And they call this a holiday? We were up at 03:45 this morning to be ready for Newton to pick us up at 04:30. The restaurant was in darkness, and no picnic breakfast to be seen anywhere, so we told Newton we'd get something at the airport. Just to be sure, he decided to have a quick look in the restaurant himself, and came back with a breakfast box, of course. We must be going blind. We're not the only ones going slightly 'senile' though, Newton forgot his phone at home (that's the second time on this trip), and left his hat in the car. Fortunately he realised about the hat before we'd gone through security, so he was able to go back and retrieve it.
The lack of mobile phone means Newton won't be able to talk to the birds with his recorded sounds, but at least he has his laser light pointer which he uses very effectively to show us where a bird might be hiding. Basically it's a little green light, which he will start off pointing on a large area (such as a low down tree trunk) so that everyone can see, then move it slowly for us to follow the light to where the bird is, making sure he doesn't blind the poor creature in the process.
The flight from Tobago to Trinidad has to be one of the shortest flights we've ever taken, at a mere 16 minutes. Blink and you'd miss it. I was desperately trying to look around the airport in Trinidad to see if I recognised it at all – we were there back in 2004, for a layover on the way to Guyana. We had six hours in total there, so once we'd had something to eat in the local food court, we decided to get a taxi to have a little look around the capital. As it was evening and dark, we told the taxi driver to take us somewhere he'd take his wife on a Saturday night. I won't bore you with the details of the evening, let's just say I am glad he is not my husband...
On arrival in Trinidad, Newton's brother in law was waiting for us at the airport with our car for the day. We just had to drop him off at his home, and then we were on our way. If we thought the roads in Tobago were winding and treacherous, they were nothing compared to the narrow forest track snaking its way up through the prime jungle to the ASA Wright Nature Centre. Not only are the roads already a single track with a sheer drop on one side, the recent rains have eroded away the edges in many places making it even more dangerous. In fact, only last week there was a fatal accident on this road, when an (allegedly drunk) female driver went over the edge of the road, and was killed instantly. The fire engine sent out to recover the body and the vehicle also tumbled off the road and into the ravine, fortunately without any serious injuries.
The 1,500 acre Asa Wright Nature Centre is a “Not for Profit” Trust, established in 1967 by a group of naturalists and the main building has an old fashioned colonial feel to it. I would very much love to return one day to have some more time there, spending at least a couple of nights. The house has a large verandah facing the jungle and literally hundreds of birds who come to the plethora of feeders in the grounds. My favourites have to be the various hummingbirds, but there were also flycatchers, manakins, bananaquit, toucans and other colourful birds flitting around, totally unafraid of the human activity in their midst. Also in the grounds were a couple of agouti and some large tiger lizards.
Newton took us out for a walk on a couple of the well laid out paths within the grounds, to look for the elusive bell bird amongst others, which we heard long before we saw. Much as I love lists, and Newton's excitement at seeing a rare and difficult-to-spot bird is extremely contagious, I am a photographer more than a birder, and have to admit I would rather spend time photographing the more common, but colourful and in close proximity birds, than to hike for a couple of hours to see an unusual bird somewhere in the distance, half hidden behind foliage and way too far away to photograph. Serious birders would shudder at this statement of course.
A short while after we returned to the main house, 100 cruise ship passengers turned up. What an absolute nightmare! There were people four deep trying to look out from the verandah and trying unsuccessfully to photograph the fast moving tiny hummingbirds with pocket-sized compact cameras. Newton has the patience of a saint and made several people's day by taking their camera and photographing the birds through his spotting scope. It felt like one of those “It's Tuesday so they must be hummingbirds” sort of moments, with 99% of the visitors having no idea what they were looking at, and very little interest. Once the cruise passengers had dispersed in groups of 25 (how do you keep 25 people quiet in the forest and the birds still for long enough for 25 people to see them?), peace and tranquillity once again returned to the verandah, and we stayed for another hour or so just taking in the whole scene and way too many hummingbird photos.
Lunch was taken at Yerette, the private home of Theo and Gloria Ferguson who have devoted their lives to hummingbirds and have 13 of the 17 species of hummingbirds found on Trinidad in their garden. We saw 11 of them in the most tranquil and colourful setting, coupled with some excellent food for a lazy lunch, and Theo's slide show presentation of all the species delighted us no end. His photography is literally breathtaking – he must have immense patience and of course great camera skills, to get some awe-inspiring close up action shots. The name Yerette means hummingbird in the original Amerindian language, and they believed the birds were the spirits of their ancestors.
On the way from Yerette to Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam, worse than Newton has ever seen, and he was panicking that we wouldn't catch the boat on the Blue River. Fortunately his brother-in-law had lent him a mobile phone, so he was able to contact the boat owner, who had already left, but very kindly came back to collect us when we finally arrived at the docks.
There was plenty of space on the boat, with four people we'd met earlier at Asa Wright, and a gay couple at the front of the boat who were way more interested in taking photos of each other (“this is me with a mangrove, this is me with another mangrove, this is us with a third mangrove...” You get the gist?) than any of the beautiful serene nature we were surrounded by.
The guide, heavily assisted by Newton) pointed out the various wildlife we saw along the way, such as the Tree Climbing Crabs, the Cook's Tree Boa, the osprey with a catch and they both got very excited when we spotted a Greater Ani and a Potoo.
The main reason for this boat trip, however, was to see the literally thousands of Scarlet Ibis who come back to roost at night. And what a sight they were (“and this is me with scarlet ibis...“ I don't think they actually took any photos of the ibis without one of them in the picture). It was, as one of the other birders in the boat said “one of the greatest birding spectacle I have ever seen”! Truly breath-taking. The birds fly in formations of just a few birds to several dozen, glowing bright red in the evening light, until they all come to land in one area, which by the end looks like a Christmas tree strung with fairy lights. After the ibis come the great egrets and the blue heron skimming the water's surface, and together they make up a truly amazing spectacle.
By the time we got back to the jetty, light was fading fast and our day in Trinidad was coming to and end. Back at the the airport, Newton's brother-in-law was waiting for us to leave the car with him again. As we would be arriving too late back at the hotel to have dinner, we grabbed a quick burger which we scoffed down a few minutes prior to boarding. We needn’t have rushed so much, as the plane was delayed for over 40 minutes in the end. As we were taxi-ing down the runway, the pilot came on the PA system and announced: “This is your captain speaking. Welcome on board this Caribbean Airlines flight to sunny Tobago. Well, it would be sunny, but right now it's night time and dark...” After a long, long – but very exciting – day, I slept on the flight and slept in the car for the 1.25 hour journey to the hotel. Blue Waters Inn is not the place for night-life, when we arrived at just after 22:00, the whole place was deserted and the staff were just going home. This is the latest we've been up on the entire trip – we took a quick drink on the balcony, and as there was no wifi to update the blog (hence this late entry – there was no internet connection the following day either), we were in bed soon after, tired but happy.