without a visit to the island of Tobago

Part 1 of 3 miscellaneous background information
(including bird sites) - part 3 still under construction

During 21.3 - 20.4.1999, most days only partially

(c) Harry J Lehto

This document is free and
may be copied for personal use only

PARTICIPANTS: Harry J Lehto - mostly just by myself, except when
ACCOMPANIED by following birdwatchers:
Gerard Ramsawak on 24.3 (in part)
Floyd Hayes on 31.3
Hans Luedemann on 10.4
IsmaelAngelo on 10.4, 15.4 and 17.4


My trip to Trinidad was a bussiness trip and not really a birding trip. However, I managed to do some birding on weekends, and even on weekdays by getting up early enough to bird a couple of hours before work, and again for an hour in the evening after work. Sunrise was at 06.00 and sunset at about 18.15. For the first 10 days I got acquianted with the local birds. My hosts also took me down to Quinam to stay overnight there. It turned out to be very interesting. For the next two weeks and a day I had a rental car, and for the last two days I did no birding. I managed to see well over 200 different species. The information below that is shown in square brackets, contains information specifically for Finns and written in Finnish. [Sulkeissa oleva tieto alla on tarkoitettu nimenomaan suomalaisille.]


The country/area code for Trinidad and Tobago has changed recently from 1-809 to 1-868.


The exchange rate for selling US dollars in the local bank was 1USD=6.18TT$. US dollar had the smallest exchange margin of any currency. I did not attempt to use US dollars in T&T. Euro was unknown.


On departure from T&T one has to pay a departure tax of 100TT$/person. Make sure to put this amount aside immediately.

On entry to T&T one should, in principle, declare CDs and electronic stereo equipment (no need to declare cameras though!). I don't understand what the use for this has to be done, because I was left with no decleration form! They took off the only stamped piece of paper from me within 5 minutes.

You can shop tax free both on entry and on departure.


Maxitaxis run everywhere (at least they take you everywhere). They are cheap and they seem to run almost at any time of the day. The maxitaxis are usually mostly white, with a horizontal colorband on the side of the maxitaxi. This band tells you the main direction the taxi is operating on. The various colors I saw were red on the east-west traffic along the East Main Road, green for the North-South along the South Main Road, and brown color bands down in the Siparia region.


Driving in Trinidad has it's peculiarities. If you end up taking the free style of birding and renting a car you should be aware of the following points:

1) Driving is on the "wrong" side for Americans and most Europeans. This is easy to forget on small roads, particularly at night. Automatic tranmission is a definite plus in a rental car.

2) Outside main highways almost NO directions are sign posted. Many of the small towns have one-way streets, so it is likely that you will end up on the wrong road when you have gone through the town.

3) In the Tropics it is useful to remember that the sun is directly due east at sunrise and due west at sunset in spring and in fall. For me the planet Venus turned out to be of extreme value in navigating. During these days it was visible for a couple of hours after sunset in the westerly direction. If Venus is visible, it is either a bright evening star in the west after sunset or a bright morning star in the east before sunrise. A GPS could be useful in navigating too.

4) Roads are practically empty in the morning but crowded in the evenings.

5) Many roads, even relatively major ones, have manholes, landslides and major fractures on the surface. These are (normally) marked with a white line either circling the hole or as a curve in the white edge markings of the lane. In day time, you can see these marks reasonably well, but at night after being blinded by the oncomming traffic, they may really catch you by surprise.

6) Finally, under heavy traffic and not seeing well the edge of the narrow roads (there's often a deep waterditch by the road side) keeps driving quite tense. The last thing you need at this point are dark people with dark clothes standing motionless on the roadside. These guys should really have reflectors. I felt more threatened by driving at night than by any assaulters. One may argue that a robbery takes place once, but so does a fatal accident.


Gasoline price was 2.45TT$/liter, relatively cheap for Europeans and expensive for Americans.

There seemed to be quite a few 24hour gas (=petrol) stations in well populated areas (information in Murphy's guide appears slightly out-of-date in this respect). These gas stations are open even on sundays and on public holidays, eg. in Tunapuna and St Augustine. If you go to remote sites it's good to have enough gasoline though.


At least for the car rental companies my Finnish license was all that was needed. I also had an international license with me just in case. I had no encounters with the local police force, so I don't know if they'd require an international license.


I called up 8 renting companies, and got answers from six. The standard practice seemed to be that for one week's renting you get one day free (about 15% discount from daily prices), and if you rent for 3 weeks, you get the fourth week free (this adds to about 30% discount from daily prices). I learned this a little bit too late. I found two rental companies that had cheap cars.

