Located on 12,000 acres (4,860 ha) in northwestern Trinidad, this swamp is home to 190 species of birds, as well as reptiles, caiman, and many other marine life. The most famous inhabitant, however, is the scarlet ibis.
An important wetland for its ecological diversity and protection of endangered species, the Caroni Swamp was designated a Ramsar Site in 2005.
Like many swamps, the Caroni Swamp has overcome a history of nearly getting filled in; and although the marshland is now protected, there are still problems with poaching, hunting, and pollution.
In anticipation of watching the nightly ritual of roosting scarlet ibis, we boarded an outboard motor boat close to dusk. Just before taking off, there was a commotion and our guide insisted we get back out of the boat.
We ran over to watch a park ranger releasing a female caiman. A resident had called it in, and the ranger had captured her and was about to release her into the swamp.
After that excitement, we climbed back into the boat and cruised through the mangrove channels. Large swamp trees with extensive aerial root systems, mangroves live in salt water in tropical and sub-tropical regions all over the world.
As the sun began to set, our boat meandered through the channel, navigating around the roots. We saw tree boas coiled up in the overhead roots and branches, as well as wading birds and raptors.
Before our boat was in position, the ibis were already arriving. Overhead and all around us, there was a swirl of bright red ibis. During the day they feed in Venezuela, 11 miles away.
Living in large colonies throughout South America and the Caribbean, the Eudocimus ruber is a wader, with a long, curved bill and flaming-red feathers. More info here. They are the national bird of Trinidad.
In spite of two other anchored boats filled with people watching the spectacle of the incoming ibis, we were all quiet.
There is something so profound, so sacred, about watching hundreds and hundreds of glowing red birds coming in for their evening rest.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted