A Birding Tour with Roger Neckles and Jesse James
TRINIDAD – It’s not all about boat work!
Article written by Louise Kupka, Photos by Roger Neckles, Jane Butters, and Bruce Amlicke, July 25, 2022
We typically travel to Trinidad with our sailboat to avoid the worst of the Caribbean hurricane season and to perform much needed repairs and maintenance on our boat. We often find ourselves moored stern to or hauled out on the hard at Power Boats Maritime Limited sometime between June 1st and October 31st and profit from the many skilled tradesmen, chandleries and marine services available in the Chaguaramus area.
While we spend a good proportion of our time working on our boat, we do make leisure time to enjoy some highlights in the country; taking tours, hiking, riding our bicycles, and enjoying the delicious culinary and unique cultural diversity offered here.
Paraphrasing Allison Gardner from her article in the Travel with a Challenge web magazine :
“Trinidad & Tobago are not your typical Caribbean Islands. Trinidad has a western shoreline just seven miles from Venezuela. As such, the flora and fauna have more in common with South America, from which Trinidad separated a mere 10,000 – 11,000 years ago. Towering tropical rainforests, mountains and waterfalls, wetlands teaming with wildlife, remote beaches with nesting leatherback turtles grace its shores. With over 460 resident and migrant bird species Trinidad and Tobago is one of the premier birding destinations in the world. Trinidad offers alternative / adventure travelers interested in discovering nature-based vacationing something to get excited about.” Allison's Article
The Tour Begins
Thursday, 21 July, 2022 was no exception. We arranged a day of leisure, to adventure tour with world renowned naturalist and award winning photographer Roger Neckles and accredited tour guide Jesse James (see: links for their biographies).
With an 04h45 start in Chaguaramus, 5 intrepid adventurers, along with Jesse, were on our way, to meet Roger in Central Trinidad. While viewing the passing city lights, during the wee dark hours of the morning, we watched the dawn break and were soon heading toward southern Trinidad, where we would commence our bird watching adventures for the day; our planned first sighting to be Blue and Gold Macaws.
On the way, we had the good fortune of seeing a male - female pair of Bat Falcons chasing a Plumbeous Kite and a Grey Headed Kite before the falcons perched on top of an electric tower, where they remained to survey their domain. Nearby and in sight, was one Red Howler Monkey, resting on a tree branch, while in the not too far off distance, we could hear, though not see, other Howlers. Toucans could also be heard calling in the near distance, though we did not profit to see them this day. Other sightings included Caroni flambeau butterflies, Oropendola nests, flocks of frigate birds, and vultures everywhere, two Green Macaws, a juvenile Cayman, Yellow Hooded Black Birds, Boat billed Flycatcher, Blue Tanager male female pair, White Line Tanager, Elan flowers in bloom.
Roger showed us a variety of bird habitats including village parks, roadside verges, coastal beaches and Pitch Lake, all found in the La Brea area of Southern Trinidad - a great morning start to another memorable day.
Lunch and on to the Agricultural Lands
11 AM, we experienced heavy rain, thunder and lightning at the Pitch Lake tourist Centre. ……such close lightning…. but not being deterred, we purchased Chinese takeaways for lunch in Siparia and enjoyed viewing the photographs that Roger, and Bruce had taken during the morning, some small talk, and humorous banter. We ate lunch, and at the generosity of Jesse, for the benefit of those with a sweet tooth, we enjoyed a taste treat of baked goods and Geera pork. The rain stopped shortly thereafter , and we were off exploring again.
Onward to the agricultural flat lands where the bird sightings were fast and furious, too numerous to record. Those of us making notes tossed in the towel and donned our binoculars to feast on the beauty and variety before us. The rain had stopped, so we were able to view birds at our leisure and in comfort along the edges of the fields. By 15h30, we had explored the area to everyone’s satisfied content and started our return to Chaguaramus, arriving by 6PM.
What a day! “A wicked day” to quote Roger.
A tour with Roger is most definitely a BUCKET LIST ITEM for anyone visiting Trinidad. You do not have to be a bird afficionado or a photography buff to enjoy it. As nature lovers we have twice toured with Roger and on both occasions, we have walked away completely affected by the natural beauty of Trinidad, the exceptional diversity of its flora and fauna and totally won over by Roger and Jesse’s knowledge, enthusiasm, and good humour – their personalities are infectious!
Grab your binoculars, as this is a tour not to be missed!