I received the following price quote for the smallest car with aircondition AND automatic transmission:
Econo Auto Rent 235 TT$/day 622-8074 (fax 622-8074)
(need to dig this one up) TT$/day
Auto Rentals 402 TT$/day 669-2277
Singh's Auto Rentals 316 TT$/day 669-5417 (fax 669-3860)
Lord Kalloo Rental 300 TT$/day 669-5673
Thrifty car 69 USD/day
"So Car Rentals" ltd (no answer on Sat) 663-2804 in Tunapuna
Jeffrey's Auto rental (no answer on Sat) 663-5333

One should add a 30TT$/day insurance to the quoted prices for each day you rent (the discounts above don't apply). It is definitely worth it in T&T.

My experience with the Econo Auto Rent was quite mixed. The service for changing a malfunctioning car to a new one was rapid. After an apparent complete breakdown of my first car, I got a second car in the evening within 1h30min. My first car was had several dents on it, which is just cosmetics, but worth writing down in the rental agreement. Within the first day I noticed several annoying problems with the car: Gas gasket not working properly, left window difficult to open, radio not working, engine thermometer not operating. From the rear one could hear sounds as if one wheel is about to take off. Finally the horn was not working -- this is a serious malfunction in Trinidad! The final problem that caught me, luckily only a quarter of a mile from "home" was the gas gauge, which showed a half-full gas tank, when it was actually empty to the last drop.

The second car (a larger one) was better. The only problem was that the sounds from under the car, while driving on uneven roads made you think that both rear wheels were about to fall off! Fortunately they never did.


My collegue got me the "Map of Trinidad", 1:150000, edition 5 (1990) for 25.95 TT$. Copies of the map are available from the Lands and Surveys Division, Red House, Port of Spain and the Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board (so it says on the map). Combined to the information in Murphy's guide I found this map sufficient. It is reasonably well detailed. If ordering by mail you should note that postal mail can be SLOW to and from T&T, eg. a letter sent to me by my family took 6 weeks for the roundtrip Europe-T&T-Europe. Actually the slowness of the postal service from Finalnd to T&T may be fully due to the Finnish postal service.. Quite a while after this trip I sent a letter to Trinidad. It was returned to me 3 weeks later, because they had never heard of W.I. (West Indies) or Trinidad! (I'm quite ashamed of this!)


Richard ffrench's guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago needs updating, particularly the artwork. For example, the plates of "difficult" flycatchers are not very useful. Raptors in flight are completely missing. Doves/Pigeons figures are of low quality and small. Many other figures are too small to include useful details. A positive side in the figure plates is that there is plenty of space to write down your own comments.

Only about half of the species are shown in ffrench's guide. I understand if birds common in North America are left out (this assumes that the birder is North American or at least has a copy of an North American guides in the suitcase). There are rather COMMON species not shown that should be definitely shown such as Lesser Eleania.

It would be better if the plates were drawn to enable direct comparison between figures. It is not the case at present eg., the Great kiskadee is shown from the side, but the Boat-billed flycatcher is shown from an odd direction, obtainable practically only from an helicopter.

For additional information I found an old Peterson's MEXICO GUIDE very valuable on this trip. The De Schauensee's guide to the BIRDS OF VENEZUELA would have been better in many respects.It is worth getting this guide eg. from ABA rather than buying at a marked up price at ASA Wright Nature Center. Well, I guess any guide you have on your shelf covering birds of the neotropics would provide useful additional information to ffrench's guide. The text in the ffrench guide regarding local information is not replacable with other guides, though.


Bill Murphy's site guide and his audio guide are very useful. The site guide needs some updating. Another 40 species for the audioguide would turn it to be much more useful. One could include nightjars, owls, cuckoos, parrots, woodcreepers, flycatchers, ie. birds that are quite hard to see or where the call plays an important role in id'ing. Or maybe one could add some 60 more species, and put them all on a CD.


I birded mostly on my own. On a couple of days Ismaelangelo from the PAX guesthouse joined me. He knows well the calls and the songs of local birds. By principle he does not use tapes or imitations, but lets you do so. I found quite a few species also easy to imitate by myself just by whistling. Knowing which species you are trying to imitate helps to search for the bird in the proper way. This is the connection that one could easily loose by birding completely alone.


I stayed at the University of West Indies apartments for a very modest price. The apartment was not airconditioned, but after a few days I got used to it.


I survived with tap water. Soft drinks are readily available. Many of them are heavily colored. Diet/Light versions of, say Pepsi of Coke are difficult to find.

You definitely should try the large variety of small restaurants, and the interesting cuisine which has clearly evolved from Indian cuisine. Also try out coconut water. It's refreshing. Of course if you do want to stick to burgers and pizzas, that's also possible.


I encountered personally no crime. I was begged for money on my first trip up to Mount Benedict, but I had no money with me, and my binocs were hidden in my backpack. I didn't feel threatened.

