We'd booked the Grand Magdalena over some other similarly priced hotels as it boasts extensive grounds including a golf course and mangrove swamp, which suggested that there was some good birding to be had. The first bit of wildlife we encountered wasn't a bird though, instead the water hazards for the golf course had a healthy population of Spectacled Caimans!
|Bringing new meaning to the term Water Hazard!|
The hotel wasn't just good for birds, plenty of flowering plants and long vegetation meant that there were lots of butterflies around as well, and I spent a happy hour or two chasing them around. Hanno and Cassius' Blue were common, as were White and Red Peacocks, and some dazzling Gulf Fritillaries. There were also several skippers including the endearing Brown Longtail and appropriately named Whirlabout, along with lots of small yellow butterflies which I haven't managed to identify yet.
|Southern House Wren|
Our first excursion was to the central rainforests of Tobago, the first rainforests to be designated as a protected area, thanks to a far-sighted Frenchman in the 18th century. We got off to a good start, with one of the first birds we saw being the stunning Ruby Topaz hummingbird, a fiery shimmer of red and gold. The hummingbird list grew rapidly, with White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-breasted Hermit and Black-throated Mango all seen well. Our first stop was to view a massive flowering tree which had attracted a wide variety of species, including Blue-gray Tanagers, Shiny and Giant Cowbirds, Orange-winged Parrots and some impossibly blue Red-legged Honeycreepers. Clattering noises from the undergrowth announced the arrival of the (somewhat surprising) national bird of Tobago, Rufous-vented Chachalacas, whilst on the roadside we saw the first of many Blue-Crowned Motmots and Rufous-tailed Jacamars.
|Boat with resting seabirds|
|Male Blue-backed Manakin|
|Red-billed Tropicbird chick|
The contrast between the sister islands is startling, Tobago is a sleepy island with around 50,000 inhabitants, where the main industry is tourism. Trinidad dwarfs Tobago, with a population well over a million and the bustling capital of Port-of-Spain founded around the oil industry. The first new bird of the day came as soon as we left the airport, Gray-breasted Martins roosting in the front of the building. We then set off for the world famous Asa Wright lodge, and after becoming reacquainted with the concept of traffic, arrived by mid-morning.
Here the birding was about as relaxing as it came, relaxing on a verandah with a spectacular view over a tropical garden full of feeders, with rainforest just beyond. One bird I was very keen to see was the funky looking Tufted Coquette, and amazingly, the first bird to buzz into view was a stunning male, complete with orange quiff and emerald spangled orange whiskers. Other hummingbirds included most of the species seen on Tobago, and also Blue-chinned Sapphire and White-chested Emerald. Bananaquits, Green and Purple Honeycreepers also enjoyed the hummingbird feeders whilst in the trees beyond there were a range of tanagers and flycatchers, including Bay-headed Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher.
|Female Purple Honeycreeper|
|Male Bearded Bellbird|
|Male Tufted Coquette|
Once we'd got on the boat we didn't have to wait long for more good birds, with a Greater Ani flashing across the channel and into the mangroves, before we navigated our way carefully below a rather large Cook's Tree Boa! Further along we got a fleeting glimpse of a Green-throated Mango and more typical views of another Common Potoo, before a pair of Red-capped Cardinals showed rather better and a Yellow-headed Caracara flew over.
|Cook's Tree Boa|
The bird list for the trip ended up at 121, with a large number of them being lifers, but the sight which will live longest in my memory is the scarlet skeins of ibis filling the evening sky. Tobago was a superb place both for a holiday and for birding, and I'm sure we'll end up going back there again some day.