat at sunset near a small island where at least a thousand brilliant Scarlet Ibis and other herons roosted for the night. The view was simply breathtaking.
Our last day at Asa Wright was with another local Trinidad guide who works with the center. Mahase Ramlal drove us along Blanchisseuse Road, which winds through and crosses over the northern mountain range. Along the way, we picked up a lot of what was left on our list: Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Channel-billed Toucan, Blue-headed Parrot and Blue Dacnis. We also experienced some of Trinidad’s rural culture with a stop in Brasso Seco and Morne La Croix. The last bird my husband and I got to see on our trip, Southern Lapwing, was in the airport parking lot and was pointed out to us by our driver, who also is a long-time local bird guide.
For me, this was by far the easiest, most pleasant birding trip I’ve ever taken. Asa Wright Nature Center’s location is superb, but it’s the friendly, dedicated staff that sets it apart and makes you want to come back for another round.