Birding Aripo Livestock Station, Trinidad

One of Trinidad’s top birding spots is the Aripo Livestock Station.  Having wasted far too much time the day before getting lost, this time I was determined to get there early to maximize birding. Since we didn’t have a gps in the car I would have to research the location and handwrite the directions.  Google maps doesn’t have the location loaded but by using eBird’s hotspot, I was able to map out the route and make note of which exit came before so I would know where to turn.  From the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, turn left at the Demerara Road, then right on Eastern Main Road and look for the property on the left.

aripo-map

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This sign is easy to spot.  Turn down the road and go past the guard point.dscn3851

Pull into the main building parking lot and they will register your presence and give you a visitor pass like the one below.  This is all routine and they are quite used to birders.dscn3850 dscn3804

From here it’s a matter of driving slowly around the property with your eyes and ears open.  Birds are everywhere!dscn3805 dscn3806 dscn3807

I was over the moon to see some Green-rumped Parrotlets in a tree not far from the entrance.  Parrotlets have always been a difficult bird to spot, see how well this little guy blends in!img_7050 img_7051a img_7062a img_7066a img_7073a dscn3808 dscn3810 dscn3825 dscn3837a dscn3843a

Lilac-rumped Parrotlets are also found here but I wasn’t lucky this time.  We drove around for about 90 minutes as we still had to get to Asa Wright’s before the morning tour started and picked up a fair few birds.  There were also Amazon Parrots flying overhead but I couldn’t tell which ones as we had been stopped for breakfast and didn’t grab the binoculars in time.dscn3845 dscn3846 dscn3848 dscn3849 img_7036 img_7038 img_7042

Southern Lapwingimg_7048

Ruddy Ground Doveimg_7086

Great Kiskadeeimg_7091a

Hummingbird, not sure which kindimg_7098a img_7110a

Rock Pigeonsimg_7115

Tropical Mockingbird

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A Boat Trip To Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Trinidad

After a very full day of rushing around in the car, getting lost and seeing some amazing birds, we were ready for a nice relaxing boat ride in the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.  As usual, we arrived late after getting lost but another couple also arrived late so we shared a boat all to ourselves.  The crew at Nanan’s were very friendly and the guide found a few water birds along the route even though we were an hour late.

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Only one other couple on the boat.dscn3762

Great Blue Heron

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Emerging into the main lake.dscn3769

We cruised around the lake slowly as the Scarlet Ibises and Egrets flew to their roosts in several small groups at a time.  Despite having lots of trees and islets to choose from, tey all chose to roost together in one area.  There were so many bird the trees looked like they had tons of white and red flowers!dscn3770 dscn3778 dscn3779

Another tour groupdscn3780 dscn3782 dscn3786 dscn3789 dscn3792 dscn3793 img_6966 img_7024 img_7020 img_6990 img_6978 img_6973 img_7026 img_7028 img_7031 img_6952

Finally the specacle was over and the birds settled in for the night.  All boats started heading back to the docks……………………dscn3797

…………..but not before we watched the sun set over the swamp!dscn3795 dscn3796

Yerette Hummingbird Sanctuary, Trinidad

Theo & Gloria Fergusson, the owners of Yerette must have one of the best lifestyles in the world!  Their beautiful home high atop a hill in the lush Maracas Valley in Trinidad is a sanctuary for 1000’s of brilliant glittering hummingbirds!  Out of all the bird species we don’t have in Australia, hummingbirds are the one I miss the most so I like to take any opportunity to see them overseas.  The general consensus on Trip Advisor is “magic” and I have to agree!

The word “Yerette” means hummingbird  in the original Amerindian language.Trinidad even features them on the national Coat of Arms, currency and passport, as the hummingbird is an important symbol of the country.  Caribbean Airlines has the hummingbird as their logo as well.

At Yerette, visitors are able to see and observe 13 of the 17 hummingbird species recorded in this country, of hummingbirds at a very close range. These include:

1.Black-throated Mango

2.Blue-chinned Sapphire

3.Brown Violetear

4.Copper-rumped Hummingbird

5.Green Hermit

6.Green-throated Mango

7.Little Hermit

8.Long-billed Starthroat

9.Ruby Topaz

10.Rufous-breasted Hermit

11.Tufted Coquette

12.White-chested Emerald

13.White-necked Jacobin

I managed to see 10 out of the 13 (bolding) and did my best to identify the photos below but many are too dark or blurry.  I did get Tufted Coquette at Asa Wright’s so it’s really necessary to visit both places to see as many Trindadian hummingbirds as possible.

The price of admission is $TT150, and includes a light meal, interesting presentation by Theo on the hummingbirds and access to all the hummingbird feeders in the garden where you can TRY to take photos of these rapidly flittering flying jewels.  Theo has photos for sale which are better quality than most people will get on their own.  You need to book in advance by calling 1-868-663-2623 as there are sessions at different times of day.  They will email you precise directions when you book.  It doesn’t matter which session you choose as hummingbirds must feed every 10 minutes throughout the day.

The area where Yerette is located.

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Entering Yerette and the hummingbird garden.dscn3622 dscn3623 dscn3624 dscn3625 dscn3626 dscn3627

Theo’s presentation on the hummingbirds.dscn3646 dscn3628 dscn3633

Green-throated Mango dscn3639a dscn3641

Green-throated Mango dscn3650 dscn3658

White-necked Jacobin dscn3661

Copper-rumped Hummingbird dscn3670

Little Hermit dscn3684

Black-throated Mango dscn3688

Rufous-breasted Hermit dscn3692 dscn3699

Ruby Topaz dscn3702

Ruby Topaz dscn3702a

Ruby Topaz dscn3703a

White-chested Emerald dscn3704

White-chested Emerald dscn3705a

Brown Violetear dscn3708 dscn3710 dscn3715

Purple Honeycreeper

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Green-throated Mango dscn3724 dscn3727 dscn3732

Ruby Topaz Hummingbird? dscn3740a

Blue-chinned Sapphire dscn3744

Black-throated Mango img_6938a

Ruby Topaz Hummingbird? img_6927 img_6925 img_6918 img_6911

White-necked Jacobin img_6898aYellow Oriole img_6856 img_6851

Blue-chinned Sapphire dscn3749 img_6840 dscn3747

It started raining as we headed back down the steep hill, you can see how high it is.

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Birding Nariva Swamp, Trinidad

Nariva Swamp is high on most birders’ lists to visit in Trinidad.  I would have preferred to get here earlier but we arrived around 8am due to getting lost.  We headed to the main birding spot – Kernahan Road.  I was targeting parrots of course plus anyone else who flew by.  Flying by at great speed was one pair of Red-bellied Macaws even before we turned off the main road to Kernahan Road but they disappeared before I could get a shot and I couldn’t find them again.

We didn’t see either the monkey or the macaw this time.  Probably because we got there so late.

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This is where I saw the Red-bellied Macaws fly overhead while we were driving.dscn3608 dscn3612 img_6777

Turn left here.  Then just drive very slowly and keep your ears and eyes open!img_6778 dscn3613 dscn3614 dscn3616 dscn3617

Great Egretimg_6780

Swallowimg_6782

Smooth-billed Aniimg_6784 img_6796

Ruddy Ground Doveimg_6797 img_6799

Orange-winged Parrots (Amazons)img_6806 img_6807 img_6808 img_6811 img_6815

Yellow Oriole img_6822 img_6826

Great Egretimg_6831

 

Getting Lost In Trinidad

There are a few must-see birding hotspots and with only 2 full days I had organized two very ambitious itineraries.  The first day involved driving out to Nariva Swamp before dawn, getting to Yerette (Hummingbirds) for lunch, then doing the sunset boat ride at Caroni Bird Sanctuary.  What I didn’t realize is how confusing some of the roads were and without a GPS, we would get lost several times.  Ordinarily getting lost isn’t a bad thing as you can stumble into some pretty cool places but I really needed to get to all these places on time.  This is what it looked like (blue is Google maps, red is how we got to Nariva Swamp and green is getting back to Yerette.

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I have no idea where most of these places are, I was just snapping photos out the window to show every day Trinidad life.dscn3574 dscn3575 dscn3576 dscn3577 dscn3578 dscn3579 dscn3580

I love this colour!dscn3581

Public transportdscn3583 dscn3585

Pretty police stationdscn3586 dscn3588 dscn3589 dscn3590 dscn3591 dscn3592 dscn3593

After finally finding the road to Nariva, we stopped here to buy food and drinks.dscn3595 dscn3596

The sea at last!dscn3597 dscn3598 dscn3600 dscn3601 dscn3605

Yay, we found it!dscn3606

This next group of photos is getting back from Nariva to Yerette.  We ended up in some really remote rural area and only got back to the main road after following a local man who was headed that way.dscn3618 dscn3619 dscn3620

 

Planning A Birding Trip To The Caribbean

The Caribbean is one of the most challenging regions to go birding in, especially if you are on a budget.  You can get to most of the best islands for birding with miles but if you want to hop around between islands you are stuck with very expensive short flights.  Sooner or later, you will probably have to fly on Liat which is popularly known as “Leave Island Any Time or Luggage In Another Termnal”.