I visited the infamous Wallerfield four times, although visiting Wallerfield alone is not recommended: Once with Floyd, once on my own in the middle of a Sunday, once early during the morning hours (about 5 to 8 AM), and once early in the night during and immediately after some very heavy showers. The latter two were moments when I thought no "bad guys" were present at Wallerfield. I never went more 10 meters from the car in day time, and never stepped out of the car at Wallerfield at night. On departing the country I learned that on April 6 somebody had been killed at Wallerfield. His car had also been burned.

I was recommended not to bird in the coastal area some 5km south of Waterloo.

The Beetham area a few km East of Port of Spain including the POS sewage treatment plant is supposed to be even more dangerous than the other mentined sites, so I did not visit that site. I was also told that the quality of the area as a birding site has also gone down.

Be aware of crime, but don't let it spoil your trip by being phobic all the time.


I found people very nice and friendly.


Hindi is spoken quite widely, but spanish is spoken even more widely, but English is the language of the country. Trinidad has an interesting English dialect. The main difficulty I had was the speed at which people spoke. The accent was, at first, a little bit difficult to follow. Almost ever syllable appears to be accented in the same way Finnish kids do when the pretend to imitate Swedish. In addition, there are some pronounciation differences such as "th" is often pronounced as a soft "d". The words are often cut short (similar to the Turku dialect in Finland). When asking for directions you should remember that "ask" is pronounced "aks" or "ax" in Trinidadian.


There were loads of awsomely beautiful critters.

The only mosquitos I saw were just a few day flying ones in the woods and small numbers in the evenings. I encountered no chiggers nor did I see any fireants or their mounds.

I got some odd bites all over my body, apparently while I was asleep. I first thought they were mosquitos, then I started blaming chiggers, but when I noticed these small bites also in the palms of my hands I ruled out both. I suspected that they were fleas in the bed I was using. Some of my colleagues suggested though sandflies, that apparently attack you between 6 and 7 pm. I experienced no difference in using or not using insect repellant such as DEET [Tämä ihmeaine on tasan samaa ainetta kuin vihrea OFF]. Hydrocortizone turned out to be quite nice for treatment of obvious mosquito bites.


Apparently one "nettle" exists. It was not clear to me what this plant looked like as some poeple identified "for cetrain" a certain solanaceae plant as the nettle, which it was not according to another person. Some grasses had extremely sharp leaves causing quite a few scratches to my legs. The skin reactions were treatable with hydrocortizone.


see Murphy's guide for a whole bunch of them. I can add the following ones:

Southern Carribean Birdalert:
Trinidad & Tobago Records Commitee (secretary Graham White):
Bill Murphy's web page
American Birding Association
ABA bookstore catalogue
ASA wright nature center
A very useful Trinidad Web Page set up by Tina McDonald is at
Birdtrip archives

Some links to accomodations, restaurants


To Mike Bowman for providing me some last information before my trip
To "Fat Birder" for setting me a standard for my trip
To NBHS Birding trip reports for providing trip reports on and especially
To Joan Thompson for her trip report at NBHS.
To Gerard Ramsawak for showing me a good bunch of raptors
To Floyd Hayes for taking me on the T&T RBA mailing list.
To Graham White and Floyd for answering several ID questions I had, giving me directions to sites as well as keeping me up-to date with the recent sightings.
To Ismaelangelo and Hans Luedemann, and Shankav for keeping me company on my bird trips and pointing me many new birds.
To Shirin's family and Copilah families to keeping up with my birding and showing me the Quinam area.
To the UWI Physics Department personel, particularly Diane.


I used William Murphy's guide which seems to be coming slightly outdated -- I will not repeat here the instructions given to the sites mentioned in that guide (St. Benedict, Blanchisseuse Road, Agricultural Research Farm, Aripo Savannah, Wallerfield, Point-a-Pierre, Nariva). There are a few points I want to make though, that may affect your detailed schedule of birding in Trinidad.

ST JOHN'S ROAD is the road that leads from St Augustine (and Tunapuna) to Mt St Benedict. Many of my bird sightings are from this site, because that's where I resided. My front yard had a well kept lawn and some palm trees. Beyond my ten foot wide backyard there was a river, which separates St Augustine and Tunapuna. It had quite a few trees and bamboos and some fruit trees. I guess I could call it a localized riparian forest in the foothills of the Northern Range. Putting out some fruits provided nice views of Yellow Orioles, Saltators, Tanagers, Bananaquits and Kiskadees. I had also Orange-Crowned Parrots, Black Hawks and Yellow-headed Caracaras frequent the trees.

