Tag Archives: Birding


Northeast Tobago Earns Valuable ‘Man and the Biosphere’ Recognition

Last October, as Trinidad and Tobago were in the midst of a 16-month COVID-19 lockdown, UNESCO declared a large swath of Northeast Tobago a “Man and the Biosphere” reserve, a prestigious designation that is expected to help the tourism sector recover and continue to develop sustainably.

“By joining the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the community aims to revitalize cultural and spiritual bonds between people and nature and boost the preservation of this fragile and remarkable human and natural landscape,” UNESCO wrote in its declaration.

One of now 714 UNESCO Nature Reserves, among Caribbean sites only Guadalupe Island’s reserve is larger.

Fifteen communities and 10,000 people live inside the massive terrestrial and marine reserve, which envisions them working sustainably to develop Tobago while preserving its biodiversity.

Of course nature tourists, and especially birders, knew all about Trinidad and Tobago’s natural wonders well before the UNESCO biosphere designation. Caligo Ventures guests have been coming to Trinidad and Tobago for decades, and we’ve long worked with trusted local partners to sustainably explore areas inside the new biosphere boundaries.

Both our 10-day Classic and 12-day Ultimate 2-Island tours visit the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, one of the most compelling natural features cited in the UNESCO designation. The marine portion of the UNESCO nature reserve also encircles Little Tobago, where our guests discover awesome pelagics like the Magnificent Frigatebird, Red-billed Tropicbird and many others.

Red-billed Tropicbird

Forming the spine at the heart of Tobago, Main Ridge is famously the oldest protected tropical rainforest in the world, older even than the United States. It is home to 210 species of birds, according to UNESCO, “the most outstanding being the bird species Campylopterus ensipennis – the White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird – that is both rare and endemic to Tobago.”

The White-Tailed Sabrewing is a Tobago endemic that lives in the newly designated UNESCO nature reserve.
White-tailed Sabrewing. Photo Credit: Peg Abbott

As other Caribbean Islands saw forests clear cut for sugarcane plantations during the colonial period, in 1776, Main Ridge was set aside “for the purpose of attracting frequent showers of rain upon which the fertility of lands in these climates doth entirely depend.”

It was the culmination of an 11-year lobbying campaign by an enlightened member of Parliament, Soame Jenyns, who was influenced by the work of English scientist Stephen Hales linking rainfall and forests.

The protection was remarkable, but sadly an outlier. Only 10 percent of Caribbean forests remain intact, noted UNESCO in its biosphere reserve designation.

Although Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest nations in the Caribbean, its tourism sector is much smaller and less developed than its neighbors.

The Caribbean is often called “the most tourism dependent region in the world,” with 14 percent of collective GDP generated by visitors. By contrast, just 2 to 3 percent of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy comes from tourism, while 40 percent of GDP and 80 percent of exports are tied to vast fossil fuel deposits, including oil and natural gas.

The hope and the expectation is that the UNESCO nature reserve designation will help focus more investment not just in sustainable tourism, but in diversified industries that are compatible with protecting its biodiversity.

“Some of the expected benefits to Trinidad and Tobago include the generation of sustainable green and blue economic activities beyond tourism, including fisheries, agriculture, cultural heritage promotion, scientific research and education, among others,” according to the UNESCO nature reserve declaration.

Below, longtime guide Jason Radix speaks about the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, and the birds we expect to see there.

Global Big Day 2020 from the Asa Wright Nature Centre

Global Big Day was a little different at the Asa Wright Nature Centre during the current global pandemic. AWNC board member Martyn Kenefick, describes his eventful experience below.

Martyn at the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Author Martyn Kenefick at the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Global pandemic restrictions and social distancing—how could I match the two on Global Big Day?

Fortunately, I am on the Board of the Asa Wright Nature Centre here in Trinidad. In the last few weeks, it has become my 2nd home. So on the Global Big Day 2020, together with a couple of fellow Board members, between us we census’d for just under 14 hours—always keeping at least 10 feet apart, some walking trails, others watching from the verandah. And how did we do? A magnificent 84 species were seen and heard, including more than a couple of surprises!

Bearded Bellbird at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Bearded Bellbird by Doug Greenberg

It started well before dawn, when I walked up into a clearing—the top parking lot for those of you who know our geography at the Centre. Mottled, Spectacled and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls were all making occasional noise together, with a Common Potoo, and a couple of Little Tinamou.

Tufted Coquette at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Tufted Coquette by Doug Greenberg
Table feeders were stocked with fruit, and hummingbird feeders with sugar water, so we settled down to begin the daylight vigil.

During the day, hummingbirds were obviously a major attraction. We found 11 species, including males of Ruby Topaz and Tufted Coquette, a couple of Brown Violetears, and a quick stop and drink by a timid Long-billed Starthroat. A fruiting Ficus tree, just off of the verandah, played host to continual visits of both Turquoise and Bay-headed Tanagers and a couple of Guianan Trogons.

Ruby Topaz at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Ruby Topaz by Doug Greenberg

Bearded Bellbirds were perched out in the open. Surprisingly Channel-billed Toucans, which are so often very conspicuous, were shy by comparison. My colleagues walked down to our Oilbird cave to carry out the monthly census. 18 birds on Global Big Day, which, bearing in mind this has been a very harsh dry season, is a respectable total. They also heard both Gray-throated Leaftosser and Black-faced Antthrush.

Oilbird at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Oilbird by Doug Greenberg
It took a while for birds of prey to enjoy the warm air.

We started off with a pair of White Hawks soaring over the valley and a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. A very noisy adult Black Hawk-Eagle repeatedly drifted over the Main House. Then, our only ‘non-birder’ Board Member pointed out the best raptor view, if not quite the best raptor of the day. Flying at eye level and closing to no more than 25 metres from us was a superb Swallow-tailed Kite.

Swallow-tailed Kite at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Swallow-tailed Kite by Greg Smith

Obviously, the middle of the day heat takes its toll on both birds and birders alike. But the vigil was more or less maintained, and we were rewarded with an immature male Swallow Tanager appearing in a Yellow Poui tree. This is a scarce breeding visitor to Trinidad, and one we do not find on the estate every year.

By mid-afternoon, resolve was waning and a couple of us were half-heartedly trying to identify silhouetted Chaetura swifts flying distantly in the valley below—a tough and often thankless task even when you are wide awake. By 4.00 p.m., the others left.

Turquoise Tanager at the Asa Wright Nature Centre Global Big Day 2020
Turquoise Tanager by Doug Greenberg
The valley looked magnificent in the late afternoon sun.

At around 5.30 p.m., my attention was drawn to a noise I hadn’t heard at the Asa Wright Nature Centre for weeks. A party of some 10 Lilac-tailed Parrotlets had descended into a Mango tree. I was able to watch them (frame filling my telescope) delicately clean their bills on bare snags for about 10 minutes.

As the light began to fade, I decided to return to the top parking lot, hoping a Short-tailed Nighthawk would make at least a fly by. Unfortunately, no such luck. However, all of a sudden, a Bat Falcon flew straight towards me. It swooped down and then reappeared with a bat in its talons. Less than five minutes later, it, or its mate, did exactly the same thing and was again successful.

Bat Falcon at the Asa Wright Nature Centre
Bat Falcon by Hugh Simmons Photography

Then the darkness set in on the annual Global Big Day. It all started with a Little Tinamou mournfully wailing and it ended in same manner. Boy, that bottle of beer tasted good! I cannot wait for the world to return to some form of normality so that others can share this beautiful place.

Written by Martyn Kenefick, author of Birds of Trinidad & Tobago

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Asa Wright Nature Centre with David Allen Sibley

Renowned field guide author and illustrator David Allen Sibley spent time with Caligo Ventures’ groups at the Asa Wright Nature Centre to celebrate the Centre’s 50th Anniversary.

A special thanks to Carol Comeau, who hosted the two groups and Steve Wolfe who photographed the birds and the good times throughout the week. Thank you to Carol and Steve who worked together to write this guest blog. And finally, thank you to David Allen Sibley for joining us at the Centre. Continue reading Asa Wright Nature Centre with David Allen Sibley

Birding Trinidad at the Asa Wright Nature Centre

Long-time friends of Caligo Ventures’ owner Peg Abbott enjoy birding Trinidad on their first trip to the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Birding Trinidad
Carol & John Exploring

By Guest Bloggers Carol Comeau & John Roser

For several years, we have been encouraged by friends to visit the Asa Wright Nature Center located in the Arima Valley of Trindad’s Northern Range. We finally had the opportunity to enjoy birding Trinidad and booked a 5-night Independent Birding Venture (IBV) through Caligo Ventures in April of 2017, and we found it to be one of the best trips we have taken. We appreciated how easy it was to make our travel arrangements. We booked our flights, and Caligo Ventures took care of the rest. To prepare, we received a detailed clothing and gear recommendation list, a bird list, and luggage tags. After flying to Trinidad from California, it was wonderful to arrive in Port of Spain and be warmly greeted at the airport by Asa Wright Nature Centre staff. Continue reading Birding Trinidad at the Asa Wright Nature Centre

How did you begin your birding hobby?

Caligo Ventures‘ client Sandy Sorkin details how he began his birding hobby.

A birding hobby has to start somewhere … and we know that often a casual birding hobby can become more of a lifestyle! Below is a guest blog by one of our long-time clients, Sandy Sorkin, all about how he got his start birding. And for Sandy, his birding hobby couples with his love of photography (a bonus for us!). Read on to hear Sandy’s start up story and to see some of his stunning photos.

Continue reading How did you begin your birding hobby?