The other option is birding from a cruise ship.  This will get you to several islands and if you choose your itinerary wisely you could position yourself for some excellent birding.  I was successful in birding Jamaica & Grand Cayman from a cruise ship several years ago.

The islands highlighted in yellow are some of the most popular ones for birding and for parrot lovers, they all have endemic parrot species.

caribbean-map

CHOOSING THE ISLANDS TO VISIT

This was the easiest part.  The islands are fairly small and it’s easy to find out where the birds are.  I used eBird to get an idea but knew I would be hiring a guide at least on St Lucia and Dominica since time was short.  I was after several amazing Amazon Parrot species which are endemic to particular islands.  Puerto Rico has the Puerto Rican Amazon.  Dominica has the Imperial Amazon (Sisserou) & Red-necked Amazon (Jaco).  St Lucia has the St Lucia Parrot.  St Vincent has the St Vincent Parrot.  Trinidad has a couple of Parrotlets I was chasing – Green-rumped Parrotlets & Lilac-tailed Parrotlet.  There are also several Macaws and Amazon species plus lots of hummingbirds & manakins around the island so it was a great all-rounder.

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GETTING AROUND

We used United miles on Copa to get from Bogota to Trinidad via Panama.  Then we used miles from Port-of-Spain to St Lucia, only 4500 Avios for the short flight.  After that, we had to use Liat to St Vincent, Dominica & San Juan.

On Trinidad & Puerto Rico, we rented a car and drove around on our own.  On St Lucia, St Vincent & Dominica, we used a combination of guided birding tours (St Lucia), buses & taxis to national parks (St Vincent) and a private birding day trip on Dominica.

ACCOMMODATION

The Caribbean can be very expensive and even small lodges can be at least $150 a night.  Luckily I had some Hotels.com free nights, 2 Expedia credits for a promo they messed up on and some Orbucks from a photo competition they ran in 2014 which got our small hotels on St Lucia, St Vincent & Dominica plus one night at a small hotel south of San Juan for free.

We had 2 nights free in Trinidad at the Radisson thanks to the 2 for 1 redemption opportunity that came with the Club Carlson Visa booked just one month before that particular benefit went away.

We had one free night at the San Juan Intercontinental courtesy of the Chase free night with the IHG Rewards Visa.

Yes, you read that right, getting lucky with some hotel promos got us the entire week in the Caribbean for FREE!

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting in detail about our birding in the Caribbean so stay tuned!

Day Trip – Birding Chingaza & Bioandina Area

Once again I was up for a very last minute off-the-cuff birding excursion-the last one in Colombia.  This time I was on my own as my husband wanted to take a day off and relax in the hotel and get over his altitude sickness.  I was targeting Brown-breasted Parakeet and had studied their locations on eBirdBirds of Passage had a nice post about their birding in the area, looks like they had bad weather to contend with as well!  I contacted Oswaldo Cortes on Facebook but he was already booked that day but he suggested we go to Chingaza for the parakeets.  So I got the hotel to book a car & driver (SUV) who arrived promptly at 5am to take me to Chingaza.  The scenery was gorgeous along the way!

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Finally we arrived at Chingaza National Park.  I was already looking for parakeets!dscn3507 img_6706

This is the desired Brown-breasted Parakeet and the mascot of the park.img_6707 dscn3508 dscn3509

This is the office where you pay admission and enter the park.  However they didn’t want to let me in since I didn’t have a guide!  I was hoping a guide might show up or be waiting around the entrance like they do at some other parks but no dice.  The area where the parakeets frequent is further into the park so I couldn’t just hang around the car park area and hope to get lucky.  So not wanting to waste any more time, I decided to try the other place where the parakeets had been seen – Bioandina which is on the north side of Chingaza.

