Tobago Nature - Bird of Paradise Island, Birdwatching Locations in Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago, originally part of the South American continent, has retained many of the plants and animals of South America, leaving the islands with a diversity of flora and fauna quite disproportionate to their size. 260 species of birds breed in Trinidad and Tobago and over 150 migrate here from North and South America. Over 430 species of birds, and over 600 species of butterflies have been recorded in Trinidad and Tobago. In addition to possessing the flora and fauna of South America, these islands are also influenced by their geographic location, being a perfect stopping point for Northern or Southern migratory birds, butterflies or anything drifting in the ocean or wind currents. Habitats include Tropical Rain Forest, Savannah, Semi - deciduous Forest, Mangrove Swamp and Marsh Lands. Many rivers and waterfalls are to be found in Tobago and Highland Waterfall is one of the most famous.
The development of Tobago's eco-system dates back to 1766 when the colonial governor, a conservationist ahead of his time, declared the central mountain ridge and its surrounding lands a Crown Reserve, making Tobago's the oldest legally-protected forest in the world.
Birding In Tobago - An Ornithologist's Paradise
The variety of birds on Tobago is larger than on other similar sized islands because of once being attached and close to South America and within the migration routes of many. It is home to 210 different bird species. The best place to see one of the world’s most beautiful birds, the blue-crowned motmot, is in the trees around Castara at in the rainforest margins.
Many birders choose Tobago as a combined birding and holiday - leaving the non-birders on beaches like Castara. In one of David Attenborough’s wildlife series it showed amazing footage of red-billed tropicbirds and magnificent frigatebirds on the small island of Little Tobago - you can see it ‘in the flesh’ feather??. A short trip to Speyside and boat trip will take you to the island of Little Tobago where you walk across to the cliffs on the far side of the island. There you will see the red-billed tropicbirds (February-March nesting) soaring around the cliffs - the juvenile's beak reddens with maturity. And watch the brown boobies, sooty terns, brown noddies and magnificent frigatebirds flying over the sea below. See frigatebirds dance in the air as they catch the Tropicbirds by the tail in flight - exactly as seen on TV, in an attempt to make the tropicbird disgorge the fish it was carrying. Close by in some low bushes at the top of the cliff in February-March you will see fledgling tropicbirds still on their nests. Some look fully grown, apart from the fact that its bill had not yet turned red. They do not seem to be at all bothered by your presence.
The island also has nesting nocturnal Audobon's shearwater that you might see in their tunnels with a strong torch. Even these can be seen occasionally from shore, coming in just as the light is dying.
When you set out go armed camcorder, camera, cheese, brown sugar, overripe fruit and bread. The cheese is for the motmots. Bread for many of the islands birds. Sugar and overripe fruit for the bananaquits and soon the activity of the bananaquit is seen by the bare-eyed thrush and blue-grey tanagers - shortly they are squabbling over the food. There's a lady in Castara who buys granulated sugar and puts it out to feed the bananaquit - she enjoys the entertainment they give. When the mangoes are ripening on the trees these birds are more difficult to see as they find this fruit rich pickings. As fruit ripens on the trees, a flurry of activity is seen and heard from the orange-winged parrots as they fly through the forest canopy. On south end the beach in Castara you can see brightly coloured red-crowned woodpecker nesting in their hole in the old palm trees busily searching for grubs in nearby trees.
Throughout forested Tobago you will hear what is known locally as the cocricos or chachalaca - the sound is like the name - rufous-vented chachalacas. You will see them flying across the road during the day. The blue-crowned motmot can be seen perched on the branches of tree in the forest. Try to entice the bird out into the open by throwing a chunk of cheese on the ground. The birds will immediately fly out of the trees, take the cheese and fly back into the forest. You might be lucky, try holding a piece of cheese in your hand and offer it to the bird. It shouldn't take long before the motmot will fly towards you, take the cheese from your hand and flew off. After a few days you will be invaded by many motmots coming to take your cheese.
Other birds you are likely to see included barred antshrike, red-crowned woodpecker , and rufous-tailed jacamar. Early in the mornings you can watch ruby-topaz hummingbirds, bananaquits and red-crowned woodpecker feeding amongst the many flowers and bushes around you while brown pelicans and magnificent frigatebirds patrol over the Caribbean Sea. Stroll down to the beach and had closer views of the frigatebirds and of the boobies fishing particularly when the fishermen pull in their nets. Then you will see many laughing gulls. Cattle egrets are found on the beach and you will hear and see white-tipped doves cooing. Cattle egrets are also found on the road side paired with their host, waiting for the cow to startle insects as it crazes. More details:
The nutrient-rich runoff into the mouth of the Orinoco River has resulted in waters between Trinidad, Tobago and the Continent teeming with marine life; Tobago has excellent diversity - the reef systems are varied ranging from shallow lagoons (trips to Buccoo Reef go from the pier at Pigeon Point - shown below left) to coral-encrusted offshore underwater pinnacles (Sisters Rocks) where large pelagics like rays, turtles and sharks are quite common. With very limited commercial development Tobago's marine ecosystem has been spared the problems of eutrophication, coral reef death and habitat destruction. Tobago is as much a blueprint for coral reef and tropical marine ecosystems as you're likely to find anywhere.
Tobago offers many excellent locations for spotting tropical birds and migratory species, in relative ease and comfort. The Main Ridge Forest Reserve was voted "Best Eco-destination in the World" in 2003 for its excellent state of preservation and the quality of birding experiences. Come to Tobago and go birding.
Birdwatching throughout Tobago is first-rate. There are formally-designated sanctuaries like Little Tobago Island, off the coast of Speyside, where the where you can see the White-Tailed Tropicbird soaring and gliding off the windswept cliffs; in March and April, it is possible to get close to the nests and observe the baby birds. Giles Islands, off the north tip of Tobago, is a protected breeding-ground for the magnificent Frigatebird or Man-O-War bird.
The uninhabited island of Little Tobago (about 5 kilometres out to sea) is a seabird sanctuary off Speyside – the most easterly tip of Tobago, on the rugged, windward, Atlantic coast. David Attenborough filmed parts of his celebrated ‘Trials of Life’ documentary series here. This two-square kilometre outcrop has been known as ‘Bird of Paradise Island‘ since the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was bought by the ornithologist Sir William Ingram. In 1909 he transported 24 Greater Birds of Paradise from Aru Island in New Guinea. Over the years, however, these beautiful birds were destroyed by hurricanes.
Although Tobago is a small island, it offers a great variety of natural habitat for birds including tropical rain forest, mangrove swamp, marshland, open country and scrubland, gardens, parks and coast. Good bird-watching areas include the Tobago Main Ridge Forest, the Hillsborough Dam district, Grafton Estate at Stonehaven Bay, the Roxborough-Bloody Bay road and Charlotteville village.
The four main birding locations, each with distinctive birding experiences, are:
South West Tobago - the Grafton Caledonian Bird Sanctuary
This was a cocoa and coconut estate up to 1963 when the island was devastated by Hurricane Flora. The hurricane destroyed both the Estate and its crops, which the owners believed could not possibly be rescued. They decided to convert the area into a bird sanctuary to rescue the hard-hit bird population. The birds are fed at 8 am and 4 pm daily.
The Sanctuary is approx. 200 acres in size and is covered in secondary forest comprising Diospyros spp. Citharexylum spp, Spondias spp and many other trees and shrubs.
Among the birds seen there are the White Fringed Antwren, the Yellow Breasted Flycatcher and the Red Rumped Woodpecker.
The Wetlands at Bon Accord and the Hilton ponds
Wetlands are diverse habitats. On Tobago there are numerous small wetland areas which are excellent for birdwatching.
The most popular wetland birding spots are the Bon Accord wetland area and the Hilton ponds.
Migratory species such as Whimbrels, Blue Winged Teals, White Cheeked Pintails, Common Snipes, Little and Snowy Egrets, can be seen. At times an ideal comparison can be made between the Little and Snowy Egret.
North East Tobago - Little Tobago Bird Sanctuary
This off-shore wildlife sanctuary was formerly known as the Bird of paradise Island. It is located east of the fishing village of Speyside on the Atlantic coast. Access is by a boat ride of approx. 15 minutes.
The island is 250 acres in size and is covered by the only remaining Semi-deciduous Seasonal forest found in Tobago.
Among the sea birds which can be seen here are the spectacular Red-billed Tropic bird, and the Brown Booby along with forest-type bird species. Discover: Eco Adventure In Little Tobago
Central - the Main Ridge Forest Reserve
Tobago boasts of having the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere (1765). The reserve was established mainly to protect the watershed.
It is a tropical evergreen lower montane rainforest which receives approx. 80 inches of rainfall per annum. The main tree species here comprise the Byrsonima and Licania.
With the worldwide increase in Eco-tourism, five (5) nature trails were added to the reserve in 1986, increasing it's recreational potential. The area is a proposed National Park and is used for Birding, research and education. In 2003 the Main Ridge Forest Reserve was voted the "Best Eco-Destination in the World" by World Travel Awards, New York.
A visit to the rainforest is richly interesting experience. Some of the birds which can be seen are the White tailed Sabrewinged Hummingbird, the Blue Backed Manakin, the Golden Olive Woodpecker, the Streaked Flycatcher and many others.
The Rainforest Reserve Road
This road runs through the mature virgin rainforest reserve from just south of Roxborough through to Bloody bay taking you past the entrance to Gilpin Trace. Good birding is found for its entire length with a few tracks, open areas and nooks worth checking each time you pass. There is one very productive piece of the roadside observable from your car . En route from Roxborough to Bloody Bay there is only one patch of bad road-surface where there are usually tethered cows and a small hut. This is approximately 3 kilometres up the road between a sharp right hand bend and a left, all up hill. Even if they improve the road there should be evidence of the new surface and gravel and lumber on the verge to give you a clue. Park on the left facing back downhill in the Roxborough direction, there is a slightly open forest edge with several immortelle trees if they are in bloom. This site can produce the copper-rumped humming bird, the red-legged honeycreepers, blue-grey tanagers, a roost of squawking orange-winged parrots, venezuelan flycatchers, an over-flight by a yellow-legged thrush and more common stuff. It is also the home of the endangered white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird which presents a worthy challenge to any enthusiastic visiting birder. See:
- At Castara Bay watch the royal terns and brown boobies sail over the azure Caribbean. In the short grass of the football pitch hop black-faced grassquits, while eared doves sit in the trees.
It's always twilight along Gilpin Trace. Bamboos of huge circumference towered hundreds of feet above us. Spiny palms such as the 'gru-gru' and bromeliad-covered cycads or tree ferns formed the middle story, while an even greater profusion of bromeliads adorned the tree branches of the canopy high overhead. Wear boots to squish around in nice oozy mud.
- At evening time, while watching the sun set over the Caribbean Sea you will see the return of Cattle egrets to their roost. Hear the short, squeaky 'song' of the incredibly rare white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird and the call of the blue-backed manakin, another Tobago speciality with it’s velvety black body, powder blue back, and crimson crown. The yellow-legged thrush can be found in the blackest shade of a tree branch 30 meters above the ground, giving little opportunity for any kind of view. On a clear day they say you can see the island of Grenada 70 miles to the northeast and the distant rocky islands called the Sisters, about 2 kilometres below.
- Arnos Vale Estate Hotel - Bird Watcher'S Paradise
- Coral Reefs In Tobago
- Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge
- Natural History of Trinidad and Tobago
- Manta Lodge With Tobago Dive Experience
- Tobago Rainforest Tour
- Combination of Extra Divers Tobago in Crown Point and Dive Resort Speyside Inn
- Palmhaven Villa and Some reliable Tobago tour guides
- Tobago Ecological Conservation Organizations
- Eco Adventure In Trinidad
- Nariva Swamp, Bush Bush & Trinity Hills Wildlife Sanctuary And Reserve
- Trinidad and Tobago - A Heaven For The Hurricane Season: Well-Protected Yachting Facilities In The Caribbean
- Tobago Nature and Birding Links:
Each spring, March to June, giant Leatherback turtles come to Tobago's North shore beaches to lay their eggs. The baby turtles emerge 55 to 70 days later. Discover More: Save Our Sea Turtles (SOS) Tobago, Turtle Watching Tour Operators