Sightings for the Day
Green-winged Macaws, Blue-black Grassquit, Great Kiskadee, 2 BAT FALCONS male female pair, Short-tailed Hawk, Tropical Kingbird, Plumbeous Kite, Grey headed Kite, 4 Blue and Gold Macaws, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Crested Oropendola nests everywhere, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Flock of Frigatebirds, Black Vultures everywhere, House Wren, Blue-Gray Tanager male female pair, White-lined Tanager, Brown Pelican, Large-billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Least Grebe, Black-necked Stilts, Common Gallinule, Purple Gallinule, Ruddy Ground Dove, Grayish Saltator, Short-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Grey-breasted Martin, White-winger Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Southern Lapwing, Common Grackle, Wattled Jacana, White Headed Marsh Tyrant, Striped Cuckoo, Spectacled Thrush, Yellow Bellied Elania, Yellow Oriole, Red-breasted Blackbird, Barred Antshrike, Yellow headed Caracara, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Palm Tanager, White Peacock Butterfly, Red Anartia Butterly, Spotted Checker Butterfly, Caroni Flambeaux Butterfly
Little blue Heron, Willet, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Tropical Mockingbird, Tri coloured Munias, Common Waxbill, Masked Yellow Throat, Smooth billed Ani, Saffron Finch, Striated Green Heron, Pinnated Bittern
A Second Birding Tour
The group enjoyed the first tour so much that we scheduled a second. The tour was led again by the renowned nature guide and photographer Roger Neckles and tour guide Jesse James. This tour focused on the coastline, hills and highlands near Grande Riviere in the far North East of Trinidad. We were looking for three specific bird species found there. The critically endangered Trinidad Piping-Guan known locally as “Pawi” was the primary bird. In addition, we were looking for the Guianan Trogon and the Channel-billed Toucan. However, the goal was to get out and enjoy the nature of Trinidad.
An Early Start
Trinidad is a relatively small island, however to travel the breadth of the north end, we started from Chaguaramas at an early 3:30am. The plan was to arrive at Grande Riviere near sunrise. After a brief stop to admire the sunrise over the beach we wound our way up into the hills. The road was challenging due to some mud from an early morning rain.
While the van was slowly negating the road some of us walked on ahead. In the trees at the top of the hill were two large birds that I thought at first were buzzards. The head and neck were different. When Rodger arrived, he confirmed that these were indeed Pawi.
Several others were spotted and we were treated to one in flight. In all, we were treated to six Pawi. The area where we found them is one of the last remaining ranges of the Pawi. They have become Critically Endangered due to hunting and habitat destruction. We also saw a Guianan Trogon in the same area.
Breakfast and exploring the north coast road to Matelot
Over coffee, we review the morning and planned to drive further along the coast to Matelot. Matelot is the end of the north coast road. The scenery was spectacular with many small bays and rivers.
We were tempted to stop for a swim. Along one of these rivers we spotted a Black Hawk perched looking for dinner. After retracing our steps, we set off for the highlands in search for the Toucan.
An afternoon exploring backroads
We spotted many interesting birds as we slowly traveled the backroads of NE Trinidad.
I lost count of the various species and only afterward reviewing the pictures could identify the many we spotted. Notable were the: White-Lined Tanager, Guianan trogon, a hummingbird (to far away to identify), Southern Lapwing, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, crimson-crested woodpecker, and many others.
We had just about lost hope of seeing the Toucan, when we spotted one in the trees some distance off. But as we got closer it flew off. The day was not over yet as we finally spotted a Toucan along the road just at sunset.
It was a wonderful day out exploring and birdwatching.
A few words about Roger and Jesse
‘Roger Neckles, born in Trinidad and schooled in London England, is considered to be one of the Caribbean’s most prominent wildlife photographers. His award-winning works, have graced the pages of numerous international natural history books, magazines, archives, including publications such as National Geographic, Natural History, Audubon, Wild Bird, and Caribbean Beat. His images were commissioned by the Trinidad and Tobago Postal Corporation (TTPost) to create a series of 28 stamps featuring many of T&T’s rare or threatened native species and historical sites. He has played a major role in numerous local natural history documentaries, winning the coveted “Green Leaf Award” for audiovisual work, in recognition of his contribution to environmental conservation and protection. He has been featured in films produced by the BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic Today. He co-authored a book with Richard ffrench ‘Birds of Trinidad and Tobago’ and wrote his solo book, “An Introduction to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago Vol 1”. For decades Roger has played an invaluable role as an educator, championing the conservation of Trinidad and Tobago’s unique fauna and flora. His true passion lies in leading Nature Photography Tours and Workshops throughout Central and South America, USA and at home in Trinidad and Tobago.’ (as paraphrased from Avifauna Tours; Roger Neckles.com and Wildsidenaturetours.com)
Jesse James has been awarded with the Seven Seas Cruisers Association “Camaraderie Award’ and the Seven Seas South Bound II Award. He is the honorary local representative for Cruising Association, official SSCA Cruising Station representative, OCC Port Officer for Trinidad and a YSATT board member. He owns and operates ‘Members Only’ Maxi Taxi Services and has been rated by visiting cruisers in The Boaters Enterprise Ltd Awards as being among the top 5 businesses in Chaguaramas Trinidad. Above all Jesse is a major advocate and the ‘goto guy’ for questions, needs, problem solving and assistance for just about everything when needed by cruisers in Trinidad. Trinidad-cruisers.com writes, “For many years and on many occasions Jesse has been the driving force behind changes to the community to benefit cruisers. He is the person that most cruisers in Trinidad turn to for help when it is needed”. (For more information see: membersonlymaxitaxi.com)