ASA WRIGHT NATURE CENTER. To say the least, it was a dissapointment. Yes, you see a few bird species nicely on the feeders. Unfortunately, these feeders do not make a pretty background for photography. I also got to see four species (White-necked Jacobin, Blue-tailed Emerald, Bellbird and Ornate Hawk-eagle) I saw nowhere else. The entrance fee was 6USD. What you get for the entrance fee is access to the veranda + feeders usually with a handful of species and 4-5 hummingbird species in any given couple of hours. You also get to a guided tour, that shows you a white-breasted manakin lek (a few of which we also found on our own) and the bellbird. We made special arrangements to get to see the Ornate Hawk-eagle nest. We were lucky to see the bird well. ASA has also a reasonable stock of t-shirts and books, but they were so overpriced that I decided not to get anything. As an example the Venezuela guide cost 60USD (360TT$). Compare this to 40USD for ABA members from American Birding Association (and 44$ for non members). Note: YOU CANNOT GET TO SEE THE OILBIRDS UNLESS YOU STAY 3 NIGHTS AT ASA. That's a lot of money!

There are two other alternatives to see the OILBIRDS. First and easier is to call Gerard at the PAX guest house and request him to arrange a trip with a local guide (eg. IsmaelAngelo) for a reasonable fee (was 25 USD) to a cave somewhere on a private property. This is an early morning to afternoon trip. The other alternative is to go to the Aripo village and get there a local guide to take you to the Aripo caves. It is a 7 mile walk and also a morning to early afternoon trip. I didn't have time to go after the oilbirds on this trip.

The PORT-OF-SPAIN SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT (although shown on new maps) should not be visited at all. Apparently is is quite dangerous. Likewise, if you mention going to WALLERFIELD at night, local people tend to freak out, because of some major incident in about 1993. (see the section on Crime above for an incident during my stay). It seems really to be an "active" area.

ARIPO HEIGHTS. The estate with hummingbird feeders and loads of hummingbirds is not "operational" at present (1999), because of change of ownership. I understand that ASA wright Nature center is just about to buy the estate.

The roads that lead off from Orange Road, are described somewhat confusingly in Murphy's guide. If you are driving from South, the Aripo heights road is on your right, and the Ruiz Trace is on your left. The water cress ponds (or fields) mentioned to be on your right after you have turned on Aripo Heights Road can be reached by driving on Aripo Heights Road for 1.1km (could somebody doublecheck this distance?) and by turning then right to Morne pois (road). This road descends steeply into a riparian forest. After 300 meters just beyond the forest stop on your right just after you have passed the river. You'll see the fields on your right side.

Because you may have your copy of Murphy's guide open at this point, let me indicate a couple of further errors:

1) In the NARIVA section the distances in the coastal area are too large by 3.1 km (unless I screwed up the measurement).

2) The bar chart on page 145 is off by one species in the following sense: The crake/rail that is common in winter time is not Ash-troated crake, but Sora. Similarly it is not Caribbean Coot that is common here, but rather the Common Moorhen. This applies to all bars on page 145. Move all the species names down by one species.. This implies that the status of the last species on the page (Wilson's plover) is not shown on the bar chart. The same applies to the last species on some other pages too (it is not clear if the full bar width is shown, or just only half of it).

Some locations not mentioned in Murphy's guide.

WATERLOO: Located on the Bay of Paria just South of the Caroni Swamp. The site is best on low or rising tide. The Hindu crematory temple on the shore line is a good site to view the area. Note that the ceremonies often start at 13.30. So around that time and after that time it can be quite crowded. A second good location to view the area is to drive back inland, take a left (North ) just after the Plant Pathology study center. Continue driving all the way to the shore (some 1-2km) by viering left after a minor bridge.

Don't go to the areas some 5 km South of Waterloo, although they appear decent on maps.

CACANDEE SETTLEMENT/Madame Espanol: Drive south along Uriah Butler highway from East Main road. Take the second exit (on your left) drive over the bridge and follow the street that viers South (or left after the bridge). This is Caroni Savannah Road. (At about 1.5km?) you see a gas station on your left and "Pierre Street" on your right. Take this. Drive for some 3 km, and you should come to a T intersection. Take a right here. After about half a km you see Barnard Road on your left. This 2km road may not be quite safe (there are scarlet ibis poachers at the end of this road sometimes). About half a way along Barnard Road appeared to be a good spot to see Scarlet Ibises flying over the swamp at day break. Alternatively, instead of turning on the Barnard Road, you may drive straight all the way to the end of the road. There is kind of a fishing boat harbor there. This is also a decent place to see Scarlet Ibises, Black Hawks and some other mangrove species.

CARONI RICE FIELDS: No birding groups here please, at most a couple of people at the same time. The rice fields are private, so ask me privately for directions if you are birding yourself, or yet better ask the local birders for directions, since the bird content of this area is likely to change all the time.

Compiled by Harry Lehto
Elotie 1 A 8
FI-20780 Kaarina, FINLAND
Last modified Jan 07, 2000
Harryn kotisivulle
Harry's homepage
[an error occurred while processing this directive] hits since the last counter screw up on May 02, 2001 and about 1082 before that since September 14, 1999