Trinidad and Tobago: It’s Easter Week

This post is Part 3 of our our birding journey to Trinidad and Tobago.

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Every day our group piles into the bus as Steve and I climb into Jerry’s compact car and we all head down the mountain to bird the different areas in Trinidad. The twisty road on the mountain is busier each day as cars pass by in the opposite direction, up and over the mountain, toward the beach to celebrate their Easter break.

“We live a friendly life,” Jerry tells us. “Everyone gets together to celebrate. Christians. Muslims. Everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

The friendliness is obvious when Jerry passes a car or sees someone familiar. Drivers tap their car horns as a friendly hello or as a warning when passing. Never out of anger or frustration. Jerry’s rearview mirror is adorned with a string of cobalt blue prayer beads with a crucifix. The beads swing like a pendulum and each time we turn around one particular bend in the road, Jerry drives slowly and then reaches and kisses the cross and continues driving in one uninterrupted motion. He has done this every day.

In the mornings as we head down the mountain a black and white dog stands in the middle of the road barking at every car. He seems mad that we’re on the road. We pass by him and I wonder if this is too dangerous for him. So many cars on this winding road over the mountain toward the beach as Trinidadians, packed in their cars, wave and cheer to everyone as though they are in a parade. Celebrating the holiday and taking time off from work and getting together with loved ones seems to be a universal shared joy. But I worry about the dog.

My back is feeling better and I am grateful for the easy birding at Nariva Swamp, the largest freshwater wetland in Trinidad and Tobago on the east coast of Trinidad. This is an easy walk and we are blessed to have breezes to keep us cool. I recognize some of the birds here. The Striated Heron, the Wattled Jacana and Blue-black Grassquit all feel like old friends reunited in a new country. It pleases me to know that I can visit a new place and see familiar birds just as much as it delights me to discover new birds. I feel interconnected in the world.

Whimsical flowers at Nariva Swamp
Striated Heron
White-headed Marsh-Tyrant
Wattled Jacana
Blue-black Grassquit
Crimson-crested Woodpecker (female)

As we leave the Nariva Swamp we follow behind the bus in Jerry’s car. The bus pulls over and parks to the side of the road and we do the same.

“Hurry! They are here!” our guide tells everyone as the group spills out of the bus. I hear the birds before I see them: A load screeching, almost like fingernails on a chalkboard.

“Blue and Gold Macaws!” our guide tells us.

We spend a lot of time watching a small flock of the Macaws foraging on fruit. These macaws have been close to extinction in Trinidad and Tobago due to habitat destruction. They were also trapped and sold for the illegal pet trade, which also diminished their numbers and in 1959 only 15 birds remained in the wild. However, through the efforts of the Pointe-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust, Blue and Gold Macaws have been bred and released back into their natural home in the Nariva Wetlands since the 1990s.

I am filled with hope as I watch the macaws.

Blue and Gold Macaws
Blue and Gold Macaw (photo credit John Schrader)

“Pygmy Kingfisher!” our guide shouts.

We are just outside the main city, Chaguanas, and stand on the side of the road near a pond. The bird flew into the pond area. All of us have our binoculars up to our eyes and I am convinced–determined–we will find it. It’s possible, right? We all whisper so not to alarm anything.

Loud, throbbing club music interrupts the quiet and stillness. A bus of partiers sits across the road from us. Three young men get out and pee on the side of the road, music still blares inside the bus and I see someone pouring drinks for everyone inside. They’re unconcerned about our search for a bird.

Steve and I tend to travel in Spring and often find ourselves in other countries during Easter. We’ve run into challenges when places are closed for several days during the holiday. We also once had pre-arranged for a tour guide in Quito, Ecuador who showed up still drunk from the night before’s festivities. And here we are in Trinidad, where traffic is heightened and a bus full of revelers parks right next to our search for a bird. I’ve learned over the years to be less bothered by the surprises Easter week brings us as we travel the world. It’s just another dip into a country’s culture.

Our group gives up and we climb back in our bus and car. Maybe next time we come to Trinidad we’ll come during a quieter time. We never found that Pygmy Kingfisher.

The party bus (Click on video and turn your sound up to hear the party)

We spend much of our time birding in and around Blanshisseuse and the Northern Range, often pulling over to the side of the road to look for birds, which, next to birding by boat, is my favorite way to bird. We get lucky and find the Plumbious Kite and White Hawk

Plumbious Kite
White Hawk

We make a stop at Las Lapas Trace, and our group follows our guide down a steep hill to begin the hike. I tell Steve I’m going to stay back. I’m not ready for a long hike and Jerry stays with me. We stand at the top of the hill with a pleasant breeze as Jerry and I look for birds together.

Groups of teenagers with backpacks pass by us and head down the hill on the opposite side from where our group went. At the end of the line for each group of teenagers is an officer or guard, dressed in camouflage, carrying a rifle. He is not much older than the teenagers.

“What is this?” I ask Jerry.

“It’s an annual trip students can take. It’s called the President’s award. They are chosen from each school.”

I watch the last group of students with their protector descend the hill and wished I had taken an adventure like that when I was in high school.

“Look!” Jerry says, pointing to a tree. “A hawk!” I find it with my binoculars and then snap some photos of the hawk I can’t name.

Gray Hawk

It is an hour later and our group returns. “Gray Hawk!” Steve tells me when I show him the evidence on my camera’s viewfinder. I also show him a picture of a hummingbird Jerry and I found and I’m okay that I don’t have to go on every hike with the group.

Our last morning in Trinidad we head down the mountain toward the airport for our short flight to Tobago island for the next part of our trip. On the road lies the black and white dog. “Why is he sleeping there?” I ask out loud. And as soon as the words tumble out of my mouth I realize I am wrong. He is not sleeping.

Maybe someone will kiss the crucifix on the prayer beads for him.