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bogota-surrounds

You can see how we traveled from the hotel to Chingaza (blue line) and then we backtracked to where the red line begins.  I knew Bioandina was in that general area (yellow) but it wasn’t very well signposted and we ended up going all the way to where the red line ends until we realized we missed it. dscn3511 dscn3512

This is the road we turned down which finally led to the right area.  I never saw the word “Bioandina” but we did head into prime bird habitat.dscn3513 dscn3516 dscn3517 dscn3519 dscn3520 dscn3522

I think this is some kind of school, anyways it is very near the trees where we finally saw and heard a good-sized flock of parakeets!  The trees are in the photo above.dscn3525

The area was fenced off so all we could do was sit on the side of the road and wait.  It was so frustrating, I could hear LOTS of parakeets and see them flitting back and forth.  I knocked off a few Hail Mary shots but just couldn’t get them.  After about 20 minutes, they took off like bats parakeets out of hell and disappeared down the valley. The fence kept us from getting closer and I was feeling minor effects of altitude sickness from the previous trip so I was sitting in the car hoping they would come closer.  They didn’t.

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We drove around the area some more hoping to find the parakeets again.  dscn3526 dscn3527

We found a crested guan hiding in a bush near the road.img_6708 img_6710 img_6736 img_6711 img_6717 img_6732 img_6735

A few shots of the road heading back into Bogota.  I wanted to go to some craft shops but we couldn’t find any along the route.dscn3529 dscn3530 dscn3537 dscn3538 dscn3539 dscn3541

The driver dropped me back at the hotel and I found Ina in much better spirits after having a day to rest.  I was one one hand happy to have found a flock of parakeets but disappointed I didn’t get any photos.  Maybe I should have bought some flowers!

Quest For The Fuertes Parrot

The rare and endangered Fuertes Parrot is highly sought after by birders in Colombia.  I knew that ProAves had a reserve south of Armenia, the Giles Fuertes Reserve.  I had contacted them to inquire about a visit but was told that the reserve was not open to visitors.  So I turned to eBird to see where other people had been seeing them and found a few sightings near the Termales San Vincente which was easily reached from Pereira or Santa Rosa de Cabal.  But what really turned this expedition around for me was finding a blog (Birds of Passage) by two American birders – Josh & Kathi who were traveling around South America in a camper van.

This is what it looks like from Pereira to Termales San Vincente, then the small road leading up the mountain to the Fuertes Parrot site.

fuertes-area

This post on their blog had detailed instructions on how to get to the Fuertes Parrot site!  Now all I needed was transport.  This was when I chose the Kolibri Hostel in Pereira as an overnight staging point.  I knew backpacker places would have drivers available at backpacker prices………….and they did!  Although I don’t remember the exact cost, it was around 130,000 COP for the morning and we would be dropped at the airport afterwards..

This is the junction of the Termales San Vincente and the road on the left is where you turn.

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This is the checkpoint at 3000m and it was manned.  We told them we were birding and there were no problems.  We signed in and back out again as we left.dscn3429

Rough road best done with an SUV at least.dscn3430 dscn3431 dscn3433 dscn3435

We kept driving past the farms as instructed.dscn3437 dscn3440

Drove over the little yellow bridge.dscn3442

Time we arrived after leaving Pereira at 5am.dscn3443 dscn3444

We drove slowly with windows and ears open.  I was dismayed with the weather, the clouds (yes it is a cloud forest) would make finding the parrots very difficult.dscn3447 dscn3452 dscn3463 dscn3466

We parked at a good vantage point and waited well over an hour with only this bird (whatever it is) being seen.img_6632

More waiting until FINALLY some Fuertes Parrots appeared out of the mist and flew into a tree.  I couldn’t get a focus on them.img_6638

They were flying from tree to tree but unfortunately came nowhere near us.img_6645 img_6650 img_6661 img_6670

Interesting group of people driving up the road.img_6676

Meanwhile the weather was getting worse and I was no longer hearing the parrots squawk and couldn’t see them flying anymore.  img_6683

We headed back down the mountain past the yellow bridge, weather getting worse by the minute.  I really HATE cloud forests, especially ones at high altitudes.  Why can’t these awesome birds pick more accessible places to live?img_6685

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We decided to visit the Termales San Vincente to see if there were any interesting birds.  As we got near, the heavens opened up so we weren’t able to walk around the grounds.dscn3457 dscn3458 dscn3459

This Andean Motmot felt sorry for us having such a lousy day so posed for a photo to cheer us up.dscn3460 dscn3461 dscn3463 dscn3466 dscn3467 dscn3469

Continuing back towards Santa Rosa, we found another Andean Motmot.img_6686 img_6689 img_6690

A pretty Fork-tailed Flycatcher on a wire.img_6692 img_6698

Random raptor in the mist.img_6702

It was still raining as we drove back through Santa Rosa.dscn3470 dscn3471 dscn3473 dscn3474 dscn3475 dscn3476 dscn3477 dscn3481

The end of the trip as we enter the Pereira airport.dscn3482 dscn3483 dscn3484