One of the many joys of birding in other countries is spending time with local guides. Whether it’s driving through the towns or bumping along on a back road, for a short, sweet time we are receiving the gift of a glimpse into their lives.
Trinidad is a small island in the West Indies, located eight miles (12 km) off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. It has rainforests and plantations, cities and towns, fishing, and steel drum music. Their economy is based largely on the export of oil and natural gas products. Wikipedia Trinidad overview
It was originally called “Land of the Hummingbird” by the South American Lokono people…and hummingbirds still grace the rainforests. Some of the most beautiful hummingbirds in the world live here.
And there are a lot of birds on this tropical island, 460 different species.
During our six days in Trinidad, our modest accommodations were located in a mountain rainforest eco-lodge. Asa Wright Nature Centre. For us, every day was about finding the birds.
Some days the guide drove a few of us into town, visiting birding spots like sewage ponds, swamps, and an old abandoned army base. I realize that doesn’t sound glorious, but it was.
One afternoon we went to the Caroni Swamp, a 12,000-acre mangrove wetland famous for the nightly arrival of huge flocks of scarlet ibis.
That was magical. And I also loved cruising the back roads, not only for the panoply of exotic birds, but to see native Trinidadians in their daily routines.
Some of the scraggliest trees were the sites of dozens of colorful birds. We watched a tufted coquette, one of the tiniest and showiest hummingbirds in the world, hassling a much-bigger owl.
There were often tanagers everywhere you looked.
In a residential neighborhood on a mountainside we watched yellow-rumped caciques among their needle residences, while squawking macaws flew by.
We were birding among cacoa trees when a Rastafarian silently walked by extending the two-finger peace symbol.
This is a construction site near our lodge, we passed it at least twice a day. They have perpetual wash-outs here, during heavy rains.
When we weren’t busy trying to spot a bird, one or another of us in the group would ask our guide questions about the country; school system, local or national government, or more personal questions. Some guides like to tell the local folk stories about certain trees or birds.
We had different guides every day while in Trinidad, and they all revealed different stories.
One guide often pointed out the crops we were looking at, how the product was used, how you ate it and what it tasted like. He liked to cook so he would tell us how to fix it and flavor it.
While in a traffic jam, one guide explained they have a lot of traffic in Trinidad because it is so cheap to drive a car, fuel costs almost nothing.
On top of being excellent birders, as I often point out, guides are fluent in many languages, knowledgeable about the science of birds, and savvy about the biology and botany of the area.
What a gift it is to drive through a foreign country, listening to a person tell about his country and its history, his friends and family, his surroundings. In Trinidad it was always men who were the guides, but I was happy to see a few women naturalist trainees at the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
Always, no matter what country we are in, it boils down to the same thing for all of us:
We strive to establish a comfortable and productive life, connect with loved ones and neighbors, and work through our troubles, our hopes, and our fears.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander
Posts I’ve written about special birds seen in Trinidad: